Friday, June 8, 2007

Do you speak Greek?

In light of a response to a previous post, I thought it would be interesting to see how people are dealing with the matter of the spoken word in NT Greek instruction.
I believe that some spoken familiarity is necessary, of course, simply because we have to be able to speak about words and letters in class. I also think that memorization is helped by hearing a word in addition to seeing and writing it. (Note that both BibleWorks and Logos have pronunciation aids embedded in their programs. In BibleWorks, you need to access the sound files through the vocabulary Flashcard module. In Logos, you can right click on a word in a Greek text to get the lexical pronunciation, or you can use the menu: Tools > Bible Data > Pronounce Original Language.) I also do a number of oral exercises with my students to aid in language familiarity, e.g., sing "Jesus Loves Me" (ο Χριστος με αγαπα..) and recite Matthew's version of the Lord's prayer.
This, however, raises the next issue. Which pronunciation scheme should one use? The so-called Erasmian one or one of its variants is helpful because it tries to help distinguish every letter so that there is an easier correlation between seeing and hearing. The problem is, though, that no native Greek speaker ever used this scheme. (I once was in Greece and spoke the Lord's Prayer as I had learned it. I gave them all a good laugh...) There certainly would be benefits to learning the original pronunciations, especially in terms of hearing wordplays and understanding how some text variants may have arisen, but there is more overlap between sounds that would make seeing/speaking more difficult. Another advantage of learning the ancient scheme, however, is that it is much closer to the modern pronunciation of Greek. On the other hand, learning biblical Greek is really not going to be all that helpful for getting directions to a restroom... (BTW, a good survey of the history of pronunciation schemes is HERE.)
So, how about another little poll? Whether you teach or were taught, how much emphasize was placed on speaking the Greek and which scheme did you use? If you have more to say on this topic, please leave a comment. Thanks!


  1. Mark,
    I had Robert Gundry for Greek. We would take turns reading aloud during class using Erasmian pronouciation. It was difficult at first, but some 20 years later, I still remember those classes and practice reading aloud.


  2. I would love to participate in, and even more to teach, a Greek class with lots of oral/aural input--using one of the 'real' pronunciations: modern Greek or a reconstructed (or emic) Hellenistic pronunciation. I'v e taught it that way to kids kids, and it was a lot of fun.

  3. Thanks for the comments.
    I can imagine learning Greek from Gundry must have been a fun challenge. As for teaching Greek to kids or seminarians, using "Jesus Loves Me" works quite well. Here's a link to a PDF you can download.

  4. I like the idea of having students have to recite memory passages. It really makes students take the next step in using the language. In fighting the major problem (pastors slacking off on their Greek and/or forgetting Greek completely), the more ways you are able to use their minds in the language the better. My Greek prof was of the old school variety and he would have four of us come to the board and he would say something in English which we were supposed to put into Greek. Having to think Greek in order to write Greek was challenging to say the least, but it forced "real" learning to take that next step. In the world of memorizing charts, it may be possible to read Greek fairly smoothly, but it's definitely not the same as learning to think Greek.

  5. Thanks, Mike. The challenge I have teaching Greek at my institution (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg) is that the total Greek requirement is about 75 contact hours. (This is for M.Div. students who have 3 years of course work plus a year of internship.) I simply can't get students far enough along fast enough to do the English > Greek work. (We do a little early on when things are still very simple.) That's why I am working on trying to figure out how to teach Greek using software aids from the outset. The hope is that they will be able to use the Greek in the years to come rather than the unrealistic expectation that they will know Greek. Yes, it is a significant concession, but hopefully we are still helping students to be responsible exegetes reading the Bible in service for the Church.