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Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

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Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby cscase » Fri Jan 14, 2011 4:09 am

Hey all. I am new to Greek and new to Textkit. I am aware that I've embarked on what will no doubt be a long journey, but I can see very far ahead and I just wanted to ask some of your thoughts on what lies there, and for your help in setting realistic expectations. I am working my way through Mounce's BBG and am still in the early chapters (chapter 10, presently).

My primary goal in learning to read Greek is to be able to read the New Testament. However, it seems like to me, if I want to have any real depth of context to define words from the New Testament by, or understand the writing styles of the authors therein, I will want to also read from other Greek texts of the period as much as possible, or possibly from other periods, right? That suits me fine, too, because I like learning new things and my interests are wide. Is this sensible? What other sorts of things would be good to read for this purpose? Also, if I reached a point where I had a decent handle on Koine, how much work would be required to reach that same point in reading other dialects such as epic or Attic? Would it be a major effort, or merely a slight inconvenience?

Where should I expect to be upon completing the textbook? Will I be reading many things, but with difficulty, and from that point, more practice gains speed plus better understanding and vocabulary? Is that a reasonable expectation? Or will there still be many things I cannot understand or read, even after completing the textbook?

For those of you who have been at it for a while, how long did it take you to achieve a level of basic competency in reading the language? Are there are milestone markers or notable phases in learning the language? Any particular goals I should be striving to achieve along the way?

Thanks for listening!

Scott
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby SeanL » Sat Jan 15, 2011 7:09 am

Howdy! Welcome to Textkit. I am so happy to read your question, not because I have any answer for you but because I could have written it myself, almost word for word, and have in fact been thinking about how to word it.

I start and end with the desire to read the New Testament. But it seems that many folk who want to learn Greek for that purpose are looking to "decode" just the one text. I don't want to do that. I hear from many quarters how almost helpless many NT Greek readers often are when confronted with anything outside that one text. I want to learn to read Greek, and within that context to be able to read the NT. Frankly, I want it all! (Well, not so much Homer, at least not yet, but only because there is so much in Attic and Koiné I want to read first.)

My own Christian tradition rather frowns on making a "Christian ghetto," carefully fencing off everything which is not sufficiently "religious," and besides, my interests are just too far-ranging.

Now, for a bit of an answer to part of your question: Although I have no experience with Greek, I do have experience with learning other things. It seems to me that with application and basic mental ability, you should, in theory at least, be able to learn as much Greek as you want. Go for it. I look forward someday to reading about your experiences with Homer and St. Basil and Plato and whatever else strikes your fancy.

-- Sean
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby Markos » Sat Jan 15, 2011 3:25 pm

χαιρε Scott,

You can expect a journey which is slow and wonderful, difficult and fun, frustrating and fulfilling.

I have been teaching myself Greek for about five years, averaging about an hour per day, every day.

It took me about two years to get to the point of being able to read the Greek New Testament. After that, there is a point of diminishing return for that particular goal. I've done much since then, reading widely outside the Greek NT, and focusing on listening to, writing and speaking Greek, but I think my ability to read the Greek NT as I would English has not improved as much as you would think. What I mean is, to reach that particular goal is not that hard, all it really takes is working through a few text books and then reading and rereading the Greek NT over and over again. The Greek New Testament is really much easier than most Greek. Plus, you already know what it means in English. I also think that reading outside the Greek New Testament does not give you much insight into the Greek NT. The Greek NT is sui generis. If you really want to master it, it is a large enough body of texts that just focusing on it will do the trick. The true value for reading outside the Greek NT is that there is some stuff worth reading on its own, above all Homer and Plato.

Now, to master Greek in general, to be able to pick up a random text from Plutarch or Aristophanies and read it as well as you can the Greek NT, well that is a massive enterprise. FIve years later I have made a lot of progress, but not as much as one would with five years of an hour of Spanish every day. Ancient Greek is extremely hard. It's fun, there is nothing like it, but it is hard.

Once you finish Mounce, I would say that you are 30% toward your goal of mastering the Greek NT and 5% toward your goal of mastering Greek. You will not be able to read much outside the Greek NT. Maybe a little LXX and some of the easier Apostolic Fathers. Even to read the Greek NT, you will probably have to work your way through a few more Greek text books. I would do Machen and Summers. Avoid intense grammatical analysis, Skip stuff like Wallace and Porter. Check out Zerwick's two books.

You asked about milestones. Your first goal should be to read through the Greek NT cover to cover. Your next goal should be to do this about ten times. The first time I read through the Greek NT, after about two years of self study, it took me eight months. Recently I did it in less than a month. During that time I continued to read other stuff in Greek. Your goal should be to be able to read the Greek NT cover to cover in two weeks. You should also be able to listen to the Greek NT read aloud and understand 80% of it.

If you want to know what to read outside the Greek, go to this site

http://www.vnoel.com/component/option,c ... emid,1068/

Stick with it. Stay motivated. There is an old saying, it's hard to be a Jew, but it is good to be a Jew. Greek is hard, and it is good.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby cscase » Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:30 am

Sean -
Thanks for your reply! It's an encouragement to hear from someone else who is in the same boat and of the same mind. I hope you'll keep us apprised of your progress as well.

Markos -
Thanks so much for your words. This is exactly what I was looking for. It's great to have the insight of someone who is walking the same road but is out ahead of me and can report on what is coming up!

A couple of questions about what you wrote, in the event that you care to comment further:
When you talk about reading something in Greek, do you mean strictly, to read it almost like I read this post? That is, easily and without any stopping to consult a dictionary, consciously thinking about parsing words or hunting for a subject and verb, etc.? I suppose that before one reaches that point, there is a point at which he can "read" something in Greek, but only with effort and care, at a vastly slower rate than one would read English.

Also, I note your recommendation of going through further basic Greek textbooks after finishing Mounce. Is that primarily for the purpose of reinforcing the content and concepts from Mounce, or due to a lack of completeness in BBG? I also have a copy of David Alan Black's "Learn to Read New Testament Greek," that I have been referring to as I go through BBG - though that is a bit awkward at times because they cover things in different order. And I have John Dobson's book, but I have a hard time with his highly inductive approach. Anyway, I had hoped to reinforce my understanding of the basics by doing a lot of reading from various "graded readers" that I see available, even if I have to stop and painstakingly dissect each sentence initially, just for the practice. Is that a plausible approach? (I'm quite eager to finish the textbook part and get to the reading practice part! But I'm also willing to do whatever is needed to attain the goal.)

Anyway, again, my deep thanks to both of you gentlemen for reading and responding to my questions! You are an encouragement to me and I appreciate it.

Scott
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby SeanL » Sun Jan 16, 2011 5:56 am

cscase wrote:And I have John Dobson's book, but I have a hard time with his highly inductive approach.

Scott, I began with Dobson and really loved him until about lesson 18. Then I hit a wall. I have discovered, on the web, that I am not the only person for whom that was the magical chapter. I really love the idea, and for me it worked beautifully for a while. It was a great introduction to the more traditional approach I am using in White's book. I would highly recommend Dobson's book to others, but only for the first 18 chapters or so.
-- Sean
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby SeanL » Sun Jan 16, 2011 6:01 am

Markos wrote:You can expect a journey which is slow and wonderful, difficult and fun, frustrating and fulfilling.

Thank you, Markos, for the answer. Although Scott beat me to asking the question, your answered mine as well, and very nicely.
-- Sean
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby Markos » Mon Jan 17, 2011 10:51 pm

When you talk about reading something in Greek, do you mean strictly, to read it almost like I read this post? That is, easily and without any stopping to consult a dictionary, consciously thinking about parsing words or hunting for a subject and verb, etc.? I suppose that before one reaches that point, there is a point at which he can "read" something in Greek, but only with effort and care, at a vastly slower rate than one would read English.


Someone once said that your goal in reading the Greek NT should be to read it as easily as you do the King James Bible. The idea is that you are never going to be able to read Ancient Greek as well as you do your native language. We can read the King James Bible very quickly and we don't have to look up any words, and we understand 95% of it, but it remains a little strange. I would say that I can read the Greek NT almost as well easily as I can English, but this is only because I have gone over it so many times, and again, it is very easy Greek. But to read unfamiliar and/or difficult Greek like Plato as easily as English? No way, after five years I am nowhere near this. I don't know how long it would take you to get to that point. Maybe twenty years. I don't know anyone, or of anyone, even Greek profs, who can do this.

Also, I note your recommendation of going through further basic Greek textbooks after finishing Mounce. Is that primarily for the purpose of reinforcing the content and concepts from Mounce, or due to a lack of completeness in BBG?


The former. I found that no matter how good a text book is, you need the repetition of working through several. You need to do many more exercises than are found in any one text. It's also true that different texts present the material in different ways, some of which will click for you better than others.

I had hoped to reinforce my understanding of the basics by doing a lot of reading from various "graded readers" that I see available, even if I have to stop and painstakingly dissect each sentence initially, just for the practice. Is that a plausible approach?


Yes, I think readers work very well. Decker's and Whitacre's look really good. I don't think Mounce's is detailed enough.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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Re: Newbie questions, What are realistic expectations?

Postby thebicyclethief » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:09 pm

I am looking to be able to read parallel translations of Aristotle, Plato ... Attic Greek? I have Abbott & Mansfield's 'Primer of Greek Grammar' ... Is this a good book for the beginner and does anyone have any recommendations for books or online resources?

Thanks
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