The Best Way to Learn NT Greek
All Scripture is breathed out by God...
God has spoken to us in Scripture. Because of that, it’s impossible to overestimate the value of Scripture and the value of studying it deeply. We are blessed with many incredible English translations, and thank God for them, but I’m guessing since you are here, that you want to go beyond these, to see what the Apostles wrote for yourself.
All translation is interpretation to some extent, and when reading the translation, we can’t tell what was originally written. The translator may or may not have captured the sense correctly, and even if he or she did, you might not grasp the sense in English. So what do you do?
One option you have is to learn through seminary courses. Typical seminary Greek courses teach a few hundred words, Greek inflection recognition, and basic grammar. After spending roughly $4,500 on tuition, good students can expect to be able to read selections of some of the easier New Testament letters with helps. Because fluency is rarely attained, graduates seldom keep up with their Greek and the charts they memorized are quickly forgotten.
Online Greek courses have begun to appear, but most of these digitize the learning approach used in seminaries. Even better ones can be too rigid to allow students to learn in a reasonable amount of time; most students quit before they’ve learned sufficient Greek to read the Greek New Testament.
FluentGreek was born out of my frustration with traditional learning approaches. Like you, I wanted to learn to read Scripture in the original language. I studied the recommended textbooks. I took the classes. I graduated summa cum laude from a well-respected seminary. At the end of it, I could read some simple sentences in Greek and fill out Greek inflection charts. But I set out to read Paul in the original Greek, not fill in charts of verb endings.
Out of this frustration, I began researching the methods of successful language learners, who are known as polyglots. There is a global community of people who learn languages for fun, as many as 5-10, or more. Thankfully they are happy to share their methods.
While everyone has a slightly different approach to learning languages, the heart of language learning is what researchers call “comprehensible input.” To become fluent in a language, a person simply needs to be exposed to the new language in a way they can understand, over and over again. The mind saves bits of the language, and then learns how those bits go together. If you think about it, that’s how children learn to understand and speak their native language. They don’t memorize charts and review flashcards. They don’t diagram sentences. They take in the language in live situations. And over time it starts to click. It’s not too different for us as we learn Greek.
According to polyglot Steve Kaufmann, the three most important things to learning a language are Attitude, Time, and Content, so let's take a look at these concepts.
Learning languages is humbling. We don’t recognize the letters on the page. We don’t know what the words mean. We don’t know how they go together. And we don’t for a long time. That’s ok. Embrace not understanding. One of my seminary professors pointed out to my frustrated class that three-year-old children were able to pick up the language, so we probably could, too. Trust the process and stick with it. Commit yourself to learning to read God’s Word in the original language because it’s worth the effort.
Learning languages takes time. Up front, understand that to become proficient in reading NT Greek requires a significant commitment on your part. By the way, this is why I recommend that students learn Greek and Hebrew before going to seminary. There isn’t enough time to learn the languages well in the midst of all the other important classes seminaries offer.
Remember how important this is. Remember the opportunity you’ve been given. Make a serious commitment.
That leaves content, and that is what FluentGreek is for. FluentGreek is organized to maximize the amount of comprehensible input you encounter; remember this is the key to language learning. It does this by tracking your current Greek level and presenting you with material that is around that level. This is the secret sauce of the program. Then it slowly presents new material to expand your ability. This maximizes comprehensible input, maximizes efficiency, and minimizes effort.
Another key learning technique is spaced repetition. Researchers have discovered that when we initially learn information, the strength of that information in our memory decays rapidly unless it’s reinforced. The decline is slower after each reinforcement. Therefore, the most efficient way to learn new material is to revisit it soon after initial memorization and then review again at ever increasing intervals to keep the information in your memory.
For both vocabulary and verse review, FluentGreek presents the material to you repeatedly, at ever increasing intervals. The program comes with default intervals but you can customize those based on your personal retention. This approach is also encouraging as you are regularly presented with material you have already encountered before. This provides a welcome break from material that stretches you.