Mediations on Greek Pedagogy

My wife had a vocabulary quiz this afternoon.

She hates them.

And its not because she doesn’t know the words. She’s the best in her class – it helps that she’s already done Classical Greek. No, she hates them because vocabulary quizzes rip words from their contexts. How often are you going to see συνέρχομαι all by itself in isolation with no words surrounding it.

The question, then, is this. How can we teach and test on vocabulary in a more natural manner?

Now, I’ve never taught Greek grammar before. I’ve only TA’ed NT exegesis, so I don’t know how feasible this is, but here is my idea. Its sort of a blend of avoiding vocab quizzes as well as translation exercises all at the same time.

What if instead of working through the vocabulary that appears 50 times or more, students were to work through the vocabulary of a narrative – say Mark (over the course of a year). Mark is relatively short and its Greek is not difficult. Use the words from a sentence or two at a time for the required vocabulary. But instead of simply requiring them to translate the sentences or have them spew out the words they know onto a piece of paper, simply have them read the text, and then answer questions about its content. As they go through the narrative, their vocabulary would grow and there be fewer new words in the following sentences, which means one could then deal with larger chunks of the story at one time.

What do you think?

Would this work?

Perhaps in conjunction with Buth’s materials?

16 thoughts on “Mediations on Greek Pedagogy

  1. That’s essentially what we are doing in Hebrew. We have the vocab from Fuller’s book, but we are also translating through Jonah, and we have the vocab from that, too. Every so many weeks, we have a cumulative vocab quiz from Jonah.

  2. What has worked for me all my life was to read through new material, try to make intelligent guesses from compounds of known elements (συνερχομαι is pretty easy), make note of words that I can’t recognize or make intelligent guesses from context and look them up and study the definition in a good dictionary (not a glossary). There have been words that I had to look up and note down more than once, but rarely have I had to do it three times. I honestly believe that vocabulary is acquired primarily through reading voluminously and seeing new words and learning them or seeing familiar words in new contexts.

    1. Yeah, συνερχομαι is easy, but its the only word on her vocab list that I could remember off the top of my head.

      I honestly believe that vocabulary is acquired primarily through reading voluminously and seeing new words and learning them or seeing familiar words in new contexts.

      That’s exactly why I wrote this post, actually.

  3. Interesting, but I’d think perhaps you’d want a text that is somewhat simple to read yet still less familiar. At least for me, it is easy to think I understand Mark when really I’m just remembering the English text I’ve read all my life. Go for an excerpt of Hermas, perhaps. Or *maybe* Polycarp (but Hermas really is easier). Also, you might want to peek at the concept of James Tauber’s Graded Reader: http://jtauber.com/graded_reader/

  4. Interesting, but I’d think perhaps you’d want a text that is somewhat simple to read yet still less familiar.

    Just a comment from the peanut gallery, but what about using some less familiar passages from the LXX?
    Jeff

  5. That’s exactly how I learned most of my French vocabulary. The words we learned in isolation in the classroom I’ve forgotten, but the words I’ve learned from reading extended passages of real French prose – that’s what I remember. In fact, Sandburg’s book French for Reading uses a similar approach. The book is for graduate students who only need to read French (at least, they think they only need to read it), and so at the end of each chapter, there are progressively lengthening French passages with comprehension questions at the end. I used the book after two semesters of French to bring my reading skills to a point at which I could read real French, not textbook French. The vocabulary is introduced gradually through the exercises in each chapter – by the time you get to the passages, you’ve already seen the words several times.

  6. The oldest Greek readers always used narrative. It was usually the Anabasis.

    I read IV Maccabees with Pietersma as well as other early Christian texts.

    Most language courses are centred on stimulating narrative. However, I do see a place for a high frequency list.

    There is another way of teaching vocabulary, by domain – all the body parts, all the foods, landscape, family members etc. It is not only necessary to know what the word means, but to know what the choices are, what the semantic grouping was. That is, you need to know what word was chosen instead of what other available choices. A word must be learned in relation to the other words in its set.

    Morphology is also important. I am thinking of my posts on orthotomew where it is not opaque that this is composed of ortho and temnw.

    I think there are a lot of ways to organize vocabulary and it is interesting to make a few webs, work with a high frequency list, discuss derivation, and history of certain words, etc. Of course, some words are less interesting than other words.

  7. “I read IV Maccabees with Pietersma as well as other early Christian texts.”

    Um, that sounds silly – perhaps I meant diverse early Christian texgts.

  8. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who dreads the vocab test. I noticed years ago that I have difficulty, even in English (my native tongue) coming up with the definition of a word with no context surrounding it, even when I know the words cold.

    I have no suggestions, but there has to be a better way to test one;s knowledge of word meanings than a lit of words laid next to a list of blanks.

    Besides, if I can translate a passage, doesn’t that mean that I know the vocab?

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