[B-Greek] Teach Nouns or Verbs first?

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Thu May 15 17:20:57 EDT 2008

The question 'noun or verb first' needs recontextualization.

Carl's comment is on target and lines up with SLA.
See below for more discussion.

>On May 15, 2008, at 2:55 PM, Kenneth Litwak wrote:
>>   In preparing to teach Beginning Greek, I've noticed
>> that there are some significant differences between
>> Mounce (which I am using because that's the book
>> everyone else uses at the school, and the one
>> recommended on Rod Decker's site) and others.  Black,
>> Machen (which I learned from), etc. put verbs right up
>> front.  Mounce makes you wait ten lessons before you
>> actually get to verbs.  You use them before that in
>> exercises but you don't really learn what you're
>> looking at.  Does anyone have comments on the choice
>> of verbs first or nouns first when teaching Greek?
>>  Also, my experience was to learn accents right away
>> with all the rules.  Mounce talks about them briefly
>> and Black even less.  I think knowing the rules are
>> helpful, unless one is only going to read Majuscules.
>> What do others think? Thanks.
>I'm replying, not because I imagine that what I say will persuade
>anybody, but because I just want to register a protest against the
>notion that one can really learn to read and understand Greek by
>learning EITHER nouns OR verbs first. Granted, Greek sentences may
>consist of just a noun and an adjective or a verb with its implicit
>subject, the realy minimal unit of discourse is the clause. I've never
>been able to understand how teaching all nouns or all verbs batchwise
>is in any way meaningful pedagogically.
>Carl W. Conrad

The last line "is in any way meaningful pedagogically" points to
one of the most important pedagogical priniciples for real language

"comprehensible, meaningful input".

I don't think that either Machen or Mounce are constructed along
lines that show any understanding or application of those principles.

If a beginning student is presented with comprehensible utterances,
that is, utterances in a context where they are understood by
themselves, then that student will start learning, and will start
internalizing. the question is not 'verbs' versus 'nouns' but
'meaningful communication' versus 'incomprehensible
Has anyone on the list read the first 50 pages of Asher's book
since the comments a week or so ago?

A student can learn APSAI THS TRAPEZHS in day one.
APSAI ALLHS KEFALHS (in a classroom, :-)
not so easy in self-study)
(they will know the correct accent for these words, too,
before they learn the rules and in some cases before they
learn the alphabet.)
Before they know what a noun, genitive, accusative, or
aorist imperative is, before they can name them.
Spelling rules for the accents are nice, but they are not the
conduit through which the language can be internalized. They
are a useful scaffolding (a 'monitor' in Krashen and Terrell's
terms) and are even useful in reading 'only' majuscules. The
majuscules and any written language code are only pointers to
the whole language that rests inside the heads of speakers. A
learner needs to hear and needs to correctly pronounce words.
For that they need to internalize the correctly accented
syllable. That may take 1000 hours and in the meantime they
can correct themselves with the principles of final long vowels

Anyway, the Greek sentences above are concrete, practical,
easily demonstrated and comprehension is easily and instantly
tested. If you say to the student APSAI SOY THS KEFALHS
and they touch a table, then they did not understand. If they
'draw' or 'point to' a head they did not understand. Teachers
needs to slow down and re-demonstrate the meaning with an

So I would rephrase the question:

Concrete or abstract?  concrete.

The first few hundred items should be concrete items that
are transparently understandable in a living situation, plus
the little 'relational' and 'glue' words that accompany the
correct formation of an utterance. 'Glue' words are not taught
outside of a context, of course. (PS: rubber animals,
flowers, pitcher, cups, water, shields, swords and helmuts
are all useful classroom props for introducing language that
will deal with biblical texts. Pictures work, but its more fun
and meaningful to have a student put on a helmut or give it
to another student.)

Opening, closing, giving, taking, sitting, standing, walking,
talking, eating, breathing, eye, ear, nose, mouth,
seeing, hearing, bread, wine, water,
book, chair, table, student, teacher, board, drawing,
pointing, go up, go down, go fast, go slow,
should be learned before approximations to
honor, obey, deceive, prophesy, justify, righteous,
propitiation. Frequency in the NT is not as important
at the beginning as comprehensibility.
Start with words that a two-year old can grasp. Let
the students have some real success learning that they
can learn this language. Many of the words above are
common and 'irregular'. Two year olds learned -mi verbs
before they knew that they were irregular.
You need to know QES, ARON, EQHKAS, HRAS.
DOS EDWKAS LABE ELABES at the beginning of the
year, not at the end.

You can teach some pretty complicated structures as
long as the relationships are easily demonstrable.
Then mix in words that will be needed for texts. That is
the time to use an outside language like english for
glossing some abstract or complicated words for a
text that is being read. (See TPR Storytelling for
pedagogically sound examples.) And concrete
descriptions like narratives or parables will be better
than abstract reasonings and need less of the English

Why do this when none of the traditional textbooks are
designed this way?
Because students will learn faster.
They will remember and recall it longer. Because its
more efficient and its more fun.
Because it builds internalization.
It produces happier students.
And it's real challenging for a teacher, and teachers
love challenges.


Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

More information about the B-Greek mailing list