So What’s the Main Issue? Part II

Previously, we introduced what seems to be the main issue for Daniel & Tonya:

The Sustainability of Communicative Methodology.

In our first post, we argued two points.

  1. Traditional Methodology post-seminary (or college/university) is not sustainable already so questioning the sustainability of Communicative Methods is a non-issue.
  2. In terms of within the classroom, Communicative Methodology is actually more sustainable because more students actually stay in the class.

I want to grab hold of point #2 for a moment. The very fact that Communicative Methods are more sustainable within the class, I would argue makes it more likely for them to be sustained outside the class for the very reason that there are more students learning the language.

Okay, I’ve not got that out of my system. Moving on.

This post is going to focus on the question/challenge of post-classroom sustainability for studying Greek. Let’s first look at the issue for traditional methodology first.

As I said previously, we can all admit that the majority of pastors do not sustain their language training, at least not to a level that would be considered sufficient in the eyes of their teachers.

But the few that do maintain their skills. What do they do? Well, most of their work is done by relying on memorization, paradigms, and lexicons. The vast majority of the time, its a whole lot of repetition. And those are the ones who make it. They put in a good chunk of time sustaining their Greek. The others, well, they remember something about the aorist and talk in their sermons about the active voice as if it means something about action. Sigh…I still need to talk to that particular pastor.

What about sustainability for communicative methodology?

Well, at the present time, we really cannot say much at all about it. We simply don’t know. We just know the traditional methods don’t create sustainability.

But at the same time, communicative methodology does give us something, something that D&T touched on, accepted as true, and then passed by.


D&T agreed with Seumas that it was a very good point that communicative methods internalize the language. And they questioned me for not mentioning that fact when I brought up the same point (why mention it when they don’t consider it necessary anyway?). Here’s the comment again:

We’ve not ignored the benefit of communicative methods as relates to internalization. Actually, we acknowledged it at the end of “Conversing with Seumas 3″. But it seems you have ignored our point after agreeing with it.

If, as you agree, ministers don’t need conversational Koine in their ministry, then they also have no need to internalize it. I’ve never run across the pastor whose needed to be able to speak the Greek that Paul uses. They all need to be able to interpret it and, we would add, be able to translate it for their congregations. To accomplish this, one need not internalize any conversational Koine.

Of course it’ll help if you do. But that’s not the point. The point is that its not necessary. And with the burden of time many students who are ministers face, time is better spent only on necessary things.

The basic argument here, I think, is something like this:

  1. Communicative Methods are helpful for internalizing the language.
  2. Internalization is only necessary if you plan on actually conversing in the language.
  3. Pastors don’t need to converse in Ancient Greek.
  4. Internalization is not necessary for Ancient Greek.

D&T and I both agree on point #1 there. Such methods are helpful for internalizing the language. We also agree on point #3 (well, mostly). Pastors probably don’t need to converse in Ancient Greek.

But its points #2 & #4 that I cannot and will not accept.

In fact I consider them baseless.

If a person has internalized the language and vocabulary and then also learned to read in said language. They will be able to consistently sustain that language to a reasonably acceptable degree. And when you combine that with audio and the internet, the possibilities are endless for the maintenance of the language.

Its the issue of how a language is sustained that is the true difference between an ancient language and a modern language. Both types of languages can and should be taught using communicative methodology. But when it comes to maintaining them, very different approaches must be used. You maintain an ancient language differently than a modern language

And when am ancient language is learned and internalized rather than merely decoded, we will have better exegetes who, instead of trudging through the details to determine the meaning the of the text, will be able to naturally read and understand the meaning of the text. We won’t have to worry about them getting caught up on little points that are irrelevant but are turned into some sort of major discovery.

So the issue isn’t, “Communcative Methods aren’t sustainable,” its, “Traditional Methods aren’t sustainable, Communicative Methods are currently untested, how can we ensure them to be sustainable?”

17 thoughts on “So What’s the Main Issue? Part II

Add yours

  1. Good, thoughtful posts. I think you’re on to something. I would just add, that it seems to me that most language learning in the communicative method comes through Input, not writing/speaking. It’s not necessarily dialogue that needs to go on to learn, or to sustain. And that’s part of the strength of an argument for sustainability – pastors who have internalised Greek don’t need to have conversations in it, though it wouldn’t hurt them at all to do so; rather, they need to keep reading, and listening, to Greek.

  2. I would second Seumas’s post, and point folks to Stephen Krashen’s work, which has established the role of comprehensible input in SLA. He has also shown that the greatest progress in a language is to be made by “free voluntary reading” (which of course, can only take place once the basics of the language have been internalized).

    I also find it endlessly frustrating that we continue to debate about how *little* Greek/Hebrew pastors or others need to know. It seems to me that Jewish rabbis and Muslim clerics truly put Christian pastors to shame in the area of mastering their sacred texts (see Randall Buth’s clever παραβολή here: ). And, honestly, why don’t we just get to the point where seminary Greek profs (myself included) know the language inside and out, and then perhaps we can debate about whether such a skill is useful for pastors!

  3. I think the key element here is “internalization.” Since I learned Greek (and Latin) the old-fashioned way, and yet ultimately did reach the level of internalization, reading and thinking in the ancient languages, I’ve been reflecting on how and why this did happen for me. I think that two factors played major roles: (1) composition as a serious pedagogical exercise, and (2) intensive and voluminous reading of a broad range of ancient authors. These two activities interacted fruitfully both in graduate school and in my later teaching career.

    (1) While composition — in the old-fashioned methodology of classics like North & Hilliard, Sidgwick — may begin with conversion of phrases to standard Greek constructions, and move on to simple sentences, it ultimately kicks in to re-expressing the sense of whole paragraphs of classic prose writers in good Greek of a comparable generic style.
    (2) Intense and voluminous reading accustoms the student to the range of meanings that words may convey in a large variety of contexts; one learns too the vocabulary differences of specific genres and the radically different prose styles of a Herodotus and a Thucydides, of a Lysias and a Plato. When composition exercises are linked to sustained reading in a focused corpus, interesting things happen: I recall vividly reading Ciceronian oratory while converting the NYTimes endorsement of JFK into Latin in 1960 and reading Plato’s Symposium while converting paragraphs of Nabokov’s Lolita into (more-or-less) Platonic Greek. That’s at least as gratifying an intellectual exercise as a hard crossword — and much more edifying. And then there were competitions and prizes for compositions in Greek and Latin.

    In sum, while the old-fashioned pedagogy focused heavily upon memorizing paradigms and rules of syntax, it did not (where practiced seriously) ignore the communicative aspect of the languages and the imperataive of internalization.

  4. Mike,

    Wrote a lengthy comment. Got deleted. Here’s try #2.

    As we commented on the last post, you’ve not defended the communicative method as sustainable. The lack of speakers is a serious issue for the sustainability of “dead” languages. The internet and audio CD’s are helpful, but they cannot replace speakers. That’s why we recommend modern Hebrew and Greek after one’s first year in biblical.

    Keeping kids in class does not make the method sustainable. It just means they like class (which is wonderful, congrats!). How will those students practice what they’ve learned in five years? For that matter, how many of them will remember info from their history or sociology classes that they also enjoy in five years? Rather than number of students, we ought to measure by number of years the students keep up their training.

    As far as your syllogism summarizing our views, not bad. I’d take “only” out of #2. We have two thoughts as relates to internalization 1) its great and 2) it takes more time than one has in seminary (amidst other classes and responsibilities).


    1. As we commented on the last post, you’ve not defended the communicative method as sustainable. The lack of speakers is a serious issue for the sustainability of “dead” languages.

      And you’ve argued against it poorly. My point all along is that communicative method for teaching in no way necessitates communicative continuation after class. Sustainability comes from what’s already internalized along with reading the text.

      If you haven’t already, you should really, really read Streett’s comment on this very post, where he makes the point quite well.

      1. That wasn’t an argument against anything. Just pointing out that proving old methods wrong does not mean new methods must be right.

        Our point has been that the teaching needs to relate to the later independent learning. While one may internalize a lot in the class, you’ve not shown how knowledge is held on to (other than asserting that it does).

  5. By the way,

    Remember this all started over Mounce’s notion of “conversational” Koine. We noted two things missing that are necessary for conversation: speakers and creativity. While our conversation has grown and addresses larger issues, I think our first point has held up- there’s no such thing as conversational Koine.


  6. Mike, I fear the chance of this catching on in seminaries generally are comparable to that of adoption of the metric system in the USA — “d.o.a.” regardless of its desirability: the very thought of it brings on an anxiety fit! On the other hand, I think there are people taking note of the need for internalizing Greek and communicative teaching; I just became aware this morning of the work of Christopher Rico at the École Biblique in Jerusalem and a course book soon to be published, “Polis, Speaking Ancient Greek as a Living Language” to be used at the University of Santa Croce in Rome. Info at the web-site:

  7. Of course, most schools and teachers of Koine Greek will as soon consider a communicative Greek pedagogy as will the U.S. convert to the metric system, regardless of the clear advantage. Nevertheless, something of a groundswell is beginning to be noticeable; I just learned this morning of a new textbook, “Polis, Speaking Ancient Greek as a Living Language” by Christopher Rico of the École Biblique and U. of Jerusalem, to be published this coming September and taught at the University of Santa Croce in Rome. A web-site is accessiblein English, French and Italian at

  8. I’ve been following the discussion with interest. I just wanted to echo an earlier comment about practising conversational Koine after class. Are there resources on the Internet that could be developed…?

  9. Some thoughts that I am having on this issue:
    certainly the ability of most learning Greek is rather dismal and inadequate for really dealing with the texts. In the area of Bible translation, most seem to have a very atrophied understanding of the original languages, but are still able to make rather understandable translations (even though there may be traces of Englishisms and other unnatural constructions in the target language). It would seem that with such a lack of knowledge of the original languages that the results produced would be much worse than they are (Perhaps the same could be said for preaching). So perhaps a cost-benefit ratio should be brought into mind – how much practical improvement could be seen with such internalization of the language? It seems like you argue that it wouldn’t take much more effort to internalize the language with the different teaching techniques (thus the cost is rather the same)But it seems like if one is able to think in that language, the translation would still come out relatively similar to using the traditional methodology (so the external benefit that others see is perhaps not that much greater? But the internal value would be significantly greater?).

    1. sorry for taking so long to reply.

      two thoughts:

      1) I don’t know if translation issues are completely connected. The bigger challenge with translation language is the influence of other translations on the text. But I do think knowing the language as one would any real language could only help

      2) The greater strength of such methods is fast vocabulary learning without rote memorization. When I was being taught modern methods, I learned between 600-700 words in less than 3 months. Most first year grammars tend to teach no more than 300-350 words over the course of two semesters. In a year, it would be possible using modern methodology to learn a good 1000-1500 words over those same 9 months. That’s something I’m working on right now.

        1. Well, that’s part of it. Listening to the words is probably more important in some ways than saying them, but there’s more than that, though I don’t really have time to go into details right now.

  10. This is a great discussion.

    I remember meeting Randall Buth in Israel and participating in a demonstration of the communicative method. It was incredible. But what really floored me was hearing him speak Koine Greek fluidly. As soon as I heard him, I knew he was thinking in the language as much as he was speaking it. I’ve had 8+ years of Greek in high school, college, and now seminary and I’ve learned my share of paradigms and vocabulary. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m convinced that the communicative method is the way it should be taught. And Mike, you’re right, internalization is the key and it is by no means irrelevant or unhelpful for a dead language. Of course I will grant that speaking and thinking in a dead language is harder to do than in a living language, but it is absolutely worth it. After 8 years of Greek, I’m just starting to teach myself to do think in the language. But oh! how I wish someone had started me down that path 6 or 7 years ago. My understanding of the language would be so much further.

    I certainly don’t claim to know all that it would take to implement this method in a Bible college or seminary setting. But I do think it would be worth it. And there are people willing to think about it.

    Dr. Gerald Peterman was on that same Israel trip with me and I remember talking to him about it afterwards. He was as convinced as I was that this was the way to learn the language. At the time he wanted to come back and take Randall Buth’s summer Koine program so that he could explore the possibility of implementing something similar at Moody where he teaches. I haven’t talked with him in a while though so I don’t know what came of it.

    I would also like to echo Carl Conrad’s comments on the importance of composing in a dead language. Again, this is something I wish someone had tipped me off to 6 years ago. As yet, I still have not started any sort of regimen for composing in Greek, but it’s on my “to-do-when-time-permits” list.

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