I often ask people what keeps them back from learning to read Greek. The most common answer is "time." Often people see the value of learning Greek, but they struggle to work out how they can make time for it. Sometimes, the problem is a simple misconception about how much time is required.
The variable of you
How much time anyone needs to learn Greek depends on a number of variables. Some of those variables relate specifically to you, the learner. Not all learners are the same. Some people learn faster (or slower) than others. We tend to have proclivities toward certain styles of learning and even find it easier to learn certain skills that others might find much more difficult (e.g. some of us struggle more with math than others). For this reason, there is no fixed time that anyone can guarantee to learn any particular skill within. However, we can often establish guidelines, which is what I hope to do here.
Variables related to learning Greek
A second set of variables directly relevant to the study of the Greek language is how well you understand Grammar to start with. Do you know your prepositions from your adjectives? What about your subject from object? Have you ever learned a language rather than your native language? Did you understand the grammatical distinctions? The better you understand how language works and how the individual parts contribute to meaning, the easier it will be to learn Greek.
A third set of variables relates to the grammar you select. Grammars differ in their philosophy, and therefore have different methods which yield different results. The selection of a grammar will help determine how much time it will take to learn the language. Further, one philosophical approach may be better suited to your needs, or to your learning style. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to make a perfect choice, but that doesn't mean we can't make a helpful choice.
How much time for those beginning Greek?
If you're beginning Greek and you're a native English speaker with an average knowledge of language, then a good Grammar is something like Bill Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek. This grammar combines the best of a couple of different philosophical approaches and assumes you'll need a little help with grammar along the way. Yet, it assumes you know the English language well enough to get by. Mounce takes your current knowledge of English, and relates it to Greek in such a way to enhance your knowledge of English and help you learn Greek at the same time.
Another benefit of Mounce's approach is that his workbook exercises are (for the most part) sourced from the period of the New Testament. This means you're working with actual texts you'll see in the wild rather than made up 20th century learner texts.
Mounce's grammar has several sections that tend to prove to be a challenge to first time learners. This means that you'll want to anticipate these sections and spend a little more time learning them. You'll also want to develop some daily habits to ensure you learn the main paradigms and rules he provides. Finally, you'll need to review your vocabulary daily, and ideally 3-4 times each day.
When you add these components together you should expect to spend approximately the following amounts of time each day learning beginning Greek. Note that this is a guide only and will vary from one person to another based on the variables above. Be aware that beginning Greek is more intense than intermediate Greek and also remember you will want to increase these times through challenging parts of the course.
Beginner time requirement break-down
- Reading workbook/main lesson (20-30 minutes once a week)
- Review paradigms (5-10 minutes each day)
- Review vocabulary (5-10 minutes scattered throughout each day)
- Complete workbook (20 minutes, 5 days each week)
- Grade workbook (30 minutes once a week)
When you break this down, you can expect two days where you spend 30 minutes a day. One at the start of the week (reading the lesson and learning new words) and the other at the end of the week (grading your workbook). These would be ideally done on the same schedule each week (e.g. Monday and Sunday). On the days in between, you should expect to spend around 30 minutes each day on Greek, though this time should be somewhat distributed throughout the day.
Here's how I recommend you distribute your time through the day. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes at the beginning of the day reviewing paradigms (10 mins) and completing one or two workbook exercises (15-20 mins). Then you might want to spend a couple of minutes going through any vocabulary that is due (2 mins). Later in the day I encourage you to spend another couple of minutes reviewing vocabulary two or three more times through the day. Depending on how you went with the workbook in the morning, you might want to complete another exercise or two in the evening (15-20 mins).
How much time for intermediate Greek?
How much time is necessary for post-beginner Greek depends on how well you learned the basics. That doesn't necessarily mean it depends on how you feel about your knowledge of Greek. Once you're done with beginning Greek, you'll still feel uncertain about your ability with the language. This is normal, and doesn't necessarily serve as a good indicator of how well you've learned the language.
However, as a general rule, you should be able to parse verbs, participles and infinitives with some confidence, even if you might struggle a little to correctly see how certain words are working in the text. Given this, moving from beginner to reading fluently is more about consistent time spent in the text than it is about how much time you spend. Yet, a solid, focused time in the Greek New Testament daily, which will result in significant growth.
Intermediate requirement break-down
In the early stages after beginning Greek, the following guide will serve you well:
- Reviewing parsing (5-10 minutes daily)
- Reviewing/learning new words (5-15 minutes each day)
- Translation (20-30 minutes daily)
This might seem like a lot of time, but there are ways to make this time almost disappear. As your confidence with the text grows, you'll also be able to reduce the time spent reviewing parsing. This time can then be used to learn new words and expand your ability to read the Greek New Testament.
Just like with beginning Greek, the time spent reviewing parsing and vocabulary can be distributed throughout the day. If you're smart about this, you'll use those little moments through the day that you'd normally lose for vocabulary review. Any time that you're waiting in a line (e.g. coffee, in a store, etc), or for something to happen can become a time to review vocabulary. As a general rule, any time you'd normally check social media, can be replaced with vocabulary review. This also helps your conscience.
How much time you need to spend learning Greek depends on a number of factors. The guide above is designed to provide an estimate that you can use to determine whether you have time or not right now. Whether this sounds like a good use of your time depends on whether you see the benefits of learning to read the Greek New Testament. We tend to make time for what is important, although different phases of life mean we need to prioritize and this might preclude some things we'd like to do later.
In the next article, I'll give you some practical tips to create this time in the middle of a busy schedule.