In order to master any language you need daily exposure to it. Many seminary students quickly lose their languages because they do not continue reading Greek after their 1–2 years in class. Only spending a couple semesters in a language is not enough to learn a language, let alone master it. I saw this quote on Twitter awhile back that said “If a person only takes Greek or Hebrew for a year, all they really learn is English.” Why is it so hard to keep up the languages after initial exposure to them? For starters, it takes a lot of time to try to keep up the languages. Couple this with other aspects of life such as family, work, and other classes students quickly just run out of time if it is not made a priority. Personally, I have often fallen into this trap and I will go weeks without reading Greek or Latin.
A student must have discipline, motivation, and time to keep up with the languages. Even when one has these three pillars of learning a language distraction often times ensues. Technology I think is probably the number one distraction for many of us. Whether it be social media or getting lost in Bible software we can often sit down with good intentions but when that 20–30 minutes that we had set aside passes we can often not have been as productive as we could have.
This is why I have found that the ideal setup for daily reading in the languages minimizes or eliminates all uses of technology. The following setup is what I have found to be most beneficial for reading Greek on a fairly consistent basis. There are four principles that I try to follow when I do this in the morning:
- No technology
- No notes
- Use time limits instead of length of text limits (i.e. 30 minute goal instead of trying to read 15 verses in a sitting)
- Good coffee
The goal for consistent Greek reading is to keep it simple. The fewer the resources and distractions the better.
Technology is a major distraction. Social media consumes our time quickly without us realizing it. But this is not the only distraction that we often face. Bible software is the other aspect that hinders our ability to learn the languages. It is far too easy to double click a word to parse it rather than thinking through it and forcing ourselves to make a decision without help. Another danger in daily reading is the ease of use to search for other things we find interesting when reading a text. For example, you’re reading through a text and you come across a construction that seems odd. When your computer is out it is easy to quickly search for this construction or post online a question somewhere for help. This can quickly take 10–15 minutes of our time. If our goal was to read for 30 minutes all of a sudden we quickly lost 50% of that time.
So what is the solution? I have found that the Zondervan Greek Reader is the ideal solution. It is light and thin, which makes it easy to carry around and read anywhere. It provides vocabulary help in the footnotes and a small dictionary in the back for words not in the footnotes. By having vocabulary that occurs less than 30x in the footnotes (and all others in the back) this eliminates the need for a separate lexicon or computer software.
By the recommendation of Brian Davidson I also recently picked up the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. I don’t consider this a necessity but it is extremely helpful for words that I cannot parse. This lexicon allows you to look up the word as is (i.e. not the lexical for but the form in the text) and it will parse it and give a definition. It also includes helpful paradigms that are linked to the words. For example if the word is πειθαρχήσαντας it gives the code 6.A.2, which is linked to a paradigm in the back that follows this pattern.
This is it. You don’t need a grammar, lexicon, or notebook for your daily reading.
In order to maximize my time I try not to take any notes when I am reading. Yes, writing does help reinforce what you learn but I have found that often times this distracts me from just reading the text. The goal for daily reading is to read as much of the text as possible with the hope that doing this daily we will begin to have a better grasp on the text.
Use time limits
I used to set goals of verses or chapters when reading. But I have come to realize that often my time is precious and I become discouraged when I set a reading goal that I can’t achieve. So instead of length of text goals I set a time limit and try to get through as much text as I can. I generally try to do 20–30 minutes a day but sometimes I have to limit myself to 10–15, which is still better than not doing it at all.
Coffee opens the senses and helps the brain start firing on all cylinders. Don’t ruin your language reading by drinking bad coffee. If your going to drink Folgers, Maxwell House, Starbucks or something else like that you might as well use an interlinear Bible to read the Greek text. Just as Folgers and Starbucks is a terrible way to get your daily dose of coffee so is using an interlinear to try to improve your language reading. Find a local coffee shop and buy from them or better yet roast your own.
If you have any other comments or suggestions feel free to leave them below.