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.