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

From: Daniel L. Christiansen (dlc@multnomah.edu)
Date: Tue Nov 21 2000 - 21:25:53 EST

Mark Wilson wrote[snipped]:

> Daniel:
> You wrote:
> I really am a bit lost with your response to Carl. It seemed to me you were
> implying
> that I was suggesting that Greek does not take a lot of hard work. Perhaps
> you were responding
> to someone else's post. I certainly never implied that. A person with thin
> skin might be
> offended by your medical analogy to my first year student's translating.
> What I have found
> is when something new (or different) is introduced, the tendency is for us
> to find ways
> for it NOT TO WORK.

My apologies--I think you misapplied that portion of my post to yourself. I was
actually responding to Carl's response to you. He noted that most students are not
discouraged by our warnings regarding the upcoming hard work; rather, they assume they
can get by with little or no work at all. The first two paragraphs of my response were
simply an agreement with Carl. The third paragraph was addressed to you, and I think
followed much the same lines as Carl's understanding (as well as 2 or 3 other posters).
We may have all misinterpreted you, as it did appear that you were denying the necessity
of hard work in the learning of Greek. Actually, my medical analogy is merely at length
what I believe Carl referred to in brief when he wrote that this is when people know
"just enough Greek to be really dangerous." This is in reference to perceived
familiarity without true depth of comprehension.

> But more to your question: By fun, I gave the example of learning
> vocabulary, not exclusively
> by rote, but by introducing visual stimuli. And the more emotional the
> picture, the more likely
> you will memorize and retain it. First it is stored in short-term memory,
> and through usage, it is transferred to long-term memory. (This is mostly an
> unconscious process.)

Of course, you must be aware that this method of visual analogy does not work with all
students. In fact, I have found certain students with whom the method is drastically
counter-productive. We use "Greek to Me" by Lyle Story for our first-year Greek course,
here at Multnomah. If the mnemonic system therein employed works for a student,
great...if not, we have them chuck it. There are many kinds of memory, and many systems
or methods to make use of these kinds. If you haven't seen this book, and the
accompanying vocabulary cards, it would be well worth your while to get them.

> And this is not to say that rote is not needed in learning a language; it
> is.
> But there are memorization techniques that are nothing less than
> extraordinary.

Yes, I am aware of some of the techniques; however, it is also clear that they are not
usable by all persons. Even though there are memory "gurus" out there in the market
place, who insist that anyone can be so taught, I have not seen convincing evidence.

> ........................
> By the way, a similar mnemonic technique was employed by many ancient
> orators, who needed to
> memorize large quantities of information for uninterrupted speeches. (This
> was told to me by one
> of my teachers, Dr. Duffy. I have not personally confirmed that. But I have
> no reason to doubt him.)

Yes, ancient orators did use such a system, known as TOPOI. However, the main use of
this ancient system was not for remembering the content of the speech, but for
remembering the order in which the various portions of the speech were to be presented.
In other words, it was a method for remembering the outline of the speech (Point 1,
subpoints a,b,c; Point 2; Point 3).

> All of this is to say, you don't send your students home to learn vocabulary
> (or lists of any kind) by rote; you teach them HOW to memorize, and it can
> be a whole lot of fun, regardless of their ages.

> Here's another example: You may recall my "heist me a hen" example. Some

> people learn the Greek numeral "one" by rote: hEIS, MIA, hEN. They write it
> down and begin repeating it over and over, hoping that it will somehow
> stick. And if they forget them, they have nothing else in their memory banks
> to aide them in recalling this pattern.
> (I learned this in 11 seconds. And I never forgot it. And with usage, it
> simply moved from short-term to long-term memory.)

Of course, this sounds as though there are only two methods: rote and visual/analogical
mnemonics. However, neither is the primary method by which one learns a primary
language. That is done by a combination of rote and usage. As far as I am aware,
children do not obtain language fluency through the visual/analogical method, but
through memorizing sounds and constant exposure to those sounds in the context of

> My point is, there are many ways to learn. Some are fun. And if you think
> Greek is mostly a matter of long, hard memorization, I would suggest you
> familiarize yourself with Mnemonics.

Of course, yes, I am familiar with the discipline. And, I think that you will find this
is true of most language teachers. Some of us choose not to use the methods, because we
see inherent difficulties in the later progress of students attempting to achieve a
degree of fluency and style in the language. Although, as I have said, it does work for
some students, and it works sometimes for some others. I am not opposed to the method
per se, but have never found it to be extremely helpful in any subject with a group of
students. But, no, I do not think that Greek is a matter of memorization...that is
simply a portion of it: if one does not go beyond memorization (by rote, by analogy, or
by visualization) to comprehension of form and style, he is spending a lot of time for
very little gain other than curiosity.

> Memorization can be a lot
> of fun. It also requires time, but not near the time of rote only.

Again, that depends on the individual. Some are able to simply use a word once, and
have it stick. If this is the manner in which the person learns, the use the other
method would be unnecessarily time- and effort-consuming. I might even suggest that if
a person is able to remember an entire comical phrase, he could certainly remember the
simpler word to which that phrase is being applied. It's simple mathematics: remember 1
Greek word and the meaning? or the 1 Greek word, and a phrase/picture, and the meaning?
I'll choose the shorter version any day of the week. [I expect to hear a dissenting
opinion from Dale Wheeler, about now ;-> ]

> Let me finally repeat. Rote is necessary. You can not get away from it. I am
> not suggesting
> that learning Greek (or any language) is a walk in the park. I am simply
> saying that there
> are many methods one can employ to reduce the time it takes to learn, while
> making learning (any subject) more "enjoyable." You seemed to prefer that
> word :o )

I really enjoy both words, they are equally fun :-)

> And yes, I realize there
> are some
> "exceptions"... a word not allowed in Greek 101) Remember, don't look for
> ways
> for it NOT TO WORK. (a quote I must attribute to Dr. Duffy)

    Actually, one of the first things I tell my Greek students, is that there are always
exceptions--that is the nature of language. It is/was/will be a living construct,
eminently malleable to the purposes of the communicator, within certain logical
boundaries which become more recognizable to the reader/hearer with exposure. The time
and application involved in getting to this point is great. With 1 possible exception,
every student who has chosen to quit my program (at Portland Bible College) early, did
so because he or she didn't consider it worthwhile--each one felt that deep knowledge of
the language was unnecessary, and that an interlinear+lexicon approach would suffice.
Of course, that is simply not true; however, this was their attitude (by their own
admission, from "exit interviews).
    But I agree heartily, that we always should look for ways to make it work: to be
honest, I can't imagine any decent teacher who thinks otherwise. After all, that is
what we do--we teach. And, if it can't be taught, why should we try? If it doesn't
work for an individual student, I tailor my methods to the manner in which that student
best learns. And I do hope that each student enjoys the experience....I have an
enormous amount of fun with the language, both using it and teaching it--why shouldn't
they, as well?

At least, that's my opinion this evening...
Daniel L. Christiansen
Professor of Biblical Languages, Portland Bible College
Adjunct Professor, Bible Department, Multnomah Bible College
(503) 820-0231

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