A Conversational Koine Greek Audio Course (Needed Resources)

About the Series
This is part of an ongoing series where I discuss resources that should be developed to aid teachers and students in acquiring Koine Greek communicatively.

Paul Pimsleur

A Conversational Audio Course
I think we need an extensive audio course for Koine Greek. It could be modeled after similar audio programs produced by Pimsleur, Berlitz, Assimil, Michel Thomas or other companies. (The old Foreign Service Institute, or FSI, language courses are available, both audio and workbook, for free here–be sure to check them out!). I will discuss the Pimsleur model since I am most familiar with it. Here’s how it works:

  • Languages are divided into levels, with 30 units of audio plus some reading lessons. Each unit is around 30 minutes, which means that each level gives you about 16 hours of instruction. Major languages, such as Spanish, have four levels, totaling 64 hours of instruction. Native speakers are, of course, used exclusively.
  • Each unit opens with a rapid-fire conversation. You won’t understand anything the first time you hear it, but after you finish the unit, you should be able to understand it all with no problem. That’s a big encouragement to a beginning learner, and quickly convinces you that the method is very effective.
  • The unit will then introduce some basic vocabulary, give you a chance to practice pronouncing each new item, and then give you prompts in English that allow you to practice producing the new phrases or words. You will not just be memorizing phrases, but learning to use them intelligently in response to prompts. For example, the prompt will be: “Ask the woman if she speaks Spanish,” or “Ask the man where the restaurant is.” As the units progress, a greater percentage of the prompts will be in the target language (L2).
  • At the heart of the Pimsleur method is spaced repetition. This is a way of reviewing new information at regular intervals optimized for retention. In my experience, there is enough review in each unit and subsequent units that you don’t have to worry about going back and re-listening to previous units if you feel you didn’t master them. It’s pretty stress-free, albeit perhaps a bit boring.
  • Pimsleur has no explicit grammar instruction. All grammar is acquired inductively. Thus, this is a natural language learning method.
  • The courses focus on the most common vocabulary in the spoken language, with a specific focus, perhaps, on courtesy language or touristy topics like getting around a city, staying at a hotel, etc. Each level covers around 500 words, which means that after 4 levels, you should have a working active vocabulary of close to 2000 words (these are inflected forms, not necessarily lemmata). For the sake of comparison, Mounce’s best-selling Greek textbook covers 331 vocabulary words in one year, but only aims for passive recognition.
  • You can listen to a sample lesson on the Pimsleur site.
  • While the price is pretty steep (for all four levels, you could spend close to $1000 retail), you can often find these CDs at your local public library, or find them used on Craigslist or eBay for under $50!

Evaluation
Please don’t misunderstand me: Pimsleur and other audio programs are not perfect and they’re certainly not the best way to learn a language—long-term intensive guided immersion followed up by extensive free reading is far superior. But, like other resources I will be discussing in this series, they are a great way for someone to get their feet wet in the language on their own schedule and under no pressure. If there were a Pimsleur for Koine Greek available, thousands of Greek students would be able to quickly experience what internalization feels like, as well as acquire a basic vocabulary that could be used to give them a real head start in an immersion-based program. Like Rosetta Stone software, Greek picture books, and English-Greek learner’s dictionaries, a Pimsleur-style program is not a one-stop solution for language learning, but is an aid to acquisition, the kind of aid that students can use in a language lab outside of class time.

Here are, in my opinion, some pros and cons of the Pimsleur program.

Pros:

  • It’s really great for getting proper pronunciation down.
  • Lots of repetition makes it low stress and really cements what you learn—you won’t forget it.
  • The lessons come in bite-sized chunks of 30 mins each, which means you can cover a unit on your commute in to work.

Cons:

  • Pimsleur is not as effective for some elements of the language, such as reading and following a story. Thus, it needs to be supplemented with in-class instruction. I do, think, though, that the audio prompting method could be easily adapted to story format. Imagine, for example, a unit that consisted of a short story told slowly at first, then sentence by sentence, with questions/prompts in L2 about each sentence. It could replicate the basics of TPRS, I think, in audio format.
  • The repetition can be boring for some people. I found it only slightly so, but I did the lessons while driving to work. If you were just sitting by yourself and doing the lessons, you might find them a little slow-going.

My Greek Pimsleur Program
Several years ago, I realized personally how effective Pimsleur was for establishing basic conversational fluency, so I decided to put together a Pimsleur-style program for my elementary Greek students. I used a transcript of the Spanish Pimsleur program as a model. Spanish is inflected and has a lot of structures analogous to Greek, so it wasn’t too hard to adapt, though it would have been better if I had had a transcript of Pimsleur’s modern Greek program instead.

Learning Greek With Pimsleur?

Writing and recording the lessons was incredibly time-consuming. I completed about 8 lessons before I simply ran out of time in the course of the semester. Did I mention I was writing a dissertation and teaching a course overload at the time? Smile I also called it quits because I found that the Spanish Pimsleur was introducing vocabulary that I didn’t think was “important”—hotel, restaurant, etc. At first, I just plugged in a common Koine word—everywhere Pimsleur said hotel, I would use ἐκκλησία! But, after a while, it got too confused and I just started writing my own scripts. When I did, I found that I couldn’t get the intervals for repetition right and my lessons started pushing 45 minutes, which is way too long. It was overwhelming my students because it was too much info and too little repetition and review. So, I stopped developing the lessons while I reconsidered my strategy. Don’t get me wrong, though: even with my shortcomings, the students really loved the format of the audio lessons and continued to beg me for more the rest of the year.

πανδοχεῖον

Were I to take up this project again, I think I would follow the Pimsleur script closely. I would not worry about using vocabulary that was not that common. ταβέρνη or πανδοχεῖον may not be that frequent in the NT or LXX, but they will be things my students want to talk about. They are necessary vocabulary if we are to create an immersive environment, and as students use them over and over, the basic morphology and grammar of Greek are becoming internalized, even if the words aren’t that common in our texts. It’s also just much easier to follow the script and not have to worry about composing one de novo.

What Do You Think?
Let me know in the comments whether you think a Pimsleur-style course for Koine Greek is worthwhile, or if you have ideas or suggestions for making the concept better.

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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.

29 Responses to A Conversational Koine Greek Audio Course (Needed Resources)

  1. R. Steven Notley says:

    There already exists a conversational Koiné Greek audio course produced by Randall Buth and his colleagues at the Biblical Languages Center: http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com.

    • Steven, thanks for pointing that out. Randall’s stuff is really great and I recommend it to everyone I talk to. I haven’t seen his latest productions, but his earlier ones were slightly different from what I am envisioning in this post. First, they were considerably briefer than a 4-level Pimsleur course. Second, they were book/picture-based, so you couldn’t do them without sitting down and following along in the book. And, finally, they did not really (if I am remembering correctly) focus on conversational elements, so they don’t provide students with much of the vocab they need to begin to immerse themselves in their day-to-day life. Those are some of the main elements my proposed resource would include.

  2. I’m an enormous fan of the Pimsleur courses and only wish that (1) there were more of them, (2) that they continued the same approach all the way beyond the current 3-4 levels all the way to fluency, and (3) most relevant to your question, that they were available for ancient languages, and indeed for all languages.

    I don’t think anyone who has never used a Pimsleur course is likely to realize just how relatively easy they make language learning, by doing the repetition for you in a way that you can benefit from even during your commute.

    If you create such a course for Koine Greek, that would be incredible!

    • James, agreed–you have to taste and see that the Pimsleur is good. It makes getting a pretty decent grounding in a language effortless. I’ve done German, Hebrew, and Modern Greek on my commute to school (about 30 mins each way), and I still remember everything they covered, without reviewing it at all since then. Rosetta Stone is very similar in terms of how permanent the retention is (I can still see the airplane flying in the picture for das Flugzeug fliegt!). Thanks for commenting!

  3. Mark M says:

    I’ve been enjoying your series so far, and it’s got me to thinking about other Koine Greek resources we need. (I hope I’m not stealing your thunder here; I have no idea what upcoming blog posts you have planned.)

    1. A children’s Bible in Greek. That is, simplified language (perhaps confined to narratives). Since the Bible is already in Greek (LXX included), it seems natural to produce some at several different reading levels. Maybe a “First-Year Greek Bible” based on one of the popular illustrated children’s bibles, with a limited vocabulary. Greek teachers could assign it as collateral reading during first-year seminary Greek, and would involve 400-500 pages of reading (including pictures). Then, a “Second-Year Greek Bible,” which would have a much wider vocabulary and wouldn’t be confined to narratives, but would focus on simplifying syntax and awkward constructions. It’s the way children learn to read the Bible, why don’t we use the same technique?

    2. Someone needs to get the rights to produce a Koine Greek language track to the Visual Bible films (Matthew, John, and Acts). The Jesus Film could work, but the Visual Bible uses the Bible word-for-word, so the “script” is already written. Ideally, there would be multiple voice actors, but in a pinch, a single Greek expert could do the whole thing. (Hasn’t Randall Buth done a reading of the Gosple of John? Couldn’t the pauses simply be adjusted to fit the film timing? Even if the timing is slightly off, it would still be an amazing resource we don’t currently have.)

    3. The two projects could be combined and several Visual Bible tracks, of increasing difficulty in Koine Greek, could be produced.

    • Mark, ἀληθῶς τὴν βροντὴν μου κέκλοφας, ἀλλ᾿ ἀφήσω σοι. 🙂 Those are both on my list, though I had originally only considered the Jesus Film, not the Visual Bible, which you suggest. I agree the VB would probably be better and easier. As for children’s picture Bibles, I have been using them in my classes for several years. They are great at any level because of their adaptability. Unfortunately, you often run into the problem of the pictures giving a sanitized version of the text, or omitting key elements. I like to call this the white Jesus phenomenon. Thanks for your comment!

      • Mark M says:

        Wait – are you saying you already have a children’s picture Bible in Koine Greek?!!

      • I have picture Bibles that I use in class by supplying captions/narration on the fly. I did at one point several years ago write up captions for one of them, but it’s hard to get college students to sit down and read and reread a picture Bible with 1-2 sentences on each page. They get bored fairly quickly.

  4. Seumas says:

    I think a Pimsleur-style course would be a great adition to needed resources. I know Pimsleur et al are not probably the best methods of acquiring a second language, but as another valuable resource to aid Koine acquisition, it would be invaluable.

    I dabbled in creating a Latin version of an FSI course. Like you, I found it incredibly time-consuming. Perhaps this kind of material would prosper from a collaborative approach.

    • Yes, a collaborative approach would really speed things up. I’m hoping the new SBL group that began last year, as well as the Fresno training sessions affiliated with the Biblical Language Center, will foster such collaboration.

  5. I say of conversational Ancient Greek audio what Dionne Warwick said of love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

    Ἑλληνικαὶ ἠχωγραφαὶ καλαὶ μὲν, ὀλίγαι δέ.

  6. Davis says:

    θέλεις κοινωνεῖν διδασακαλίας ὃν ἐποιήσας; θελὢ μανθανεῖν ἀπὸ αὐτῶν. I would think that whatever resources you’ve developed would still be worth sharing.

    And that’s kind of another resource that’s also a needed. A resource to house all of these resources. Something where people can post what they have made and then other people can comment on them or improve on them.

    • I don’t want to at this point. They’re so incomplete and of such poor quality (in terms of the technology used) that I’d rather wait for when I have something less embarrassing to offer.

      • Josh says:

        Daniel, love your resources you’ve shared on your site! I studied Mounce’s course last year in school, and was one of the top students in my class. Yet, my ability to work with the language was, well, disappointing, as you have highlighted many times already on your site. So thanks for the info and pointing out that there actually are some better ways of doing this.

        It’s funny, before I read Davis’ comment, I had a similar thought: it would be great to set up an open source Koine Greek resource center. One where resources could be developed by anyone that is willing and has the skill. For the ones already fluent in the language, they can build textual, audio, and other similar resources. For the ones who are learning still, but, say, have skills in graphics design, audio/video editing/effects, κτλ., they could apply those skills to those resources too. In all that, a full scale curriculum, or even some basic useful tools could be developed very efficiently by many, instead of tediously and time consumingly by one or few.

        The idea has worked for Linux, FireFox, Wikipedia, and DOZENS of others. Why couldn’t it work for something as important as biblical Greek literacy? 🙂

  7. Davis is right about a site needed to share audios. For videos, You-Tube is great, but we need to find a common site for audios. People may be more willing to make conversational Greek audios than videos. Audios are also easier to download and place on one’s MP player.

    Schole cannot host audios. Daniel, can your site host audios? The key is to choose one central spot. We don’t want to get too spread out. I assume that there is not already a site out there where this is happening.

    • Mark, I agree, there needs to be a central library for Greek audio. It’s not ideal, but I wonder if Archive.org might work. We really need a space where we can have an easily browsable catalog or front-end to all the audio, with descriptions, etc. WordPress might be ideal if someone were willing to foot the bill for the bandwidth, or could get a grant to do so.

  8. χαῖρε Δανιηλ,

    Yes, Archive.org works well for sharing Ancient Greek audio. I just made you one

    http://www.archive.org/details/MarkosToDanielS

    Make me an audio response if you have time and post it there, send me the link. If anyone else wants to do this, just send me the link and I will make you an audio response. I can use any pronunciation that you want.

    ἔρρωσθε πάντες.

  9. Justin Olmstead says:

    I am in my fifth year of studying Koine at seminary. I am also using Randall Buth’s course. A Pimsleur-style Koine course would be extremely beneficial, and I would use it. Actually, I would love to help develop it. I wonder if men who have invested themselves in Koine but do not know each other can collaborate on such a project?

  10. Mark Lightman says:

    While not exactly conversational, Paul Nitz is just now producing a wonderful series of audio drills based on the GNT. Simple, euphonic and effective, he has done a great job so far.

    http://archive.org/details/CommunicativeKoineMark21-2Simplified

  11. derekgreer says:

    Okay, it’s December 21, 2012 (otherwise known as the end of the world!). Where’s this Pimsleur-style Koine Greek lesson you’ve written about? You’re not getting any younger!

  12. I found your blog while browsing some other resources. Did you end up pursuing this project, or do you still consider it? I am highly interested in a project like this. I have an M.Div. and 2.5 years of Greek study in traditional method. I am visually impaired and rely on texts in braille and electronic format (e.g. online resources, Logos software, etc.) to study. I have been highly interested in living language courses but am at a disadvantage due to the extensive use of pictures. In the years since obtaining my M.Div. I have communicated with several other individuals who are in similar situations with regard to Greek and Hebrew study.

  13. Roberto Lionelli is half-way through recording the exercises to the Greek Ollendorff. While not a full-fledged Pimsleurian, modern audio course, I have found it to be very effective. The audio is free and the book and answer key are available for $20.00 or free on line, so the price is right.

    http://sxole.com/profiles/blogs/greek-ollendorff?xg_source=activity

    καλόν τε καὶ ὠφέλιμόν έστιν.

  14. Alan says:

    Daniel,
    Are you familiar at all with http://www.conversationalkoine.com and the courses he offers there. Would you recommend them?

    • josh says:

      Hey Alan,

      As someone who just finished my first semester with CKI, I can say I fully recommend it. I haven’t taken Buth’s or anyone else’s live courses, so I can’t compare to them. I have, however, looked at several other resources, including Buth’s book/cd courses, and I can say that Michael’s classes are probably my favorite that I’ve found in the Koine fluency movement. His classes are fun and stimulating, as is required by this style of learning, but at the same time, they do not neglect more subtle and vital elements of learning the language (such as grammar). All in all, CKI is pretty legit 😛 🙂

      Josh

  15. Janet Boyett says:

    Yes! I am looking for a Koine Greek like Pimsler’s Hebrew. I also liked Randy Booth’s Living Biblical Hebrew so a good mixture between the two would be amazing! Randy Booth uses pictures. I taught a small Hebrew class and looked up pictures on the web and made flash cards with audio. My students loved it. But it would be great to understand the audio Koine Greek.

  16. Gerald Vizvary says:

    Dear Daniel Streett; Thank you for your blog! Great minds thinking alike! I recently bought “Colloquial Greek” book & CD. My mission (should I decide to accept it) will be to go thru it page by page, line by line and convert the entire book into Koine Greek. I’m also using Living Koine Greek by Dr. Randall Bluth and Gavin Betts “New Testament Greek” for the grammar. This is really hard but in a year or so I should have some progress. Good luck to us both!

  17. GV says:

    Dear Daniel Streett; Thank you for your blog! Great minds thinking alike! I recently bought “Colloquial Greek” book & CD. My mission (should I decide to accept it) will be to go thru it page by page, line by line and convert the entire book into Koine Greek. I’m also using Living Koine Greek by Dr. Randall Bluth and Gavin Betts “New Testament Greek” for the grammar. This is really hard but in a year or so I should have some progress. Good luck to us both!

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