[B-Greek] Teach Nouns or Verbs first?

Jeffrey T. Requadt jeffreyrequadt_list at hotmail.com
Thu May 15 19:53:13 EDT 2008

This brings to mind another problem that I see with NT/Koine Greek 
education, and in college education in general (and I know that this 
observation has been made many times over by other people). You have a whole 
bunch of people who may be very knowledgeable in their field (or who may 
not...), but DON'T KNOW HOW TO TEACH. I'm not trying to be elitest, although 
I am indeed a public educator. But from personal experience, both as a 
student-learner and a teacher-learner (and those two are never completely 
different), the more you understand about how people learn and how human 
brains work, the better you will teach, and most Greek teachers (and college 
professors) just don't know about teaching, learning, and the human brain. I 
know this was true when I was in college, and it has definitely been true in 
my own teaching experience. The better I am at providing comprehensible 
input, using different intelligences and learning styles, targeting 
instruction and differentiating it for individuals, providing quality 
feedback, providing clear and consistent expectations, and all the other 
tools in my toolbox, and USING THEM PURPOSEFULLY, NOT RANDOMLY, the more 
effective my teaching is, and the more lasting my students' learning is. You 
can "teach" something a thousand times and not have the student learn it if 
you don't teach it the way they need to learn it. If we really want students 
to learn NT Greek (and I'm not a teacher of NT Greek, so this would be for 
someone else to digest, I suppose), then we need to make sure that we are 
teaching it the way that we know best for students to learn. There has been 
a ridiculous amount of research on successfully teaching/learning languages, 
what I think has been referrred to as Second Language Aquisition, or SLA. 
I'm more familiar with ESL, or English as a Second Language, and SIOP 
(Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol). The point is, there is so much 
research, and so many resources, available, that I think it's a little 
discouraging that so many students are learning NT Greek with methods that 
are patently not working, unless we define "learning NT Greek" as "can 
identify Greek letters, recognize endings, and rely on other resources than 
the text, such as lexicons and grammars, to derive some semblance of 
understanding from the text." I think that if I were to begin teaching 
Greek, which I am in no way qualified to do, since I don't have any real 
comprehension of it myself (although I can identify letters, read the sounds 
of the words proficiently, and struggle through some simple text usually 
without resorting to a lexicon), I would begin by reading as much as I could 
on SLA, especially in the field of Classics, and try to have leveled texts 
prepared--NT and other literature from the same time period, but different 
genres, and try to bring in people who speak modern Greek fluently, and 
provide a lot of background knowledge of Hellenistic culture, and have my 
students to skits and write poems and and and and and... basically, try to 
involve as many different parts of their brain as possible. Again, just 
because I reccomend this kind of approach doesn't mean that that's how I 
actually instruct all the time in my classroom. I'm a relatively new 
teacher, after all, and I'm still trying to figure out what the heck I'm 
doing. And my original point was that so many of the people who "teach" 
Greek don't actually know how to teach. I'm not trying to put them down; 
they may be great motivators and explainers and scaffolders. But I think 
that in the vast majority of cases, even the successful ones probably don't 
know what it is that makes them so successful. They just don't know. They 
haven't had to learn all the stuff that we had to learn in teacher's college 
about brain development and social learning and scaffolding and 
psycholinguistics, and the link between reading and writing, and physical 
learning, etc. And like I always say, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Jeffrey T. Requadt
(honored to be considered a teacher by some)

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Randall Buth" <randallbuth at gmail.com>
To: "greek B-Greek" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>; "Kenneth Litwak" 
<javajedi2 at yahoo.com>; "Carl Conrad" <cwconrad2 at mac.com>
Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2008 2:20 PM
Subject: [B-Greek] Teach Nouns or Verbs first?

> 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
> learning.
> "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
> communication'.
> 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
> assistant.
> 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
> glossing.
> 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
> www.biblicalulpan.org
> randallbuth at gmail.com
> Biblical Language Center
> Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life
> ---
> B-Greek home page: http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek
> B-Greek mailing list
> B-Greek at lists.ibiblio.org
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