My strategy for learning Greek

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Daedalus
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My strategy for learning Greek

Post by Daedalus »

I taught myself the absolute bones of Greek grammar and perhaps a few hundred words of vocabulary, most of which has since been forgotten, from LA Wilding's Greek for Beginners. At the time, I was studying for a physics degree and my focus on Greek could be no more than dilettantish.

Several years later and six months into the virus mishegas, I've been taking Greek much more seriously, and my proposal for learning the language is as follows:

1. Memorise a basic core vocabulary, including principal parts for all the irregular verbs and nouns. I did this from the defined GCSE Classical Greek vocabulary, available on the website of Eton College, an elite British school. I used the 'Anki' flashcards programme, which I've found to be excellent for all sorts of rote memorisation. This vocabulary consists of perhaps 450 words, with the main focus naturally being Greek to English.

2. Learn, by rote, a basic skeleton of accidence. This includes a model verb in omega, which in my case was παύω, along with models in all the other basic categories, and a range of irregular forms. This process is about halfway complete, and is based on the material presented in the Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek (Morwood, 2001), which is targeted at those few secondary school students in Britain fortunate enough to be enrolled in a Greek course, but is of quite general utility. I've tried to set my goals here to about the standard required for the two-year OCR Classical Greek GCSE course, usually taken bright by 15-16 year-olds, but surprisingly rigorous. It is noteworthy, though, that my grammar study is limited exclusively to accidence, sentence structure along with other aspects of grammar being left out. I'd like to state that once again, 'Anki' has been an enormous help here.

3. Begin reading a simple primer consisting wholly of factitious, didactic Greek. I am using John Taylor's Greek Stories, which is based around the British GCSE curriculum. My plan is to add each new word I meet, along with its principal parts where necessary, to an 'Anki' deck, along with new grammatical structures and forms of accidence. This way I will both be committing new vocabulary to memory and the relevant grammatical structures that go with it. My reasoning is that this way, I will be able to enjoy reading the language nearly from the outset of the learning process, while also learning new forms in a way fine-tuned to be the most useful, since by definition the grammatical and vocabulary forms occurring most frequently in written Greek, and therefore most likely to be learned, are the ones that will be learned the soonest within this paradigm.

4. Begin reading a simple text in original Greek, perhaps Xenophon or Babrius's Fables. This will be done in the same way as in part 3, and for the same reasons. I estimate that at my current rate of learning, this part of my plan will begin in three months' time.


I post this here both for any benefit it may offer to readers, and to receive their critical appraisal. I tried something similar in learning both French and German, and can now read French at maybe half the speed I read English, and a simple German text at maybe a fifth. Even so, I'm quite conscious that the approach may be less useful in learning a classical language.

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

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People will tend to pop into a discussion like this with their own advice on what worked for them. My advice: if this regimen is working for you, if you perceive success, then by all means proceed and enjoy. I did find Xenophon and Babrius as "simple" a bit amusing. While narrative texts tend to be easier for second language readers, primarily because it's a story and the connected context really helps, you'll still find plenty of challenges with both. But that's a good thing -- it's how we grow.
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Daedalus
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

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Barry Hofstetter wrote: Tue Sep 15, 2020 4:29 pm People will tend to pop into a discussion like this with their own advice on what worked for them. My advice: if this regimen is working for you, if you perceive success, then by all means proceed and enjoy. I did find Xenophon and Babrius as "simple" a bit amusing. While narrative texts tend to be easier for second language readers, primarily because it's a story and the connected context really helps, you'll still find plenty of challenges with both. But that's a good thing -- it's how we grow.
As far as I'm aware, Xenophon's Anabasis is often considered the standard beginning Greek text. The choice of Babrius is motivated by the format which, being largely intended for the instruction of children, implies a greater degree of ease. It's also informed by my reading of John Stuart Mill's autobiography, in which he discusses how he began reading a Greek version Aesop's fables, almost certainly through Babrius, at the age of three.

Aetos
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

Post by Aetos »

Hi Daedalus,
Welcome to Textkit! I like your plan-Before tackIing Xenophon, I would suggest also covering some syntactical items which are usually taught in an introductory course:
1. Use of the Cases
2. Aspect
3. Uses of the Infinitive
4. Uses of the Participle
5. Indirect Discourse
6. Independent and Dependent Uses of the Subjunctive and Optative
7. Conditions
8. Relative and Temporal Clauses
9. Result Clauses and Clauses of Effort
Although the Anabasis is basically a narrative and as such easier to discern meaning from context, as Barry points out, it still features most, if not all of the items mentioned above. Xenophon has written other works such as the Hellenica, which contain some speeches which are a bit more difficult, and some rather complex sentences and will require a sound understanding of the above syntactical elements. I'm not a teacher, but I can speak from recent experience, having recently finished the Anabasis and am now reading the Hellenica. I've read the "hard part" of the Hellenica before (this is what Barry found amusing-there is nothing simple about Critias's and Theramenes's speeches), as this is the primary text for Cynthia Claxton's Intermediate Classical Greek textbook, which I completed in May of last year.

I do think, however, you'll discover the importance of the syntax on your own, as you try to make sense of what you're reading.
Enjoy your journey!

P.S. I did not come up with this list on my own; these are the main review items in Cynthia Claxton's textbook, Attica:Intermediate Classical Greek

Zembel
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

Post by Zembel »

Hi Daedalus,

I'm a learner myself (started in January this year), and I have two tips to add.

There is an Anki list on 80 Percent Greek Vocabulary by Frequency. Some of it is a little funky, but you can edit it as you go along. A starting vocabulary of 450 words strikes me as too small; constantly having to look up words will be frustrating when you start reading.

Paradigms and principal parts need not be all rote memorization. A good textbook will help you understand the patterns, though there will still be plenty that you have to pound in with a hammer. For example, there are a number of ways that principal parts can be irregular, and being able to categorize them makes them easier to retain.

Best of luck and I hope to see you around.

Zem
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Daedalus
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

Post by Daedalus »

Aetos wrote: Tue Sep 15, 2020 7:26 pm Hi Daedalus,
Welcome to Textkit! I like your plan-Before tackIing Xenophon, I would suggest also covering some syntactical items which are usually taught in an introductory course:
1. Use of the Cases
2. Aspect
3. Uses of the Infinitive
4. Uses of the Participle
5. Indirect Discourse
6. Independent and Dependent Uses of the Subjunctive and Optative
7. Conditions
8. Relative and Temporal Clauses
9. Result Clauses and Clauses of Effort
Although the Anabasis is basically a narrative and as such easier to discern meaning from context, as Barry points out, it still features most, if not all of the items mentioned above. Xenophon has written other works such as the Hellenica, which contain some speeches which are a bit more difficult, and some rather complex sentences and will require a sound understanding of the above syntactical elements. I'm not a teacher, but I can speak from recent experience, having recently finished the Anabasis and am now reading the Hellenica. I've read the "hard part" of the Hellenica before (this is what Barry found amusing-there is nothing simple about Critias's and Theramenes's speeches), as this is the primary text for Cynthia Claxton's Intermediate Classical Greek textbook, which I completed in May of last year.

I do think, however, you'll discover the importance of the syntax on your own, as you try to make sense of what you're reading.
Enjoy your journey!

P.S. I did not come up with this list on my own; these are the main review items in Cynthia Claxton's textbook, Attica:Intermediate Classical Greek
Thank you for your warm welcome.

My view, as implied above, is that there is just too much syntax to study and that, while the most basic constructs should certainly be mastered before attempting an original text, most of the syntax can be picked up intuitively, especially when referring amply to an English translation. This approach is more tortuous and less clinical than mastering the syntax in advance, but it appeals more to my instincts.
Zembel wrote: Tue Sep 15, 2020 9:22 pm Hi Daedalus,

I'm a learner myself (started in January this year), and I have two tips to add.

There is an Anki list on 80 Percent Greek Vocabulary by Frequency. Some of it is a little funky, but you can edit it as you go along. A starting vocabulary of 450 words strikes me as too small; constantly having to look up words will be frustrating when you start reading.

Paradigms and principal parts need not be all rote memorization. A good textbook will help you understand the patterns, though there will still be plenty that you have to pound in with a hammer. For example, there are a number of ways that principal parts can be irregular, and being able to categorize them makes them easier to retain.

Best of luck and I hope to see you around.

Zem
I had searched for shared Greek decks a number of times before, but - wrongly, it seems - glossed over the decks described as 'Greek' without qualification, for the reason that I've found that this almost invariably refers to modern Greek, which as we both know is quite useless in reading the ancient texts. The linked deck seems like the sort of thing I'd find quite useful. I'm just disappointed that the verbs don't come with principal parts. The other issue would be with weeding out duplicates of cards I already have in my personal deck. Nevertheless, I'm quite grateful and thank you for sharing it.

My own deck, for the record, consists of three subdecks: Greek-English vocab, English-Greek vocab and a grammar deck consisting of all the principal parts for the verbs in the previous two decks, for extra practice, as well as full declensions and conjugations of the most important nouns, adjectives and verbs. I'd be quite happy to share if anybody ever wants to try it out.

What you say about rote learning is quite true, but you see I'm actually rather fond of it. My Anki account has nearly 15,000 cards across a dozen different subjects, from Anglo-Saxon history to Romantic poetry to biology. Everything I read is submitted to Anki, and it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that my life revolves around the programme; I spend at least two - and often three or four - hours a day reviewing all the scheduled cards, and the rest of the day is spent entering new ones from study material. It sounds almost like a monomania, but I love it!

bjrn
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

Post by bjrn »

I find solace in knowing that learning complex things such as languages is always a messy process in the beginning because if you don't know anything, you don't have anything where to hang or attach new pieces of knowledge. Once you're past the messy stage of having acquired basic grammar, a basic vocabulary and so on it's much easier to approach the learning calmly and systematically, reinforcing the foundation and building on top of it.

I started learning the ancient Greek a couple of months ago and I've had success in the following prioritization order:

The first few months

1) The highest priority is not the ancient Greek language itself, but the literature and culture. So I spend more time on learning about Greek history and culture, and reading translated works, than I spend on the language.

2) The second highest priority is acquiring a solid (but basic) understanding of sentence structure, syntax. What does a sentence actually mean? How do all pieces of the sentence play together? What happens if you change that dative to an accusative? What are the difference between this participle and that infinitive? Why is that particle important and why is it in that position? Etc.

3) Third is learning words.

4) And finally, memorization of what can tongue-in-cheek be called "tabular data": the bulk of a beginner textbook. I have not spent any time at all actively memorizing verb endings, for example, instead I've spent my active learning on point 1-3, and passively picked up a lot of these endings when working on texts. I find it more worthwhile to spend time on this once all verb forms are known: then it's much easier to systematize the verbal system and then memorizing general principles according to importance.

This last point is important to my main point, and why it's messy to be a beginner: If you do a textbook in order: you do not yet know what you don't know, so it's impossible to learn the big picture or principles. But once you know, for example, that there is such thing as a mi-verb and a future optative, then you have internalized an idea of the language as a system, and then that system can be approached systematically :) Everything is easier in hindsight.

The next few years

I'm not there yet, but I think the prioritzation order will be:

1) Read a lot.

2) Actively learn new words, and new syntax acquired from 1.

3) As an optimization: spend more time on step 4 above.

Update: I forgot to mention: I've de-prioritized correct pronunciation. This is something I regret but accept, because I intend to correct it later. I only have a few weeks left on my beginner textbook, and I think it's more bang for the buck for me right now to finish it and get to the point of reading actual texts. Then I will replace the textbook-style-work with technical drills that include pronounciation, accentuation and composition.

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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

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I really like the approach, though I found diminishing returns from Anki, which I used a fair amount. The inefficiencies can really waste your time unless you are careful.

Building my own decks was probably 50% of the benefit of it all. I gave up using other people's (usually better) decks because of this.

Also I like contextual cards infinitely more than gloss cards. Even at the early early stages.
"Here stuck the great stupid boys, who for the life of them could never master the accidence..."

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Daedalus
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Re: My strategy for learning Greek

Post by Daedalus »

bjrn wrote: Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:27 am I find solace in knowing that learning complex things such as languages is always a messy process in the beginning because if you don't know anything, you don't have anything where to hang or attach new pieces of knowledge. Once you're past the messy stage of having acquired basic grammar, a basic vocabulary and so on it's much easier to approach the learning calmly and systematically, reinforcing the foundation and building on top of it.

I started learning the ancient Greek a couple of months ago and I've had success in the following prioritization order:

The first few months

1) The highest priority is not the ancient Greek language itself, but the literature and culture. So I spend more time on learning about Greek history and culture, and reading translated works, than I spend on the language.

2) The second highest priority is acquiring a solid (but basic) understanding of sentence structure, syntax. What does a sentence actually mean? How do all pieces of the sentence play together? What happens if you change that dative to an accusative? What are the difference between this participle and that infinitive? Why is that particle important and why is it in that position? Etc.

3) Third is learning words.

4) And finally, memorization of what can tongue-in-cheek be called "tabular data": the bulk of a beginner textbook. I have not spent any time at all actively memorizing verb endings, for example, instead I've spent my active learning on point 1-3, and passively picked up a lot of these endings when working on texts. I find it more worthwhile to spend time on this once all verb forms are known: then it's much easier to systematize the verbal system and then memorizing general principles according to importance.

This last point is important to my main point, and why it's messy to be a beginner: If you do a textbook in order: you do not yet know what you don't know, so it's impossible to learn the big picture or principles. But once you know, for example, that there is such thing as a mi-verb and a future optative, then you have internalized an idea of the language as a system, and then that system can be approached systematically :) Everything is easier in hindsight.

The next few years

I'm not there yet, but I think the prioritzation order will be:

1) Read a lot.

2) Actively learn new words, and new syntax acquired from 1.

3) As an optimization: spend more time on step 4 above.

Update: I forgot to mention: I've de-prioritized correct pronunciation. This is something I regret but accept, because I intend to correct it later. I only have a few weeks left on my beginner textbook, and I think it's more bang for the buck for me right now to finish it and get to the point of reading actual texts. Then I will replace the textbook-style-work with technical drills that include pronounciation, accentuation and composition.
That's an interesting approach. I don't think it would work for me, but if it does for you then great.

I do agree about pronunciation though; I just use all accents to indicate stress and pronounce the letters in the old style (eta as a long i and omega as a long o, etc.)


jeidsath wrote: Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:52 am I really like the approach, though I found diminishing returns from Anki, which I used a fair amount. The inefficiencies can really waste your time unless you are careful.

Building my own decks was probably 50% of the benefit of it all. I gave up using other people's (usually better) decks because of this.

Also I like contextual cards infinitely more than gloss cards. Even at the early early stages.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'diminishing returns' respecting Anki. Of course, I know the meaning of the phrase from economics and statistics, but I don't see how it applies to Anki. For me, 200 cards are twice as useful as 100 - ceteris paribus. Perhaps you mean the pretty fonts, silly colours and pictures of dogs that med students are fond of integrating with the programme. The main function of these things seems to me to be for those people to trick themselves into thinking that they're aiding their long-term learning while forever putting off the less enjoyable process of actually meeting the material. Not only do I avoid adding those things to my own decks, but I avoid shared decks that use them.

For my part, I've found that aside from the functions offered by the Anki interface itself, there are additional rules that the user should observe, although some individualisation is necessary in order to adapt them to his own learning style. My approach looks something like this:

1. Speed is more important than accuracy; if I can achieve 90% on a given deck in thirty minutes and 80% in 20 minutes, then the latter is the better approach.

2. Deal much more harshly with young/learn cards. For instance, one of my cards asks for the dates of the reign of King Offa of Mercia; after this card was first introduced, I would have required the exact years (757 – 796), but after it graduated, something like 750 - 800 would be good enough. This serves the two functions of both increasing the likelihood that the exact information will be remembered beyond graduating, but also offering a psychological safety-net for if unimportant details are forgotten. It also applies, of course, to lapsed cards.

3. Once a card becomes a leech, immediately formulate a strategy to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Different strategies work for different subjects: in history, adding a new card to provide more nuanced information about the first is often successful, so I might add memorable events from the reign of Offa along with their own dates; in languages, requiring a daily streak works, so I'll write '0/5' on the front of the card, and for the next five days bury the card until 5/5 is achieved or reset to zero if there's another lapse.

4. Alter the settings so that new cards are not automatically introduced each day. This was the biggest problem for me when I first started using Anki; I was struggling immensely to finish reviewing all the old cards, and then finding I still had hundreds of new cards to contend with. Introduce new cards manually or not at all.

5. Review all the scheduled cards every day and without exception. This is difficult and requires much discipline at first, but I've gotten into such a good routine that the last day on which I failed to achieve this would be at least a month ago.

6. Give yourself one lenient day each week in respect of (5). This should not mean that you fail to complete the reviews, but that the bar is much lower for each review. On this day, you should not redo any cards at all, but should pass cards on which you enter the correct answers in the same way you would any other day, and bury incorrectly answered cards. This reduces the workload for that day substantially, and is a psychological buttress the rest of the week. You should select a set day each week so as to prevent abuse; my own day is Sunday, and so this can be considered the last vestige of my respect for the fourth commandment.

7. Readily suspend problematic cards, but schedule half-hour sessions routinely in which you review the entire list of suspensions, working out a strategy for re-introducing them in line with (3).



There are perhaps other rules, but the above seem to be a good working Anki philosophy.

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