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    Educational Philosophy, Other Thoughts

    Latin, Greek, or Both?

    October 15, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]A[/dropcap]bout a year ago, I decided that we were going to learn Latin. This wasn’t an easy thing to do, for I have never displayed any aptitude for languages. I passed Spanish in high school, and again in college. But passing is far from actually learning a language. I remember when reading about Latin and Greek study in Teaching the Trivium that I was utterly shocked by the concept that someone would study a language in order to learn it.

    Latin, Greek, or Both

    In my mind, the purpose of language study was “exposure,” or to fulfill some sort of requirement put upon you by the State of California. If you had a job that required you to speak another language, then maybe you would learn it. But to learn it … just to learn it? I had never thought that way about language study.

    Around the time that I was reading the aforementioned book, I came across blogs by older homeschooling moms {I was looking for pointers}, and they would say things like, “My daughter loves to study Latin and works at it daily. We no longer require language study, but she does this anyhow because she wants to be literate in the language.”

    Latin appealed to me on the pragmatic level. After all, with it, English shares all of the same letters except w. So many English words have Latin roots that Latin can even been seen as reinforcing mastery of English, which is something I desire for our children. And Latin is such a logical, structured language, that children will, once again, have their English thinking reinforced, while also perfecting logic skills.

    There were lots of good arguments for Latin, but probably the most compelling for me was that I thought I might actually be able to learn it, and that was really saying something. After all, while other moms worry about high school because of what they’ll do for math and science, I am one to approach language study as the most fearsome adversary I will have to face.

    So then, naturally Si suggested the children and I learn Greek instead.

    I’ll say it again: Si suggested the children and I learn Greek instead.

    To which I casually replied, I’ve come a long way, Baby, but not so far as that.

    And then I realized he was serious.

    So I explained to him all of the pragmatic reasons for learning Latin, and then I pulled out the I-don’t-know-Greek card for full effect. When nothing worked, I tried begging. Please, please, please can we learn Latin instead of Greek? I don’t feel capable when it comes to Greek!

    So my husband let us go ahead with Latin, and probably starting praying for his wife’s poor soul, hunched over her Wheelock’s like she had something to prove.

    I still don’t know exactly why Greek frightened me so.

    Anyhow, we all love Latin. Strangely enough, my four-year-old has shown an uncanny aptitude for picking up the words, which is all we are doing right now. Our seven-year-old does a bit of copywork in Latin, but that is all. We like this rule: No formal grammar … in any language … until ten-years-old.

    But, God has been slowly working on my heart. Si, after all, was interested in the learning not just of Greek, but of koine Greek, so as to enhance each family member’s meaning of Scripture. He wasn’t just being pragmatic in this {like his … wife!}, but really saw its potential to expand the soul.

    It took me longer to see it, but I’m coming around.

    I’ve started relying heavily on BlueLetterBible to help me understand things. In the last few months, I have realized that a lot of my understanding of the English translation was quite close to a misunderstanding, or at the very least an incomplete understanding. Our English words do not carry with them the same tones and nuances as their Greek counterparts.

    Here is an example from yesterday:

    Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! {II Peter 3:11-12}

    My questions began when I realized the context of this passage was Noah’s deluge. This made me wonder about the word “destroyed.” After all, I Peter 3:6 uses the same word, saying that the world at Noah’s time was “destroyed, being flooded with water.” Well, in my mind “destroyed” means complete annihilation, but at Noah’s time it meant that a lot of things were washed away, while a lot of things remained.

    When I checked out some of the Greek words {in the Septuagent, of course}, I learned that there was a lot more to this passage than met the eye. For instance, the word which is translated as “destroyed” in verse 11 is λύω {lyō}, which means to unbind or set free from chains. So there is a sense in which this passage says not that God is coming to blot out the existence of the world, but to complete His salvation of it by destroying the things which hold it in bondage. This is the same word in verse 12, where it is said that the heavens {οὐρανό — ouranos — meaning the “vaulted expanse of the sky,” the place where storms are born} will be destroyed. Again, the sense is of being set free from bondage.

    This freeing comes about through … burning of the elements {στοιχεῖον — stoicheion — meaning the first things — it is usually used in the New Testament in the sense of the elementary principles of something, and here may very well refer to the way the heavenly systems work, their natural laws}. This is always why I thought of it as total elimination of the thing: When I burn something, there is pretty much nothing left for my eye to see, nothing worth saving. But here the sense of burning can be that something is melted, refined, the dross burned away.

    So perhaps God gets to the very essence of what is worth saving, in a way that didn’t happen even with Noah, and, just like with Noah, what is left is purified. But this time it isn’t just closer to redemption. Rather, it’s actually redeemed.

    Okay, so I meant all of this as an exercise, not to actually talk theology, even though that is one of my favorite things to do. My point is that there was a lot there that I didn’t see when I read it in English.

    So, Dear Husband, I’m rethinking Greek. We already started Latin, and I’m a firm believer, but I do believe we’ll start Greek in a couple years, and that is now okay with me.

    Also, I think all of this begs a question, be it one fairly unrelated to my post: What would have happened to the world if, instead of translating the Bible into German or English or whatnot, the Reformers instead taught the people Greek, Latin and Hebrew? I know that sounds like an insurmountable task, but I do wonder if Christendom would have benefited far more from learning the languages, especially when there is so much that is embedded in them that doesn’t carry over into the English.

    A friend once told me that a translation was like looking at the back of a tapestry. You could see what the point was, but you didn’t see the fullness. I think I’m starting to see what he meant.


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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 2, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    I want you to teach me, but I want you to teach me in two years, okay? My brain needs to latch onto Latin a little better first. 🙂

  • Reply Kimbrah November 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    I have a great song for the Greek alphabet, I can teach it to your kiddos next time we are together if you are interested. It’s super easy and even my little E. can sing it perfectly and he isn’t even three yet! 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 21, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    If Hey Andrew 1 is so elementary (ha ha), I might just start with Song School Greek since we are already doing that series for Latin and I know it works with how we do things here.

    I also thought about Hannah Bluedorn’s Itty Bitty Baby Learns Greek to learn the letters.

    By the way, I totally agree that the completely different alphabet is a big intimidation factor for Greek! It’s not so bad as Hebrew (backwards writing, anyone?), but it Latin is definitely easier when all you do is cut the w and you’re good to go with your knowledge base.

    As far as learning Latin and/or Greek, the man at our church that I referenced earlier mentioned the most interesting thing to me: he said that Greek is the most precise language one can learn in this world, and Latin is the second-most precise. We discussed that the logical nature of the language is good training for young minds, but there is more than just this. If one ever reached the point of being able to “think in Greek or in Latin” one would have actually gained a level of precision in the thinking process that is not possible to do in English.

    I would like my next-door neighbor to help my children learn Spanish, but we won’t be bothering to learn it from books. The type of Spanish spoken here in our neighborhood is not the type from textbooks as it is filled with slang. However, I do like the idea of being able to converse in the culture we happen to live in, so they will have to learn it the old fashioned way–through hearing it.

  • Reply Rachel R. October 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I think that Greek is intimidating because the letters are different. But, personally, I find Latin study a waste of time. (I know, bad homeschool mama.) I know a lot of our roots are Latin, but I think we can learn a lot of them without actually studying the whole Latin language. (Especially by studying Spanish, which is still in extensive use.)

    But koine Greek – now that is useful. 😉 Seriously, the grammar is horrendous, but until you get that far, it’s not that bad.

  • Reply Mystie October 20, 2009 at 5:00 am

    My 1-term-into-it synopsis is that Hey Andrew 1 is Preschool Greek. Not that it’s for preschoolers (though it could be), but that it’s about identifying letters, learning the sounds, and practicing writing them. There is zero reading or grammar or other language instruction. It looks analogous to the Greek Code Cracker, but less splashy. If you just got the reader and maybe the CD, then printed off Greek letters to trace from your computer, you’d have the gist of it. I don’t think I’ll bother buying more of the workbooks myself. The reader just has a page for each letter, its name, and its sound. It could even be one of those things that the kids might pick up if it was just laying around.

    Yes, I was thinking a similar spacing probably, too. And it would probably depend on the child how far each one pursued Latin. I am for Latin for the training in logical thinking and teaching grammar from a consistent language, and I am not yet sold that every child should strive for literacy in Latin. Classicists should, but I don’t think we all need to be classicists. However, we should all be thorough Bible-readers, so literacy in Greek seems to be the only reason to pursue it. That said, Hebrew still isn’t on our docket. Maybe our children’s children will go that far. 🙂

  • Reply Mystie October 20, 2009 at 4:48 am

    On the sketchy history notes, my limited knowledge is that even though “schools” (tutors, primarily) taught Latin & Greek, only the upper crust boys (and a very few girls, including Henry VIII’s daughters) went to school or had tutors. The common folk couldn’t even read; they listened to mass in Latin and might have an inkling of what it meant (maybe), but anyone other than priests knowing the Bible was discouraged. The reformers wanted people to know the Bible, so it was translated and read to them in their own language, and it wasn’t until after Protestantism was going strong that the push for common literacy began. And, there might not even had been the near-universal literacy that did happen if it wasn’t for the printing press (because books or printed matter was dear); so, when I think it was Kern jabbed at the printing press in one of the talks as destroying memory, I am skeptical. I think I’d rather have at least the potential for universal literacy than having a select class of bards, minstrels, messengers, and scribes who had great memories and recited things for everyone else.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 19, 2009 at 2:55 am

    KM, Thanks for the link! Looks like two votes now for Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek. Personally, now that we have done a bit of Song School, I can see the benefit of starting with that, but maybe Hey Andrew has something similar? I like making it fun, especially in the very beginning.

    Mystie, I had an interesting conversation with a man at church tonight. He suggested Latin first, since it is similar to English, and then Greek later. He said that it’ll be easier to pick up Greek once they know Latin because the languages are so similar, and they will already understand concepts (like declensions). I was already leaning that way. I am thinking that when we start formal Latin grammar, maybe I’d be ready to add in informal Greek and have them separated by about three years? Of course, I’m not sure how that works for my youngers, but I can envision that for my older two.

    Rahime, I think I see myself in the Understood Betsy quotes I posted. For the most part, I went to school for the purpose of moving from grade to grade (and doing that well) rather than learning. This is probably why I make such a big deal out of loving learning with my own children–I totally missed it in my own education, especially in the elementary years. I had no idea why I was there…

    I like your language list! My dad has a first level of Rosetta Stone we’ll be trying out soon. I’ll have to review it once I’ve gone through it for Latin. He tried to explain their method to me and it sounded very…unique…but not necessarily in a bad way. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 18, 2009 at 3:22 am

    Willa, Thank you for the history lesson! Someday soon, I want to study that time period more. My knowledge is still vague, as I’m sure you can tell! Your comment makes me wonder why the Bible was translated…I mean, not that I don’t appreciate my English Bible very much, because I do, but I guess I don’t understand.

    Either way: yes! Sad story that we dropped those languages. Really, it says something about the culture, that we didn’t find these languages to have “utility” insomuch as they allowed us to read the Holy Scriptures…

  • Reply Willa October 18, 2009 at 12:09 am

    From what I understand, both Reformers and Catholics worked hard to teach Latin and Greek in the schools (plus Hebrew for the advanced scholars –at least in Catholic schools).

    It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that a large number of schools dropped the classical/traditional Christian curriculum. Sad story, to do with Latin and Greek being “useless” in the modern world compared to vocational skills. I’m oversimplifying, but that was more or less the gist.

  • Reply Rahime October 16, 2009 at 4:48 am

    …I was utterly shocked by the concept that someone would study a language in order to learn it.

    I have to admit to laughing aloud when I read this sentence. It is a bit illuminating…this is exactly how my students approach their language studies. As one who has always considered languages one of the most “practical” subjects taught in school (along with math, reading and writing, of course), I’ve never understood this attitude.

    I’d love to learn Latin, but at this point, if I study a language again, Mandarin, Russian, and Arabic are higher up on my “to do” list…Greek would probably be in there somewhere too, but that too would be for “practical reasons” of biblical study. 😉

  • Reply Mystie October 16, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Phew, I’m glad you’re a year ahead of me! 🙂 We want to do both Latin & Greek, too. Actually, this year we are doing Hey Andrew 1, which is just learning the letters. I figured this was a good age to start and we’re doing it pretty casually. So do you think you’ll do Latin & Greek at the same time or Latin for a couple years and then move to Greek?

    I was seriously *just* thinking two nights ago whether it would be better to do one and then the other, or both slower but at the same time. 🙂

  • Reply Kansas Mom October 16, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Kansas Dad says there isn’t that much Aramaic in the Bible, so I guess you’re off the hook.

    I may teach the kids a little Spanish (that being the language I know a bit, other than English), but Kansas Dad is going to be the main Latin teacher.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 16, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Thanks a lot, KM. 😛

    I hope my husband isn’t reading this! 😉

    Actually, I have an idea. How about you learn Aramaic first and let me know how it goes. I have yet to find a Song School Aramaic CD. 🙂

  • Reply Kansas Mom October 16, 2009 at 12:10 am

    And Aramaic!

    What’s one more?

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