Koine Greek Rosetta Stone (Needed Resources)

Rosetta Stone. Everyone knows about this software, thanks to the company’s very effective ad campaign. If you’ve been living under a rock, check out their website and try out their free online demo that will introduce you to their basic learning model.

The Basic Approach
In short, Rosetta Stone uses a direct or natural method, which bypasses the learner’s first language (L1) and tries to connect the goal language (L2) directly to reality by using pictures. They call it “dynamic immersion.” It’s meant to simulate the way that we learn our first language. The founder of the company, Allen Stoltzfus, picked up German easily by living in Germany and wanted to replicate that experience with the software.

How Grammar Should Be Taught

The program teaches all four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) through lessons and exercises that use pictures, text, and audio. In some exercises, students can type their answers into the program. In others, speech-recognition technology lets students respond orally and hone their pronunciation.

With each new version, Rosetta Stone has introduced new elements, such as workbooks, special grammar modules, and online social gaming. Now, you can even have a live online session with a native speaker. Of course, the great thing about learning with software is that any affective filter (or “fear factor”) is nonexistent, since you learn at your own pace, in the privacy of your own home. Each level (some languages have up to five levels) provides about 24hrs of training, so you could easily complete a level per month, and by the time you finished 5 levels, you would have about 100hrs of immersion-style exposure to the language.

Just Imagine
Now, just imagine how easy it would be for Rosetta Stone to create a program for ancient Greek. Here’s why: (as far as I know) every language in Rosetta Stone uses basically the same picture sets (see here for the details). So whether you’re learning Japanese, German, or French, you’ll start with words for table, boy, girl, man, woman, eat, drink, etc. in that language. In fact, it’s such an easy template that Rosetta Stone lets people groups with endangered languages customize the software for their native tongue as part of their Endangered Language Program. So, if you’re part of the Chitimacha tribe (why did I just get a craving for chimichangas?) you can adapt the software, by “filling in the blanks” of the template with your own language, and thus use it to save your tribal tongue from extinction.

The Market
I think the market for an Ancient Greek Rosetta Stone could potentially be huge. It would certainly be a hit with students. They universally respond positively to such software. It would also be a major boon for the communicative Koine movement, since it would demonstrate how effective immersive experiences are for quickly internalizing the vocabulary and structure of a language without having to learn metalanguage or memorize charts, endings, and English definitions.

Think of how many schools teach Koine or Classical Greek—both seminaries and colleges. Don’t limit it just to the US, of course, since Rosetta Stone is not language-specific. Now, factor in all the homeschoolers who would be interested in it, and then add all the individuals who aren’t attending seminary, but still want to learn Greek. That’s a lot of folks.

How Rosetta Stone Pictured Me When They Read My Email -- ὧδέ ἐστιν Ἰωάννης!!

I emailed Rosetta Stone a couple years ago and tried to clue them in to this, but to no avail. Without an insider contact, I’m just a lone nutter out in cyberspace who thinks people want to speak Hellenistic Greek. Smile BTW, if you think they’re not interested in “dead languages,” go check out their Latin program, which has three levels. I understand, however, that the Latin program uses a different set of images from that used in the other languages—presumably, ancient images of toga-clad vires, etc.

Decisions, Decisions
Of course, there would be a lot of tough decisions they would have to make before they started developing an Ancient Greek Rosetta Stone. Two biggies come to mind. First, which period of ancient Greek would they choose to represent? Attic, Koine? γινώσκω or γιγνώσκω? Shall we use κράββατος, despite Phrynichus’ disdain? Second, an even bigger conundrum is presented by pronunciation. Aspiration or not? Modern, reconstructed Koine, Erasmian, reconstructed Attic (Allen/Daitz)? These are not, however, insurmountable. Rosetta Stone had to make the same kind of decisions when they made their Latin program. I would suggest that with regard to pronunciation, they produce a couple different versions to reach the largest market, though I would plead with them to—please, for the love of all that is righteous and good—not perpetuate the barf-inducing American Erasmian: “en arkay ayn haw lawgaws . . .”

What Do You Think?
What do you think? Would you like to see a Rosetta Stone for ancient Greek? Is there a market for such a program? Why hasn’t a publisher like Zondervan already developed this kind of software and made a killing? What would need to be included in such a software package for it to be successful? What are some of the challenges that would need to be overcome? Let me know in the comments!

Update
Based on some of the initial comments on this post, I think that I may have been misunderstood. Is Rosetta Stone the greatest thing since sliced ἄρτος? No. Will it help you get to an advanced level in a language? Definitely not! Is it as good as Pimsleur or other more extensive programs? Probably not. But, that’s like comparing a 5 week course to an 8 week course. Which is better? The 8-week one, probably, but neither will bring you anywhere close to fluency! You expect the swimming class at your local YMCA to prep you to swim the English Channel? Gee whiz! :)

So why put Rosetta Stone first in my list of Resources We Need For Teaching Greek? Well, first, everyone’s heard of it. Second, everyone understands the basic idea (the direct method, no L1 intervening). Third, it’s extremely effortless to use (I can’t say this about Assimil, e.g., since it introduces explicit grammar instruction and translation in Lesson 1). And, fourth, if we had it for Ancient Greek, it would introduce everyone to the concept of direct, immersive learning, and we’d pretty soon have a lot more people interested in immersive Koine.

Bottom line: I see Rosetta Stone as nothing more than a really easy way to get your feet wet in a language, cement some basic vocab and structures that you’ll never forget, and introduce people to a natural way of acquiring a language. Stay tuned for more posts where I will discuss tools that I think will be more helpful and needful in the long run for someone serious about becoming fluent in Koine.

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About Daniel Streett

Associate Professor of Greek and New Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, Texas
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23 Responses to Koine Greek Rosetta Stone (Needed Resources)

  1. Paul D. says:

    As someone currently learning Greek on his own (and hoping to become truly fluent), I’ve been following your article series with great interest.

    However, based on my experience with learning for the languages I speak at some level (Japanese, French, Korean, German) and my time spent on polyglot forums like “How to learn any language”, I have to say that Rosetta has a rather poor reputation among autodidactic language enthusiasts. While their marketing is very successful and appealing to casual students, I don’t know of anyone who has successfully learned a language to an advanced level through Rosetta. People seem to have success using a more rigorous audio-based program like Linguaphone or Assimil. And as I’ve pointed out in a comment elsewhere, Assimil does have an audio-based program (with textbook) for Attic Greek as well as for Latin and — one of their latest additions — ancient Egyptian.

  2. I spent the last year taking a German reading course for my degree in seminary. At the end of the program I had memorized 1,000 words and a handful of charts. However, within a month of not reviewing the material I began to quickly loose it. That is what motivated me to spend two months in Augsburg Germany taking a German immersion course. To prepare for the course, and to supplement it as I have been here, I have been using the Rosetta Stone program.

    It is crazy how much better I remember the vocabulary I learned using Rosetta Stone. I can not only translate, but create my own sentences using words I learned using Rosetta Stone. Also, I felt that I was ahead of many of my peers in this class simply because I had already began to learn how to pronounce German words. I can not emphasize how important speaking a language is for remembering it.

    All that to say, I can not express how excited I would be for them to put out a Koine Greek program. I am not sure that it would suffice, but it would be so much better than traditional teaching methods simply because the students would easily begin to internalize the vocabulary by hearing it. Plus, because Rosetta Stone is fun there would be few complaints about homework.

    My only thought is that in addition to learning the using the Rosetta Stone method, it would be helpful to also add courses on Greek Grammar. There are many Americans who cannot recall exactly what a pronoun is, much less a direct object,modal verb, and so on. American students need to combine the immersion style of learning with lessons on Grammar, especially in a language like Greek in which word order does not dictate meaning in the same way English does.

  3. Mike Aubrey says:

    I wrote a similar e-mail to Rosetta Stone at one point…with a similar response.

  4. Alex Poulos says:

    First, I do agree we need software for ancient Greek. As a self-taught Greek and Latin student, I’d like to give a few comments on Rosetta Stone. I’ve used the Latin version you mentioned.

    1) Not all of the pictures are different. They have some old drawings (of togas and such), but most are the same pictures you’ll find in French or Spanish. This also means you’ll be learning modern words like radio and television (yes, it teaches you radio in Latin!).

    2) The pronunciation problem was a bit easier in Latin. At least as I understand it, you basically have two choices: ecclesiastical and classical. They chose classical. There’s way more pronunciation schemes in Greek to choose from. Ideally we’d have a choice, but in lieu of that let’s go for modern ;-).

    I don’t know if Rosetta Stone Ancient Greek is exactly what we need, but I would like to see more tools available. I’ve found RS to be frustrating in my experience (mostly with Latin). I’ve been much more drawn to a mix of “readers” like Ortberg’s Lingua Latina and traditional textbooks (like Mounce’s BBG in Greek or Wheelock in Latin). I do realize that everyone won’t share my experience though.

  5. arthad says:

    I don’t have personal experience with Rosetta Stone, but I’m skeptical of any software program that claims to be all you need to learn a language. Developing communicative competence requires spontaneous, free communication, which a software program cannot give feedback on. It could be very helpful for learning vocabulary and grammar rules, but surely “immersion” is an exaggeration for a software program which you use for only a few hours a day at maximum.

  6. Luke Todd says:

    As a potential perpetuator of barf-inducing American Erasmian, I’m curious about the other types pronunciation, which you think is preferable, and so on. By the way, is that Erasmian with a Texas accent? For whatever reason that’s the way I want to read your example of it.

    • Luke, μετανόησον! :) Erasmian is not inherently barf-inducing, though significant nausea may occur. I just find the American–yes, Texas is pretty bad, but I’m also familiar with a Michigander accent, which is quite awful, too–pronunciation of Erasmian especially annoying. There’s just no effort to make the language sound foreign or real at all. I am probably, though, swayed by the fact that I have only ever heard one Erasmian (Christophe Rico, whose Erasmian is quite pleasant to me) put the accents on the right syllables. For everyone else it’s been: HAW THAYaws eh-poy-AY-sin tawn KAWSmawn DIa NOOmataws OWtoo. One Erasmian prof, who has recorded a large amount of the NT, misaccented 8 words out of the first verse I listened to. Don’t even get me started on the Brits, who must have all learned Greek from the accent-less Wenham textbook! :)

      • Luke Todd says:

        Thanks. That makes me feel a bit better about the time I’ve invested into correct (Erasmian) pronunciation. I didn’t even know there were other types when I began learning, but as long as I strive to do it accurately and properly accented, I doubt I’ll cause anyone to barf.

        Do you mind sharing your preferred pronunciation and why?

      • Luke, I use modern pronunciation (with a Byzantine twist). I’ve got a post in the works on why. But, the short answer is that virtually all of the elements of modern pronunciation are evident in the first century, and clearly widespread during the Patristic era. For details, see Horrocks’ history of Greek, Buth’s summary of reconstructed Koine pronunciation, Caragounis’ work on the development of Greek, and Gignac’s grammar of the papyri. In my post, I will lay out the evidence in detail, with a lot of examples.

    • arthad says:

      I think what may make American Erasmian barf-inducing is that most American have great difficulty eliminating glides from their vowels: ἐγώ, for example, is not pronounced /εgo/ but /εgow/. Spanish or Italian speakers, for example, sound better without even trying because they naturally produce single vowels without glides. Americans generally just map English vowels onto foreign equivalents when we speak foreign languages, and consequently sound awful unless we pay very particular attention to eliminating vowel glides and other distinctives of English phonology.

      And yes, Rico is very picky about accents, which is great!

  7. Gentlemen, I’ve added an update to the post to clarify what I think RS can and can’t do and what I think its usefulness for the communicative Koine movement would be. I agree with most of the criticisms that you all have made, but I think you may have slightly misunderstood the intention of the post, which was to present RS merely as an attractive starting point.

  8. Aaron says:

    This is where you can submit a new language request to Rosetta Stone. http://www.rosettastone.com/global/form/language-request?cid=sm-fb

  9. S. Macdonald says:

    I have some experience with RS, and I think I recorded some audio that went into the process of revising and correcting the latest version of the Latin software. I don’t think RS is very useful on the list of needed resources, for a few reasons.
    1) RS tends to use a cookie-cutter approach to language, and using the same pictures across multiple languages can tend to make it harder to bring out the features unique to each language, because part of the point of the pictures is that they need to work by means of contrast.
    2) RS as a system and as a product comes as a hugely expensive outlay, and by the accounts that I’ve read, delivers poorly on the outcome side. While people seem to find RS useful to a point, there seems to be a real gap in pedagogical method that RS fails to bridge.
    3) I suspect the outcome of 1&2 is that there are better ways of replicating what RS does well, in terms of using pictures with attached words rather than translation, rather than pursuing the RS model per se.
    4) The Latin RS, from what I know of it, falls short in quality and relevance compared to the modern language versions. RS would need to be convinced to treat ancient languages as modern languages and produce full-orbed versions.

  10. Mark Lightman says:

    Here is some some stuff that is LIKE Rosetta Stone.

    It’s full of mistakes, it uses a couple of different accents, the quality is not very good. Purists won’t like the fact that we call a drinking glass a ποτήριον. I will stop making stuff like this as soon as better stuff is widely available. I for one would love to see a Koine Rosetta Stone.

    • Mark, that’s great. Are you switching away from the Erasmian pronunciation now?

      • Mark Lightman says:

        χαῖρε Δανιηλ,

        Yes and no.. I retain Erasmian as my base PROFORA for two basic reasons. 1. I listen to a lot of classical Greek audio which uses Erasmian or near-Erasmian (the so-called restored Attic) 2. I speak Ancient Greek with several people who use Erasmian. On the other hand, I also speak Ancient Greek with several Buthians, including Rob, the guy on the video. He does not mind me using Erasmian when we speak, and we understand each other just fine, but sometimes I like to switch to Buthian to keep better continuity. We intend to re-record some of my Koine grammar drills in Buthian. I want to get to the point where I can speak both easily so that I can communicate with as many people as possible in Ancient Greek. I’ve never seen this as an either/or issue.

        ἐλπίζω σε ὄντα ὑγιεινὸν καὶ καλῶς ἔχοντα.

  11. Ryan says:

    Hi Daniel,

    In light of this post, the grammar-translation-method, the immersion method, discourse analysis, etc, what are your thoughts about Randall Buth’s (Biblical Language Center) Hebrew and Greek teaching methods? Would you recommend these packages that he offers? Do you think they really work for reading the GNT and the Hebrew OT? From what I have read it appears to be a substitute to traditional grammars altogether as we know them. Maybe I am wrong.

    • Ryan, Buth’s materials are excellent. I highly recommend them and his immersion classes. They definitely work for reading both Greek and Hebrew, though you will need much more extensive immersion and reading before you could read the NT and OT fluidly. Traditional grammars, in my opinion, should be used as reference works, not as means to acquiring the language.

      • Ryan says:

        Thanks Daniel. That is helpful. Well, I’m using traditional grammars and hoping to start with Runge’s Discourse Grammar. From my experience, most people I know who have trouble reading/understanding NTG are learning it as a second language. The traditional method seems to view Greek more as a code to be cracked and dissected, than a language to be read and understood. When I began learning Spanish I started with the traditional textbook method, but read a lot and used it daily. With Greek I have tried to do the same thing, and find it working. I tend to mix linguistics with the traditional approach and find it being the difference between night and day. Acquiring an extensive vocabulary in Greek the biggest challenge for me, but it is coming along.

        Translation is important though, for if we can’t do that, then we aren’t able to explain to the English ear what we see in the text. Fluency is the goal, at least for the New Testament.

        On a different note: What are your opinions/thoughts on the Hebrew resources from Van Pelt/Pratico? Recommendable for self study?

  12. It was great to discover this discussion from 2011 today. :-) The idea of a κοινή Rosetta Stone is a fascinating one. I’m sure it would attract many students with higher expectations for what is achievable. And it would just be fun!

  13. Brian says:

    Tried Rosetta Stone for Spanish and I found it enjoyable while it lasted. Was looking for a Rosetta Stone course for Attic Greek and came here. I am trying to read Plato in the original Greek. I know Rosetta Stone made learning Spanish easy and Greek looks awfully difficult to learn by oneself. If you could recommend any similar course or books (e.g. Learning Greek with Plato), I would appreciate it. I will check out Buth’s materials. I couldn’t be more greener here. I don’t know anything about the difference between Attic & Koine or if there is one. Very chagrined right now that they eliminated Greek & Latin from the school curriculums.

  14. Julie Greenman says:

    I am trying to teach my children ancient Greek in order to read the Ancient Philosophers, Poets and Historians and the Original Greek New Testament. Thus I came here to this site. I would be very interested in RS in the Ancient Greek.

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