Monday, October 11, 2010

battle of the G[r]eeks, pt. II

In my previous post I mentioned that I am teetering on the verge of abandoning David Alan Black's first-year Greek grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1994), the book from which I learned Greek back in the late 90s and I have used since I began teaching Greek two years ago. I also mentioned a few other introductory grammars I've looked at and briefly explained why each wasn't right for my class. Before I explain my attraction to N. Clayton Croy's, A Primer of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), I thought it might be helpful to explain my approach to teaching elementary Greek and what I expect an introductory grammar to provide my students.

First, as with any first-year Greek program my class is intense. We cover a lot of material quickly, and to make things worse the material is cumulative. Students can't forget present active indicative verb forms just because that was five chapters ago; neither can they forget vocab from earlier in the semester as we move on. Because the class is so intense, I don't want an intense first-year grammar. This is my main criticism of Mounce and, even more so, of Porter & Co. I need a grammar that breaks up the material into manageable chunks, presents it clearly and without excessive nuance, and moves on. I don't need my students to know that the third-person singular primary verbal ending "actually is τι, but the tau dropped out" (Mounce, 133n. 8); I want them to learn it just as -ει. Too much detail muddies the issues for first-year students, and I really don't want them to have to figure out what's important and what can be ignored for now.

Second, I don't want a grammar that explains everything for my students. Again, Mounce provides a helpful foil. An independent student could purchase Mounce's grammar and, with the aid of the website an the CD, learn everything s/he needed to learn about Greek alone. But my students aren't learning Greek by themselves; they're with me, my lab assistant, and their fellow students. What I like about Black's book, then, is that it quickly and concisely explains the most critical information and leaves plenty of room for me to supplement the material with my own. My students spend about one day (out of four) per week working out of Black's book; the rest of the week is spent working on supplementary materials that either I or my lab assistant have devised. More detailed introductory grammars strike me as, well, a bit over-determined.

Third, I think I prefer a balance between inductive and deductive approach to language acquisition. (I say "I think" because I've never been clear about what people actually mean when they use these terms.) Whatever the technical jargon, here's what I strive for. I expect students to be able to fill in grammar charts (verbal conjugations and nominal declensions). The age-old gripe that Greek is about "never-ending endings" doesn't move me to compassion; if you ever hope to be able to read the language you simply have to master its morphological paradigms. Even so, none of my students sign up to endure Elementary Greek in order to be able to fill in grammar charts, and so I try to introduce them to actual Greek texts as early as possible. Black, however, doesn't begin to provide actual exercises from the GNT until chapter eighteen, which is the second chapter of the second semester. Black's exercises are excellent after chapter eighteen, but I can't expect my students to endure six months of studying Greek before they turn to actual biblical texts.

Fourth, even if it's more difficult for students to move back and forth between verbal and nominal forms, syntax, and grammar (and I don't think it actually is), I want a grammar that presents the material in a way that gets progressively more familiar with the language as a whole rather than tackling, say, all three noun declensions before presenting any verbs. Again, even if students find it more difficult to move between grammatical categories, students draw motivation from their noticeably and steadily advancing abilities to work with the language, to decipher ideas in Greek and communicate them in English, and even to provide sketchy versions of English thoughts in Greek-esque. So what Mounce might gain in terms of simplifying the material he looses in terms of his students' motivation.

I think that's enough for now. In my next post on this subject I'll explain how Black and Croy line up on these four issues. As always, your comments are welcome.


theophiluspunk said...

I hear you; I've taught beginning Greek three times, and used Mounce twice. I think your criticisms are spot on.

The other time, I used Adam; good ideas (learning principle parts of verbs when learning vocab, etc.), but too many errors in execution.

I have not tried Black's 1st year grammar. I HAVE used his 2nd year, and liked it more than Brooks & Winbery (which I liked.) I think the updated Summers is beautifully done, if you can adapt the eight-case approach (which it shares with Brooks & Winbery.)

I've always through that Funk's Beginning-Intermediate Grammar was the most logical approach, but it's in severe need of updating and out of print. Daryl Schmidt once told me that he was going to update it, but I don't know where that project went after Schmidt's death.

clk said...

Amen on Mounce. I inherited the Greek program here at LCU, for which they always have used Mounce. I'm using the new 3d ed. now and hate it. If I've said, "This is just unnecessary for first-year students" once I've said it a million times. I was equally disappointed when I looked at Porter et al. So, I'm anxious to hear what you think of Croy because as I've now I've determined to switch to Black.

Danny Zacharias said...

I also learned from Black but was not keen on returning to it once I started teaching 4 years ago now. I agree with you on Mounce, I've never been a big fan.

4 years ago I intensely evaluated Croy, Mounce, Black, Stevens (university press of America), and Stevens (Cascade books), and Duff.

I don't like how Black presents vocabulary, and doesn't have varied exercises. Too little talk on participles too.

Mounce wins in the vocab presentation, but he is too wordy and the order of presentation is the ultimate turn-off.

Croy— I really liked Croy and was close to choosing it. I like the order of presentation, but there are too many chapters — and the physical presentation of paradigms is ugly (lists instead of tables). Also, there is pretty much no variety in the exercises- it is all translation.

Duff, and now also Hewett, are both very good but they introduce a little too much vocab I think. I LOVE that Hewett starts with so English grammar, but I didn't like the order of its presentation.

Given my context (my students are primarily pastors, and they are only taking this 1 year of Greek with me) I went with Stevens Greek Primer (Cascade). I DON'T like its emphasis on diagramming, but other than that it has worked well for me. He introduces a good amount of vocab in a consistent manner. He introduces verbs VERY early, the exercises are in the textbook, and they are varied in type. The presentation is also probably the most attractive - tables, lists, different sized fonts, etc.

If I were in a different context— for instance if I knew all of them were going on to a second year, I'd be more inclined toward Hewett, Duff, or Croy.

Rafael said...

Thanks, Perry, Chris, and Danny. You're all helping confirm me in my opinions.

@Perry: According to Abingdon's website AKMA's grammar has been revised. Did you use the revised edition? If not, do you know if this edition corrected the errors you note?

@Chris: When I was teaching second-year Greek I had to fight to have the adjunct professor who was teaching first-year to abandon Mounce and adopt Black. His students simply weren't learning the material (despite his passion for both the language and his students). I've had significantly better results with Black, and I don't think it's (necessarily!) the quality of the instructor.

@Danny: I forgot you had gone through an intensive review process. I agree with your comment about Croy's number of chapters; I'll have to combine two chapters from time to time. But Black errs in the other direction: Too much material in chapters 18–25 rather than breaking it up into more manageable chunks. And I'm not looking for variety in the exercises; I and my lab assistant develop alternative exercises to drill vocab, morphology, etc.

Anonymous said...

I really like Croy's three-part strategy for exercises:

(a) easy exercises to reinforce the vocabulary and syntax taught in the chapter;

(b) & (c) "real" Greek, from both the NT and LXX, with glosses for things that the students don't yet know.

This is a nice combination of reinforcement and pushing students to do new things.


Danny Zacharias said...

Not that "celebrity" status matters, but as you know I sell multimedia flashcards. The majority of my sales are for Mounce, and Croy is a close second. Stevens and Black are a distant third.

Another thing I had to consider that I forgot to mention is that Canadian semesters are a little shorter— and I aim hard to leave some time at the end of the second semester to actually do some reading and discussion of text rather than grammar. Stevens 28 chapters fits the bill.

Also, not sure if the "aspect" discussion is important for you, but Hewett does the best of the first year grammars (Porter too, but I haven't had a chance to look at that yet).

You may want to take a look at Stevens just for the sake of being thorough. He starts verbs early and uses actual NT text throughout for exercises. (

Rafael said...

Thanks, Danny. I looked at Wipf and Stock's website for Stevens's text; I'd like to look at it, but I can't find any online samples (Amazon and Google Books come up bubkes). I might order an examination copy, but we'll see. I'll explain the layout of my class in another post, hopefully by the end of the week.

My Visual Bookshelf