Greek Immersion in the Seminary Curriculum–What’s Needed to Make it Work? (Basics of Greek Pedagogy, pt. 7)

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.

NOT Normal

What’s Normal?
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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. Three More Upper Division Courses (9 hrs). These are all taught in German and use texts exclusively in German.
  4. 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.
Monkey puts fingers in ears

One Way to Avoid Learning through Immersion

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.

And Greek?
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.

SBTSlogoFor 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.

Actual Photo of Typical Seminary Student after Three Years of Greek

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. 😦

Flabbergasted at How Little the Seminaries Value the Languages

Now, let me ask you a couple questions:

  1. How does the typical German faculty’s mastery of German compare with the typical New Testament faculty’s mastery of Greek?
  2. 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!
  3. 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!


About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
This entry was posted in Greek Pedagogy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Greek Immersion in the Seminary Curriculum–What’s Needed to Make it Work? (Basics of Greek Pedagogy, pt. 7)

  1. Mike Aubrey says:

    Moody Bible Institute has a more intensive Greek program than the seminaries, though it still comes nowhere near the requirements for German:

    Eight hours of Grammar (two semesters)
    Eight hours of Exegesis (two semester)
    Optionally: six hours of “Advanced Reading” (two semesters)

    Most students don’t get to reading simply because they don’t have space in their schedule to even start Greek classes until their junior year. That means that typically there are only perhaps five or six students who were smart enough to start their sophomore year who even have time to take the third year. Even if you assume that the students are actually spending the ideal “three hours a week outside of class for every hour in class each week, you’re still only getting less than 700 hours of language study for the student. And let’s be honest, nobody is actually doing the three hours outside per one hour inside. The real goal for immersion would be to make sure those outside hours really happened and make them happen in an immersion setting. I can only imagine where my Greek would be today if I had had a foundation of 700 hours of immersion as a starting point. I’ve had more Greek than many (most?) seminary students and I’m still nowhere.

    One of the big problems in terms of Greek faculty is that teaching Greek grammar is consistently treated as something to relegate to the PhD students to do rather than the most qualified scholars–as my younger brother is experiencing right now as he begins his studies at TEDS (I bought Buth’s materials for him for his birthday a year ago. I’m hoping it’s helped). Unfortunately, the most qualified professors (who ironically still aren’t qualified enough) tend to be more interested in their own research than creating better Greek students.

    • Mike, I am somewhat familiar with Moody, as I have several friends who graduated from there, and in fact took the reading courses. Their ability to “read” Greek was far better than most as a result. Moody is one school that I think could probably fit an immersion approach into their curriculum. I do know that Gerald Peterman there is very interested in a living language approach and may in fact incorporate elements of it into his teaching.

  2. David A Booth says:

    I love the second point of your conclusion. The fact that we have such vastly lower expectations for people who teach the Bible than we do for people who teach German literature is deplorable. As you continue this series I hope you will attempt to address some of the following challenges of reforming our current system:

    1. Lay people don’t realize that there is a problem. Most lay people assume that spending 3 years studying for an M.Div. turns someone into virtually an expert on the Bible. This confusion is exacerbated by the fact that most pastors will not acknowledge their own incompetence in the Biblical languages. About 10 years ago I discovered a nearly foolproof method for finding out how much Greek or Hebrew a pastor studied in seminary. If the pastor said “three semesters of each” that meant he had three semesters of each. No one has ever told me “I only had a year of Greek but you really need at least 18 credit hours”.
    2. Seminary students need to learn both Greek and Hebrew which makes this a more challenging issue than developing fluency in just one modern language such as German.
    3. Most BA degrees in German are 4 year programs while the overwhelming majority of MDiv degrees are 3 year programs. There is a significant difference between trying to become fluent in one language over four years than two languages (plus a little Aramaic) in three. The idea of lengthening seminary education faces significant financial barriers particularly since few lay people see the need to support a longer period of formal education for future pastors (point 1) and pastoral salaries will not justify additional borrowing on the part of students.

    One tentative proposal would be to open a program that only teaches immersion programs in Greek and Hebrew. I would suggest starting with Greek because it is currently possible for students to do Hebrew immersion in Israel. The idea would be that students would do a Greek Year (10-12 months) of immersion in Koine Greek to develop fluency and also to be able to do things like text criticism. Such a program would not need to incur the expense of having a large library or elaborate facilities. Ideally, such a program would be ATS accredited so students could transfer a full year of credits into other seminaries. I’m an outsider to seminary board discussions, but it seems more likely to me that large seminaries would be willing to partner with such a program than that one of them would be the first to entirely revamp their curriculum.

    Thank you again for this great series. I look forward to reading your proposals.

    • David, I’ve just written a post I’ll put up later today that I hope interacts with some of these points. You’re certainly right that lay people don’t know there’s a problem. My Greek students come into class all the time thinking their pastors are Greek experts. Why? Because the pastors pose as such. That’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish though! Don’t get me started!
      Your point about the two Biblical languages is well taken. No one’s going to think it’s realistic to train for fluency in both, so I wonder if we could start with one and then when everyone sees the results, demand for fluency in both will follow and people will find a way to make it work.

  3. Barry Hofstetter says:

    καλὰ δὲ πεποίηκάς τε καὶ ποιεῖς, ὦ φίλε μοῦ. τὰ μέλλοντα νῦν προόψομαι, εὐχαριστῶ.

    • Mark Lightman says:

      τὴν ἀλήθειαν ὁ Βαρρι γράφει. δεῖ μὲν οὖν διδάσκειν τε καὶ μανθάνειν τὴν Ἑλληνικὴν ὥσπερ τὴν ζῶσαν γλῶσσαν. εὶ θέλω μανθάνειν τὴν Γερμανικὴν γλῶσσαν, δεῖ με λαλεῖν Γερμανιστί. λαλήσωμεν οὖν καὶ γράφωμεν ἀλλήλοις Ἑλληνιστί. πῶς γὰρ οὐ?

  4. JD Bookout says:

    I enjoy reading your blog while imagining that I’m hearing it in your “excited” voice. But seriously, it’s very well done. I’m encouraged to press on and strive for fluency in the languages.

  5. Pingback: Applied Immersion Linguistics at SBL in San Francisco | Exploring Our Matrix

  6. εὐχερές μεν ἐστι λαλεῖν, δύσκολον δὲ καθ᾿ ἡμέρα ποιεῖν. ὅμως, δεῖ μανθάνειν τὴν Ἑλληνικὴν ἵνα τὴν διαθήκην τὴν καινὴν κατανοῶμεν.

  7. Pingback: On the Web (September 22, 2011) « New Testament Interpretation

  8. Pingback: Using immersion techniques in teaching Koine Greek « Cryptotheology

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  10. Patrick says:

    Question, would a student at Berkeley or Baylor whose major was not German or French, but German/French literature be required to take as many classes in the text language?

  11. Patrick says:

    well, i went and looked it up and it’s a moot point, neither school has a distinct major in German lit. But say hypothetically they did, would it not be conceivable that they would reduce the amount of language courses in order to work in other aspects that go with a literature degree. I don’t disagree that fluency in a language would be vital to reading in that language, but you can only have so many courses in a degree and at some point you have to nix something that is vital.

    • arthad says:

      Patrick, an advanced command of the German language is essential to studying literature in German, which is why you tend not to see majors in German literature as opposed to simply German language and culture. At the undergraduate level, the program focuses on giving students an advanced level of competence in the language, which includes taking classes on German literature, German culture, etc. — all taught in German. Reducing the amount of language courses would be counterproductive since the literature classes are taught in German. More study in German literature would have to occur independently or at the graduate level. (Of course, many schools offer literature courses in translation — but they’re aimed specifically at people who are not majoring in the language and/or do not have the language competency required to take the literature course taught in the original language.)

    • Patrick, thanks for commenting. I think this hits on a really important point.
      I imagine you could find a couple places where you could do a German literature concentration without having class conducted in German, but they would be the exception, not the norm.
      As arthad has helpfully pointed out, universities tend to think that proficiency in German–the type of proficiency that lets you read a hundred pages a week or more for a course and then discuss it in German–is necessary for studying German literature at a higher level. Even if you weren’t much interested in German linguistics, the idea of doing an MA or PhD in German lit without basic fluency would be unthinkable to a German faculty.
      What I am trying to do is get NT and OT scholars to at least begin moving toward that type of mindset.

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