By Rebecca Dobyns
In seminary, Greek is always the subject everyone winces about. I have heard more “I’m sorry”s or “Have fun with that”s about taking Greek than about any other subject, except perhaps Hebrew. Granted, much of it is in jest, and many students are genuinely excited to learn the language of the New Testament, but many other students dread Greek as the great time waster and destroyer of their GPAs. However, Greek is my favorite subject I have taken so far.
I will admit I have been blessed in a number of ways. First of all, and most importantly, I have an incredible professor who treats everyone equally and genuinely believes every single student is capable of mastering Greek. He shows no favoritism and teaches methodically and evenly, so that we know what is expected of us and exactly what we need to do in order to succeed. Another way I have been blessed is that I have a natural love of languages. I have two years of study in Mandarin Chinese under my belt, and those two years of immersion definitely taught me some excellent study habits! It is true that once you have learned another foreign language, it is much easier to learn another. Finally, I have a true passion for Greek itself and a great desire to use the language to delve even more deeply into the riches of the New Testament.
However, regardless of your experience with learning foreign languages, your professor’s teaching style, or even your passion for the language, I am also convinced that anyone can do well in Greek if he or she applies the appropriate learning methods. Here are some tips I have found quite useful in my Greek study:
1. Put in the time. There is no substitute for simply taking time with your exercises, making sure that you understand each sentence you are parsing. Skim through the chapter again before doing the homework, making sure to take note of all the parts your professor told you to highlight in class and applying them to your assignment. Take time to look up that one verb, the one that you can’t decide if it’s second aorist or imperfect. See if you can figure out why it’s one versus the other. Continually ask questions and look for the answers. Look for the patterns. Was an augment added? Did an epsilon change to an eta? Don’t just look for the answer, file these patterns away. It will be so much easier down the road, and you will naturally feel more passionate about something that you take the time to do well.
2. Use flash cards and write down problem vocabulary. We use Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar for our textbook and workbook, and so I downloaded the associated Teknia flashcards. I can adjust which words I am quizzed on according to which vocabulary quiz we are about to take (for instance, right now it is set to quiz me only on words that appear 65 or more times in the New Testament). If you are using a different Greek textbook, perhaps there is another associated software program you can use. If not, there are plenty of programs you can download and use to create your own flashcards. After one or two flashcard run-throughs, I write down words that I missed in a notebook, and I come up with fun mnemonics and sentences to help me remember them. For example, whenever I see ercomai (I come), I think, “Ere come I,” which helps me remember the meaning. Some may be less obvious, but you can get creative! The only one who needs to be able to use these memory aids is you, so choose something that will help you remember, even if it seems silly. For instance,piptw means “I fall,” so I remember that I am more likely to “piptw“ whenever I tiptoe! Then as I go through my notebook and quiz myself, I put a star by any words that I continually miss.
3. Record your voice. I have to credit this idea to a combination of my Greek professor and my Chinese study. My professor puts recordings of himself saying or chanting paradigms on Blackboard. It really does help with memory if you can get in your head how the words actually sound! Back when I was studying Chinese and having difficulty with the tones and pronunciation, I would constantly record myself saying the vocabulary words. First of all, hearing myself would help implant the words and their meanings in my memory much more than simply reading a dry textbook. Secondly, I could hear what my Chinese professor was talking about when she said I pronounced a word wrong! Sometimes as you are saying something, it is difficult to hear what you are doing wrong, but if you record yourself and listen to your voice later, you can hear the differences between a native speaker and you much more clearly.
I have a long commute to school, so I can really get in some good study time if I remember to record Greek beforehand. Take some time to record yourself saying your problem vocabulary words and their associated memory aids. I’ve even recorded some of my mnemonics in a British accent before because it helped the words stand out more! You can also record entire paradigms this way. I have recordings of me saying “o` logoj tou logou tw| logw|…” over and over. The repetition really does work! Even if your commute is only 15 or 20 minutes, you can get in a lot of paradigm repetitions in that time frame. Before long, you will be able to recite the entire paradigm from the top of your head.
I hope you have found these study tips helpful! I truly believe that if you put in the effort and use strategies like those listed above, you will be able to learn the language and do well in class. If you have additional study tips, please leave them in the comments. No one’s mind works exactly the same, and you may have some different strategies that will help others out even more than the ones I have listed. Part of the battle is just believing that you have the ability to learn Koine Greek. God knew what He was doing when the New Testament was written in Greek, and He knows what He’s doing right now in giving you the opportunity to study it. I wish you all the best in learning the beautiful language of the New Testament.
By Rebecca Dobyns. Becky graduated from the University of Texas and still loves the city of Austin in all its weird glory. Nevertheless, she currently finds herself keeping it relatively normal by studying at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, preparing for further cross-cultural ministry. She blogs about spiritual and physical wholeness at Wholly Redefined and Tweets about the adventures of abundant life with Jesus.