Dear Professor Arguelles,
I have been learning Koine / Ancient Greek for 8-10 months (with 8 months being the duration of serious study for 1-3, average 1.5, hours daily). My long-term goals are to be able to read the Greek New Testament, Septuagint as well as ancient Greek philosophy and fiction. I also have some aspirations of similar goals of reading difficult books, as in academic texts and literary fiction, in German, Russian, French, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese or Arabic — though these are only long-term aspirations.
My first question relates to the discussion of intensive vs extensive reading, this is as interlinear texts (and some digital reading tools) dramatically reduce the time it takes to find definitions and grammatical forms, almost to nothing. In my experience, this can be used to aid extensive reading (by either just reading the interlinear or reading the interlinear and then the original text) and to help intensive reading through its reduction of dictionary checking time. My question, then, is: does the use of an interlinear or equivalent digital tool make intensive reading worthwhile?
In your ‘Inefficient Language Learning Practices to Avoid or Change’ video, you state that intensive reading is ineffective due to the time it takes (presumably dictionary checking, which is negated in this case). In order to clarify my question, it would make sense to divide up the aspects of intensive reading to determine their merits, when paired with an interlinear / digital tool. Intensive reading often involves writing glosses, parings, declension as well as labeling sentence structure. The main aspect of intensive reading is that the text is significantly more difficult than what the reader could understand without annotation or checking resources or taking a long time, which is what necessitates the above listed types of annotations. My further refined question, then, is: what about intensive reading makes it inefficient, the annotation, the difficulty level of the text or the dictionary checking time? And if it is the dictionary checking time, do you think that interlinear or digital tools can mitigate this to make reading difficult texts intensively an efficient use of time?
My other question is: to what extent should speaking, listening, and writing skills be prioritized in a language that you only or predominantly intend to use for reading? Am I missing out in comprehension due to reading (aloud) being my only direct interaction with Greek? And if so, how can I mitigate this problem?
Thank you for your advice videos, they’ve helped me a lot.
Dear Noah Watson,
I would never say that intensive reading is “ineffective,” as you wrote at one point, which would imply that it does not work: it DOES work. However, I would say that it can be “inefficient,” which means that if other options are available, you might get similar results faster by other means. Furthermore, the effectiveness of intensive reading resides precisely in its inefficiency. Looking up words in paper dictionaries, writing them down by hand, and making notes or annotations by hand are labor intensive, but they wed what the hand writes to the brain and the memory in a way that I think is shortchanged by electronic means of speeding up the process. When all you need to do to get the meaning of an unknown word is click on it to be shown its translation, you might be able to read a given text a lot faster, but I doubt you will retain those words or truly appreciate the texts. Doing this is sort of like using a GPS all the time rather than learning the streets. It might be easier, but it won’t allow you to drive (read) on your own.
Intensive reading in this fashion simply suits certain types of scholars. Sometimes there is no other option, so one is constrained to do this. However, because the text is by definition too hard for you to read, doing so is rarely a pleasurable process. That is why I mention other methods, such as using bilingual texts if these are available, or interlinear texts where both languages are present, or word-for-word alternations such as in Dr. Giles’ readers from the 19th century, all of which help you build up enough vocabulary to start extensive reading using easier texts (stories retold, translations of works you have read in English, children’s literature, etc.). If you have access to all of these, as you should for all of the languages you mention plus Greek, then unless you are drawn specifically to intensive reading, all of these other means are less time consuming.
Another type of interlinear text that can probably really facilitate and expedite the learning of one scholar is to use the annotated notes of another scholar. However, where is one to get such a resource? Well, at a certain stage of my life, I made large size photocopies of pages I was reading and wrote the definitions of words I did not know underneath them. I always found that reviewing and rereading pages like this was much better and faster because of this. I have file folders full of such pages for a number of languages, including Greek, Russian, and Arabic from your list, but most especially for Hindi and above all for Persian. As the “guided self-study” model takes root in my Academy, I am thing of offering a course in learning to read literary Persian and/or Hindi where I would provide you with these. Might you be interested in something like that?
As to your second question, even if you are learning a language predominately or even only to read it, you should not neglect speaking, listening, and writing skills. It is always better to learn languages thoroughly and holistically, and the skills reinforce each other more than you might realize. Writing out texts through variations on Scriptorium should be a standard aspect of intensive reading, and in order to read, you need to sub-vocalize in your head, which means that you need to be able to hear yourself thinking in/conversing in Greek inside of your head, which obviously means that you do need to listen and speak it. In your case, that can very easily be done by shadowing a reading of the Koine New Testament.
With all best wishes for continued success learning Greek and other languages,