[b-greek] Re: Greek 101 drop outs - Follow up

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Tue Nov 21 2000 - 11:41:40 EST

At 4:07 PM +0000 11/21/00, Mark Wilson wrote:
>Carl wrote:
>I tell students in the opening class that they should drop immediately
>unless they are prepared to work industriously and consistently for the real
>rewards which will come only when they have mastered an awful lot of
>tedious rote learning and achieved a good grip on the Greek verb as well as
>a powerful lot of vocabulary.
>What I think this statement might do, as much unconsciously as consciously,
>is to put students in a stressed out pre-disposition toward learning Greek.
>(Remember, there may be many sitting in your class that will just find it
>much easier to learn than us B-Greekers did. Maybe Greek will just come
>natural to them... who knows.)

No; the fact of the matter is that the warning is--more often than
not--ignored; many a student assumes that he/she can do the same thing with
Beginning Greek as with another language course or with many of the
coureses he/she takes: attend classes haphazardly, let things drift for two
or three days and then return to preparing lessons, cram for tests and get
by with a passing grade. By about the third test, if it takes that long,
this kind of student is hopelessly lost. You realize, of course, I'm
talking about teaching in a secular university and that most of these
students want to read Homer or Plato, not NT, but the fact is that students
who DO want to read NT often approach this class the same way, and when
they do, they waste their own time as well as mine and that of their more
earnest classmates.

>Consider this: Suppose you used the opposite approach. Suppose you told your
>students that learning Greek is quite easy and extremely rewarding. In fact,
>by the end of this first year, you will be able to translate many passages
>in the Bible. And further, you will not believe how quickly you will begin
>picking up more advanced Greek, because it all builds on previously learned

I do tell them that it is extremely rewarding and that is why the hard work
is worth the effort; but I'm not going to lie to them and tell them that
it's easy. I do tell them that one of the things they're going to have to
learn, perhaps for the first time, is how English works; I also tell them
that if they take things like phonology seriously they will find that much
of the rote learning becomes not simply rote but the application of
intelligent principles--and that reduces the drudgery, but it doesn't
deliver anyone from having to spend at least an hour if not two or three
OUTSIDE of class for every hour spent IN class. My experience is that
students who are adequately motivated will be willing to put in the time
and effort; those I want to deter are the ones who imagine that they can
learn Greek with minimal time and effort expended.

>And then, of course, you go into my previous posting, and begin the sales
>job, etc. :o )
>But what happens is this relaxes the students. Their entire disposition
>begins with a radically different paradigm.
>And don't feel like they have to learn a lot of material by some end point.
>(That may be imposed on you by your University or Seminary, but only you
>know how tough it was for you when your Greek teacher taught you. Why put
>your students through THAT.)

There's fundamental grammar and basic vocabulary that must be known before
going on to another level, whether that be reading of Homer, reading of
Attic prose and poetry, or reading New Testament. At the very least, there
has to be a basic mastery of the standard Greek verb and three or four
dozen major irregular verbs. If students don't have that much under their
belts, they can't swim in a second-level course, no matter what literature
is being read.

>They have the rest of their lives to learn it. Simply tell them this: "We
>all learn at different rates, so just how fast you progress and advance will
>relate to how much time you invest. And like any language, if you do not
>"keep it up" you begin to forget and eventually lose what you had learned.
>So, never stop learning Greek, if only a little a day (or week). But
>remember folks: learning Greek is only a means to an end: knowing Him."
>And once you teach them just a few basic declensions and conjugations, and
>they then "translate" John 1:1, just watch their eyes! (Imagine what happens
>to their interests and motivations when they are translating ALREADY!)
>After they do this, here is what I would say: "Well, essentially, you have
>learned Greek. That's all there is to it. For the rest of your life you will
>begin learning more vocabulary words and grammatical principles which will
>allow you to translate more and more of the Bible...
>So, congratulations... you are well on your way to understanding the BIBLE.
>(Notice I did not use the word "Greek" here. Pretty sneaky, eh?)"

I think that's the point at which students know "just enough Greek to be

>Finally, most of us on this list, I would imagine, have a very strong desire
>to learn Greek, so very little is going to detour us. But imagine how many
>dropped out because of their "fear." (A fear that was unfounded.)

I've never met any students who were deterred out of fear; I have met a
very few who are such slow learners that their great efforts (and I HAVE
spent a lot of time trying to help such students) just simply never really
pay off. Most of the students I've met who were deterred were deterred by
the realization that they are going to have to work at it to get it.

>BTW, I wonder how many drop outs had a natural ability to retain Greek
>vocabulary, declensions, conjugations, grammar, etc... only to conclude
>after Greek 101, "Well my teacher said it is going to get really hard, so I
>better drop out now before I get in too deep."
>Today's motto: Teachers: be very upbeat, creative, and "sneaky" :o )

Sorry, I don't think that "Just a spoonful of sugar makes Greek go down."
On the other hand, I've had plenty of students who have found the drops of
honey that they are distilling from the course all along are enough to keep
them busy as bees and making daily progress in the hive.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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