One of the biggest challenges in learning Greek is remembering what we study over the long term. It is so easy to begin to lose Greek through negligence and a lack of consistency. It is indeed easy to temporarily memorize a list of rules or words, but to devote them to permanent heart memory is the result of diligent and consistent work. This is something that does not come overnight. Below I have tried to offer a few things which have helped me in my own Greek pilgrimage.
Note that the following are brief tips and pointers for those who are already studying NTG and desire to make further strides, or who are considering embarking on this worthwhile journey.
(This is not intended for those whose desire is to learn enough Greek for the purpose of using tools or to do word studies. See the page on Functional Greek if this is what you are seeking.)
Grammar is a must: A language cannot be learned and understood without studying and knowing its grammar. Do not listen to the person who says that "Grammar isn't that important, you don't really need it." We use grammar every day and all the time in English, often without even knowing it. One may be able to pick up bits and pieces of Greek without a handle on grammar. You can glean some of what is being said through tools and computer programs, however you will not get a solid grasp and understanding of what is really being communicated, you will not see shades and nuances, but will leave with only an unrefined and partial product. See sections VII-IX on this page for a list of recommended grammars.
Read your GNT every day: There is no substitute for reading Greek. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is what you are striving to be able to do, read the NT in its original language. You must read it frequently, often, daily if possible. You must have “maximum exposure” at every turn. You must get as many senses involved as possible. Read it aloud to help with pronunciation and to "hear" the language. Read it fast to work on fluid pronunciation. Read it slow to focus on the meaning. Read a passage a day. Read a few verses a day. Reading just 5-10 minutes a day can be the difference in keeping or losing the language. Make your GNT your close friend, take it everywhere you can. Take it to church and follow along with the teaching and sermon. Yes, some people may label you as being prideful just because you have the GNT on your lap when everyone else has the English. Be humble about it though and don't flaunt what you are doing. You are trying to learn this language. Some bring and English/Spanish parallel Bible to church, you bring Greek. This is something which every Christian has the right do to, many though make the decision not to, so don't feel bad if you are judged for doing it.
If you are asking yourself, “Which GNT should I use?” then click here to read this post.
Be careful with interlinears: Interlinears are good in their respective area of purpose, they can be helpful for Functional Greek. But, if you are learning the language, you may want to reconsider. You may think that these will help you, but more than likely they will tend to be a hindrance in the end. Having the English translation right below the text can greatly hinder the progress that otherwise would and could be made, by causing an unhealthy dependency on the English. It is my recommendation to stay away from interlinears if your goal is to be able to read the GNT fluently and devotionally. If your desire is to dabble with study tools, then interlinears may help you some, but if your objective is to learn the language well, it would be in your best interest not to mess with them. Force yourself to read the GNT in its purest form, and use a Reader if necessary, but not an interlinear.
Vocabulary is key: As with grammar, no language can be learned without a sufficient knowledge of vocabulary. If you have to look up every other word in the lexicon, then reading Greek will become burdensome, and you will struggle to find any motivation, joy, and blessing from it. To put it plainly, you cannot translate or understand anything without vocabulary. It can be helpful to memorize vocabulary by word frequency in the GNT. A helpful pattern is as follows: 1st year memorize the words with occurrences of 50x or more (325 words). 2nd year memorize the words occurring 20x to 49x (323 words). Eventually work your way down to those occurring 10x to 19x (352 words). This equals 1000 words and will enable you to comfortably read the GNT, with grammar of course. The materials above will help you to learn vocabulary well. Learning cognate word groups, reading the GNT daily, and using a Reader's NT will do the rest. See section VI on this page for some great resources for learning vocabulary.
Practice writing in Greek: This one may sound a bit strange, however it is greatly underestimated. Many Greek scholars, theologians, and pastors in past centuries made it a regular habit to write the language that they were reading, whether Greek or Hebrew. It was not uncommon for them to write their prayers, daily devotions, or even to use it in sermon preparation in these languages. Sermon preparation in Greek is a great way to improve in the language. Maximum exposure is the key, getting yourself involved in as many ways as possible. Write out your workbook exercises, take verses from your GNT and copy them, find someone else who is learning and write back and forth. It will be hard at first but will make a big difference if you stick with it.
Get a study partner: Having a study partner can make all the difference in learning this language. It can be done without it, but will be difficult. Being able to interact with others who share this mutual interest, ask questions, have discussions, etc, could be the difference between continuing and quitting for some. It is a great help to have that extra little push to move on and go forward. Remember, we are dealing with what some call a “dead language”,( i.e. it is no longer spoken). We cannot turn to listen to sermons or radio programs in this language. For the most part, we must read, write, and discuss it. Those are our options and we must be diligent in them.
Listen to Greek Aloud: As we've said, you need to get as many senses involved as is possible. Today we have the great blessing to be able to listen to the audio Greek New Testament. Hearing the language read and spoken will help you to get a better "feel" for the language, as opposed to just recognizing and reading it on paper. There are quite a few audio GNTs available today, let me suggest two. I prefer to use the reading by Marilyn Phemister. It is read with great clarity and follows Erasmian pronunciation. It is a reading of the Westcott-Hort GNT, which works fine if you are using the UBS/NA. You can find it here.
There is also an audio reading of Greek Vocabulary by Jonathan Pennington where he goes through words by frequency down to 10 occurrences. This is a big help in learning vocabulary, as well as getting a more complete feel for the language. You can find this resource here.
Review, Review, Review: In high school, and perhaps even college, there is often the temptation to study simply to make it through to the next test. We typically don't study so as to remember for the long term. With NTG however, such a study habit will be nothing less than destructive and unprofitable. The purpose of learning NTG is not to make it from test to test, get a graduate, get a diploma or degree, and then relax. Many who have once studied Greek in a formal setting have eventually become overwhelmed and busy with the cares and concerns of life and ministry, and have as a result, grown rusty and begun to forget the Greek they once studied. Needless to say, reviewing and practice are essential if you want to keep your Greek. A simple review of the basics every few months would serve very well. However, if we are continually learning NTG and reading the GNT daily and devotionally, we will not so much have problems with forgetting what we have learned. If you begin with reading the GNT just 5-10 minutes a day it will be such a huge help in keeping the language active and sharp. A great review guide is the little book which Bill Mounce recently published called Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide. It contains all the basics and a gloss lexicon with all words occurring 10x or more.
I hope these helps and pointers have been helpful. Read, study, and enjoy the living Word of God which we have been entrusted with. What a stewardship! What a blessing! Let us be diligent with it!
Note: There is a small book out there called "Keep Your Greek", I don't have it and I haven't read it, though I have read some reviews on it since posting this. According to the Table of Contents preview it seems to hit some of the same points listed above. If you are interested, check it out, and let me know how it is.
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