Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

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seeker538
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Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby seeker538 » Thu Mar 11, 2021 5:17 pm

Hi all! I am a student of early Christian thought and intend on beginning a master's in theology program this coming fall. To complement my studies, I also want to gain a grasp of ancient Greek (to study the New Testament and Church Fathers), classical Arabic* (which I already have some foundation in having grown up in an Egyptian household), and possibly Coptic/Syriac.

To this end, are there any affordable online ancient language programs that I might be able to enlist in for the coming fall semester?

Thanks for your help!

*For those wondering why classical Arabic specifically, I am interested in medieval Arabophone Christianity
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby einzelne » Thu Mar 11, 2021 7:31 pm

I cannot recommend any online classes but when it comes to Ancient Greek, I would strongly recommend to watch the following video even if your goal is Koine.

In general, the situation with Greek is not that great in comparison to Latin, not to mention live languages. But a lot of 19th century books are now available online on Google books (lots of intermediate readers to get reading practice, interlinear editions etc). Language enthusiasts started to make audio recordings. The situation is way better then, say, 10 years ago (not to mention the pre-Internet era).
Last edited by einzelne on Fri Mar 12, 2021 8:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby guyome » Thu Mar 11, 2021 8:20 pm

I don't know if they're affordable but the Polis Institute offered online courses for Coptic, Syriac and Ancient Greek during the Spring semester of 2021. I have no idea if that's going to be the case during the Fall semester too.

Beware though that the Polis Institute is not your regular grammar-translation-is-the-only-way-to-teach-ancient-languages university. I have no doubt attending their classes will teach you a lot of Greek, etc., but this may or may not be the exact kind of knowledge sought by traditional institutions. This may be important in case you want to apply elsewhere for a PhD for instance (see this discussion).

In case you can't find an online program, Coptic is not a terribly difficult language to tackle on your own compared to Ancient Greek but, as always in this kind of situations, your mileage may wary. Lambdin's Introduction to Sahidic Coptic is an unpretentious and efficient textbook, packed with a lot of exercises and a nice selection of texts at the end. Layton's Coptic in Twenty Lessons is maybe slightly more rigorous and a good book too but I like it less.
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby Steve » Thu Mar 11, 2021 9:27 pm

seeker538 wrote:I also want to gain a grasp of ancient Greek (to study the New Testament and Church Fathers)


This is how I went from "learning" Greek to actually gaining some reading skills. Other people's mileage will vary.

Short version of my background. The first 25 or so years I spent working on ancient Greek got me to the point where I could slowly work through a few sentences in an evening. I took the approach the vast majority of courses, textbooks, and instructors will recommend which is heavy on rote memorization and analysis. I basically plateaued a few years in and never got much better. As far as I can tell, that is common for the majority of students of learning Koine for purposes of NT teaching, study, exposition, etc. The goal of most such teaching is usually some form of perfect translation with most people assuming that reading is the very advanced skill of fast translation.

In hindsight, I spent close to three decades spending almost all my study time thinking in English about Greek. My attempts to "read" amounted to looking at a Greek word, thinking in English about what it meant and what paradigm table it fit into, moving on to the next word, and then trying to fit them together as a sentence. I easily was spending 90% or more of my time reading English reference books about Greek or doing rote memorization of vocabulary or paradigm tables. After all that time, all I had to show for actual skills was being able to slowly work my way through a sentence or two in an evening. And even then, I was usually having to compare my translation to an English translation.

After I started practicing actual listening and reading, I started developing real skills. I've now been through the Septuagint twice and the GNT a handful of times. I can comprehend narrative genres pretty well. Poetic genres (e.g. Psalms, Job, etc.) have too much obscure vocabulary and idioms so I use a parallel text so I can glance at English as needed for vocabulary. Heavy prose with complex ideas takes more effort for me to follow and I often have to use parallel texts or references to get through it.

When I started listening (to modern recordings of ancient writings) and following along, my brain started reacting to Greek itself. I used a combination of audio, interlinears, and Greek texts with different combinations of listening, following, reading, and speaking aloud. At different points of progress, different combinations worked better than others. This takes experimentation. I'd repeatedly listen, follow along, etc. to a particular passage until it started becoming familiar. Basically, when I could look at the text and have a general idea of what it meant, I'd go to the next. Over time, my comprehension improved. I found that I could simply look at some words and phrases and knew what they meant rather than having to process them in English first.

Knowing what I do now, I'd probably spend about 3/4 of my time doing repeated listening, following along, etc. in something like the Gospel of John which is relatively simple grammatically with decent structure and a limited vocabulary. I'd then spend the other 1/4 of my time slowly reading through something like Stephen W. Paine's Beginning Greek, A Functional Approach, which uses John as a basis for the lessons. I'd NOT do any rote memorization of tables or vocabulary (in spite of Paine assigning things), but rather just become familiar with general patterns and explanations about Greek, reading and re-reading sections as necessary. My focus would be on letting the actual text become more and more familiar due to repeated exposure of listening, speaking it, and reading it. I'd use Paine as a reference to help explain what I'm seeing and hearing rather than material to be memorized.

There's a set of free NT recordings by John Simon at http://www.helding.net/greeklatinaudio/greek/ There are a set of MP3s by Spiros Zhodiates I picked up many years ago and used a lot at first. The Zhodiates recordings are old and went from cassette to audio CD to MP3. The MP3s are relatively cheap now. Under $10 the last I saw. Librivox has a recording of John (erroneously in the modern Greek section rather than ancient) at https://librivox.org/kata-ioanne-euaggelio-apo-ten-nea.../

Here's a free interlinear out of copyright from the 1890s or so, https://archive.org/.../interlinearlite.../page/240/mode/2up The edition of the NT is older so there are few mismatches between audio and text.

Feel free to ask any questions. Everyone is different. This is the type of thing that works for me. I would strongly recommend some amount of listening, following along, etc. as a part of what you do no matter what course or text or class you choose.
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby blackcoffee » Thu Mar 11, 2021 10:25 pm

I'd also recommend Seamus Macdonald's blog for some musings on learning and teaching Greek. He offers some online classes and I believe is working on writing a textbook for Greek modeled on Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.

https://thepatrologist.com/

https://twitter.com/jeltzz
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby Querneus » Fri Mar 12, 2021 1:48 am

blackcoffee wrote:I'd also recommend Seamus Macdonald's blog for some musings on learning and teaching Greek. He offers some online classes and I believe is working on writing a textbook for Greek modeled on Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.

https://thepatrologist.com/

I've been told by someone who took a course of his that he (Macdonald) teaches his classes in 95% spoken ancient Greek, even from day 1. I'm intrigued but I have yet to try it.

And as you can tell from the name, "the patrologist", it's definitely someone who knows Koine...
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby Deinonysus » Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:54 am

I've had good luck with Biblingo. I've only tried their Biblical Hebrew course (for a couple of weeks) but it was quite good. It was interactive with typing exercises, full audio (with a choice of different pronunciation systems), and custom pictures and videos and uses spaced repetition. They also have a Biblical Greek course which I haven't tried. It might be pushing your definition of "affordable" but the monthly subscription cost is fairly standard for a language learning program, a bit higher than Babbel or Pimsleur if you buy one month at a time. It's definitely much cheaper than a college class.

My only complaint is that it's a bit unpolished and their were some annoying errors in the Hebrew course. It's fairly new so I'm sure they're working out the kinks quickly.

https://biblingo.org/
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby blackcoffee » Fri Mar 12, 2021 9:46 am

Querneus wrote:
blackcoffee wrote:I'd also recommend Seamus Macdonald's blog for some musings on learning and teaching Greek. He offers some online classes and I believe is working on writing a textbook for Greek modeled on Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.

https://thepatrologist.com/

I've been told by someone who took a course of his that he (Macdonald) teaches his classes in 95% spoken ancient Greek, even from day 1. I'm intrigued but I have yet to try it.

And as you can tell from the name, "the patrologist", it's definitely someone who knows Koine...

Oops, I should have mentioned the all in spoken Greek part. Whether or not that's what one is looking for, his LGPSI should make for good (and free) extensive reading. He describes the project and where to find it here:

https://thepatrologist.com/2019/09/02/i ... /#comments
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby seeker538 » Fri Mar 12, 2021 11:55 am

Steve wrote:
seeker538 wrote:I also want to gain a grasp of ancient Greek (to study the New Testament and Church Fathers)


This is how I went from "learning" Greek to actually gaining some reading skills. Other people's mileage will vary[...]


Great advice here! I can definitely relate to the part about trying to translate every word into English rather than actively thinking in the language in question.

The Polis Institute looks promising. What I will say is that their degree programs might be a bit steep given my current financial situation (out of work currently - thanks COVID lol), though 30000 shekels (~10,000 USD) per year for a grad program is a steal by American standards. I'm wondering if it's worth taking an individual Greek course (about 650 USD) in the fall semester to satisfy my linguistic curiosity.

As per the point about it not preparing me for a Ph.D... Were I to do a Ph.D., it would likely be in theology/church history rather than philology or classics per se, so I'm wondering if there would be some leeway there.
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Re: Affordable Online Ancient Language Programs for Students of the Early Church

Postby Lycopersicon » Fri Mar 12, 2021 3:42 pm

If you happen to be based in Western Europe and if you know French, the University of Strasbourg offers distance-learning programmes for a variety of ancient languages.

https://histoire.unistra.fr/formation/diplome-duniversite-de-langues-anciennes

Here is the list of languages offered in case anyone else would be interested: Akkadian, ancient Korean, classical Arabic, Coptic, middle Egyptian, ancient Greek, Latin, Scandinavian runes, Sanskrit, Sumerian and Syriac.

The cost for 48 hours of tuition is 397 euros for UE nationals.
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