thesaurus wrote:I'm curious, how many people do you think attain this level of skill? I would love to get to a similar point, but while I'm struggling through my Greek I wonder about what level others attain. Personally, I almost don't like to say that I "know ancient Greek" because there is no guarantee that you could hand me a text at that moment and I'd understand it. At the same time, I realize that a lot of people say they "know" the language, but with the added assumption "provided a dictionary, ample time, and possibly a reference grammar." It's nice to be even that far along, but I don't think it's a very satisfying level, if you know what I mean. If I can't mostly understand a random text at sight, I feel like I don't really know anything. I've reached a point in my Latin where I'm confident that I could read most texts at sight with the occasional blunder and unknown words, and I'd like to reach this level with Greek.
The dictionary is alright -- I sometimes have to look up words when reading English, and not only for things like Shakespeare but sometimes even with an average novel, whose author was probably mining every thesaurus they could find. (It should be a monolingual dictionary, which doesn't exist unfortunately for Ancient Greek -- personally, one of my own goals it to be able to rely only on references in the target language.) But it's the ample time requirement that gets to me. I want to be able to read things in real time, so to speak, and at least be able to see the structure of the sentence clearly even if I don't know the meaning of every word. Nothing motivates me to improve as much as coming across a sentence that I have to take apart and put back together in order to understand it. But I take for example the bible readings at my church. Since we don't have the text in front of us, you can't follow along so you have to understand as you hear, and you get no extra time. Obviously it's easy with the English (except when the priest has a horrible accent
), but even with the Greek, I can get the gist of what's being said, I can identify the words even if I don't know what they all mean, and this happens in real time. I honestly believe that if I put more time and effort into it and got more exposure, I should be able to understand things with only the rare problem. (I make no claims for Classical Greek, which I imagine would me much more difficult, but I would assume that it too can be done -- I imagine for example that educated Byzantines spoke in an Atticizing Koine and understood each other.)
As to how many people have that level? I can't say -- when I started out, I assumed it would be very high, since I figured that was everybody's goal and people get degrees for Greek and teach it and so on. I don't have contact with the world of academic Greek, but I always assumed that to get a university degree in Greek, you would need to know Greek better than I knew French in grade 12 (when we were reading authors from Flaubert to Racine), so when I see comments that suggest that's not true, I find it really odd. I also assumed that people trained theologically in the Greek church would known Greek well and that when a bishop for example quotes and explains the bible, he knows what he's talking about instead of just repeating what he's learned.
I've recently heard that some psychologists theorize that 10,000 hours/10 years (depending what I read) of training are necessary to become an "expert" in something. They sometimes give the example of chess, and I wonder how this concept applies to Greek and Latin. Do you think you'll eventually hit that fluent reading ability once you've amassed enough hours of reading? I worry about the cases of those many people who never get beyond "decoding" the languages, yet have been studying and teaching them for most of their lives. At the same time, as a natural human capability language learning seems to operate by its own rules. I think I could move to France tomorrow and become completely fluent in French in a lot fewer than 10 years.
The scientific consensus seems to be that second language learning is fundamentally different than native language learning and that our natural ability to pick up language only works in the latter case and eventually disappears as we grow older, but I don't know. I see immigrants here who don't get any institutional learning and have no time to actively work on their English and get exposed as much to the English of other immigrants as they do of native speakers, and they reach decent levels. If the test for Greek is to be able to express yourself about simple matters, they would pass that test for English.