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Questions regarding plan of study, time-frame, standards.

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Questions regarding plan of study, time-frame, standards.

Postby charleshardt » Sun Dec 26, 2004 9:22 am

Maybe I'm in the wrong place, or haven't looked hard enough, but I can't seem to find many posts on some of the broader questions of learning Greek. So I'll ask some basic questions.

Assuming I:
1. know no Latin and am just starting Greek;
2. am neither a genius nor dim-witted;
3. am learning on my own;
4. have 1-2 hours/day to study, sometimes more;
5. and I'm motivated,

in how many years can I reasonably expect myself to be able to read well from, say, Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plutarch. (These are the specific authors that interest me most.) Just a ballpark figure. 5? 10? 20? Lifetime goal? Take a hike? When I say "reading well", I'm talking about getting more out of the text than I would by reading a good translation. Otherwise, there's no point going through the trouble.

Is it reasonable to want to read Homeric, Classical, <i>and </i>Koine? (See that last question) Or are they so different that you have to specialize in 1 of the 3? My intuition is that it'd be like reading Shakespeare and also Hemingway.

When we say that somebody reads well in ancient Greek, what does that mean exactly? That he reads fluently, with a deep understanding, like I might read Spanish as my second language? Or is it always slow trudging with dictionary and grammer in hand, hell-bent on finishing that page today? If I read well in Greek, and Plato came back from the dead and published his own newspaper, could I read it with breakfast or would it take me all week to get the news?

These are just some questions for general orientation. Thanks everybody. Feel free to adjust my assumptions.

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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Dec 26, 2004 11:25 am

Assuming your motivation never leaves you and you do actually spend 1 hour a day learning Greek... then it shouldn't take you that long. I'm not sure what to say, maybe 3 years? It really depends how hard you work. If you set yourself a schedule and stick to it and work through one of the books here then you should be able to do that in a year or less I think, then can start translating text, it'll be a bit slow at first, but the more you translate the better you'll get at it. But I learned Greek at school, there are many others here who'll be able to answer that question better...
In my opinion the original is always better than the translation. You will understand more if you read it in the original, than if you just read a translation. For one you'll have to struggle through it in Greek and that'll mean that you'll be paying a lot more attention to the text. You'll be able to notice if some of the sentences contain ambiguities, a play on words, what words the author wants to stress and so on. Also it's very hard to translate all words one to one. Most words also have very subtle meanings attached to them, that often can't be translated.

Is it reasonable to want to read Homeric, Classical, and Koine? (See that last question) Or are they so different that you have to specialize in 1 of the 3? My intuition is that it'd be like reading Shakespeare and also Hemingway.


It is a reasonable goal to want to read those three dialects. As three of the five authors you really want to read are attic dialect, you might want to start with that, most text-books start with teaching classical anyway. It's not that difficult to make the jump from Classical Greek to Homeric Greek and I shouldn't think that it would be too difficult to go from Classical to Koine. I can read Koine myself, even though I've never taken the time to read up on the peculiarities of that dialect, the differences aren't huge and Koine is more simple anyway.

When we say that somebody reads well in ancient Greek, what does that mean exactly? That he reads fluently, with a deep understanding, like I might read Spanish as my second language? Or is it always slow trudging with dictionary and grammer in hand, hell-bent on finishing that page today? If I read well in Greek, and Plato came back from the dead and published his own newspaper, could I read it with breakfast or would it take me all week to get the news?


Some people can read ancient Greek as fluently as you might be able to read Spanish, but the only people who can do that that I know are ancient Greek teachers in modern Greece, everyone else I know does need the help of a dictionary. It depends how difficult the text is, but sometimes I can read a page of ancient Greek and understand most of it, but the biggest problem is vocabulary. If it's a text by an author I know well I have less trouble. If the text is not in attic though then I have more trouble and it can take a few hours time just to translate a paragraph.

Hope that helps a bit...
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Postby psilord » Sun Dec 26, 2004 9:17 pm

Hello charleshardt,

I'm also brand new to homeric greek and fall under almost your exact bullet points. I just started learning how to write the alphabet a couple of days ago and I still don't know how to pronounce it yet since I haven't found a good document on the pitch method. And, since I don't know french, I'm having to dig around in google for the pronounciations of some of the vowels in terms of explaining french to an english speaker.

I definitely think that if we learned how to compose new material in homeric greek while we were learning it, it would go a VERY long way in terms of fluency. I also desire to be fluent in it so I can just sit down and write a large document in it (barring of course no modern words for things like computers and airplanes) as I would in my native tounge of english.

I suspect what makes dead greek languages difficult to learn is that since we are devoid of speaking it to one another(this forum exists over the internet), we are missing an entire component of the language. I wish there was some way this could be rectified, but other than going to school for it or authoring a chat room-like piece of voice over ip software I guess we are just relegated to hoping we pronounce it correctly.
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Postby Bert » Sun Dec 26, 2004 11:26 pm

I hope you will become as fluent as you like to be. It may take much longer than you figure on though. I don't say this to discourage you. If you enjoy the study than it is okay if it takes longer than you counted on, so my point is, have a goal and enjoy the road to reach the goal.
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Dec 27, 2004 1:53 am

I agree with Bert - you have to enjoy the process as well as the product. While I do not get very excited over, say, memorizing irregular verb forms, I enjoy learning a syntax different from English, whether it's messing with the word order or mastering a new mood, or admiring certain constructions. In fact, I first got interested in Greek to see how the language itself differred from English (well, also to see the Greek drama in the original language).

How long it takes to master Greek depends on who you are, how devoted you are, how much time you spend, and how you approach it. My rule of thumb is do at least a little Greek at day, if only 10 minutes. With my bumpy schedule, I rarely devote the same amount of time to Greek as I did the previous day.
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Other Insights? And a follow-up question.

Postby charleshardt » Mon Dec 27, 2004 2:39 am

Thank you, Emma_85. I didn't expect such a quick and complete answer to all my questions. Do any of the other veterans have additional insights?

Actually, a follow-up question just occurred to me. I'm working through Pharr now (Lesson 27), and today I downloaded Sidgwick First Greek Writer. Would it be a bad idea to tackle both at the same time? Or is mixing Homeric and Classical this early a bad idea?
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Re: Other Insights? And a follow-up question.

Postby annis » Mon Dec 27, 2004 3:09 am

charleshardt wrote:Actually, a follow-up question just occurred to me. I'm working through Pharr now (Lesson 27), and today I downloaded Sidgwick First Greek Writer. Would it be a bad idea to tackle both at the same time? Or is mixing Homeric and Classical this early a bad idea?


Since you have no other Greek experience, I would avoid this for now.
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τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;
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Postby psilord » Mon Dec 27, 2004 10:16 am

Bert wrote:I hope you will become as fluent as you like to be. It may take much longer than you figure on though. I don't say this to discourage you. If you enjoy the study than it is okay if it takes longer than you counted on, so my point is, have a goal and enjoy the road to reach the goal.


Eh, I figure 5 or so years of I mess with it every day for an hour or more. In the big scheme of things, that isn't that much time at all. Hell, in geologic time, 5 years is *instantaneous*. :)
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Postby yadfothgildloc » Wed Dec 29, 2004 2:44 am

I took it in college, 4 days a week, an hour a day, plus out of class study. After a year, we read the Apology (with a bunch of notes) in a semester, with some time to do the first page of Xenophon's Apomnemonumata. Next semester, my teacher seems to be planning on getting us through Euripedes' Alkestis.

So, depending on how much work you do and how much slaving over vocab you do, it's possible pretty quickly.
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Postby JauneFlammee » Mon Jan 03, 2005 3:22 pm

I'm self taught as well and it seems like you have a good study plan. Some excellent advice has already been given. I would just add a couple of things.
Start reading chunks of actual greek text (preferable narrative) as soon as possible, just use a lexicon and do the best you can. It is too easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of reading 'learning to read greek' books, and not ever actually spending the time reading greek (even if falling short of 100% comprehension).
Along with this, don't fret about vocabulary too much. Once, you've looked up a word a few times in a lexicon you'll have it memorized. Something about seeing a word in context and looking it up: implants it in your memory far better than trying to memorize lists.
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Postby chrisb » Mon Jan 03, 2005 3:28 pm

Jauneflammee had it right. If you can, get hold of A First Gree Reading Book by A Sidgwick ( probably out of print, but to be found in second hand shops now and then) and/or Greek Through Reading by Nairn and Nairn. Plenty of reading here, and Sidgwick has a vocabulary for each piece.

Enjoy and good luck with your learning.

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