[B-Greek] A Greek Pedagogical Question

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at ioa.com
Sat Jul 23 11:52:35 EDT 2005

On Jul 22, 2005, at 2:39 PM, Norbert Rennert wrote:

> Sorry about the last empty post. I don't know what happened that it  
> went
> out empty. Here is what I wrote:
> Most modern language courses use graded reading material. There is
> almost no beginner level reading material available for koine or  
> ancient
> Greek.

This is simply not true. There are two excellent series for Classical  
Attic: the JACT "Reading Greek" series and the OUP series "Athenaze."  
One excellent text for Koine is the Colwell and Tune _A Beginner's  
Reader/Grammar for New Testament Greek_, originally published in  
1965, republished by Hendrickson in 2001.

> That is one of the reasons I chose to use simple, beginner level
> stories on my site. To ask a first year student to read the NT "as  
> much
> as possible" is a recipe for failure, especially when the only way he
> got taught to do it is to stop and parse every word.

But you need not ask the student to parse every word; you can gloss  
the words and constructions that are not yet to be learned and make  
it clear what the new material in the current reading is. That's the  
strategy of the books I've mentioned above; it's also the strategy of  
Mounce's reading workbook that accompanies his textbook (although I  
don't personally much like that textbook).

> Your reading speed
> is down to about 1 or 2 words a minute. Imagine ESL classes where
> students get taught to memorize the rules and paradigms of English,  
> how
> to interpret an advanced grammar tome, and consult an unabridged
> dictionary and then told to read (and enjoy) the KJV of the Bible as
> their only text. I wonder what the motivation level of those students
> would be.
> Seeing as there is no beginner level language material for koine  
> Greek,
> why not compose short simple stories and develop a reading curriculum
> for it now? What is wrong with that?

There might be nothing wrong with that -- IF the stories were  
composed in authentic Koine Greek rather than in an English that is  
converted word-wise into supposed Koine Greek equivalents. But to do  
this successfully requires genuine fluency in Koine Greek. I think  
that I can READ Koine Greek with reasonable fluency and I know that  
several others can, but SPEAKING AND WRITING it call for a much  
deeper, more intimate competence. I don't have that competence. I can  
fairly well assess the idiomatic quality of what's been composed in  
Koine Greek, but I couldn't get very far in doing composition in it  
myself. I have noted serious errors in grammar and idiom in the  
sentences in some Beginning Greek textbooks, including the classic  
primer of Machen. I won't repeat here my comments on the stories at  
the web-site in question but simply refer to my earlier message with  
the above subject-header of July 19, 2005 8:12:31 AM EDT.

Randall's pedagogical method is not the only oral approach to Koine  
that I've heard of, but I think it must be the most successful. The  
traditional means of instilling reading fluence in Classical Attic is  
Greek composition. I had to do two full years each of Greek and Latin  
composition in graduate school; it was an arduous task  but it was  
also fun. The stories in "Reading Greek" and "Athenaze" are  
idiomatically and grammatically sound. I really do not think we ought  
to employ as a learning tool any textual material that is  
grammatically or idiomatically defective. However harsh and  
"unrealistic" my view may seem, I simply do not believe there is any  
great value in learning "a little bit of Greek halfway." I don't  
believe that we can start students on the way to fluency in Koine  
Greek with textual material that does not itself reflect a high  
degree of fluency.

And in response to Bert deHaan:

On Jul 22, 2005, at 8:57 PM, bertdehaan at sympatico.ca wrote:
> I can read both English and Dutch fluently but to give a  
> translation is quite a bit more involved than being fluent in both  
> languages.
> I think that is what Dr. Conrad is referring to when he wrote:
>  " What is needed -- and what Randall's
> pedagogy aims at, I think -- is THINKING IN GREEK as opposed to
> translating. And this is what one who learns Greek in order to READ
> Greek texts should, I think, aim at."
> I have also read once (I think it was also Carl who wrote this)  
> that self learners are seldomly successful in learning Greek.
> I find that a little discouraging for I do not have an opportunity  
> to attend formal Greek instruction.
> However, even if I don't succeed in getting to the destination, I  
> am enjoying the trip. I am at line 285 of the second book of the  
> Iliad. The second book is going considerably faster than the first,  
> but I am a looong way from reading Greek comfortably. (My intention  
> is to read the whole Iliad and Odyssey)
> My question is; Is it possible to become fluent in Greek to the  
> point of being able to think in Greek, just by reading.
> I enjoy reading Greek but I can hardly wait for the time when I can  
> read Greek so well that I might forget that I am reading Greek.

Bert, I have told this story before but maybe you didn't see it: as a  
first-year grad student I was concerned to knock off as much of my  
reading list as quickly as possible and was determined to tackle the  
bull by the horns. I set myself the goal of reading the 12 books of  
the Iliad and 12 books of the Odyssey that were assigned on the  
reading list in one month. I spent about six hours a night every  
night on it; I could handle the Homeric grammar pretty well but the  
vocabulary was an overwhelming challenge. I started entering Greek  
words unrecognized in a notebook as I read line-by-line through the  
Oxford text of the Iliad; I had pages and pages of entries from Book  
I, many of my entries being duplicates of words I had looked up  
previously. What I discovered was that somewhere halfway or so  
through Book III I was looking up only about ten words per page of  
Greek text and there were fewer and fewer repeated entries. It was  
about this point that I realized that i was reading almost (but not  
quite) effortlessly. The exhilarating feeling was akin to what I had  
felt when I started gliding off on a bicycle without being held up  
anymore. In later studies I have found that something a bit  
comparable had to be done each time I began reading seriously a Greek  
author whose work was worth reading: one had to get used to the style  
and idiom of a writer or one had to get used to the dialect (e.g.  
Herodotus' Ionic dialect) and one certainly had to acquire a  
familiarity with that author's characteristic vocabulary, but plowing  
ahead in the same manner as i had plowed ahead in the Homeric text  
achieved the same result. Since then I have remained convinced  
(almost 50 years later) that an industrious reading program is the  
essential step following upon solid grounding in basic grammar or  
reading skills for attaining fluency at reading Greek. It requires  
effort and industry but it works.

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

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