About the Series
This is part 7 in a series of posts laying out the problems with typical Koine Greek teaching methods and proposing a reformation in pedagogy. In my last post, I noted the rise of the “tools” approach to Greek and argued that this shift may actually be salutary if it creates room for serious students to pursue true fluency through immersive approaches. Now, I want to explore ways that seminaries and Bible colleges could realistically incorporate immersive approaches to learning Greek.
First, I think we need a clear idea of what’s normal in language learning situations. So, let’s look at a few examples of how modern languages are approached at American universities. Let’s begin with UC-Berkeley’s German program. If you choose to major in German at Berkeley, here’s what’s expected:
- German 1, 2, 3, and 4 (20 credit-hours). That’s four, count ‘em, four, basic German courses. So that’s four semesters or two years of basic German. These courses meet 5 days a week, an hour a day. The first two semesters focus on establishing “communicative competence,” in all four skills while the last two continue to develop these skills through study of German history and culture—auf Deutsch natürlich! And, would you believe me if I told you that all four courses (20 credit-hours altogether) are prerequisites to the major? That means they don’t actually count toward the credits you need for your major!
- Three Upper Division Core Courses (9 hrs). So, this is where the major actually begins, once your prereqs are out of the way. These courses are all taught completely in German and include a course in German cultural history, an intro to German linguistics, and a course in advanced German composition and style. Notice that linguistics and style are taught in German, and therefore only after the student has acquired basic proficiency in the language itself.
- Three More Upper Division Courses (9 hrs). These are all taught in German and use texts exclusively in German.
- Four More Upper Division Courses (12 hrs). These are literature/culture/history courses taught in English (which makes it feasible for non-German majors, e.g. history or sociology or politics majors, to take them). However, German majors are encouraged to replace two of these courses by spending their junior year abroad in Germany, after completing German 1,2,3 and 4. What’s interesting is that even after you’ve completed German 1-4, you are still required to take an additional intensive language program from July to October before you can actually take classes alongside German students.
So, to summarize, UC-Berkeley expects its majors to do 50 hours of coursework (all in German except for 6hrs) and ideally, spend three months in Germany taking an intensive language course, followed by two semesters of courses at a German university. Stateside, you would have around 600hrs of in-class German exposure, followed by three months of focused immersion (around 300-400 hours) and two semesters of general immersion at a very high level. If you don’t come out of all that fluent in German, then you’s jist plane stoopid!
Example #2: Baylor University
But, wait, you say, Berkeley’s a good school (ranked #21 of national universities). Surely others are less strenuous in their approach? Well, Berkeley’s just the first one that came up when I googled “german department.” Let’s look at Baylor University, ranked #75 (still a very good school, of course).
They require Beginning German I and II (each meets 5 hours a week), Intermediate German I and II (each 3 credits), German Conversation and Comprehension (3hrs), and fifteen more hours of courses at an advanced level, taught in German, most covering literature or culture. So, if you started from scratch, you would be immersed in German for a significant amount of time over 4 years. Of course, majors are also encouraged to spend a semester or year in Germany, taking more language, literature and history courses.
Like every university with a language program, Baylor has a state of the art language lab with videos, music, books, games and software to create an immersive environment. Lab time is required in addition to class time. They also provide a German club and have a weekly German coffee hour to provide more opportunities for conversation and interaction in the language.
In an upcoming post, I’ll compare some of the syllabi and textbooks from modern language programs with those from typical Biblical/Classical Greek courses. For now, I just want to force us to grapple with how utterly lightweight our Greek programs are.
For example, Southern Seminary, a pretty rigorous program, requires M.Div. students to do 3hrs of Elementary Greek, 3hrs of Greek Syntax, and 6hrs of Greek exegesis electives (book studies). That’s only 12 hrs of Greek in a three-year program! German majors get almost that much in their first year!
Fuller Seminary, one of the largest in the nation, requires its M.Div. students to take a year of basic Greek (3 quarters) and then one course in exegetical method (basically a hermeneutics course that incorporates Hebrew and Greek), and one course in NT Exegesis. Remember, they’re on the quarter system, so a course lasts only 10 weeks.
These schools aren’t exceptions. The typical Greek program is: Greek I and II (3 hours each), followed by (if you’re in a “rigorous” program) Intermediate Greek (3 hours; one semester, maybe two?). While beginning classes focus on morphology, vocabulary and grammar, the intermediate classes usually focus on grammar and syntax. As a result, much of the vocabulary “acquired” in the first year will be lost.
After intermediate Greek, you might have an advanced Greek course of 3hrs (usually an elective, only for the very serious students) that deals with historical linguistics and more technical issues like lexical semantics, verbal aspect, discourse analysis, etc. Then, you have some exegetical courses, which make use of the grammar and syntax you’ve been taught. Of course, none of these courses provide an immersive environment. None of the class will be conducted in Greek and the overall amount of Greek reading that you’ll actually do is probably less than a hundred pages over 3 years.
So, you have maybe 12-21 hours of Greek over three years, none of which is immersive and none of which produces—or even aims for—communicative proficiency. By the end of 3 years, you’ll still just be talking about Greek. If you go on for a PhD in NT, it’s more of the same, and you’ll end up having had 6 years or more of Greek, even teaching Greek, and not be able to count to ten in the language, much less carry on a one-minute conversation. Source: personal experience, sadly. 😦
Now, let me ask you a couple questions:
- How does the typical German faculty’s mastery of German compare with the typical New Testament faculty’s mastery of Greek?
- How come German and French departments are so much more serious about their languages than Classics departments and New/Old Testament departments in seminaries are? This question is especially relevant when we consider that, while few German majors will end up teaching German literature, most seminary students hope to end up in a role (e.g. the pastorate), where they will likely spend 2-3 hours/week for the next 30 years teaching texts written in Greek and Hebrew!
- Why do we think it would be unrealistic to require seminary students to have the same amount and type of training in the language that a German major would have? Many people make massive financial sacrifices and relocate their families so that they can attend seminary. How is requiring intensive prolonged immersion in the language too much to ask?
This post has already gone on too long, so I’ll save my practical suggestions for curricular change until my next post. Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think!