Classical Languages - Study Group

An area with study groups for various languages. Group members help each other, share resources and experience. Study groups are permanent but the members rotate and change.
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Systematiker
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Systematiker » Thu Feb 08, 2018 4:54 pm

I've finally decided to take the time to talk a bit about resources. First off, Latin and Ancient Greek.

For Latin, I've found the Lingua Latina per se Illustrata to be invaluable. I used only this (the two volumes and the supplement) and the grammar reference book from some German-based course (Orbis something? Edit: Orbis Romanus) that my wife had in school, and went from 0 to passing the Latinum in Bavaria in two semesters. (And the Stowasser dictionary, but yeah). For reference, the test involves written and oral translation of e.g. Cicero, so it was pretty intense. I attended on translation practice course, but was able to skip the first two courses in which the grammar and structure of the language was taught. So it, followed by a lot of reading and translation practice, has my hearty recommendation.

For Ancient Greek, I had a lot of resources, and a lot of struggle. I started out in undergrad with Ray Summers' Essentials of New Testament Greek. It was ok. In theory, the book has the grammar and vocabulary necessary so that upon finishing it, one can read 1 John unaided - well, I was in undergrad, so that wasn't the case for me. Later, I used the German-base Kantharos, which was the standard university text, and Hellas, which was used at a nearby humanistische Gymnasium. I really thought that Hellas was good methodology.
That said, when I cross-teach Greek sections at the seminary we use Black's Learn to Read New Testament Greek, and students have a really good experience with that. William Mounce's book comes highly recommended, but I've never used it.

I'll speak to dictionaries for Ancient Greek, more classical usage, and Biblical Hebrew in another post.
Last edited by Systematiker on Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Elexi
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Elexi » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:52 pm

Can I join?

I am currently reviving my Latin. At one point my Latin was quite good - I did a PhD in early modern history and I was at the level where I could read Calvin and other 16th/17th century theologians and lawyers in Latin. Those days are, unfortunately, no more - but I am aiming to get back to that level. I am currently re-reading the Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata series as well as Corderius' school colloquia to refresh my knowledge - not finding it to be too easy a task!

At school, I used both the Cambridge Latin Course and the Oxford Latin Course, together with Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer. Cambridge and Oxford, in my opinion, were very good starter courses. My only gripe with school Latin was that it was too slow paced and there wasn't enough of it - but perhaps that can be said for all teenage education. I am someone for whom the grammar-translation approach like Wheelocks fails to please - at least, as a beginner course. GT comes into its own once I have gained a good overview from the reading method.
Last edited by Elexi on Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:38 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Josquin
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Josquin » Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:42 pm

Welcome to the group, Elexi and Elsa Maria! Good to have you on board! :)

I'll reply more extensively tomorrow. Also, I'll try to update the resources by then.
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby galaxyrocker » Fri Feb 23, 2018 3:13 am

Let's start some discussion!


Does anyone have any tips on how to learn to read in the language? I find myself trying to translate everything instead of naturally read it, and it is honestly quite annoying. Even though my end-goal is to translate some Pāli texts, I'd love to be able to read fluidly. Anyone have any tips to share?
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Steve
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Steve » Fri Feb 23, 2018 12:49 pm

galaxyrocker wrote:Let's start some discussion!


Does anyone have any tips on how to learn to read in the language? I find myself trying to translate everything instead of naturally read it, and it is honestly quite annoying. Even though my end-goal is to translate some Pāli texts, I'd love to be able to read fluidly. Anyone have any tips to share?


Here's the summary version for me.

I started learning ancient Greek about 35 years ago when I audited a university class. I worked on Greek on and off for about 25 years with the traditional rote memorization of tables, translate word by word, etc. approach. A few years after I started, I could painfully work my way through word by word, and with reference to an English translation, get through a few sentences in an evening of work. Fast forward 25 years, and I could painfully work my way through a few more sentences in an evening of work. I was just a bit faster at looking things up. I took a nice consulting job to earn some extra cash and picked up a nice little library of Greek reference books and started spending a few hours per night working on Greek. Fast forward about 3 or 4 months. I could painfully work my way through a few more sentences each evening. I was honestly not improving even with significant efforts. I finally faced the reality that I needed to either pick what one or two books I wanted to "read" in my lifetime or give up.

Fortunately, I ran across the old HTLAL site, saw that people could actually learn languages effectively, and started taking in information like a sponge. I have math, physics, and education degrees with decades of professional experience as a scientist, engineer, and analyst. I spent about 3 or 4 month's worth of evenings reading the archived articles and various blog articles on language learning. The net result was that I managed to distill what seemed to be the things common to successful language learning. I started applying this to reading Greek (and learning Spanish) and started achieving success I could only dream of before. I've now on my third time through reading the Septuagint (the old testament in Greek) which is a ton of Greek in various genres as well as the new testament multiple times. I started off relying heavily on parallel texts, but now find that I can often comfortably read a number of paragraphs (in narrative genres) without needing to refer to anything else. I've started reading some of the more classical authors. With a combination of parallel texts, project Perseus, and such tools, I find that I am actually spending much of my time *reading* and not just looking things up and translating. I'm a dabbler at languages compared to some people on this site, but I'm now having fun and actually developing real skills.

The major thing is that I have internalized many common parts of Greek. I rarely need to think about substantive cases or number anymore (except when running across obscure declensions). I've internalized the most common verb endings so that I can simply look at most verbs and just know what they are. I've internalized much of the most common vocabulary. I have no problems processing Greek word order or phrases. The most important thing is that my study efforts are now bearing fruit. When I want to focus on improving one thing (for example particles), I find that my study is now immediately starting to impact my understanding and improving my reading.

From the standpoint of learning to read, here's the nutshell of what I've learned.

1. It is about internalizing the language, not learning information about it. You want your brain to become used to the rhythms, patterns, and sounds of the language. This can only happen if you incorporate audio of some form. This can only happen if you spend most of your study time actually practicing reading and listening. The combination of using audio (largely modern Greek pronunciation of ancient Greek texts), parallel texts, and interlinears helped me much.
2. It is about daily consistent input of language. You need to get your brain used to the language. Do you remember learning the tune and words to "Happy Birthday"? Few of us can, but most of us can sing it without thinking. Language learning is more about doing that type of learning rather than memorizing facts.
3. You need to adapt the particular methods you are using to what is working for where you are at. If extensive reading and listening is helping, do more of it. If intensive reading (slowing down and translating and learning more details) is helping, do it. At different stages of your development, different methods will be more or less effective.
4. You need to enjoy what you are doing.

When I started practicing reading, I used a combination of an interlinear text and audio. I just listened and followed along on the same (perhaps minute or so) section several times until it became familiar and then moved to the next. I'd do plenty of review as well of the same sections on following days. As I did this, I simply found that some things started becoming more familiar. Later, I started using parallel texts. I'd "read" a paragraph in Greek as best I could, work through it more slowly referring to the English text, and then reread it in Greek. The process of doing this regularly each day started to yield results. I found that I was just simply starting to look and things and understand them. One of the coolest moments for me was when I had read one paragraph and realized that there were a number of words I knew that I could not remember learning. Up to that point, I could usually point to a word and recall what lesson or vocabulary list it was on.

I used to view grammar, vocabulary lists, etc. as the main thing to learn and that skills would naturally follow. I now realize that those things are simply tools to be used while practicing real language skills such as reading.
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galaxyrocker
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby galaxyrocker » Sat Feb 24, 2018 8:55 pm

Thanks Steve! I'm currently working through Warder's book, but I think I might pick up a reader to complement that. I'm not sure if any of them have audio, but you're right in that's probably the best way to go about it. My biggest issue has always been vocabulary acquisition and such, as I hate flashcards; they're just not fun (leaves me with a few ideas for an app to make them more fun, though) to me and I quickly stop doing them. I am finding that I do understand a few when I sit down and do the translation exercises, but I'm still looking up way too many imo. So I'll look into incorporating those things into my studies. Thank you!
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby n_j_f » Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:51 am

galaxyrocker wrote:Let's start some discussion!


Does anyone have any tips on how to learn to read in the language? I find myself trying to translate everything instead of naturally read it, and it is honestly quite annoying. Even though my end-goal is to translate some Pāli texts, I'd love to be able to read fluidly. Anyone have any tips to share?


I have read several reviews and comments on forums stating that they were unable to speak or think in Latin without translating in their head — due to the preponderance of the grammar-translation method — until studying with Lingua Latina. I'm not sure if you are referring to Latin specifically, but perhaps a reading or "natural" method like Lingua Latina or similar, or graded reader (if such exist) might be an option.

Personally, I did suffer (and still do) from this with French but didn't suffer from this with German as I was using Assimil and other reading methods, or Latin to a lesser extent as I started learning with Le latin sans peine and some readings from Lingua Latina.


EDIT: I just saw that you had referred to Pali rather than Latin. I'm sure someone who has studied Pali can give better advice . . . which you can then pass on to me when I finally get round to learning the language!
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Josquin
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Josquin » Sun Feb 25, 2018 1:30 pm

Hey, I've been shamefully neglecting the group for the last few weeks. Sorry for that!

In addition to what everyone wrote, I might add that I really try to learn an ancient language the way I learn a living language. Except for the speaking part, maybe. It's probably easier once you've dealt with languages like Icelandic and Russian, which are very case-heavy and morphologically complex, just like Latin, Ancient Greek, or Sanskrit (dunno about Pali).

This method is easier when there are made-up texts a beginner can easily read and comprehend. My Latin and Greek textbooks provided them, but my Sanskrit and Hebrew textbooks don't. If all you're confronted with is practice sentences and excerpts of real literature, things are a bit more difficult. You can't really practice reading when all you have is isolated sentences. Excerpts of real literature, however, are too complex, so you're stuck with parsing and translating word by word.

I haven't really found a solution for this problem yet. Perhaps, you have to divide your studies into two steps. First learn the grammar, then learn to read. In languages like Sanskrit (and probably also Pali), I guess this is more difficult because of the very complex morphology and the preference for complicated compound nouns and participial constructions. I'm not in the reading stage for Sanskrit yet, so I'll have to tell you later how I get on.

But also in other ancient languages like Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, reading is difficult, because the language is very sophisticated and contrived. I don't know if anyone other than experts can read Ovid, Vergil, Plato, or Homer fluently. In any case, learning important paradigms and vocabulary items by heart and accustoming yourself to the more complicated syntax can help immensely with understanding the key elements of a sentence and how it works in general.

Now, what I do is reading a whole sentence, identifying the key elements like subject, object, verb and then adding additional information like adjectives and participles. I don't go: "This is nominative singular, this is accusative, the verb is 3rd person present, so what could it mean?" No, these key elements you have to know by heart, so you can intuitively grasp them when reading the sentence for the first time. You will have to untangle more complex constructions, but you have to be able to recognize the key elements first.

Once again, it's better if you have easy texts you can practise reading with, as you can gradually go from easy to more complex language. So, if you can get textbooks that provide them, use them!
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Steve
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Steve » Sun Feb 25, 2018 1:49 pm

galaxyrocker wrote:Thanks Steve! I'm currently working through Warder's book, but I think I might pick up a reader to complement that. I'm not sure if any of them have audio, but you're right in that's probably the best way to go about it. My biggest issue has always been vocabulary acquisition and such, as I hate flashcards; they're just not fun (leaves me with a few ideas for an app to make them more fun, though) to me and I quickly stop doing them. I am finding that I do understand a few when I sit down and do the translation exercises, but I'm still looking up way too many imo. So I'll look into incorporating those things into my studies. Thank you!


One of the things that helped me was realizing that parallel texts and interlinears were not "cheating" but rather more like using training wheels on a bike. In the past, I'd often hear people say that parallel texts and interlinears were bad because they'd be crutches that you would come to rely on and that I'd never really learn Greek if I used them. So for decades I eschewed using them. Then I finally realized that they were helpful tools. Instead of paging through dictionaries and reference books each time I hit a word or phrase I didn't understand, I could merely at a glance and see what it was most of the time. I went from spending most of my time physically handling and paging through different books to spending most of my time looking at Greek. This improved my study efficiency early on. It also meant that I was seeing vocabulary in context.

I've found that extensive reading helps me with two main things. The first is internalizing what I understand. For example, I understood how the Greek substantive case system worked. Going through hundreds of sentences per day (instead of a handful) was like running through flashcards on steroids. Most sentences I looked at would be a review of common things. After awhile, I found that I simply internalized the common uses of cases since I saw them over and over. When I now read grammar books discussing the use of cases, I find that I can actually gain useful insights instead of being overwhelmed with several dozen items in lists of case usage. The second thing extensive reading helped with was vocabulary acquisition of the more common words. By reading several pages per day, I'd be seeing many more words multiple times per day than working through a few sentences per day. To some extent, this functioned similarly to flashcards in that I'd be seeing many less common words at least a few times per week. Of course, this does not help with rare words, but there are hundreds to thousands of words that I now simply recognize when I see them in various forms. With extensive reading, I found that I had to discipline myself to be satisfied with catching the general understanding of a sentence or paragraph and just keep going or I'd drop into intensive reading mode.

I've also found that more intensive reading helps me expand the number aspects of the language that I understand. I'll slow down and look at a particular sentence and make sure that I understand each part of it. Sometimes I will need to grab a reference book to do this. I used to spend all my time doing this. Now, I spend perhaps 90% of my time doing extensive reading and 10% intensive reading (or on some days maybe 70/30 or even 50/50 if there are some parts of the language I am annoyed at not understanding). I've found that the more I've internalized common aspects of Greek, the more efficient my intensive reading efforts have become.

I'm far from being a great reader of Greek. I'm basically a hobbyist who has been figuring out better ways to learn than what I was taught. I have no clear reference point as to whether my current reading skills are something classicists would laugh at or be impressed that a non-specialist could accomplish. My general sense from reading various blogs and sites is that many people struggle with becoming comfortable reading Greek and tend to approach it from a standpoint of working harder at memorizing grammar, paradigm tables, vocabulary lists, and translating more. I've only seen a few vague references in the Greek studies world to practicing extensive reading with parallel texts and interlinears (and indeed some warnings about staying away from such things). I'm not sure if extensive reading is an unspoken "well of course you should be doing that!" or if it is largely unknown and viewed as THE advanced skill to be embarked upon only after one has slowly worked their way up to it by learning to translate faster and faster. Indeed, I often have the sense that extensive reading is viewed as "fast translation" rather than a skill separate from translation.

In a nutshell, I'm not entirely sure if I'm a know-it-all newbie in the ancient Greek world muddying the waters or if I'm a maverick whose eclectic background from outside the field has yielded some largely overlooked insights into learning Greek.
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Steve
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Re: Classical Languages - Study Group

Postby Steve » Sun Feb 25, 2018 2:39 pm

Josquin wrote:
This method is easier when there are made-up texts a beginner can easily read and comprehend. My Latin and Greek textbooks provided them, but my Sanskrit and Hebrew textbooks don't. If all you're confronted with is practice sentences and excerpts of real literature, things are a bit more difficult. You can't really practice reading when all you have is isolated sentences. Excerpts of real literature, however, are too complex, so you're stuck with parsing and translating word by word.

I haven't really found a solution for this problem yet. Perhaps, you have to divide your studies into two steps. First learn the grammar, then learn to read. In languages like Sanskrit (and probably also Pali), I guess this is more difficult because of the very complex morphology and the preference for complicated compound nouns and participial constructions. I'm not in the reading stage for Sanskrit yet, so I'll have to tell you later how I get on.


I tend to agree with your comments (including the ones I edited out for space), but I do wonder to what extent learning grammar first is necessary and to what extent it could be a distraction away from practicing actual reading skills. Perhaps a better way to phrase my question is this. What is an efficient way to present grammar at the same time as starting to practice reading? My sense is that this question is an open one.

I'm in the process of writing a course for learning to read ancient Greek. It's basically an Assimil-like course focused on a text with audio and explanations. I'm using the first chapters of the gospel of John as the primary text. There are two main reasons for this selection of text. The first is that it is probably about as easy as any historic ancient Greek text will be from a language complexity standpoint. The content is mostly straightforward narrative including some dialog. The second reason is that there are a number of audio recordings of this text from different narrators. A few of these (including a librivox one) are free. The availability of free audio and a public domain text was a significant constraint for me. Associated with this, I've also been writing a presentation of Greek grammar that is focused more on the common uses of Greek that a beginner is likely to see. As I started writing the course, I realized that I was using a sea of jargon that would overwhelm and discourage many beginners. I started using descriptive English terms for various constructs to minimize the effort needed to acquire the main concepts needed. I've been satisfied with what this is starting to look like.

The goal is basically to use listening and reading as the primary learning method with grammar and explanations of the most common things they are seeing being presented as needed. My intent is that internalizing the most common aspects of Greek is the highest priority for anyone wanting to learn to *read* Greek.

This is basically a big test of my conjectures on better practices for learning to read a foreign language. At worst, working through a clear presentation of grammar and all of this work is helping to solidify my own knowledge and understanding of Greek. At best, maybe this will be a worthwhile contribution to those wanting to learn Greek. Fortunately, my computer skills are adequate so that clean formatting and typesetting (I'm using a home-brewed combo of LaTeX and Mathematica notebooks) is relatively easy.

Hopefully I'll have it ready by this summer. I may be looking for a few volunteers to try it at that point. :)
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