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Gaining Proficiency. What has that looked like for you?
In Living Koine Greek Forum
thomas.dolhanty
Feb 04, 2020
Thank you for your forthright note Josh. I commend you for setting out to master the Biblical languages in a day when so many church leaders choose to give them little of their time and energy. I believe such a commitment, when adhered to, will always be richly rewarded. As you requested, I will respond with a few thoughts from my own experience and a comment or two on your approach. First, though, an observation regarding a truth which I learned first from Jonathan Edwards, and then again from John Piper, and which I believe is of the utmost importance: in the end you do – and you do well - what it gives you pleasure to do. A task which does not bring pleasure, and which is not attractive, is not a task which can be sustained. The writer of Psalm 119 read the Scriptures, because he couldn’t stay away from them! Jacob worked for Rachel, because the 7 years was as nothing to him compared to gaining her! David composed worship songs to the Lord, because it gave him great pleasure to do so. I mention all of this because I wonder whether you should take a break from your “regimen” for some part of the time, and read familiar passages from the GNT or the MT just for the sheer joy of it. Forget vocabulary and grammar and time spent and ENGLISH and just read the Greek or the Hebrew for the joy of the experience. Read that glorious bit of Hebrew poetry starting in Isaiah 40, or the birth narrative in Luke, or whatever other passage(s) are on your mind at the moment in the original language as they were written JUST FOR THE JOY OF THE JOURNEY! :) It is here that one will begin to taste and feel the original language. Just a little bit of my own experience: I’ve been reading Greek and Hebrew for about 15 years now. At one time, about 8 years ago, my Hebrew was way better than my Greek, but I decided that I should focus on one language rather than risk being mediocre in both. I chose Greek. I spent a couple of years teaching Greek at a Bible school, and over the years I’ve mentored quite a few who were seeking to master Biblical Greek. Typically I read or listen to several chapters of the GNT each day. When I first started out, after I had learned the basics of Koine Greek, I ploughed through many chapters of the GNT! I was determined to master the entire NT in short order! Alas, I kept forgetting much of what I had “learned”, and after a year or two I had to admit that, for the most part, all I was really learning was the English equivalent for Greek “words”. This is not the same as learning the Greek language itself. Randall Buth and a few others had a big influence on me at that point, and I began to change my whole approach. Slowly, I more and more dropped the grammar/analysis approach and began to read the Greek just for the joy of reading it. I also began to work at removing the “English” fetters which I had unwittingly brought to the task. As C. S. Lewis put it in his typical eloquence, “The very formula, “Naus means a ship,” is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, and behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.” C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life Grammar comes so much more easily if you can first read the text intelligently (we’re always assuming a basic knowledge to begin with)! This is opposite to the way we are usually taught to proceed in Biblical languages, but it is the natural way to learn any language. After the basics, I am a big advocate of learning grammar as it is needed. For example, in reading the Gospel of Luke, I will have something like “Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament)” close by. I may read through the whole Gospel the first time with very few references to the book. However, as I read and re-read the Lucan text, questions arise and then I repair to the reference material. Much better to eat when you’re hungry: much better to get the grammar when you a looking for it! :) Now just a few words of response to your comments/questions. First, as I’ve already said, I would replace at least some of the “regimen” with reading and re-reading passages which are speaking to you at the moment. Meditate on them, linger over them, mutter them, memorize them, groove on them! That’s what the author of Psalm 119 was doing. In doing this over time you will begin to taste the “flavour” of the Greek. The nuances of the language will begin to take hold of you. You won’t need some dry grammar book to tell you what makes Luke’s birth narrative so evocative, or how Paul presses home his points so effectively, or how Isaiah achieves his magnificent picture! I’m not sure what you mean by a “Reader’s” edition, but for me the ideal – at least for a good part of the time – is to have nothing but the Greek text in front of you when you are reading. A tablet with something like Olive Tree is perfect for when you need to ‘touch’ a word to learn its meaning, or inflection. That way you are not continually distracted by English text. (As an aside, in teaching Greek I have found that most of the problems students have with the Greek text have actually been problems with the English translation of the Greek text!) I find that reading the text aloud – for a portion of your reading – is very effective in advancing in the language, providing, of course, that one works to pronounce it correctly. (My friends and I find BPK’s reading enormously helpful here.) To be sure, though, I would find it very onerous to always read the text aloud – more like a task than a joy! You mentioned that you’re not sure how to integrate the resources on the Koine Greek site into your routines. One very effective way in my experience is to simply listen to the passage being read aloud. Follow along with the text at first, if necessary, but work to get to the place where you can listen to a chapter of the GNT and follow the passage read without seeing the text. This is a powerful learning aid. Another very effective aid is to have friends, colleagues, classmates, brethren to read along with. I’m not sure if most of your reading is alone, but it is really helpful to have a small reading group working through a passage/book together. Finally, I at least find it very challenging to learn more than one language at a time, once you are past the basics. I know there are those with a genius for languages who can learn two or more languages at a time, but most cannot. You may have to choose soon, as I did, to focus on one language. That does not mean abandoning the other(s). Only that you may not be able to get where you want to go with more than one language at a time. εὐλογήσαι σε κύριος ἐν τῷ μαθατί σου, Thomas
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Exercise Book for a Koine Dialogue approach to GNT study
In Living Koine Greek Forum
thomas.dolhanty
Jan 23, 2020
"Build it and they will come!" :)
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thomas.dolhanty

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