How well do we prepare Greek students?

I’ve written enough about language learning and how much we fail to teach students to learn the language and instead teach students about the language via grammars and lexica.

But even if we switch to discussing how well we teach students about the language, even then, do we succeed? Do our Greek students learn our classes with the skills and abilities to go beyond digging through the index or table of contents of their intermediate grammar?

Our Greek students are taught how to use the tools and write an exegesis paper. Do they have the skills to write a grammar paper? To dig through a text to determine the meaning of a given syntactic construction? Or even to analyze a function word, such as μεν?

I honestly don’t think so.

Should they be able to?

Is the ability to study and analyze grammar on one’s own a valuable enough tool for a student to understand the text that it should be taught?

14 thoughts on “How well do we prepare Greek students?

  1. Yes, gaining the ability to study and analyze grammar on one’s own is critically valuable to the student to enable him to understand the text. No matter how daunting the task or seemingly disinterested the students in taking on the challenge, mentors like yourself need to continue encouraging students along the the difficult path to mastering needed skills. I I took Greek I in 1980-82 and then switched to an official seminary in Memphis taking Greek I again and Greek Readings of John. I remember my professor getting pretty frustrated back then with the class more than once over a seeming lack of passion for the art. I was embarassed for my fellow classmates. Here was a preeminent scholar pouring his heart out trying to teach us the entricacies of NT Greek. The response by most folks was let’s just get this over with sinces its a degree requirement course. The professor subsequently left the school, leaving a great big gapping hole in the Greek program. I learned alot from this man before he left, but I needed much much more. I was in a 36 hour Masters program, so I got my sheepskin, but I felt like my training was woefully lacking because of the level of my Greek skills. Twenty-five years later, I am pulling out all the stops and cam ommited to finally learnning the Greek skils that I need by hook or crook. It ain’t easy. Your blog has helped alot, along with several other sites (like Decker’s) All this too say that even if only a handfull of students rise to the level of expertise that you feel is needed, your work, time, and effort will make a positivie impact on preparing the next generation for NT study.

    1. Craig, I am greatly encouraged that my blog has helped, though its always strange to me because I’ve only been studying Greek for four years now, myself. I documenting my own learnings here.

  2. Mike,

    As we’ve been discussing, I think beginners need to first be educated in using tools so hey can spend the rest of their lives learning Greek (or Hebrew).

    But I agree with you on the goal. During my undergrad at HBU (on the Hebrew side, cause the Greek side was weak back then), we were not allowed to write exegetical papers. Our paper had to ask a syntactic question and we had to answer it.

    To answer your last question, yes, it is a valuable tool that must be taught. In fact, their exegesis will suck if not based on a critical understanding of the grammar and syntax of their passage.

    1. Yes, I was thinking more intermediate than beginner on this post. I’ll have to write a post on my perspective about what the beginner needs.

      That’s awesome that you had to write your paper on syntax for Hebrew.

      1. yeah. but unfortunately, there’s no linguistics module (much less full blown program) to aid the students. How much linguistics do you think an intermediate student needs?

        1. Personally, I think it would be good to have linguistics, probably a basic intro to grammatical analysis before even taking the first class. There’s a whole lot of talk about the need to teach English grammar to students so that they can understand Greek grammar, but the real need behind that is one for a basic foundation in grammar more generally.

          From there, in my mind, it would be optimal to be able to then teach beginning Greek in a sort of eclectic manner that would combine traditional methods (i.e teaching them to use the tools) with something like a Second Language and Culture Acquisition Class and a Field Methods class. In this sort of model, the professor teaching would be expected to have a high enough competency in Greek to pretend at least reasonablly well to be a native speaker.

        2. Oh, another reason, I think it would be best to teach linguistics first – can you imagine how much easier it would be to teach pronunciation if the students already knew IPA?

  3. It’s nice to debate theory on this subject. It’s another matter to actually *do* it. There’s far more to teaching Greek than the theoretical elements. Some day when you’ve actually taught Greek in a real school environment and dealt with curriculum issues and faced classes of “real” students, and better yet, talked to students you’ve taught 10 or 20 years earlier, I suspect the discussion might sound a bit different.

    1. That’s true. But I don’t know if I’ll ever end up there. I’m going into translation work, not the academy. If I end up teaching, I would hope it would be to others who seek to go into translation work.

      In someways, those students who have had the linguistics actually have it more difficult, simply because its a huge paradigm shift from contemporary linguistics generally, to traditional Greek grammar. I’ve watched it happen. Its not pretty.

    2. How are you imagining it might be different? The only main difference I’ve heard is a desire on Mike’s part for students to do more than make exegesis papers.

  4. Well, Mike, I share your concerns but I think all teachers can do is model the passion and hope few pick it up and run with it – like Craig, you and some others have inspired me to try my best even as a busy parent, pastor and so on to try to keep up on my acquisition of the biblical languages – but it is not easy and takes a lot of hard hard work – but I am trying, afterall I did get Dave Black’s Linguistics book and I am reading it (on the syntax chapter) – I mean if it could be me, I’d be translating Greek or Hebrew all day and be fine (loved my exegetical methods course in Psalms where we did quite a bit of translating) – but I am pastoring so it’s hard to do that – though I am working harder to work directly from the G or H in sermon prep even trying to do flow of thought diagrams with them and so on.

    In reading Black’s book I do think more profs need to push linguistics more consistently as I think it would really really help. Your question about IPA, imagine how much easier vocab acquisition would be if they knew the basics of morphology and so on.

    Keep at it – you do good work.

    1. Brian, I do understand where you’re coming from. I know how busy pastors are. It often like having two full time jobs. Its being a counselor, theologian, and historian all in one at times.

  5. What do you think about the ability to speak in Greek or translate English into Greek. This was something that was hardly touched on in my classes since obviously the real work is done by translating from the Greek. But should this be completely ignored or should it be emphasized more?

    1. If ones of your goals is to gain a true proficiency in the language rather than simply decoding it in to English, then yes – especially speaking. As for translating, my preference would be that translation in either direction should be put off for at least a semester, maybe a year.

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