Reading Greek Polls

21 thoughts on “Reading Greek Polls

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  1. I have to say, I’ve always thought this was a strange question. I’ve studied a few languages, living and dead, and in all these cases English glosses only ever occurred in the first few months of studying the language, and immediately after learning a word (‘How do you say ‘politics’?’). Perhaps I’m unusual in this.

    1. That’s interesting, Damian, I’m kind of jealous. I’m definitely in the realm of “sometimes,” myself. These days, most of my time these days, my reading is significantly slowed down by having to think through grammar (and new vocabulary I haven’t seen before), though that is slowly changing…

      1. I don’t think I’m special. I wasn’t learning languages at an early age, and I’m not exceptional at any of my languages. Perhaps it’s my way of looking at vocabulary: That is, regardless of language, a new word is simply a new word. We learn new words every day in our first languages. We don’t require a gloss for it. Why would we require a gloss for foreign language vocabulary? I’ve always felt glossing to be a product of an incorrect attitude towards language – a kind of decoder-ring translation. You just need to think of it differently.

        1. I’ve been trying to think differently for a good year. I attribute it to having grammar-translation methodology ingrained into our heads. The majority of people thus far as choosing either “sometimes” or “rarely.” And there are three “never’s” so far (3.5 hours after posting).

          Keep on eye on the poll, If these current results are representative, it says something about the problems of current practices.

        2. I’m excited to read that you have this insight, Damian. An unfortunate byproduct of the way grammars of ancient languages have traditionally been written is that glosses are the primary way vocabulary gets taught. As Mike pointed out, this is part and parcel of the grammar-translation model that has dominated the teaching of Biblical Greek.

          I even used that model in the grammar that I wrote back in the early 1990s and am now adapting for the web. To mediate the problem of glosses, I simply used multiple glosses for most Greek words and included instructions explaining that the glosses are translation hints, not definitions.

          This is clearly not an adequate solution to the problem. It was simply a measure that I took at that time to try to reduce the impact of using glosses. At some point in the future, I hope to write a more inductive grammar that will dispense with them altogether.

          You can see the grammar I’m talking about at

  2. Actually, this depends upon whether I’m reading a paragraph or more of connected stuff, in which case I don’t think of how to English it. But when I look up a particular verse that’s under discussion, I do tend to think of how what it says might most naturally be Englished.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t think of that when I first wrote the post. I intended the question to be referring specifically to sitting down and reading larger chunks of text.

  3. It’s not always helpful not to have English glosses in mind. A friend of mine learned a foreign language essentially monolingually from living among a group of monolingual speakers. He spoke and understood it very fluently. I learned the same language by more conventional methods. I discovered that even when I was a beginner I did a better job translating from that language into English than my friend did – because for him the two languages were unconnected, whereas I already had the connections in my brain which we call glosses.

    1. Would that be as much of a problem for Koine learning though? Considering the current state and lack of native speakers, I’m not sure we could ever reach the point where what your friend was experiencing. For example of the two people who have voted always, one of them e-mailed me privately and said that he would make a distinction between reading through a chunk of text and discussing a particular verse.

      And we’ll never be able to reach a situation where one could learn Koine via monolingual.

      1. Well, not so much of a problem with Koine on its own. But I can see this as a caution concerning e.g. first learning modern Greek monolingually and moving to Koine from that, or even first immersing oneself in classical Greek and then moving to Koine. Those connections with English are important, not just a bad thing.

  4. The first question of course implies that one can “think” in koine Greek to begin with, which is a misnomer with dead languages. Any language is part and parcel of the culture that uses it. Unless one has a way around learning Greek via “glosses” (i.e. translating) how do you get around using those equivalences in your head when you read?


      More specifically, what you say is exactly my point. The methods used to teach Greek don’t actually help the student learn the language. Students only learn about the language.

      But do notice that a few people have said that they can read Greek texts without any sort of English in their heads. It kind of makes you wonder how they got there…doesn’t it?

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