Like a broken record

Q: Patrologist, why do you talk so endlessly about language acquisition?

A: Because our field is so broken. In no other field do so many people who know their target language so poorly talk with such authority. I honestly wish it wasn’t necessary, that we rather lived in a time, an age, a place, where we took for granted that people who studied ancient Greek literature knew ancient Greek, where people learned in Hebrew had learned Hebrew, where scholars of Latin had been schooled in Latin. But we do not live in such a mythical land, we live in its counterfeit where people peddle outdated methodologies to reach inadequate heights.

I believe this is changing, but slowly, and only because some are agitating – pointing out that the Emperor does indeed have no clothes. You can try it at home – approach a Greek professor or a NT one or whatever, and initiate a Greek language conversation. If you don’t get a quick χαῖρε, ὦ μαθητά, πῶς ἔχεις σήμερον; then there really is something wrong.

On the flipside, all I am saying is that we apply Best Practices from contemporary Second Language Acquisition to classical and biblical studies. This should be the least controversial thing in the world. And all I am discussing is how we can do that. There is a long road ahead of us. That’s why I keep talking about the same things over and over. Until the revolution comes.

6 responses

  1. I’m not sure how to get from my current state of Gk knowledge to be more fluent… I read a few verses each day, sounding them out in my butchered pronunciation, trying to glean some meaning from them, then I go back word-by-word and use Logos to translate the words I don’t get.

    • Hello Dave,

      I obviously have many recommendations on the topic, but here are just a few to improve your current practice.

      1. Systematically and consciously learn a better pronunciation method. Get a hold of the reconstructed Koine, listen to recordings of it, and switch over to it wholesale. It is pedagogically, historically, and academically superior.

      2. Buy a reader’s edition and do your reading from that. Read aloud. Look at footnotes for unknown vocabulary. I don’t think this is perfect, but it’s better than reading from a screen, better than using Logos for helps, and better overall.

      3. On some days read a few verses and make sure you understand everything, do whatever you need to make the unknown bits known.

      4. On other days read whole chapters of easier material. Gospels, in particular, are the easiest sections of the NT to read en masse.

      Much more could be said, and you could do much more, but these modifications to your current practice should result in improvements.

      • Thanks!

        So (1) is best achieved with a CD/booklet combo, given my lack of access to classroom learning?
        (2) I already have the readers edition, so that’s an easy switch.
        I’ll try moving between (3) and (4), but I think I’m going to persevere with the current approach as a baseline, at least until I finish Acts. It should be easy enough to add in some extra gospel chapters.

        • On point 1:

          See this page for a technical overview of the pronunciation I generally adhere to.

          I wish there was an affordable CD/booklet combo: it can be learnt directly from Buth’s materials, but they are not cheap especially to Australia.

          If anybody knows of any free materials that clearly teach and demonstrate Reconstructed Koine pronunciation, please link away. If not, perhaps I will prepare something myself in the next few months.

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