Saturday, January 12, 2008

On teaching Greek

(A question about the value of interlinears on the Logos newsgroup prompted me to write a response there, and I think it is worth sharing here.)

I'm old school from back in the day when interlinears were anathema. When I was a seminary student, the Greek requirement was a solid year+ worth of work, about 140 class hours.
I am now teaching at a seminary, and our Greek requirement is a two-week intensive course plus a fall semester course. Total Greek requirement is now about 80 hours. (We do, however, then continue require students to continue to work with the Greek in a required Gospels course and then a Pauline course.)

Among my seminary classmates, including students who did very well in Greek, very few have kept up their Greek over the years. Among my students, it is unrealistic to expect that they can or will do better with almost half the time of instruction.

I have decided that part of the problem is that Greek was taught with the assumption that students would come out reading (and even writing) it. Even 140 hours won't accomplish that without lots more follow up reinforcement. Is the point of Greek instruction to have students create their own translation? Given all the English translations we already have that represent the work of committees of far more qualified scholars, that does not seem to be a reasonable goal.

I have also decided, therefore, that I can most help my students by helping them understand how Greek grammar/syntax/vocabulary works and how they can use Greek resources (like Bible software especially) to better understand the text. To this end, I encourage my students to layout a number of English translations in parallel alongside the Greek. They are to compare the English translations, and where there are differences, that is where they need to take a close look at the Greek. It's here, then, where text critical matters, issues of tenses, ways of translating participles, interesting lexical choices, etc. comes into play. (Here [a DOC file] is an example of the kind of study notes I provide for my students.)

This change of focus has also meant a significant change of approach for me in my Greek instruction. There still is a lot of basic Greek vocabulary and grammar work that is needed simply for us to have an informed conversation about what is going on with a Greek text, but I am introducing the software resources very early in the instruction process. With the time we have, I can really only get them to memorize the Greek words in the NT that are used 50+ times, but it is easy to hover a mouse over a word in Bible software to provide a link to the lexicon. Instead of asking them to memorize complete paradigms, I am counting on the software to provide the morphological analysis, and I am spending much more time trying to help them reflect on the significance of particular grammatical features. (BTW, I am also finding that the notes in the NET Bible are particularly helpful in highlighting many of the significant issues.)

This approach has also had the advantage of allowing me to jump into the Greek NT much more quickly instead of having to spend so long with simplified exercises. The disadvantage is that I have had to spend more time trying to teach students how to use the software, but in doing so, I am also helping them to be able to work with the Hebrew for which we do not have a requirement.
My hope is that this approach will prepare my students to be able to use Greek for many years to come.

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