I wrote my final exam for my Greek I & II this morning. This Biblical (Koine) Greek intensive covers two semesters’ worth of Greek in 4 weeks. And truth be told, it wasn’t that bad! Everyone I spoke to was all doom and gloom about the month-long intensives. “Say goodbye to your family for the month!” they’d say. “You’re selling your soul to Greek!” On the first day of class (only a month ago!) the professor said, “You shouldn’t be working at this until 3 in the morning and through the weekend. Instead, work X hours and then stop. Use some time over the weekend for review.” That immediately relaxed my work-load expectations. I even managed to have a bit of a social life this month. The night before my mid-term exam I was out all night for another professor’s ordination service (Anglican: bishop in headdress and all. Quite a beautiful service.) As it happened, my Greek professor was sitting behind me during the service. I was a bit nervous about what he would think, but the next day in class he commended me on attending the service and putting important things first. I like that.
This morning’s exam was “simply” translating Matthew 13:1-23. We had to provide a literal word-for-word translation (ignoring English syntax, etc.), which would tell the professor that we understood the individual parts of the Greek words and sentences we were translating. Then we had to make a smooth translation–make the passage sound like good English.
The exam began at 8:45am; at noon I was only on verse 13 and my classmate was on verse 7. The professor came in and said, “I’m going to give you an option. You have all translated enough for me to know how well you are doing and how much you’ve learned over this course. I will know enough to grade you. You can hand in what you have now, or if you want you can keep working through to the end.”
“I hate this kind of option,” I said.
“You’re worried that it’s going to affect your mark,” he replied.
“Yes…Will it affect my mark?”
For some reason, I felt a little bit like it was a trick question. The true Greek scholars among us would muscle through to the end. The paranoid man in me. Of course, if I stayed, I would probably be there for much of the rest of the afternoon. And Dixie and the youngest two kids and I were supposed to go for a celebratory lunch in a bakery and cafe in small-town Manitoba somewhere.
I gave it some more thought. Hmmmm…he gave us the option. And I assume that in this context the question was not a test of character (evidently my real concern). I guess I’ll just hand it in.
I’m still a little unsettled about not translating the entire passage. But I had a nice lunch with my family and a free afternoon!
Now, if anyone ever asks me about the Greek intensive course, I will give them a couple of suggestions. I share them here only for my own sake, as I’m sure most of you are not considering taking a Greek intensive.
1. If you have trouble memorizing things, you may not want to take an intensive language course. There is a lot of memorization (300+ words plus various paradigms) on top of all the grammar. If you struggle with memorization, it might be better to take Greek or Hebrew during a regular semester in which you will have time between classes for memorization. The pace of memorization is slower over a semester, but there is also more opportunity to forget! Without trying to sound braggy, I’ve always been fairly good at memorizing, which has been very helpful.
2. Take a language during regular semester time first before taking an intensive. Don’t learn an ancient language in intensive course without having some ancient language background first. Now, of course, I don’t know what that would be like. I say this because I found that having taken Hebrew last year was a tremendous asset while learning Greek. Some of the grammar terminology was familiar as were some of the unusual ways that ancient languages work. What was perhaps most beneficial, however, was that having taken Hebrew I already had a memorization/learning system set up that worked best for me. I didn’t have to figure out how I was going to memorize all these words while trying to memorize them–I simply started memorizing.
3. Learn the alphabet before the class starts and perhaps even start learning some vocabulary in advance as well.
4. Don’t do more than is required of you (unless you feel you have the time). There were some nights where I had to learn X, but I thought “Perhaps I could learn Y and Z as well.” I did that on occasion, but usually I chose to relax instead.
5. Get to bed on time. If you’re not well rested, you won’t learn as well. (I can’t memorize when I’m over tired.) This is true for any kind of class, of course.
People have asked me if I think Greek or Hebrew is a harder language to learn. I really can’t say which. The only way I could figure that out is if I could forget everything about Greek and Hebrew this year, do it all over again, but in reverse, and then remember everything again in order to compare. I will say that Greek vocabulary was perhaps a little easier because there is more transfer between Greek and English than Hebrew and English (e.g. it’s not hard to remember that baptizo means “I baptize”.)
I’m done! And now I begin translating Phillipians from the Greek and Ruth from the Hebrew in preparation (and working ahead) for next fall’s Greek 3 and Hebrew 3 courses. But first, a movie with Dixie.