How my next interview for a seminary will go:

Interviewer: So, your CV has a lot of Greek on it, but Bill Smith the Third here is our New Testament lecturer and will be covering that area.

Me: ὦ, καλῶς. σὺ εἶ διδάσκακλος τῆς ἑλληινκῆς γλώσσης;

Bill: Um, what did you say?

Me: σὺ δύνῃ λαλεῖν ἑλληνιστί; ἐγώ σοι ἑλληνιστὶ λαλῶ.

Bill: Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.

Me: οὐ συνίης; διδάσκαλος τῆς γλώσσης τῆς ἑλληνικῆς ὤν, οὐ δύνῃ λαλεῖν ἢ συνιέναι; οὐκ εἶ διδάσκαλος καλός, ἀλλὰ μαθητὴς κακός, ὥς μοι δοκεῖ. πῶς τὰ τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης βιβλία ἀναγιγνώσκεις; ὦ μαστιγία κάκιστε…

Inteviewer: I think we’re done here. We’ll be in touch.

What to do when you must teach explicit grammar

So, you’ve become convinced (probably by someone else) that communicative/comprehensible input based approaches to language acquisition are the way to go. But you still need to produce students who have an explicit, and often advanced, knowledge of grammar. That is, you want students to acquire language but you still need them to learn about the language.

This is particularly acute in biblical languages. Students in both Old Testament and New Testament studies are going to go on to courses that demand an explicit ability to comment on and analyse the language of texts at a very atomised level. And they’re going to engage with commentaries, articles, and write materials that similarly require a fairly precise grammatical knowledge. Indeed, this is part of the academic socialisation of these disciplines – you learn the jargon so you can play the game.

The first step, I would suggest, is to recognise exactly what is going on here – students are being asked to learn to comment on fairly advanced literary and linguistic analysis. That’s not something we ‘naturally’ learn to do in our L1s, unless we explicitly do courses in linguistics and/or literary analysis. It’s not something most learners of L2 ever do, unless they take a course of study that likewise demands it. And, to analyse and understand these issues in an L2 through the medium of the L2 really demands a very high level of linguistic competence, both acquisition and learning.

Secondly, I think there are practical ways to resolve this issue, and I think these also complement each other.

Strategy 1: teach grammatical language in the L2.

This strikes some people as a bit odd: not only must my students deal with such non-New Testament words as τηλέφωνον and Αὐστραλιανός, but now I want to teach them grammar terms like ἀπαρέμφατος? To that initial objection, I have three responses:

  1. grammar jargon is for many contemporary students a whole new set of English vocabulary anyway. Teaching them Greek terms is a different burden, not an additional one.
  2. Most grammatical terms are Latinate anyway, so if you are working in Latin, ‘nominative’ and nominativus aren’t really going to cause much of an additional learning burden. Greek terms are mostly cognate to the Latin. I’ve never done Hebrew grammar in Hebrew, ignosce mihi.
  3. The payoff of doing grammar in the L2 is that you can then talk about texts at a meta-level in the L2. τίς ἐστιν τὸ ὑποκείμενον is now one of my stock phrases. This lets you circle a text both at a simple level, and at a meta-level. Which equals more and more CI.

There are some other issues though. Ancient grammarians supply us with a grammatical vocabulary, but it is not always fit for purpose, or modern discussions may have moved on. In Greek we might want to distinguish tense-form from tense/time, and aspect, and perfective, imperfective and perfect. These will require some creativity perhaps (ὁ χρόνος τοῦ ῥήματος v. ὁ χρόνος τοῦ γενομένου ?)

Strategy 2: teach grammar in the L1, but separately.

So, while strategy 1 keeps you in the language while you’re working with the language, strategy 2 means spending a separate period of time tackling L2 grammar described in L1 material (either within your teaching blocks, or a whole separate teaching period, or independent reading material for students). In the early stages, this will look a lot like traditional instruction – a descriptive set of instruction that talks about what’s going on in the language. But it ought to be mapped to what’s going on in the acquisition sessions. I’d also want to appropriately set this distinction up in the students’ understanding of the course structure and goals, e.g. “In these sessions we’ll be learning Syriac, but in those lessons we’ll be analysing how Syriac works.”

Strategy 3: teach advanced grammar in the L1, as a separate subject altogether.

Especially if you’re teaching biblical languages and training students for this kind of study, I think a 2nd year course can be given over explicitly to teaching ‘advanced’ grammar. In a sense this is not really advanced, but it does mean moving beyond the basic categories, to a more in-depth analysis of what’s going on in the language.

This might look like what goes on in a lot of 2nd year NT Greek classes: Wallace or Köstenberger et al, or Zerwick, or whoever. But a few modifications ought to be made:

  1. Again, making clear to students that this isn’t learning Greek, or learning Greek better, or even necessarily going to help their Greek. It’s learning to talk about Greek in the way ‘everyone else does’.
  2. These courses could generally do with a healthy dose of even basic general linguistics. The insular world of biblical languages studies tends to leave students (and professors) with some rather odd, peculiar, idiomatic ideas.
  3. Recognising that this isn’t the context for acquiring more Greek means that somewhere in a syllabus there needs to be something else responsible for the ongoing acquisition of more Greek. And that could include the development of ongoing L2 language for talking about L2 grammar.

 

How much language input you could be getting

How much input can you get?

I ran some numbers…

Average conversation speed is, apparently 140-160 words a minute. We can understand speeech much faster, but we don’t like to produce speech much faster. Let’s be conservative though, and say that we are gettin 100 words a minute of input in listening to audio / in a live class (I’d love to see actual data, but I don’t have it. Do you?)

For good CI reading, we want learners reading somwhere between 150-250 words a minute. Much below this and it’s likely an indicator that they are not processing it well enough – it’s shifting from extensive reading to intensive.

Now, let’s make two assumptions: one that our classes and materials only manage to stay in target language 95% of the time, and that the comprehensibility level remain a nice, high 95% (but not an ideal 98%).

So, on my numbers, an hour of oral class is 100 wpm * 60 mins = 6000 * 0.98 * 0.95 = 5415 words an hour.
Similarly, a lower end 150 wpm reading is 8122.5 words and hour.

A 14 week semester, 10 hours with 3 live instruction, 3 audio practice, 4 reading, would be 64980 a week, 909720 words of input a semester.

A school class doing 2 hours a week, 38 weeks a year, with 2 hours outside class reading: 974700.

A 3hrs a week reading habit, 48 weeks a year: 1169640.

All of these numbers are, I would suggest, orders of magnitude higher than the amount of text a student normally receives in a standard course. Even if you halved them, it’s still a lot of input. It would, undoubtedly, require the availability of a suitably vast amount of appropriately graded material. Difficult for Latin, almost impossibly for Greek.

Still, any shift in this direction would be good.

So, what to do? If you’re the learner in this equation, my advice is to read everything easy that you can lay hands on. Read all the text in every intro course you can borrow. For Latin, download every direct method reader you can, but every novella your budget stretches to, and develop a podcast habit. For Greek, hmmm, I’m still trying to solve this conundrum. Apart from textbooks, even most easy material is not as easy as it needs to be. This remains a problem to be solved. In the meantime, for Greek, Latin, or whatever it is you love, re-read everything as well: x2, x3, x10!

Reading in 3s : a more flexible approach

Reading in 3s is a way to structure reading a text so that you cover it 3 times over, sequentially. This is easiest explained by a 3-page model: you read 3 pages, but you only move your bookmark forward one page each session. Thus, you’re always reading one page ‘fresh’, one page ‘revision’, and one page ‘I totally get this now’.

But what I’ve found personally is that this has drawbacks – you must read the same amount of text each session, otherwise it gets messed up, and you need to work with a portion of text that’s relatively divisible into 3. So if you want to go up from 3 pages, 6 pages is your next best bet, but that’s double the amount.

Lately I’ve been working with a more flexible approach – I just use three bookmarks. The first bookmark means “everything prior to this you’ve already read 3 times”, the second “everything prior to this you’ve read twice”, and the third, “everything prior to this you’ve read once.” So for any given reading session, I open up at bookmark no. 1 and read from there. If I pass bookmark two, it doesn’t matter, wherever I stop I just place the bookmark (i.e. you don’t need to label your bookmarks 1, 2, 3, but if you did you’d need to move them sequentially). And I always know that those bookmarks mean the same thing. If, perchance, a day’s reading doesn’t get past bookmark 2 or 3, this doesn’t matter so much. And, if I’m feeling adventurous, I might leave bookmark 1 in place, and start with bookmark 2. Et cetera.

You do need to be a bit more intentional – you still want to balance the general proportions of new/revise/revise, but it gives you more flexibility for reading more or less on different days.

It also opens up the possibility of ‘reading in 4s, 5s, 6s’. I.e., you can just add more bookmarks. You might, for example, decide that a particular text is worth more revisions, and so your main 3 bookmarks are around chapters 13, 14, 15, but you start another two markers at chapter 1. Then on any particular day, you can treat these two groups separately, advancing the bookmarks in relation to each other. And if bookmarks 1 and 2 ever catch up to the other 3, you’ll know that you’ve now read that whole first portion 5 times over.

Great for building a lot of comprehensible input, especially with a well-graded text (I mainly use this with Italian Athenaze and Roma Aeterna at present, and it’s been serving me quite well.

The disappearing goal of corpus fluency: the 98/56 paradox

If we take the figure of 98% vocabulary coverage as what is needed to read a text at a comprehensible and ‘fluent’ level, so that the unknown 2% is understandable by context or not significant enough to frustrate understanding, then for the New Testament corpus, that requires learning around 56% of the total vocab. (3102 out of 5461, depending on how you lemmatise it; that’s my breakdown based on Tauber’s MorphGNT on SBLGNT).

That’s a lot of vocab, over 3000 words. It takes you well into the 2 occurrences or less bracket. And, some initial ‘soundings’ for other corpora suggest a similar ratio, to hit the magic 98% mark, you need to hit a vast amount of vocab, including a rather large amount of the low yield stuff. Now, Tauber will no doubt berate me/insist that I remind you that 98% coverage of the corpus does not equate to 98% of any particular smaller unit (See here) And in fact, he’s absolutely correct. Indeed, from those figures (over 10 years ago, how slow some of these things move), 3000 top frequency items render 81% of the verses 95% familiar, which is still a lot less than you’d like.

And the paradox is this: learning low frequency vocab (say under 5x in the NT) is incredibly low-yield, because you are only going to encounter that lemma five times as you read through the whole corpus. Let alone a 2x frequency word. So the pay-off in terms of understanding is low, but also your ability to learn that word is far more difficult, because it’s not being repeated enough for you to encounter it frequently. Indeed, to encounter any of those low frequency New Testament words would require you to encounter them outside the New Testament.

Which is why this is a paradox of sorts – to master a particular corpus, whether that’s Plato, Demosthenes, or the NT, actually requires reading outside the corpus because that’s the only way you’ll get enough context, exposure, and repetition to render the corpus’s low frequency vocabulary meaningful in the context of the broader language (something that living in, say, Ancient Greece would have done for you, but you have to make do with what you’ve got).

Moral of the story? If you want to master a narrow corpus, you will have to read more widely than that corpus.

σπεῦδε βραδέως (can you fast track language learning?)

One of the critiques I (πολλάκις; ἐνίοτε;) encounter about a living language methodology is that it’s slow. That it doesn’t get us directly to reading texts (the main interest of most historical language students), That it is inefficient (why do I need to learn the word for ‘butcheress’ if it only appears in LXX 1 Kings 8.13).

I want to mount something of a defence here, though a gentle one.

  1. You can only go so fast
  2. It’s basically sheer hours, not sheer speed, that charts your progress
  3. Where are you trying to get to?

 

You can only go so fast

Right, so given that you have X hours in class, or X hours studying, there’s only a finite mount of material you can cover. If that’s English description of Syriac (all my arguments are applicable to most historical languages, so let’s mix it up today!), then your actual exposure to Syriac ‘input’ is going to be very, very limited. It that’s Syriac input, you’re only going to be able to comprehend very, very simple messages at the start, because you basically don’t know enough to understand anything more.

So: grammar-based curriculum: you can proceed through grammar faster, but you’re ability and time spend exposed to L2 input is severely limited, and your speed at translating that material is going to be slow. Let alone ‘reading’.

Communication-based method: you will proceed through ‘grammar’ or ‘vocab’ much slower, but your input should be much, much higher. So your ability to understand Syriac in language will be stronger, earlier, faster, but still limited (albeit by a different factor).

And nothing much is really going to speed these things up. Sure, you can teach all the grammar up front, and do nothing in Syriac, but then all you’ve done is present a bunch of information – charts and explanations about how Syriac works, but you haven’t learnt Syriac, and in fact you haven’t even read much Syriac (if any), and so it’s after all that grammar that you have to go away and do that work of actually learning the language.

(this is actually how most Grammar/Translation courses really work: learn a description of the language, and only then do you really go out and try to learn the language. If we want to do that, I think we could do it better by explicitly saying that’s what we’re doing: “Hello students, welcome to introduction to Syriac grammar. Over the next X weeks, we’re going to provide an external, English-based description of how Syriac language works. Then next semester you can start learning Syriac.

This is also, let me say, what happens if you try and go faster than people can understand in a in-language approach. If you start outstripping students’ comprehensible levels, you have no choice but to either (a) start explaining all the language they can’t understand, and/or (b) ignore them and present language that is beyond them and so of decreasing-to-zero comprehensibility.

It’s basically sheer hours, not sheer speed, that charts your progress

What’s attractive about the above is that you can get a student, or a cohort, to the end of the year (or other arbitrary unit of time) and say, “Great, we’ve covered all of Syriac!”

Except you haven’t. That’s a lie, isn’t it? Hence the title of my post, you’ve rushed through grammar but you haven’t developed any proficiency in understanding messages in Syriac.

Based on the reading in SLA theory I’ve done, hours are a better measure of progress than most other things. Sure, learners have a bit of fluctuation, but if the main determinant is comprehensible input, and there’s not really a way to speed up certain acquisition processes, then it’s simply hours that provides a fair estimate of how far along you are. This seems to be backed up by what, for instance the kinds of hours-estimates you see for CEFR based standards.

Want to ‘go faster’? It’s not method that’s the issue, it’s time spent in the language with messages you understand. You can go faster, if you can spend more time day after day.

Where are you trying to get to?

I do get a little defensive on this point. I recognise that most historical languages students don’t want to learn to order a latte in Syriac. But, at the same time, the ability to do so is not irrelevant. Sure, learning how to say “latte” is one piece of extra information that won’t help you read the Peshitta, for instance, but it’s also not a huge burden. Rather, what does it say about us that most students couldn’t, without a great deal of difficulty, string together a sentence to ask for a basic, modern food item. (Don’t @ me about how lattes are neither basic nor food).

So I, like most teachers and students, want students to end up with an ability to read target language texts with understanding. In my ideal world, CEFR B2, or ACTFL Intermediate-High or Advanced-Low is a reasonable benchmark to aim students towards. Sure, they’re not ‘fluent’ (which is itself a super-difficult term to pin down, but I tend to peg ‘fluent’ to C2), but they’re going to be able to read most texts with minimal aids, and understand them, and have a fundamental conversation about those texts – maybe not at the same B2 level, since we’re text/reading focused, but I’d want to see students sustain a conversation about a text they can read at B2, at B1.

And, if you can get to B2, you ought to be able to ‘add on’ enough explicit grammar, in the L2 but also in your L1, to ‘talk grammar’ about a text. Again, in my ideal world L1 discussion of L2 grammar would be hived off into a separate component of any course, and delayed somewhat to help students not get sucked into a mentality of “okay, here’s an L2 message, let’s analyse its grammar while using L1”)

B2 seems, to me, also a high but reasonable standard to say, “okay, you should be able to sustain this level and improve it outside an educational facility, primarily by reading more”. A2 isn’t enough for that, B1 is borderline. We all know, though, that plenty of grammar-translation graduates reach great heights of analysis, but lose most of their language in a few short years post-college.

If hour estimates are correct, then it’s a full 800 of “teacher-led” hours to get to B2. That’s a really big ask. It requires reconceiving the length of a course of language instruction, the dynamics of the required hours, and a whole range of issues.

And yet, even to get students to A2 is going to take 200 hours or so. That’s still a lot of hours. You can’t take a month long evening course and expect to be fluent in Syriac. You might be able to explicitly learn the linguistic features of Syriac in English in a month, but that is an entirely different thing.

And so, if you’ve put up with me this far:

  • Stop trying to cram everything in. It doesn’t work and it’s not effective, unless you redefine efficacy to mean cramming.
  • Drastically raise your idea of the hours you’re going to have to commit to a language to get truly ‘decent’ at it (let alone ‘master’)
  • Drastically reduce (some of you!) how soon you’ll be able to do more than the basics.
  • Don’t lose heart – language acquisition isn’t that much about talent or aptitude (maybe not at all, I think), but persistence and time-invested.
  • You don’t get to throw out a communicative method as irrelevant or ‘doesn’t work’ until you’ve put in a good 600 hours thanks. Then come back and tell me how it doesn’t work.

What (Greek) pronunciation should I use?

I’m surprised how often this question comes up. But I’m asked this relatively commonly.

First, a very, very brief précis of the main options

  1. Reconstructed Koine (Buth or Buth-similar options)
  2. Erasmian (US)
  3. Restored Attic (Allen-Daitz)
  4. Modern
  5. UK traditional

Erasmian is what has been taught ‘traditionally’, i.e. for a few hundred years, and is dominant in US circles. It is often typically ‘infected’ with American-English vowels, which makes it even further removed from both Erasmian and historical accuracy. Both (1) and (3) are serious attempts to reconstruct and produce the sounds of Greek as pronounced in the 1st CE and 5th BCE, more or less. (4) is a recognition that Greek continued to evolve, and is in wide usage among non Anglophone contexts. It’s also quite appropriate for Byzantine texts. (5) I only mention because it exists as it’s own relatively idiosyncratic, but prevalent for a long time, system.

What should you use? Here are my principles:

  1. A pronunciation system that is historically accurate for the period that is your major interest.
  2. A pronunciation system that enables conversation with other speakers.

 

The first of these makes good sense – if you’re reading Imperial/Koine texts, you probably ought to read with a scheme that matches. If you mainly read classical texts, by all means use a classical pronunciation. If you predominantly read Byzantine texts, I’d shift one’s pronunciation to Byzantine or Modern.

But, I wouldn’t suggest trying to alter one’s pronunciation based on the period of text. So, I read classical texts with a Koine pronunciation. Which is, by the way, what I imagine the 4th century church fathers did too! I can manage a classical accent, though never well, but I don’t normally try to.

The second principle is an acknowledge that Greek should be spoken and ‘lived’, and if you’re in a context where a different scheme prevails, you should consider accommodating. E.g., I teach a class where the students are used to a pronunciation much closer to Modern. I don’t fully accommodate, but I do partially accommodate, and I don’t error-correct on pronunciation (or on other things, really).

Getting a good base in one pronunciation, you can understand others, if you’re mindful. Just as I can understand a Latin speaker with ecclesiastical (even if, to be honest, it does grate me a little), I can converse (not at a high level!) with someone using Erasmian or Modern, provided I’m mindful of the difference and mentally adjust a few words.

In sum, I think good reasons for using practically anything except Erasmian (and least of all UK traditional!), but anything else just stop worrying about it so much, you have much bigger problems ahead of you in the language learning journey.

Should I read more easy/intermediate/hard reading material?

Inspired by a recent conversation, and again a question that I get every now and again.

My suggestion is to weight your reading towards the easy (anything you can read with 98-100% comprehension, at a good reading pace), with some intermediate (anything you can read with 90% comprehension, and occasionally might need to pause to figure something out, or look up a very occasional word.

This should be your staple, for language acquisition purposes.

What about hard? Intensive reading? Figuring out that damnable Horace?

Here’s my question: Is there any pressing reason for you to read texts beyond your current proficiency?

If the answer is yes, e.g. you’re doing a course, you’ve got exams, you’re translating something for money, you’ve got a life-geas to understand Horace, then yes, spend some time in intensive/hard reading. Look up every word, diagram those sentences, get out your Loeb, do whatever it takes to make that text understandable. And then, read it, and re-read it, and make it your own. Tame that text. Memorise it. Domesticate it.

But if the answer is no, then why? From a language acquisition perspective, the time you spend toiling over figuring out 20 words of poetry, might have been spent reading pleasantly and rapidly through 20 pages (well, maybe not 20) of not so difficult material, which is still building up your language proficiency, still giving you input, still working you towards the day when those 20 lines will make a lot more sense, with a lot less effort.

So, if time and circumstances are on your side (and even if they are, to some extent, not), I prefer to weight readings towards the easy.

“The Switch” : Thinking in a foreign (dead) language

A couple of people have asked me recently what this is like, and expressed something of their frustration that they can’t go from “mental translation” to “thinking in (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Klingon)”

I do think this is hard to explain, especially if you haven’t experienced it for any language – if you’re a monoglot who has always thought in one language as long as you can remember, and your primary (or only) experience of language learning is grammar/translation/dead-languages, this is just hard to conceptualise.

So, here’s a suggestion. Watch some youtube:

Here’s day 1 TPR in French, or Rico teaching Greek, or do a search for anything TPR, TPRS, WAYK and ‘day 1’.

These are classes in which you should be able to just watch, and match language to action. Sure, I know there’s some translation going on in your head. I would generally discourage that, but also don’t stress about it. In saying I’d discourage it, I really mean, “don’t try to translate”, I don’t mean, “fight against any instinct to translate”

For me, personally, operating in an L2 is a bit like flicking a ‘switch’. One minute I’m in English, and then I flip that switch, and start thinking in, say, Gaelic. And I keep thinking in Gaelic and talking in Gaelic, as much as I can. That tends to only get disrupted when I hit a point where I can’t find the word for what I want to express. That’s like an obstacle in my mental ‘flow’, and it will get filled. Sometimes it gets filled by random other language (so I will almost always have a random word from one language slip into others), or English. If it’s not a big deal, you can kind of flow around that and keep going. Languages where I’m really fluent (like I used to be in Mongolian), I can just keep operating in the language on and on, and in fact dropping in some English won’t disrupt me. That’s genuine code-switching, rather than language interference.

The thing I’d say is, just keep at it. “It” here is reading, listening, exposing yourself to as much easy, comprehensible language input as you can. The more you can pile this up, the more input you’re getting, the more you will be able to make that jump. Don’t stress about it, but don’t keep encouraging the translation habit.

Start a spoken (Latin/Greek/Whatever) club today: my biggest classics regret

My biggest regret is that in all my time as a student I never took the step to start a group to talk Latin or Greek.

Now, admittedly I did a lot of my classics, in particular, as a distance student, and as a disconnected graduate student, but for most of my student life I was still convinced that active, communicative language approaches were (and are) invaluable. But I didn’t have the confidence, either in myself or in speaking, to start such an enterprise. I was waiting, I don’t know what for. This, I think, was a big mistake.

I don’t really care if you’re at an institution and all your teachers are super-conservative die-by-the-grammar types. If you think speaking Latin (etc.) is  good idea, start now.

If you’re not confident/have no idea, here’s my prescription:

  1. You can pick up a text designed for spoken work: Polis Institute’s Polis for Greek, Forum for Latin, are a good choice. If you’ve got some language under your belt, then the level of language isn’t your barrier, it’s having a source of inspiration to use to bootleg or jumpstart the speaking side of things.
  2. It’s actually incredibly easy to have super-basic conversations about a text in language.  Grab out your dog-eared copy of Oxford Latin Course (uel similis, ach please not Wheelock; Athenaze in a pinch), and do basic conversational comprehension: quis, quem, quid facit, cuius, quo, et cetera. Then just extend it a little: cur? ut quid faciat? and so on. (With some time, I’ll mock up some of such basic conversations).
  3. Remember, you don’t have to talk at any particular level, you certainly don’t need to talk at the level you read! Just strip it down to the most basic, start there, take notes on things you suddenly realise you don’t know how to say, and look them up later.

Oh, you like me have no friends except on the internet? Time to commit to internet chat times. This is 2018, you can find someone(s) to chat Greek to. Not many, but they are out there.

So don’t repeat my mistake, start your classics conversation group today. And if you do have grammar-translation-loving professors, just run it right outside their office.

 

Re-reading (for speed)

Technique: re-read something you’ve read before

Why is this even a post? There’s zero new content here, zero ideas that you haven’t read elsewhere or thought of yourself. But the fact it, so few learners spend time re-reading text that they’ve already read, that it’s worth my writing this just to encourage you to do it.

Suppose your reading a text. Perhaps you’re even using the “Reading in 3s” method I outlined some time ago. And you’re getting along in a book (Italian Athenaze perhaps? One of my current favourites for doing lots of easy reading).

Go back to the start, set a timer, read for 10 minutes. Stop.

How did you go? Reading like this should be a lot easier than it was the first time, or the 2nd or 3rd. And the fact that you’ve read this is what makes faster reading possible. But it’s also a really easy, effective way of getting more reading in. You’re reading material that you’ve previously understood, so now you should be reading it with greater comprehension, and faster. Increased accuracy, increased speed.

This is also a great way to refresh your memory on low-frequency vocab items. ἕωθεν and ἀπέραντος are both words that appear very early in Athenaze Italian, not words I had been terribly familiar with, and not words that appear a lot in the chapters that follow. How to get repeated exposure? Rereading the earlier chapters!

So do yourself a favour, don’t spend all your time reading “new” things, spend some of your time revisiting old things. Increased proficiency and acquisition will be your reward.

Two Tiered Faculty as the product of Online Education Models

I suspect that one of the outcomes of current development of tertiary online education models, at least in the models I’m most familiar with (which is a few), will be an entrenchment of a divide between permanent faculty and the continued subsistence of an academic underclass of adjuncts.

I won’t go into the economic side of things so much in this post (I always simply feel bad because ‘at least this isn’t America’), as a different dimension.

The nature of online education delivery is that to a large extent you can create “content” that is delivered to students. Lectures/Readings/Material can all be pre-packaged for students to digest. That material, if done well, can be done once and left for several cycles of the course. Do it well enough, and the length of its ‘digital lifetime’ gets extended. Eventually, if you care about it being up to date in the field at all, and it will need revising.

Who gets to create this content? Primarily established academic staff who have a good deal of experience in teaching the course and can produce a quality course.

But any such course still needs human interaction, otherwise you’re not selling a course, you’re selling content to be delivered. Which is fine but it’s a different thing. Students don’t fare very well when you just give them ‘content’. They need learning activities, they need to engage with the material, discuss, do assignments, get feedback, and of course ‘get graded’ (do they?)

Who does that? Rarely the person who created the content. They are off doing other things, research included. Online courses are generally administered by casual academic staff, who do all those things: engage online with students, facilitate discussions, mark papers.

In many ways, this is simply the replication of a model of two-tiered academia that already exists in plenty of brick-and-mortar institutions, especially those with large classes. Tutors/TAs do the grunt work, faculty do the lecturing. So it’s not new, but online exacerbates that division.

It makes it worse because the only people creating content are older, established academics, and those employed casually as tutors (a) do not gain teaching experience per se, because they are not content creators, (b) are economically unable to effectively pursue research in the conditions of their employment because (i) they are not paid to research, (ii) the gap between full-time-hours as a casual academic and full-time hours as a full-time employ actually means there is no “casual loading” benefit to casual work.

It seems to me that the direction this heads in is, on the one hand, content driven more and more by older, established, and high-profile scholars, who increasingly have no need to interact with actual students. On the other, course delivery by lower paid, junior academics with insecure employment status who by the conditions of their employment may never be able to leave that class. That’s a two-tiered class system, and its long term effects on higher education will be deleterious.

Project: Shepherding a text from print to digital

One of my projects for 2018 is to take a text and shepherd it, or curate it, all the way through an open source pipeline from ‘print’ to ‘digital edition’. This is part of my 2018 year of digital humanities. Here I talk a little bit about the envisioned process.

The text I have in mind is quite short, just over 2000 words. It’s Gregory of Nyssa’s De Deitate adversus Evagrium (in vulgo In suam Ordinationem). I’ve done some work on De Deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti and this will be a nice complement to that.

My checklist of things to do:

The Pipeline

Step 1: OCRing a print text
Step 2: Correcting the OCR output
Step 3: Create a TEI-XML version.
Step 4: PoS Tagging/Lemma tagging/Morph tagging
Step 5: Produce a translation
Step 6: Alignment
Step 7: Annotations and commentary

Then, voilá, open-sourced text freely available with useful data attached. Half of these things I don’t actually know how to do yet. Maybe more than half. That’s part of the fun. And, presuming it goes well, will make it a pilot project for future texts through a similar pipeline.

Can you teach a language with no native speakers via ‘immersion’?

A question I was asked recently on twitter.

Yes, but it depends what you mean by ‘immersion’ and what you think the goal is.

I don’t normally use the term ‘immersion’, because that normally, strictly, pertains to a method that involves full-time immersion in a language, so all day, all week. That’s simply not possible long-term, unless we set up little Latin-speaking (or Attic, or etc) villages. I suppose immersion is possible in short term venues like the SALVI Rusticationes

The goal, I would think, is also not to produce a new native speaking community. Though that is theoretically possible. See, the revival of Hebrew as a modern language, and also revival efforts of indigenous languages. But that’s not our goal for historical languages. If we revived a whole community of Latin speakers or Attic speakers, and allowed them to ‘continue on’ as a community and the language evolved, we would miss the point of learning ‘Latin’ or ‘Attic’, or ‘Koine’.

But there’s nothing inherent in Latin, or Koine, or Biblical Hebrew, that means they can’t be learnt as active, communicative languages. There’s nothing inherent in them that means people can’t become competent second-language speakers of these languages.

There’s a pedagogical challenge – how do you get people to this level, if few people are at that level? I think this requires careful research and considered pedagogy. We ought to take due effort to make sure that we are teaching language that is correct, as correct as possible, to what we know of the historical corpus. And we should recognise that teaching Ciceronian Latin, or Demosthenic Greek, or the like, is an artificiality. But it’s an artificiality that we already embrace in other methods anyway, and an artificiality that is desirable to the extent that we want people to read those kinds of texts and discuss those kinds of texts.

In terms of pedagogy, it’s about learning, and then using, those pieces of acquired language confidently and correctly. And perhaps the humility to say, “Well, I don’t know how to say X, Y, Z, let’s research together and get it right.”

Grammar/Translation, Communicative methods, and comparisons…

This is me picking up some pieces and adding nuance to one of my usual hobby horses, that is communicative approaches to ancient/classical/historical languages.

  1. Does Grammar/Translation ‘work’?

I think this partly depends upon what we mean by ‘work’. My main interest is developing students who can read effectively in their second language – without translating in order to understand, and mentally operating in the second language.

I don’t think G/T normally produces this for most students, or even most students who respond well to G/T. It seems to me that G/T produces primarily students who translate in order to understand (as opposed to translating messages they have already understood). I don’t deny, that some long-time practitioners of G/T end up being very competent readers. I’ll get back to that below.

  1. Are communicative methods better than grammar/translation?

It’s hard to make a proper comparison, because really this requires a controlled, data-driven study in Second Language Acquisition, and while there is obviously some work going on, on that question, I have yet to read a full-blown comparative study on the question.

However, everything I’ve seen in SLA suggests that G/T isn’t ‘the way to go’. And given that G/T dates back about 200 years, and has been largely abandoned in modern language programs, and the contrast between G/T products and modern language programs, I think we need to consider that pound for pound, G/T is not the best method.

  1. Is it far to compare seminary programs with classics programs?

No, not really. But that’s because a typical seminary program fits Greek grammar into a single year, and then (if you’re fortunate enough to have a robust program) 2-3 years of New Testament texts in Greek. This is ¼ to 1/6 of a program. And it’s focused on intensive, not extensive, reading; on analysing texts at a micro-level and exegeting for meaning; on accessing technical discussions at a verse-by-verse level.

A classics program is 3-4 years of language and literature in that language. If it’s a traditional classics program, that’s at best a 50/50 split (if you do nothing but lang and lit in Greek/Latin). Having done a full Latin sequence, I have a fair idea of what that looks like and produces. Yes, classics produces better readers, but largely because it’s a lot more exposure to texts in the target language.

And this, I’d contest, is ultimately why G/T produces readers – not a superiority of method per se. Translating is a way of making a target language message comprehensible, and sheer volume of comprehensible input is what produces language acquisition over time. G/T will do that. I’m just not convinced it does that as effectively as it could.

My main push-back to G/T is driven by the fact that G/T has this “grip” on both classics educators, and biblical language instructors. There’s a conservatism that thinks G/T is (a) the way it’s always been, and (b) the tried and true method, that (c) ancient languages are ‘different’ and cannot be taught communicatively, (d) etc., etc..

I have plenty of appreciation for grammar, for translation, for G/T methods, but I have no appreciation for traditionalist views that are ignorantly dismissive of alternatives, and critiques, of G/T.

 

 

 

Greek and Latin tutoring in 2018

Interested in some 1 on 1 tutoring in Greek or Latin in 2018?

I am looking to take on a few private students. I work individually with each student to develop a plan to meet their goals. We can work towards communicative proficiency, focus on reading, work within a traditional grammar-based approach, leverage of a textbook or course you’re doing, or tackle specific texts or genres you’re interested in.

I operate on a sliding scale based on your circumstances and timing of sessions is likewise quite flexible.

If this is something you’ve been thinking about, get in touch today and let’s work out some details. I’m also happy to do a short free consult to work out if this is the best path forward for you or not.

Just email me or fill out the form below and I’ll be in touch.

 

Lemma vs. Token frequency in John’s Gospel

In this post I discuss, in brief and embryonic form, the difference between lemma and token frequencies for John’s Gospel. At the bottom of this post you’ll find an unwieldy table. I haven’t quite figured out a good way to do tables.

Anyway, these days I’m doing lots of thinking about language teaching, reading and text based approaches, etc. etc.. And I thought it would be useful for my super-baby-coding skills to pull up a list of words in John’s Gospel sorted by frequency, both the lemmata, and the actual instances. That’s what’s on the table at the bottom (only covering the 100 most frequent lemmata, and then the 100 most frequent tokens sorted accordingly). The left-most two columns are frequency and lemma, and all the columns to the right of that are tokens.

About 5 words down things get interesting. It’s much more useful to learn εἶπεν and εἶπον than filling out the Pres.Act.Ind. paradigm of λέγω. Similarly, the two highest frequency forms of εἰμί are ἐστίν and ἦν. σύ is the most interesting, because it’s two highest tokens are actually the plural, which looks nothing like σύ. ἔρχομαι is also interesting, because I actually thought its aorists forms would turn up with higher frequency, but it’s ἔρχεται that is the star performer in John.

There’s much more to be done, but since I was messing around with this, I thought it would make a good little post between Christmas and New Year.

 

Freq Lemma Freq Token
2159 557 242 τοῦ 240 τόν 145 τό 141 οἱ 140 τήν 120 112 τῷ 107 τῶν 82 τῆς 82 τά 72 τῇ 55 τούς 37 τοῖς
813 καί 813 καί
751 αὐτός 171 αὐτόν 170 αὐτῷ 169 αὐτοῦ 99 αὐτοῖς 34 αὐτῶν
507 ἐγώ 129 ἐγώ 102 μου 99 με 40 ἐμέ 39 μοι 29 ἐμοί 26 ἐμοῦ
473 λέγω 122 λέγει 112 εἶπε(ν) 40 εἶπον 36 λέγω 34 ἔλεγον 26 εἶπαν
443 εἰμί 166 ἐστί(ν) 96 ἦν 54 εἰμί 26 εἶ
406 σύ 103 ὑμῖν 68 ὑμεῖς 60 σύ 47 ὑμῶν 37 ὑμᾶς 29 σου 23 σοι
279 οὐ 279 οὐ
270 ὅτι 270 ὅτι
239 Ἰησοῦς 193 Ἰησοῦς 26 Ἰησοῦν
237 οὗτος 61 ταῦτα 52 τοῦτο 49 οὗτος
220 ἐν 220 ἐν
201 δέ 201 δέ
197 οὖν 197 οὖν
182 εἰς 182 εἰς
165 ἐκ 165 ἐκ
159 ὅς 38 36 ὅν 30
155 ἔρχομαι 38 ἔρχεται
144 ἵνα 144 ἵνα
136 πατήρ 51 πατήρ 37 πατέρα 27 πατρός
118 μή 118 μή
110 ποιέω
102 ἀλλά 102 ἀλλά
100 πρός 100 πρός
98 πιστεύω
86 ἔχω
83 θεός 46 θεοῦ
80 οἶδα
79 τίς 47 τί
78 μαθητής 36 μαθηταί
78 κόσμος 26 κόσμου 23 κόσμον
78 ἀποκρίνομαι 57 ἀπεκρίθη
75 δίδωμι
72 ὁράω
71 Ἰουδαῖος 30 Ἰουδαῖοι 25 Ἰουδαίων
70 ἐκεῖνος 39 ἐκεῖνος
67 περί 67 περί
64 πᾶς
64 γάρ 64 γάρ
59 λαλέω
59 ἐάν 59 ἐάν
59 διά 59 διά
59 ἄνθρωπος 22 ἄνθρωπος
58 ἀκούω
56 τις 31 τὶς
56 γινώσκω
55 μετά 55 μετά
54 υἱός 26 υἱός
51 οὐδείς 26 οὐδείς
51 κύριος 32 κύριε
51 γίνομαι
50 ἀμήν 50 ἀμήν
49 εἰ 49 εἰ
45 λαμβάνω
43 πάλιν 43 πάλιν
41 πολύς
41 ἐμός
40 μένω
40 λόγος
40 ἀπό 40 ἀπό
38 εἷς
37 δύναμαι
37 ἀγαπάω
36 ζωή 23 ζωήν
34 Πέτρος 23 Πέτρος
34 παρά 34 παρά
34 ζητέω
33 μαρτυρέω
33 ἐπί 33 ἐπί
32 ὑπάγω
32 πέμπω
32 ἄλλος
31 καθώς 31 καθώς
31 ἡμέρα
30 ὡς 30 ὡς
30 ὅπου 30 ὅπου
30 κἀγώ 27 κἀγώ
30 ἑαυτοῦ
29 ἐξέρχομαι
28 νῦν 28 νῦν
28 ἀποστέλλω
28 ἀποθνῄσκω
27 ἐρωτάω
27 ἔργον
26 ὥρα
26 ἄν 26 ἄν
26 αἴρω
25 Σίμων
25 ὄνομα
25 ἀλήθεια
24 πνεῦμα
24 θεωρέω
24 ἄρτος
23 φῶς
23 Ἰωάννης
23 θέλω
23 δοξάζω
22 ἐκεῖ 22 ἐκεῖ
21 ὕδωρ
21 ὅτε

 

A language-learning autohistoria

In today’s post I rambling self-reflect on my history as a language learner. I don’t suppose that has a broad appeal as a topic of interest, but if you already know me, you might find it of interest. I sat down to write this out as part of a kind of “patient history” to diagnose where I’m “at” in this lifelong process.

High School

This was my first exposure to learning languages. In our years 7 & 8 we did 5 languages in rotation: French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. I was good at all of them, except German and that was mainly because (as I distinctly recall), they held a test on adjectives the day I returned from a bout of illness and I simply hadn’t been taught the content we were tested on.

I went on to pursue Japanese in years 9-12 and sitting the exams for the HSC. I think I was a fairly average student at it, but I didn’t have a real sense of language possibilities beyond the classroom.

Forays

post high school included some attempt to learn Spanish from some independent course materials. My first purchase of “Teach Yourself Gaelic”, and a bit of Latin from Wheelock’s grammar. None of these led much of anywhere.

Spanish

In 2002 I took a trip to Guatemala and spent a couple of weeks in 5hrs a day, 5 days a week language instruction. Spanish seemed relatively easy, grammatically, to pick up, and I progressed rapidly. I was only in central America for about 2-3 months, but I learnt enough Spanish to manage daily interactins, and even to start reading ‘Interview with a vampire’ in Spanish. This language ability mostly dissipated once I cam back to Australia, not least because I had nobody, and no reason, to maintain it.

Latin

In 2003 I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Humanities at the University of New England. the GDH required 8 units at post 100-level, and I had enrolled to study Latin, which meant 2 units at 100 level and then a further 8. UNE, being based in Armidale, was a pioneer in distance ed in Australia, and this was fairly true for Latin. My instructor was the larger-than-life Charles Tesoriero (1973-2005), and instruction took place via course materials that he had prepared, with us mailing in 6 assignments a semester, and longer essays, and exams. In the middle of each semester was a residential intensive, which was optional, but encouraged. It was a real delight, though, to travel up to Armidale and spend 2 weeks with Charles and my fellow students. I proceeded through all the Latin units with Distinctions and High Distinctions. I took a single 2nd year subject in Greek, as well as a prose composition unit with Paul Roche.

Greek

In 2001 I took a course of self-directed study towards a Licentiate in Theology, including the equivalent of first-semester Greek. This basically involved me studying Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek on my own, and sitting an exam. I did quite well, though not well enough to read Greek by myself. I was good on nouns, not so good on verbs (probably because Mounce delays them fairly late in his book). In 2003, while studying Latin, I also decided to go to seminary, and started meeting with a pastor at my church to do some Greek.

All of which put me in good stead when I went to seminary in 2004. I was enough ahead of the curve for NT Greek that I breezed through first-year. I learnt vocab through electronic flash cards, brute-forcing my way down very low on the frequency list. I blitzed grammar, and aced exams.

Hebrew

So, between 2004-2006 I was simultaneously taking Latin, Greek, and Hebrew courses. Hebrew I did fine at, but I was never a top student. I perhaps could have been, but I was doing too much. Indeed, I took on an additional external subject in Mandarin at one stage, attempting a full seminary load plus a 75% university load. I passed intro Mandarin, but did not continue.

2006-7: a turning point

In 2006 I finished up by GDH in Latin, and I was pretty deep into my NT studies, and pretty decent at Greek. I had begun listening to the early Latinum podcasts by Evan Millner, and reading and learning from discussions among Latin teachers online like Bob Patrick, John Piazza, Ginny Lindzey. This in turn led me to Ørberg’s Lingua Latina, and a fundamental question – why after 4 years of university Latin, did I still struggle to do anything more than translate with a dictionary in hand, and students of Modern Languages read their literature and discussed it in the target language? I began to read more and more in the area of Second Language Acquisition, and lean more and more towards ‘communicative methods’ (my usual term for what people call a whole range of things).

I became a ‘convert’ to Ørberg and started reading Familia Romana first of all. I likewise explored Randall Buth’s materials, and began trying to boot-strap my way into a better language proficiency.

In 2007, while in my final year of seminary, I also started (in theory) an MA in Classics as U. Sydney. That never became an MA, because a coursework MA there was terribly disorganised at the time. I enrolled in subjects that only existed in the system, only to turn up and be told no such class existed. I ended up taking 4 subjects – a classical Greek course, a historiography course, and 2 more Latin reading subjects, and then exiting with a Graduate Certificate. Not wasted learning, but perhaps not the most efficient use of my time.

2008-2011

During the next four years, my language studies continued relatively informally. I was still doing some formal Latin stuff in the first year at U.Sydney, and I did work on an MTh with a fair amount of Greek involved (Matthew, John, Revelation, and Chrysostom).

Thanks to summer and winter intensive schools, I did short courses in Latin and Greek most years, and had a chance to take some Gaelic in person. This really kicked-off my long dormant interest. I enrolled in online classes with the Atlantic Gaelic Academy, which were 3-hr group classes. Largely grammar-translation driven, but with much more oral participation than I’d have previously. I ended up taking 3 years with them, and it moved me from ‘grammar aware novice’ to ‘intermediate who doesn’t speak enough’. In 2011 I then moved to some private online classes, which weren’t bad but I was less than satisfied with the person who delivered them (he didn’t use a webcam and didn’t sound that engaged with me, and it seemed that he ‘counted’ some of our classes as being done even when cancelled (even when cancelled on his end).

I also had chances to tutor/facilitate Latin, and Greek, in a few small contexts. All in all, though, it was mostly self-directed studies and ongoing learning. I got better at reading, though slowly.

2012-2014

Mongolian adventures! In 2012 I moved (with my wife) to Mongolia. In the first year, I studied 1 to 1 with an experienced Mongolian language teacher, 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week (incidentally, this was also the first year of my PhD enrolment…). Although she had a textbook (written by herself), which a grammatical ‘bent’ (but not ‘grammar-translation’, thank God), the instruction was guided by the teacher, not the book. Actually, there were three instructors in our small school, and we would cycle between them. The head of school spoke decent English, and would start with beginners. The second spoke very basic English, the third barely above none.

So classes became Mongolian-only after about a week, and my fairly extensive knowledge of grammar across languages and basic linguistics helped me figure out a lot of things ‘going on in the background’. I learnt a lot in those classes, and progressed quite well.

In 2013 I started teaching, initially part-time (and still doing part-time language). I taught 2 classes to begin with, one with translator, but the other entirely on my own. Thankfully, I had a few students with excellent English, because I did often need in-class translation. Our class was Greek exegesis, and this made it relatively easier than it could have been – I knew the Greek text well, I had a Mongolian text to refer to, and I acquired the sub-field of ‘Mongolian grammar terms’ fairly extensively. All my exegesis classes were solo-taught, and by the 3rd semester in I felt pretty confident with that.

Moving into teaching, part-time, and then full-time, put me into an immersed environment, and my spoken Mongolian improved strongly. It was, however, pretty tiring operating in a foreign language most of the day. Highlights for my Mongolian were eventually preaching a number of times in Mongolian, and taking a mission trip with a group of students into the countryside.

Meanwhile, I kept on with other languages in various ways. I took another AGA Gaelic class at an advanced level. I started working on a literal translation of Familia Romana into Greek. I discovered the Conversational Koine Institute and did a sequence of 5 courses with Halcomb. Christophe Rico’s Polis book first appeared, and I began to be interested in his work. Where are your Keys came to my attention, and I first trialled that approach with a group of Korean high schoolers (the idea of Korean high schoolers taking a summer trip to Mongolia to practice English remains odd to this very day), and I started work on Patristic Readers.

 

2015-2017

At the end of 2014 we returned to Australia more permanently, so that I could work on completing my PhD.  This led to a few developments in my language learning. I started teaching summer and winter intensive weeks in Koine literature. That gave me a context for teaching texts at a high level and expanding some of my own reading. I started dong Gaelic sessions online (individually, and with a chat group). I also took on a role providing ‘tutor support for tutors’ in a local seminary, helping to provide training support for those who are working with struggling Greek students. I took on a number of jobs as a private tutor, mostly online, teaching Mongolian, Latin, and classical Greek. These have all been useful to me as a teacher, but also in reflecting on pedagogy. One of the things I’ve struggled with is how to do ‘communicative’ methods via webcam. I’ve dabbled in teaching some basic Greek via WAYK, and some Gaelic too.

 

So here I am at the end of 2017. I’m finally (in my life) looking at the chance to teach an intro Greek class, and get some classroom experience putting communicative approaches into practice. I’m still looking to develop my online-tutoring practices. I want to improve my own reading, and active/communicative abilities in Greek, Latin, and Gaelic (with some interest in improving Mongolian, French, German as well).

 

The Pilot and the Mechanic

(These are some notes I am drawing up for an Intro Greek class; the proximate source the analogy is Mike Aubrey over at koine-greek.com. It’s a very versatile analogy, when you put it to use; like all analogies, it has points of dis-analogy though.

Welcome to flight school! Before we get going in learning Greek, I want to talk about two type of learning, and the type of approach we’ll be taking in this course.

Languages are incredibly interesting things, and they can also do incredibly useful things. In this way, a language is a bit like a plane. Planes can fly, which is amazing, but it’s also what they were designed to do.

When it comes to learning a language, what do we mean? Researchers in the area of Second Language Acquisition (that is, learning any language that you did not learn by growing up with it from childhood) distinguish between (a) learning a language, and (b) learning about a language.

The first is actually acquiring the ability to use a language – to speak/hear/read/write the language. Many of you may know several language like this. Most of us learnt our first language like this. This is language acquisition.

The second is learning about how a language works. That is, things like grammar (the rules governing a language), or more broadly linguistics (the scientific analysis of language). This is language learning.

These two things are not the same. They are related, they can influence each other, but they don’t lead to each other directly. Language acquisition is like going to flight school, and language learning or Grammar, is like going to mechanical school.

A pilot knows how to fly a plane. They can take it up in the air and control it. They may not even really understand how their plane works on the inside, but they know how to fly it. So too with languages – people speak, read, understand, all the time, often without knowing how their language ‘works’, indeed they can even have lots of wrong ideas about how their language works, and still use it perfectly well.

A mechanic knows how the plane works. They understand the pieces, how they fix together, how it all functions. That’s a lot like being a linguist – a trained linguist understands how languages work, and often in detail how a particular language or group of languages works. They don’t need to speak those languages (and very often don’t!). But they might! A mechanic might also know how to fly a plane, but that’s not what it takes to be a mechanic. A pilot might learn about the mechanics of their plane, which is really helpful, but not the same as flying.

Pilots, Mechanics, and You.

A lot of ancient languages, including Koine Greek, have traditionally been taught using the ‘mechanic’ approach, for various reasons. This tends to produce people who are successful at analysing Greek passages. It is a very slow way of producing people who can read and understand Greek texts.

I take it that our goal here is primarily two-fold:

  • to learn to read Greek well enough to read the New Testament with some degree of fluency and ease (and other Koine literature).
  • to learn to analyse Greek in order to talk about the grammar of texts, and to interact with scholarly work on the New Testament (and other Koine literature).

The first is a flying goal, the second is a mechanical goal. You might lean more towards one or the other, you might find one or the other easier. You might find one or the other intimidating. Those are perfectly normal and fine reactions to have.

In this course, then, I’m trying to both teach you to fly, and teach you the mechanics of how planes work. That is, I’m going to be trying to teach you to understand Koine Greek as a proper, living language that you can not only read, but speak/hear/write a little bit (though our focus in the end will be reading). I’ll also be teaching you the nuts and bolts of how Greek works.

I expect that most of you want to be better pilots, and if you’ve ever studied an ancient language, I also expect that you think studying mechanics is the way to get there. That’s the biggest myth I want to dispel today – studying the blueprints of a plane does very little to help you fly it. So, too, the rate of return on studying grammar to understanding a language fluently is marginal. Not zero, but definitely not high.