[B-Greek] A Greek Pedagogical Question

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Tue Jul 19 08:12:31 EDT 2005

On Jul 19, 2005, at 12:32 AM, Kent Clarke wrote:

> Friends and Colleagues of B-Greek:
> I was recently asked by a fellow Greek professor to look at an  
> internet site
> that seeks to help Greek students learn the language through a more
> inductive (reader oriented) approach. I have formally taught Greek  
> for five
> years now (but began my own study of the language almost 15 years  
> ago) and
> admittedly use a more deductive (traditional) approach. With lots of
> encouragement and some individual hands on instruction for students  
> having
> difficulty, we seem to have had very good success (putting through  
> close to
> 70 first year Greek students each year, the surprising majority being
> non-Greek/biblical studies majors; and close to 20 second year  
> students, the
> majority being Greek/biblical studies majors).
> After looking at the site for several hours (which can be viewed at
> http://www3.telus.net/norbertre/index.html ) I sent the following  
> response
> to my colleague. I would be very interested in any feedback from  
> the B-Greek
> list (and especially from Greek professors more "seasoned" than I,  
> but also
> from those students of Greek who may have learned the language more
> inductively) regarding the whole pedagogical approach between  
> deductive and
> indicative language approaches. I attach the following:
> The site seems to be well done. I think Norbert's efforts are  
> rewarding,
> especially when applied to a traditional approach to teaching and  
> learning
> Greek (that is, how you and I teach Greek haha).
> However, I'm not sold on his idea (or his more inductive approach)  
> as an
> exclusive approach to learning Greek. I think it is good that  
> students begin
> learning to read Greek text right away, but in order for them to  
> read text
> well (which I hope they do by the time they get through with you  
> and I) it
> would literally take years and a very large number of stories to  
> complete
> what we attempt to teach more deductively in two years.

Perhaps I don't understand what the stories at this site are meant to  
do, but in the first one which I examined I found the following:  
MARKON KAI TON ADELFON NIKODHMON. What I don't understand here is the  
usage of KAI in the first two clauses. It appears to me that English  
sentences have been converted into Koine Greek without thinking about  
the proper position of KAI. In another story I find KAKOS used in a  
context where it ought to be accusative plural but the sentence  
ISCUEI. And in fact, as one reads through that story one gets the  
impression that the adjective KAKOS is indeclinable.

Now perhaps, since the lesson to which this story is attached is  
focused on forms of second-declension masculine nouns, and there's  
been no discussion of adjectival forms yet, the student is supposed  
to look at the nouns only and ignore the forms of other words.  
There's a feedback button which the user is invited to click on to  
comment on the story, but it doesn't function on my computer.

I'm all for the didactic approach that involves learning Greek by  
reading narratives and dialogues that provide contexts for  
discernment of patterns of forms and syntax, but I think it is  
important that the narratives and dialogues display authentic forms,  
not Greek sentences that are word-for-word translations of English  
sentences. I would recommend the JACT series of textbooks published  
by Cambridge UP that are termed "Reading Greek" and a similar but  
somewhat slower-paced series of textbooks published by Oxford UP that  
are called "Athenaze." The Greek texts set forth in both those series  
for students are good classical Attic and they do gradually grow more  
complex and inclusive of the whole range of linguistic forms and usage.

> There has been much talk about an inductive approach to learning  
> Greek (or a
> more reader oriented approach) over the last decade or so, but I  
> know of few
> that have really produced a Greek aptitude in students who have  
> used these
> approaches (perhaps Athanaze's Classical Greek grammar being at  
> least one
> exception with its more deductive-inductive combination). In some  
> ways, I
> think the inductive approach attempts to be a "soft sell" for  
> anxiety ridden
> students. Learning Greek deductively (i.e. through paradigms,  
> grammars, and
> syntax) is hard work, but its tried, tested, and true. The inductive
> approach (i.e. learning through immediate language usage and  
> contextual
> recognition via tools like stories or texts laden with singular  
> syntactical
> features etc), while initially more rewarding, really fails to help  
> all but
> the most motivated student progress beyond the most elemental parts  
> of the
> Greek language. Not to mention the fact that more inductive  
> approaches may
> tend to turn Classical or Koine Greek into a modern spoken language  
> when its
> not.

I'm sure that Randall Buth will respond to this: he has a program  
that involves conversational use of Koine (Biblical) Greek in the  
class setting to develop skills in a manner closer to the way people  
ordinarily learn language by using it. While I haven't seen his  
program at work, it is obvious that Randall has the competence in  
Biblical Greek to speak and write it fluently -- and ACCURATELY.  You  
ought to look at his pages at


> If you think how long one has to be completely immersed into a second
> language culture to be an adequate user of that language (I have  
> been told
> on numerous occasions, for example, that if one wants to learn a  
> second or
> third modern language fluently, it would take him/her two full years
> immersed in that specific language culture. This is the ultimate  
> inductive
> approach; which is virtually impossible to do with ancient Greek.  
> Norbert's
> "system" has good potential usage, in my opinion, when combined  
> with a more
> traditional and deductive approach (any additional resource that  
> gets a
> student practicing the language is beneficial). So, for example, when
> Norbert teaches students the use of the first declension noun, it  
> would work
> well when combined as an exercise after the first declension noun  
> is taught
> deductively (but I really think more modern Greek grammars like  
> Mounce's
> Koine Greek text with its workbook, while having some short- 
> comings, does
> this same thing quite well already).

"Reading Greek" and "Athenaze" both have, in my opinion, a workable  
ratio between inductive and deductive elements in the pedagogical  
process and can, I think, be used successfully with the right  
combination of teacher and students. But my own experience of  
teaching Greek in the classroom for 40+ years is that there is no  
single system or combination that works equally well for all  
beginning students. I'm convinced that a good teacher can teach  
ancient Greek successfully with a wretched textbook (I had a superb  
teacher when I started learning Greek in Fall of 1952 with a textbook  
than which I've never seen anything worse { I noted recently that one  
can still get it (Rife) somewhere}, and I think I got a very good  
start that year. I think it's also true that some rare students may  
successfully learn Greek despite having a bad teacher and a bad  
textbook (I've seen it happen). I really don't think that one can  
learn VERY well by self-study alone although that might be preferable  
to having a really bad teacher. There are numerous elements involved  
in any successful pedagogical chemistry.

> I hope I'm not close minded, but my own learning process in regards to
> Classical and Koine Greek (and I really began with a terrible language
> aptitude!!!, but now I teach the subject) has me convinced that  
> despite all
> the short-comings of a deductive approach to the Greek language  
> (first and
> foremost being that it can be quite difficult if students are not  
> constantly
> encouraged and given the "bigger grammatical picture"), there  
> really is no
> substitute for rolling up your sleeves and memorizing basic Greek  
> grammar
> (inclusive of paradigms) and vocabulary. As students advance and  
> continue to
> learn and use the language, they will slowly become more proficient at
> recognition and be less and less dependant upon paradigms. I think  
> that few
> of us who continue to use Greek can produce faithfully all 52 some odd
> paradigms now, but hopefully one can correctly parse a particular  
> noun,
> verb, or participial form by recognizing its distinct lexical or
> declensionary features (i.e. the basic augment and sigma form for  
> the aorist
> indicative, reduplication and kappa for the perfect indicative etc,  
> etc)
> eight out of ten times without needing to turn immediately to a  
> lexicon. I
> don't think I would be as proficient at doing that if I did not at  
> some
> point during my first or second year of Greek memorize all the  
> paradigms.
> The other thing that the deductive approach offers with the  
> memorizing of
> paradigms etc, it that you learn quite quickly (generally within  
> one year)
> the basics of the entire Greek grammar and how the language more  
> broadly
> works. The inductive approach generally does not offer that as  
> effectively,
> and in fact more often than not I think the process of learning  
> grammar in
> an inductive approach can drag it out so long that the student  
> never really
> develops a broader and connected understanding of how the Greek  
> language
> actually works. So I think an inductive approach combined with our
> traditional deductive approach is best. What do you think??

I have personally seen all too many instances of students who could  
recite the paradigms or fill in the blanks on a test of paradigms but  
couldn't recognize the forms with any facility in a narrative text,  
e.g. can give you the full conjugation of LEGW but can't recognize or  
tell  what LEXWN means.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at ioa.com or cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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