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Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

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Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Sat Jan 14, 2012 1:24 am

I've been studying German for little over a year, but I'm more interested in developing some familiarity with New Testament Greek. If necessary, I'll stop studying the former to seriously pursue the latter. But, is that necessary? From what I've read, it's not a good idea to study simultaneously because it's easy to confuse rules that are specific to the languages. I'm still unsure, however. Any thoughts from more experienced Greek students?
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby pster » Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:49 pm

Benson Shays wrote:I've been studying German for little over a year, but I'm more interested in developing some familiarity with New Testament Greek. If necessary, I'll stop studying the former to seriously pursue the latter. But, is that necessary? From what I've read, it's not a good idea to study simultaneously because it's easy to confuse rules that are specific to the languages. I'm still unsure, however. Any thoughts from more experienced Greek students?


Well, I am slightly insane and do three+ at a time. The biggest problem is not the danger of confusing things. I think the biggest problem is that your mind doesn't know which to work on when you are doing other things. And I actually think that is a huge huge issue. If you do 4 hours of German a day, then you have it bouncing around in your head and you learn things even when you aren't studying. On the other hand, if you do 2 hours of German and 2 hours of Greek, your mind will turn off when you stop studying. It is worn out and tired. Here is what I strongly recommend. Have a light German schedule that you do first for 20-30 minutes; I would recommend some daily writing just to make a bit of progress and retain what you have learned. Then do 3.5 hours of Greek and have that be the focus. You won't forget your German but your mind will devote itself to Greek consciously and subconsciously.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:13 pm

pster wrote:Well, I am slightly insane and do three+ at a time. The biggest problem is not the danger of confusing things. I think the biggest problem is that your mind doesn't know which to work on when you are doing other things. And I actually think that is a huge huge issue. If you do 4 hours of German a day, then you have it bouncing around in your head and you learn things even when you aren't studying. On the other hand, if you do 2 hours of German and 2 hours of Greek, your mind will turn off when you stop studying. It is worn out and tired. Here is what I strongly recommend. Have a light German schedule that you do first for 20-30 minutes; I would recommend some daily writing just to make a bit of progress and retain what you have learned. Then do 3.5 hours of Greek and have that be the focus. You won't forget your German but your mind will devote itself to Greek consciously and subconsciously.

Thanks for the feedback. I've spoken to some other multilingual people, and it seems there's not necessarily a right way to go about it. That being said, I'll probably take your suggestion. I don't want to lose the German, but I want to know Greek more. 3.5 hours seems like a lot. I'll happily set aside the time; but I wonder if I won't be able to digest everything I learn in that amount of time each day.

3 or more languages simultaneously sounds impressive. You're making progress in all three?
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:04 pm

From what I've read, it's not a good idea to study simultaneously because it's easy to confuse rules that are specific to the languages. I'm still unsure, however. Any thoughts from more experienced Greek students?


To learn New Testament Greek you will also need to study Hebrew so you can read the LXX. You might set a reasonable goal for Hebrew, like becoming familiar with the syntax w/o attaining rapid reading proficiency. Working on both NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew is standard seminary fare. The two complement each other and I have had no problem keeping the syntax issues sorted out. Hebrew syntax is pretty simple for the most part, until you get into text linguistics and/or discourse analysis.

If at some time you decide to read secular and/or pagan greek texts knowing about the LXX and Aramaic[controversial!] impact on NT syntax will help to demystify the discrepancies in syntax.

German shouldn't cause you any great difficulty with language interference. Forty years ago I was able to dictate long papers with nearly flawless English syntax. Now days after several decades of Greek and Hebrew study, my English speech and writing often demonstrates language interference from Greek and Hebrew. I can spot these problems after a hour or two of letting the text cool off. But it is a pain in email and public forums where composing and posting is generally done in a short time frame. One syntax problem which is most annoying and has no relationship to Greek or Hebrew is a pronounced tendency to drop a negative particle. This creates no end of confusion in email correspondence.


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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:51 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
German shouldn't cause you any great difficulty with language interference. Forty years ago I was able to dictate long papers with nearly flawless English syntax. Now days after several decades of Greek and Hebrew study, my English speech and writing often demonstrates language interference from Greek and Hebrew. I can spot these problems after a hour or two of letting the text cool off. But it is a pain in email and public forums where composing and posting is generally done in a short time frame. One syntax problem which is most annoying and has no relationship to Greek or Hebrew is a pronounced tendency to drop a negative particle. This creates no end of confusion in email correspondence.


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If I'm reading you correctly, it sounds like the spillover effect I was describing is just part of language learning. Is that a fair summary?
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:32 pm

Benson wrote:
If I'm reading you correctly, it sounds like the spillover effect I was describing is just part of language learning. Is that a fair summary?


This is a horribly complex topic. The subject of how to learn ancient languages has been the hot topic on the b-greek forum for over a decade. I just don't think your German studies will conflict with your Greek studies. If you have the time, the more languages you pursue the better off you will be in understanding how human language works. Learning just one ancient or modern language is dangerous IMO.

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:50 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Benson wrote:
If I'm reading you correctly, it sounds like the spillover effect I was describing is just part of language learning. Is that a fair summary?


This is a horribly complex topic. The subject of how to learn ancient languages has been the hot topic on the b-greek forum for over a decade. I just don't think your German studies will conflict with your Greek studies. If you have the time, the more languages you pursue the better off you will be in understanding how human language works. Learning just one ancient or modern language is dangerous IMO.

C. Stirling Bartholomew

Thanks for the feedback. I think I'll keep pursuing both unless I run into some major difficulty.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Baker » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:36 pm

What is your goal in learning German? What level do you wish to reach? What level have you already reached? Do you have a book you would like to be able to read? Are you likely to use it in speech?

Likewise for NT Greek, what is your goal? Do you want to be able to read works other than the NT? If so, which authors?

Are you looking for mastery in both within a set time? From your post, it seems you only want "some familiarity with New Testament Greek." If you are only looking to dabble, dabble. You should then still have time to study German. The answers to my above questions are key to your way forward. Think on them carefully and you will know the right answer.

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:36 pm

Baker wrote:What is your goal in learning German? What level do you wish to reach? What level have you already reached? Do you have a book you would like to be able to read? Are you likely to use it in speech?

Fluency. I would like to be able to read works from the period leading up to and through world war II. Mein Kampf, Albert Speer's memoir, Table Talk, etc. I'm unlikely to use it in speech unless I travel to Germany, though I still want the ability. I can have a simple conversation, get through a German movie without subtitles, listen to Rammstein songs, etc. I can't have in depth conversations or read much literature at this point, so I'd say I'm an intermediate. I also should have mentioned that I haven't studied consistently. I pick it up for a few weeks, then put it down for a month. It's gone that way for most of the last year.

Likewise for NT Greek, what is your goal? Do you want to be able to read works other than the NT? If so, which authors?

I'm very interested in the textual history of the New Testament, so my primary aim is to read and write it in Greek. I'd also like to read the Church Fathers.

Are you looking for mastery in both within a set time?

The sooner, the better. However, no, I have no set time frame. My goal is to always keep learning. I'm not doing it as part of a degree program or for employment prospects. I just have a desire to do it.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Baker » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:58 pm

I would spend more time on the German, then, if I were you. Doing so will allow you to reach a level where you are pleased with your reading and the challenge of it. At the same time as trying to reach that level, you should begin dabbling in the Greek. Try to reach the level you are at now in German within a set time of your choosing. Gaining command of vocabulary and syntax in one language is superior, I think, than remaining intermediate in both for a long period. Being at an intermediate level can and will be frustrating because you are still not reading anything satisfying. The sooner you get to a level where you can at least plod through something you truly want to read, the sooner you will fully enjoy and appreciate the language.

I hope this is helpful. Best wishes on your adventure!

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:13 am

Baker wrote:I would spend more time on the German, then, if I were you. Doing so will allow you to reach a level where you are pleased with your reading and the challenge of it. At the same time as trying to reach that level, you should begin dabbling in the Greek. Try to reach the level you are at now in German within a set time of your choosing. Gaining command of vocabulary and syntax in one language is superior, I think, than remaining intermediate in both for a long period. Being at an intermediate level can and will be frustrating because you are still not reading anything satisfying. The sooner you get to a level where you can at least plod through something you truly want to read, the sooner you will fully enjoy and appreciate the language.

I hope this is helpful. Best wishes on your adventure!

Eliot

Interesting. As long as I'm progressing, I don't mind having to split my time and attention between the two. At this point, however, I'd prefer to focus on Greek if I follow your advice.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Baker » Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:29 am

Then by all means, do it. It really just depends on what you want to read more. You could be reading the NT in three weeks with some skill if you set your mind to it.

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:02 am

Baker wrote:Then by all means, do it. It really just depends on what you want to read more. You could be reading the NT in three weeks with some skill if you set your mind to it.

Eliot

That's encouraging. I'm working through the chapter 1 exercises in David Alan Black's Learn To Read New Testament Greek. Just translating basic words and sounding them out is a lot of fun.

Out of curiosity, how's your Greek? Why did you start studying in the first place?
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Baker » Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:56 am

Benson Shays wrote:Out of curiosity, how's your Greek? Why did you start studying in the first place?


My Greek is far from fluent but coming along nicely. I have more time this year to spend on it than I have had in the recent past. I started to study Greek because I studied Latin in college and started to come across Greek in the writings of Cicero. I then studied the Western Classics for my M.A. and continued my cultivation of the Greek language. The largest hurdle for me was the vocabulary. The more vocabulary you get under your belt, the less time you have to spend poring through the dictionary, the more fun the readings become.

I wish you the best in your studies.

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby pster » Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:01 am

Benson Shays wrote:
3 or more languages simultaneously sounds impressive. You're making progress in all three?


Sure, lots of progress. But I am disgusted by how easy it is to make misteps. For example, just buying a deficient grammar can cost you an obscene amount of time. And crappy dictionaries are everywhere: too few words, too damned big, binding made of toilet paper, etc. Just last week I discovered that one dictionary that I must have to read some Renaissance Italian texts is 160 years old and eight huge volumes. There is a CD rom version, but you need a subscription too; but they don't seem set up for international customers.

And I find Attic way too difficult. I am way too deep in now to turn back. But if I had know, I wouldn't have bothered. Indeed, if I had known everything I know now four years ago when I began in earnest, I would have junked the 3+ languages and just studied Latin intensely. I'd probably be amazing after 3000 hours of Latin; that is how much time I have spent on the others.

And frankly, while I study 2+ living languages, I don't see the point of anything other than immersion in the language in person in the country. I study Italian far from Italy, but I wish I hadn't started.

I have studied a lot of things, but I have never seen so many smart people waste so much time as they do with language learning. Huge inefficiencies abound. Extremely dangerous hobby.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:29 am

Eliot wrote:
You could be reading the NT in three weeks with some skill if you set your mind to it.


This sounds like Randal Buth. I have worked with students who "just didn't get it" after reading Mounce, David Black, and watching the videos from both and working on over a period of several years on their own. One of the problems was their methodology was borrowed from second language acquisition (Buth again) which they picked up in high school.


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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby pster » Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:35 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Eliot wrote:
You could be reading the NT in three weeks with some skill if you set your mind to it.


This sounds like Randal Buth. I have worked with students who "just didn't get it" after reading Mounce, David Black, and watching the videos from both and working on over a period of several years on their own. One of the problems was their methodology was borrowed from second language acquisition (Buth again) which they picked up in high school.


C. Stirling Bartholomew


CSB, you seem to have some strong views on methodology and a lot of teaching experience. I would love to hear what you have to say. Have you checked out this thread? viewtopic.php?f=2&t=11778 It is the most famous recent thread in this subforum. It would be great if you could add a few paragraphs telling us how you see things.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Jan 17, 2012 3:10 am

Pster wrote:

CSB, you seem to have some strong views on methodology and a lot of teaching experience.


Pster,

I have very little teaching experience. I have done a little mentoring in my old age, students some interested in biblical studies. My view on learning methodology: by all means do what ever you can live with (time, aptitude, etc) and stick with it. I think the later is more important than the former. Randall Buth is a smart fellow. Sometimes brilliant people have difficulties understanding the capabilities of normal mortals. He claimed some time ago that his first year students were reading 100 lines a day of some fairly difficult extra biblical authors. My response was, your students don't represent a normal sample of seminarians. Buth scares away anyone who has any sort of difficulty with second language acquisition. So his sample is the upper 5%.

I never set out to learn greek. I was dabbling in linguistics (late structuralism and early Chomsky) and discovered that I had a NT textbook written from that perspective in my library that I had never read. E. V. N. Goetchius Language of the NT. I spent about a year studying syntax of NT Greek with Goetchius as a guide. Gradually I developed an interest in the Language itself and started reading long portions of text.


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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Benson Shays » Tue Jan 17, 2012 3:43 am

Somebody enlighten me. What's second language acquisition?
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby Baker » Tue Jan 17, 2012 4:08 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Eliot wrote:

CSB, you seem to have some strong views on methodology and a lot of teaching experience.



Eliot,

I have very little teaching experience...


You have misquoted here. Your response should be to pster, not to me.

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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby pster » Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:30 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Eliot wrote:
You could be reading the NT in three weeks with some skill if you set your mind to it.


This sounds like Randal Buth. I have worked with students who "just didn't get it" after reading Mounce, David Black, and watching the videos from both and working on over a period of several years on their own. One of the problems was their methodology was borrowed from second language acquisition (Buth again) which they picked up in high school.


C. Stirling Bartholomew


I watched some of Buth's videos. Seems like 8+ hours a day of total immersion. Doesn't seem surprising he gets good results. Not sure why you are saying his students are gifted. And I don't follow your more general point about second language acquisition and methodology. Can you elaborate? :? :D
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:31 am

Pster wrote:
I watched some of Buth's videos. Seems like 8+ hours a day of total immersion. Doesn't seem surprising he gets good results. Not sure why you are saying his students are gifted. And I don't follow your more general point about second language acquisition and methodology. Can you elaborate?


Total immersion works where you have people to talk with. Modern languages are no problem. Finding someone to talk Koine or Attic with is for most study at home types is kind of impractical. Some of us work in total isolation which is why we show up on b-greek or textkit or b-hebrew. I can find dialog partners for about a hundred languages without traveling more than ten miles from home. Ancient Greek isn't one of them. I get cold chills just thinking about Buth's eight hour classes.

The comment about second language methodology was mostly about what a student is exposed to in language classes in urban public high school. Think in terms of someone in their 20s who studied a modern language in Public High School picking up Mounce and/or David Black on NT Greek and trying to teach themselves Greek running into problems with understanding syntax conceptually since their previous foreign language instruction didn't deal with syntax in the abstract. The parenthetical remark (Buth again) was probably ill conceived since Buth is not doing high school stuff. I am really out of touch with Buth's current thing. My last exchange with him was a decade ago. He posts constantly on b-greek but I don't read the greek pedagogy threads anymore.

Methodology needs to fit your life style and your native abilities and your academic backround.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby demetri » Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:08 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
From what I've read, it's not a good idea to study simultaneously because it's easy to confuse rules that are specific to the languages. I'm still unsure, however. Any thoughts from more experienced Greek students?


To learn New Testament Greek you will also need to study Hebrew so you can read the LXX. You might set a reasonable goal for Hebrew, like becoming familiar with the syntax w/o attaining rapid reading proficiency. Working on both NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew is standard seminary fare. The two complement each other and I have had no problem keeping the syntax issues sorted out. Hebrew syntax is pretty simple for the most part, until you get into text linguistics and/or discourse analysis.

If at some time you decide to read secular and/or pagan greek texts knowing about the LXX and Aramaic[controversial!] impact on NT syntax will help to demystify the discrepancies in syntax.

German shouldn't cause you any great difficulty with language interference. Forty years ago I was able to dictate long papers with nearly flawless English syntax. Now days after several decades of Greek and Hebrew study, my English speech and writing often demonstrates language interference from Greek and Hebrew. I can spot these problems after a hour or two of letting the text cool off. But it is a pain in email and public forums where composing and posting is generally done in a short time frame. One syntax problem which is most annoying and has no relationship to Greek or Hebrew is a pronounced tendency to drop a negative particle. This creates no end of confusion in email correspondence.


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The LXX is in Greek, not Hebrew.
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Re: Learning two languages simultaneously - bad idea?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:36 am

demetri wrote:
C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
From what I've read, it's not a good idea to study simultaneously because it's easy to confuse rules that are specific to the languages. I'm still unsure, however. Any thoughts from more experienced Greek students?


To learn New Testament Greek you will also need to study Hebrew so you can read the LXX. You might set a reasonable goal for Hebrew, like becoming familiar with the syntax w/o attaining rapid reading proficiency. Working on both NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew is standard seminary fare. The two complement each other and I have had no problem keeping the syntax issues sorted out. Hebrew syntax is pretty simple for the most part, until you get into text linguistics and/or discourse analysis.

If at some time you decide to read secular and/or pagan greek texts knowing about the LXX and Aramaic[controversial!] impact on NT syntax will help to demystify the discrepancies in syntax.

German shouldn't cause you any great difficulty with language interference. Forty years ago I was able to dictate long papers with nearly flawless English syntax. Now days after several decades of Greek and Hebrew study, my English speech and writing often demonstrates language interference from Greek and Hebrew. I can spot these problems after a hour or two of letting the text cool off. But it is a pain in email and public forums where composing and posting is generally done in a short time frame. One syntax problem which is most annoying and has no relationship to Greek or Hebrew is a pronounced tendency to drop a negative particle. This creates no end of confusion in email correspondence.


C. Stirling Bartholomew

The LXX is in Greek, not Hebrew.


But you must study hebrew syntax if you intend to understand what is going on in the LXX and much of the NT where LXX like idioms are frequently encountered.
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