Summer 2009: Greek Language

A while back I wrote a post about my experience taking Greek at Princeton Theological Seminary last summer.  As a few folks have searched on this topic, I figured I would try to provide a bit more “information” as opposed to the “reflection” that post was.  This said, I am not a representative of the seminary and things this year may be different so please make sure you check the information on the seminary’s website once it is posted.

First off, Summer Language is not required for entering students.  There are quite a few that take a language during the summer, but it is not required.  There are advantages and disadvantages to taking it in the summer.  For those who are seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), both Greek and Hebrew are required so it is nice to start your first fall semester having one of these two requirements met.  You also get to learn the campus, meet some people, get settled in, etc. if you come for summer language before your first year.  The down side is that they don’t call it “language intensive” for nothing.  It is definitely doable, but it is definitely difficult.  There is information from 2009 here. [I have removed that link as it no longer works.  HERE is the link for 2010.]

Summer Language courses at PTS are 8 weeks long.  During that time frame you cover two semesters worth of Greek (6 credits ).  Classes meet Monday through Friday from 8:30-12:15.  There is a 30 minute break in the middle.  On Wednesdays there was Chapel during this break.  There are two different Professors so it depends on who you take the course with, but here is what the breakdown of my class looked like:

Monday-Thursday*
8:45-10:00  Precepts: Quiz (or review of previous Friday’s exam; go over homework)
10:00-10:45  Break (Wednesday Chapel, 10:10-10:30)
10:45- 11:30  Plenary (Intro. to new material; question and answer time)
11:30-12:15  Precepts  (Questions on new material; Drills; Sight reading)

Friday*
8:45-10:00  Exam**
10:00-10:45  Break (Extra time for exam if needed)
10:45- 12:15  Precepts

* This schedule changes for the last two weeks where the focus shifts from learning new information to putting it into practice in actual translation

** There was no test the first week with the Professor I had

The texts we used were:

  • Clayton Croy, A Primer of New Testament Greek
  • United Bible Societies Greek new Testament: A Reader’s Edition
  • W. Bauer, F.W. Danker et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (3d ed.)

The daily quizzes were a combination of vocabulary and paradigms and were not terribly difficult though did require studying.  The homework was challenging partially because of the concepts and partially because some many of the sentences are strange because they attempt to limit the homework to words and concepts already covered.  The exams were the most challenging aspect of the course and definitely gave me a run for my money.  There are tutors available and information about the who, where, and when is put out in class.  The quizzes were 20% of the overall grade, exams a whopping 50% and the remaining 30% is translation quizzes.  A note on grades, for those in the PC(USA) you will want to check with your presbytery to make sure they will accept “pass/fail” grades if you want to go that route.  As members of committees may change while you are in the ordination process, I highly recommend getting this information in writing.

Translation quizzes are given during the last week and a half of classes.  For me this was the most enjoyable portion of the course.  We translated 1, 2, and 3 John during class in small groups in the morning, went over it as a class with the professor after the break, and then were quizzed on it the following morning.

While Greek is hard in and of itself (for me anyway), I also had a hard time figuring out how to learn and memorize the material.  Here are some things I learned about half way through the class that I wish I would have known in the beginning:

  • Memorization – I took French in High School and College, but 1) that was a while ago and 2) the language was a bit more intuitive for me.  At first I tried to memorize just the endings of the paradigms (verb/noun forms) but that was not a good long term plan as things started to look and sound a like as time went on.  It would have been better to memorize the whole word, not just the ending or how it sounds.  This may sound like a no brainer, but when you are in the throws of an intense learning situation, I didn’t think about this initially.  Though you have to learn things a bit at a time, getting a hold of a paradigm sheet early on will be helpful.  There is a really good one on www.teknia.com.  Click on “Greek” on the top navigation bar and look in “Additional Resources” at the bottom of the page.  There is a direct link to it here.  There are also lectures on teknia that are helpful if you don’t understand the way something is being explained in class.  Having a copy of Mounce’s book The Basics of Biblical Greek on hand if you use his lectures.  This is available at the seminary library.
  • Flash Cards – There are flash cards available for purchase, but I would recommend making your own.  It was helpful for me to write out the words and helped me remember how to spell them, etc.  there are some who found the flash cards they purchased very helpful so you’ll have to feel it out.
  • Translations – It was hard for me to figure out how to organize my translations as first.  At first I ended up copying the Greek onto notebook paper and then leaving three lines in between each line of Greek.  I would write the meaning/definition of the word on one line, the gender, case, and number (singular or plural) on another line, and the tense, voice, and mood on another line.  This forced me to learn the ins and outs of the words instead of just “getting the homework done.”  After a while, I realized there were ‘woeksheets’ on the CD that came with the Croy book.  Those were very helpful and saved a lot of time.  So I recommend checking out that CD sooner rather than later.  : )
  • The brain – I learned a lot about the brain during summer Greek.  It is an amazing thing.  After being in class for 3 hours talking about the same topic, it was hard for me to jump right into the homework after lunch.  So I didn’t.  Others did, but I needed a break.  Once I jumped into the homework after a few hours, or sometimes, after dinner, there were many times where I would struggle through the homework.  The vocab and paradigms we have to memorize for the quizzes were not that bad, but I struggled with the homework.  And after struggling for a while one night I decided to go to bed and wake up early to finish the homework if I could.  The result was amazing. The homework was so much easier it was unbelievable.  Since our brains still process information when we are not intentionally focusing on something, when I gave my brain a chance to rest the results were phenomenal.   It seems counterintuitive, but it definitely worked for me.

One question I have gotten from people considering summer language is whether or not they will be able to work.  I will say, first of all, that I did not.  There are some who work, but for those who do it is only part time.  If you are just moving to the area, I would recommend not working.

Some thoughts on housing.  There is housing available during the summer but it is somewhat limited from what I understand.  There is an application online though I am not sure if the 2010 application is up yet.   If it is important to you to not have to move after summer session, I would call housing and ask about that.

One last note.  One class many people have taken after taking Greek is NT Exegesis.  I blogged about this a few days ago if you care to read more info, but here I will only say that I am very glad I followed up the language class with the exegesis class.  That said, there are some of my classmates who waited to take an exegesis class this Spring and I have not heard them complain about this.

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