Eureka! I found a new approach to Greek.

Eureka! I found a new approach to Greek.

This is a guest blog by Paul Nitz on Learning Another Language Through Actions , expanded 7th edition, by James J. Asher, Originator of the Total Physical Response known worldwide as TPR. Paul teaches Greek in Malawi and will be attending the Fresno BLC workshop this summer. Comments are welcomed:

I had been looking for a better method.  I found an APPROACH! 

My grandfather, father, and every Greek student I have ever known were taught by the traditional grammar/translation method.  When I inherited the job of Greek instruction at our Lutheran Bible Institute (Lilongwe, Malawi) I followed the teaching tradition. But I quickly started to feel discouraged. My students were not getting to a practically useful level of competency.  The idea was niggling at me that there must be a better method of teaching Greek.

Isn’t there a better method?

My students are language sponges when it comes to learning a living language.  Couldn’t we tap into that ability somehow?  Maybe auditory learning was the key.  I emphasized fluent reading to my students, “Read, read, & read a phrase until you think the Greek!”  Better, but not great.  I felt like I was teaching musical notation with the promise, “Study hard and someday you’ll hear the music in your head.” The niggling was beginning to hurt.

I heard about BLC and worked through Living Koine – Part One (the picture book).  Part Two went on the back burner as I filled up my time searching for a better method (B-Greek, SLA papers).  Meanwhile, I was also trying to increase my own Greek comprehension (rapid reading, memorization with gestures). I had heard of Total Physical Response and had Asher’s book, Learning Another Language Through Actions sitting on my shelf for a year.


Last week I finally picked it up. Eureka!  I expected to read about a method.  What I was absolutely delighted to find was an APPROACH.  The approach is characterized by using commands to couple language and action.  Read “κάθισον = sit!” and you have faint learning. Hear κάθισον, and obey by sitting, and you have bold-faced learning that instantly enters into long term memory.

Interestingly, one of the key points Asher makes is that production interferes with the painless and efficient reception of meaning.  Hear and obey, but don’t speak.  Let speech spring naturally from internalization.  This came to him together with his eureka moment about language acquisition.

Asher had been using his training in psychology to research language acquisition.  He found that in order for language to be internalized efficiently, new content had to be true, believable, or useful.  He hypothesized that this condition could be fulfilled if cause/effect could be established through hearing and acting.  He and his secretary were the first experiment.  A Japanese friend barked out orders and modelled the action.  They verbally repeated the command and actively obeyed.  But as each new command was uttered, the last one was erased from their minds.

His intuition told him to leave out the production.  No repeating this time.  The Japanese friend gave command after command, making things more complicated.  Within one session, Asher and his secretary were comprehending and obeying commands as complex as, “Run to the window, pick up the book, put it on the desk, then sit on the chair.”  The three of them were amazed at the results, and the Total Physical Response (TPR) approach was born.

More than the Imperative Mood

TPR makes extensive use of commands, but is not limited to teaching the Imperative mood.  Nouns, adjectives, and adverbs can be easily added to commands.  Different moods, tenses and constructions can be embedded in commands and coupled with action,

ἐὰν ἔλθῃ πρὸς ὑμᾶς, δέξασθε αὐτόν

If he comes to you, welcome him!

An added benefit is that vocabulary is added in meaningful chunks, rather than disconnected lists.

This approach is based on an understanding of how efficiently the right hemisphere of the brain can uncritically and instantly comprehend with meaning.  Our right brain receives speech every day and processes voluminous chunks of language with instant comprehension.  That receptive ability is something we can tap into when lessons are aimed at the right brain.  When we play solely to the left brain with explanations, terms, and paradigms, learning slows to a crawl. But Asher does not by any means dismiss instruction directed at the left brain.

Grammar-Translation has a role

In fact he encourages appealing to both hemispheres.  Within a lesson he suggests doing “brainswitching.”  Do something coupling language and movement, or make some other appeal to the right brain (music, manipulating props, observing action).  Then switch to the left brain (explanation of grammar, writing down what was commanded, use of linguistic terms).

In this way, the approach can easily be added to an existing program based on any textbook.  Simply teach some of the upcoming content through right brain activities, and then teach it according to the text.

The hope of comprehension

My desire for improved learning has blossomed into a more confident hope for real comprehension.  Could my students acquire a reading comprehension of Greek?  That makes my four point list of the benefits of studying Greek look stingy.

Probably the biggest obstacle in my case is the competency of the teacher. But I can work on that.  In the meantime, my right brain is swimming with the possibilities. Commands, gestures, storytelling, comics, and more.  I set out to find a better method.  εὕρηκα!  I have found a storehouse of better methods through this APPROACH.  Thank you Dr. Asher.

(uploaded on behalf of Paul Nitz)

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  1. Mark Lightman April 30, 2012 at 7:39 am

    συμφήμι γε τοῖς καλοῖς λόγοις σου, ὦ ἄριστε Παῦλε. κινῶν γὰρ μανθάνω, μὀνον δὲ ἀναγινώσκων, οὐ.

    τοῦτο τὸ βλογ καλόν ἐστιν.


  2. Paul D. Nitz April 30, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Fixing a non sequitur

    Now that the blog is posted, I see a non sequitur…
    That makes my four point list of the benefits of studying Greek look stingy.

    My list of the benefits of studying Greek, EVEN IF studied only through the grammar-translation method:

    1. Appreciation of the potential value of reading Scripture in the original.
    2. Ability to understand the commentary and exegesis of others.
    3. Understanding the hermeneutical limitations of translations.
    4. A better sense of languages in general.

    Add COMPREHENSION to that list and the rest looks stingy.

  3. Randall Buth May 1, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Thank you for your blog, Paul.

    Asher provided a breakthorugh for second language teaching. I would add a comment on mentioning the joining of TPR with a traditional textbook or grammar-translation. They are not weighted equally. Asher mentioned using the last 10% of classtime for grammatical summaries and Q&A. If a teacher started doing, say, 50% of the time in English and grammar explanations rather than 90% in the target language, then the immediate question arises, Why? Why would someone spend 50% of the time in something that is not leading to internalization? So, yes, Asher affirms the proper use of ‘left-brain’ systematicization, but he is careful not to let it drown out the living language development that takes place through TPR.

    Another way to look at the left/right learning paradigm is to consider what Blaine Ray calls mini-grammar points. Ray will sometimes take a “timeout” and present a 30-60 second explanation of the target language structure in English. That is very reasonable when one has a class with a shared background language. I have found over the years that this works and that if something cannot be explained in a minute, the time is not right for the explanation and classtime is better spent on more target language with meaningful input and usage. There is always the universal rule of grammar: “We do it like that, because that is the way they do it.” All children learn that rule brilliantly. They learn it so well that it can be scary to parents. 🙂

  4. Mark Lightman May 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm


    δεῖ τὸ grammar/translation εἶναι 10% τῆς διδασκαλίας.

    κατά με, δεῖ διδἀσκειν παλαιοὺς κύνας καινὰς τέχνας.

    εὑρήκαμεν δή.


  5. Randall Buth May 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    καὶ δυνάμεθα διδάσκειν τὰ γραμματικὰ ἐν τῇ ἑλληνικῇ ἐν τοῖς 10%.

  6. Paul D. Nitz May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    So, 10% max of a lesson should be about grammar, and that in the target language. Interesting, but…
    [b]I’m not going to quibble about 10% when I have a 90% in my eye![/b]

    Scant instruction on grammar is necessary. While I agree, I think talking about 10% of a lesson being grammatical explanations is a moot point for most Greek instructors interested in TPR. They, like me, have bigger problems. [b][i]Instructor incompentency[/i][/b].

    I spent 45 minutes making sure I had “sit” and “stand” imperatives correct, [u]only to find out I got one out four forms wrong[/u] (I’m hoping Buth’s new Morphology book will help shorten my prep). There’s no way I’m going to be prepared to run a 100% TPR class lesson after lesson before my next Greek class in the Fall.

    But Asher holds out hope. Add a [u]little[/u] TPR.

    “[i]A Spanish instructor at Stanford University was required by her department to use the traditional left-brain type textbook. She did this: One day in her class, for five minutes only, she used a sample of TPR activities; then for the rest of the period worked with the book[/i].”

    Other TPR instructors suggest making TPR exercises for all the vocabulary in the book. “[i]Comb the textbook to find all action verbs… Then, write TPR exercises that use the action verbs with other vocabulary in thebook including nouns, adjectives, and adverbs….[/i]” (p. 3-20).

    These people limited their TPR because of objections from their institutions. I would limit because TPR because of my incompentency. But either way, some TPR would be done and a course would be improved. After a couple more years of part-time work on raising my competency, maybe I can start to discuss whether grammatical explanations should be 10%. In the meantime, left brain activities are much more likely to be 90% of my lessons.

  7. Randall Buth May 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Actually, to be honest, grammar is grammar, in whatever language it is done. Grammar explanations are talking about a language and they break any real communication and create a different conversation than whatever the text under discussion was saying.
    Grammar in Greek is not a big help at the beginning, but at higher levels it provides students with vocabulary to ask sophisticated questions about choices between various structures. Actually, beyond ‘noun’ and ‘verb’, Greek grammar in English is not very helpful for beginners either. ‘genitive, dative, accusative, etc., are all ‘blank words’ in English and do not have any common English meaning. The meaning is slowly built up through usage of a language that uses such categories. (genitive, dative, accusative are just transliterations from Latin, which were originally translations from Greek to Latin “source/character quality” “giving quality” “stipulation quality”)

    The ideal on grammar teaching is probably to work with pieces of a language where the teacher can get in and out in a minute. If not, then the student is usually better off accepting a block of input with a general meaning and waiting for further knowledge and/or explanation of the pieces until later. This is often done, for example, in grammar translation classes, too. A subjunctive or participle may be translated for an immediate beginner early in a course although the structure will be taught later in the course.

  8. Mark Lightman May 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    ὦ χαῖρε φίλε Παῦλε!


    <These people limited their TPR because of objections from their institutions. I would limit TPR because because of my incompentency.

    ἐὰν σὺ βλέπῃς τοῦτο πολλάκις,

    ἄρα σὺ δυνήσῃ οὔτως διδάσκειν?

    εἰ σὺ οὐ δύνασῃ ποιεῖν 90%, ποίει 55%. ἔρρωσο.

  9. Donald Cobb May 2, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Thank you Paul for this first summary!

    One of the biggest challenges in trying to implement an immersive approach to Seminary teaching is, as has often been noted, the sheer lack of time allotted for language learning. At the Seminary in Aix, we have approximately 72 class hours for first year introduction to Greek. After the first year, that number drops to 24 class hours per year and is more translation than anything else. From what I understand, this is generous compared to many American Seminaries, so I’m not complaining. But it is entirely insufficient for acquiring a capacity to understand and speak and, in addition to that, to get a grip on basic Greek grammar/vocabulary sufficient for reading the New Testament with relative ease. Real language acquisition requires hundreds of hours (actually closer to 2,000 – 3,000 hours to speak fluently). This is where the fully immersive approach breaks down in a Seminary setting. There simply isn’t enough time, and even doubling the number of class hours isn’t the solution.

    So I find it interesting that Asher promotes a mixed “left brain/right brain” approach. This is actually what I’ve been toying with over the last 2-3 years, working (one hour a week) with a few students who have already “learned” Greek via traditional methods and focusing on immersive, TPR and TPRS approaches. BTW, this includes the use of Greek grammatical terminology so that, in a one hour class period, maybe five minutes at the most is in a language other than Greek. The results have been very encouraging on the whole; within the first few weeks, the students are able to formulate simple sentences and by the end of the year they can understand spontaneously formulated questions and converse on basic biblical subjects.

    I know this is not what Asher is advocating (or Randall B. for that matter, συγνώμην μοι ἔχε, Ἰωάνα!). However, in a Seminary setting–even providing that students could avail themselves of the opportunity to speak Greek outside the classroom and in the hypothesis of a weekend or two a year of intensive group work (i.e., a “Greek only weekend.” Why not?)–an immersive-only, or almost only, approach is in my opinion unrealistic. So it seems to me that a diversified approach, even if not ideal, has a lot of promise.

    I’ll be looking forward to the following posts!

    Donald Cobb
    Aix-en-Provence, France

  10. Paul D. Nitz May 3, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Thanks for your realism, Donald. Classroom teaching of Greek (by any method) will not likely reach the goal of full comprehension of a language. It doesn’t lead any of us to a pessimistic conclusion: “Why spend any time on Greek at all?” Teaching of Greek, even by grammar-translation methods alone, can achieve important benefits (see my tentative list of four achievements above).

    Adding a TPR component to a class at whatever level is feasible, will achieve more:

    5) enjoying Greek classes (not a small thing!);
    6) approaching Greek as communication, rather than code;
    7) gaining reading comprehension for some simple texts;
    8) inspiring students to the hope of reading comprehension of more of the Bible.

    This all leaves four questions I want to dig into. I’ll just pose one today:

    1. A Greek instructor is interested in adding TPR to his class. What are his best resources? Add to or revise this list::

    a) Attend a BLC workshop or course.
    b) Buy Living Koine books.
    c) Get the Buth Morphology book to reduce hours spent hunting for the right forms.
    d) View Rico videos.
    e) Buy Rico books (does anyone have these? Are they worth it?)
    f) Read Asher’s book “Learning Another Language Through Actions.”
    g) Get some of Asher’s other books??? (Brainswitching?)

  11. Randall Buth May 3, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Paul and Don,
    there is an added benefit to TPR and comprehensive/communicative-based approaches to language learning. They bring a person ‘inside’ the language in a way that grammar-translation cannot do. They also enable a different experience when reading. This is most forcibly brought home to those who are fluent in Hebrew and read the Bible to the point of including that dialect in their fluency. For such people the comparison with 20years Greek grammar-translation compels one into living methods (real language use) as a non-negotiable must for Greek. Most multilinguals who compare traditional Greek learning come to the same conclusion, as long as they don’t assume that it can’t be done. The Monterey Defense Institute knows that it can be done in a controlled environment.

  12. Randall Buth May 4, 2012 at 8:18 am

    PS: Louis Sorenson over on b-greek posted the following 5 minute demo link on TPR:

    TPR Demo Clip

    It delightfully compares how children learn and adults can learn in class, and even mentions the number of studies that support this method. James Asher often points out that no technique in SecondLanguageAcquistion has been as widely researched and verified.

  13. Donald Cobb May 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Paul, you wrote: “It doesn’t lead any of us to a pessimistic conclusion: “Why spend any time on Greek at all?” Teaching of Greek, even by grammar-translation methods alone, can achieve important benefits (see my tentative list of four achievements above).”

    Totally agreed! We cannot invent a world in which our students spend hundreds of hours per year working on language acquisition–I know of no place in the world where that is possible, intensive training sessions notwithstanding (and I’m fully for them!). But we can be doing more to instill in our students a more intuitive and lasting understanding of Biblical languages building an acquisition that is active and “from the inside”, and TPR, as well as well as TPRS, are major components in that. If we could achieve a 30% immersive approach versus a 60% “traditional” approach in our Seminaries, that would already be a huge step forward! (What I’m doing with my students is 50/50, but again, that’s with second and third year students.)

    Practically speaking, I would plead first of all, though, for teachers to create opportunities among themselves for regular conversational Greek (via Skype, for instance) as a way of working toward fluency, for it is only as teachers themselves build up a comfortable reserve of vocabulary and ease in speaking/understanding, that they can really implement a valid immersive approach. I think this is one of the greatest challenges at the present time.

    Another point: Paul, you asked about Ch. Rico’s book (as far as I know there is only one for the moment); it is good in that it begins with a classroom setting and lots of aorist imperatives (giving orders) and takes it from there. It’s the resource I’ve used the most in working with my students–although as of late, I’ve been using some picture-books and working toward a more story-based approach (TPRN).

  14. Randall Buth May 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm


  15. donald Cobb May 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Mistake. TPRS

  16. Randall Buth May 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I thought you might have meant TPRNarrative.

    Some of our TPRS storytelling at BLC is like Blaine Ray discusses in his method where a story is built interactively with a class. However, especially because of limited time, we often use TPRS techniques with the fixed texts being read: Jonah, Genesis, or various ancient Greek texts. They are usually narrative, in past contexts, and one might give such a specialized form of TPRS its own acronym.

  17. Donald COBB May 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Actually that WAS the source of the mistake. In my mind, there isn’t much difference. Over the last couple months I’ve been using alternatively a children’s storybook and the story of Jonah, and presenting them both as διηγήματα.

    In both cases, I begin by telling the story (or part of it), then go back and ask the students questions on it, then finally ask them to tell it (usually using questions to prompt them about details).

    On a completely different level, since I usually get together with these students after the required Greek reading class, we often discuss, in Greek, the text they’ve just translated, i.e., ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ περικοπῇ τί λέγει ὁ Παῦλος; This usually works pretty well because they’ve already spent time on the text itself, with its vocabulary, and it’s a good way of cementing the words and phrasing of the passage.

  18. Paul D. Nitz May 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    All three of my remaining big questions are touched on above. But I’ll just ask one at a time:

    A Greek Instructor wants to increase his internalization via a right-brain approach. What can he do?

    This is a knotty question for me. I’d love to be the object of TPR methods. I will be shortly at Fresno). I need to internalize this Greek better. I need a more right brained methods.

    Gesturing and memorizing has worked wonders for me and I’ll keep that up. I am doing some slogging through forms, but it’s a drag and (I think) inefficient.

    I appreciate that speaking could help to internalize (and I have done a little talking to myself) but I just don’t want to push that before it’s time. Failure and frustration is not good for learning. My impression is that it’s like teaching kids to read before their time (something they’ve just found causes dyslexia, btw).

    So, what sort of self-teaching have you done that has really increased internalization?

  19. Mark Lightman May 4, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    ” So, what sort of self-teaching have you done that has really increased internalization?”

    ποιῶ ήχωγραφὰς καὶ πέμπω τοῖς φιλοῖς. πολλάκις δὲ άκούω αὐτῶν.

    καθ’ ἡμέραν γράφω ὀλίγον.

    λαλῶ δέ ἐν Σκυπε.


  20. Donald Cobb May 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I’m hoping others will chime in here, but here are a few things that have helped me:
    – First of all, I agree that trying to memorize forms and paradigms by rote and in the abstract is very un-motivating and not always helpful.
    – Start by telling yourself those activities your are in the process of doing and will be doing following that. Example: ἐν τῷ νῦν, πρὸς τὴν πόλιν ἔρχομαι· ὅταν ἐκεῖ ἥξω, βιβλίον τι ἀγορἀσω, κ.τ.λ. This will also help you to get a handle on what vocabulary you need to learn.
    – Read as extensively as you can outside the NT : the Apostolic Fathers, Chariton, Epictetus, etc. (in order of difficulty).
    – As you read a passage in the NT (or outside the NT), summarize out loud, in Greek, what you have just read.
    – Start writing a few sentences in Greek. ΣΧΟΛΗ really is a great place for that, and you don’t have to write a lot.
    – Listen to recordings of the NT, i) trying to understand what is being said and ii) repeating out loud the sounds you hear as they are being said. This is also good for improving your accent. One Greek woman, Pella, has recorded several books of the NT (Mt, Jn, Col, 1-2 Pet, Jm); the recordings are amateur, but she generally doesn’t speak too fast (espec. for Mt) and her voice/diction is very enjoyable!
    – Speaking with others really is a great help, even if at the beginning, it’s like pulling teeth! Nothing motivates like using a language for real communication!

  21. Louis Sorenson May 6, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Paul Nitz wrote “A Greek Instructor wants to increase his internalization via a right-brain approach. What can he do? ”

    Well I started down this road three years ago. I’m starting to think more in Greek, but still wonder if I’m just a super-fast decoder. Last week I caught myself using ὅς for τίς (but I can sense it being incorrect). Every time I use some kind of physical activity, my students say they need more of it. I’m still amazed at the dichotomy in ability between my speaking/listening (two separate things) and my reading ability. Like Paul, I have learned to be my own best friend. I’ve never had the chance to have someone give me commands in Koine. My best suggestions are as follows (a couple of things on teaching are mixed in):

    (1) Find some young interested enthusiastic students outside your formal class.
    (2) Start talking Greek with them. You won’t mess up your guinea pigs. Every teacher has had them. Asher, Ray, etc. DO activities with them. You don’t need the official school year to start in order to do this. You have three/four months to catch the curve. Those students will always be behind you in progression; you will always be several steps ahead of them. You could even have these students attend your formal class when it starts, TPR and TPRS allow students of different levels of skill to co-exist in a class..
    (3) Learn what pitfalls to beware by reading books about teaching languages. e.g. Brown, Teaching by Principles( or Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching ( Reading such literature will bolster your confidence in the methodology and teach you how to teach languages. (This needs to be a separate thread somewhere).
    (4) Include songs when you can, especially songs that incorporate body movements. Also translate songs you know and sing into Greek , especially while people around you are singing in another language. Then sing them repeatedly to yourself, your wife, etc. I attend a large church, so I can sing in Greek without detracting the others.
    (5) Be aware you will sometimes teach in error, the wrong meaning for a word. (I was using ἔλαθον as I forgot / It really means ‘I eluded + dative. Later I came to realize I should have used ἐπελαθόμην. Let your students know you are new at this, and may make some errors. It’s part of recreating a dead language. You do not need to be perfect to start. The teacher cannot have an affective filter. You just need to start. It will take me another year to switch to 90% Greek in class. If you can’t start out at 90% for fear of failure, start out at 30%.
    (6) I think Donald’s suggestion at listening is good. Perhaps learn to shadow the text (
    (7) Also make recordings and listen to them. These could be TPR instructions to yourself. A series of events like eating the Lord’s Supper.
    (8) Perhaps Ramiro’s book Instructor Notebook: How to Apply TPR for Best Results can help with Ideas. ( The Cambridge Handbook for Language Teachers series has a book entitled “Games for Language Learning.

    But getting back to TPR. There is no one thing other than using the language aurally/orally accompanied by physical actions to get you in your right hemisphere. Perhaps Skype is fast enough and has good enough audio now to expand your community. The biggest problem I see is a community spread apart across the world. Perhaps we should add TPR hour on Σχολή or some other site.

  22. Stephen Hill May 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Well, I’m a bit late to the discussion, but here are some thoughts.

    First, thanks, Mark, for mentioning my blog It really has been helpful to simply write a bit of Greek every day. Speaking (with other people would be better), but I currently don’t have that option. Paul, you mentioned not wanting to push speaking too much – if I remember correctly, one of the Renaissance pedagogues advocated learning to write Latin well before attempting to speak. I don’t think that strategy is necessary in an classroom environment with a near-native instructor (so I wouldn’t advocate it for Spanish or French, for example) but it might make more sense for autodidacts such as we are.

    Second, while TPR is fantastic – Rico used it very effectively when I took his class in Rome last summer – I have reservations about the idea that “production interferes with the painless and efficient reception of meaning.” Production has numerous benefits (see Merrill Swain’s work on the output hypothesis) and facilitates the reception of meaning, if we want to call it that, rather than works against it. At the beginning stages of TPR, I’m sure it’s helpful to not require students to repeat the commands. After all, they’re commands, and in real life you don’t repeat a command just given to you. But many students _will_ need to be pushed to produce. I think TPR needs to be integrated into a broader communicative language teaching approach.

    Third, I agree with Randall about the fundamental distinction between teaching metalanguage (grammar) and teaching language, but I would add that even grammar teaching can count as comprehensible input. Rico spent a fair amount of time teaching grammar in his intermediate Greek course, but it was beneficial for acquisition because it was still comprehensible input. My modern language classes have all spent more or less time teaching metalanguage, but whenever possible it was done in the target language.

    Fourth, Donald makes a good point about the time required for an “immersive approach” – 72 hours for the first year works out to about 2.25 hours per week (assuming a 32-week academic year, which may be inaccurate). First-year French and German at the University of Illinois, by contrast, get four hours a week (one hour a day Monday-Thursday) for a total of 128 hours. That’s not enough time for true “immersion,” but it’s definitely enough time to effectively use a communicative approach almost exclusively in the target language. One hour a day for Greek – at a seminary – shouldn’t be too much to ask.

  23. Randall Buth May 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Welcome Stephen.
    Your points are well taken, though additional perspective is good, too.
    1. writing is a SLOW medium. I, and probably most SLA pedagogues, would not suggest writing as an effective vehicle for initially internalizing a language. Speech is much more effective.
    2. TPRS provides the necessary stimulus for production and even TPR only mentions the lack of production for the first 10 hours of class. Most SLA theory today includes production as part of the internalization process.
    3. Yes, grammar terms can be effectively used in a class, as long as it does not turn the communication into a dissection of something else. It can become a trap that I find easy to fall into, myself.
    4. As for time, yes, if we respect these languages, then we must give more time. But more time needs to be for more real language use. If someone adds grammar-translation they are probably adding the very cause for diminishing language time at seminaries. Grammar-translation hasn’t delivered the goods, so programs have cut back. If we add more time (and we must), we must also make the experience efficient and rewarding, so that the admin and programs will integrate the language with other content courses and increase the time of using the language. We are planning a panel discussion with two separate sets of participants this year, one at ETS and one at SBL to discuss ‘Where to Set the Bar’. Y’all come.

  24. Mark Lightman May 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Λουις ἔγραψεν

    ἄρτι νὺν τοῦτο τὸ μικρὸν ποίημα ἐποίησα.

    Σάρα ἡ μειδῶσα.

    μειδῷς τι σὺ ἐμοί, Σάρα…

    χάρις πᾶσιν.

  25. Stephen Hill May 6, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Randall,

    1. We agree regarding the relative value of speaking and writing for internalization. Speaking is more effective and more fun, I think. For ancient and modern languages, I would always start students off with comprehensible input and pushed output. But for an autodidact moving from a grammar-translation knowledge of Greek to a more active knowledge, I think writing can be a decent middle way in the absence of conversation partners.
    2. That’s good to know about TPRS.
    3. Agreed.
    4. Completely agreed on grammar-translation. More time diagramming Greek (in English) won’t get anyone anywhere in terms of internalization. The more Greek I learn by speaking, listening, and writing, the more I wish I hadn’t spent two years learning Greek via grammar-translation.

    I’m hoping to make it to SBL this year; we’ll see. I’d love to hear the panel.

  26. Louis Sorenson May 7, 2012 at 2:33 am

    One question that has to be dealt with is how to teach people (1) who already have studied Koine and can read with some ease (2) are very slow in reading because they have to parse every word and use their ‘monitor’ to look up that form and meaning, and (3) new students. All people in these groups have no audio experience connecting sound to meaning. But the vocabulary knowledge between these groups may differ in extremes, albeit the more experienced students cannot recall vocab at will, unless they’ve done a lot of composition exercises.

    My guess would be that someone who can read Greek with some rate of speed, would only take 5 times to connect meaning to audio, whereas a newb would take 25 times to make that word sound association. Do members of class (1) have to spend the same amount of time to make those audio associations (using TPR) as those people of class 3? Do people who have learned Greek via the Grammar-translation method store the language in their brain the same way people who learn a language by speaking it?

  27. Paul D. Nitz May 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I couldn’t have wished for more input on my last question: “A Greek Instructor wants to increase his internalization via a right-brain approach. What can he do?” Thank you all.

    Louis is wondering about how to promote the connection between Greek and meaning.
    That isn’t a bad segue into my 3rd (of 4) question:

    3. What new resources should be developed that would appeal to the right brain? (Our l-brain resources are legion)

    What are your thoughts? Let me explain my thinking on it so far.

    a) Simplified texts:
    I am thinking that simplified texts could be helpful IF they were written with TPR in mind. “See Spot run…” sort of texts are not necessarily going to lend themselves to TPR. The story should include concrete things and action verbs that can be easily taught via TPR.

    b) Pictures.
    Illustrated stories might help, but we need again concrete things and actions that are pretty easy to illustrate. If meaning can be conveyed through pictures as Greek is read aloud, I could see this being a good right-brain activity. (I’m toying with a digital flashcard program (Anki) that would show a picture conveying approximate meaning. The flip side would play an audio recording of the word (or phrase) along with parsing and translation.)

    c) Gestures.
    Reciting Greek with practiced gestures has been a big blessing for my own comprehension. I’m more enthusiastic about this method aftter reading Asher. The web resources about gestures and SLA have only confirmed to me that it is valid and useful. Gestures are interpreted by the right brain and would seem to be a good arrow in a quiver of r-brain methods. Their value goes up exponentially when a person himself does gestures, but even watching a teacher gesture Greek is useful. (When I “gesture” Greek to my students, they automatically start mimicking the gestures as they sit in their desks! Anything that connects physical action and language should be good.)

    d) Audio.
    Audio resources are great. We have Randall’s excellent productions. I especially like the 1st John “stepped” recording (phrase by phrase, repeated). From my experience with the LAMP method of language acquisition (Brewster) I think mimicry, substitution, production, and substitution drills would be really useful. Living Koine does some of this (maybe more in later lessons I haven’t reached).

    Mimicry drills are simply words/phrases with a gap for the student to mimic. This helps tremendously with pronunciation.

    Substitution drills ask you to substitute a different word in a sentence. E.g. The tape states the verb, let’s say “παυω. ” Then you hear ημεις and have to produce παυομεν. Or, with nouns:
    Tape: διδωμι βιβλιον τῳ ανθρωπῳ. …ανηρ
    Learner: (silence for learner to substitute the right form).
    Tape: διδωμι βιβλιον τῳ ανδρι.

    Production drills are often dialogues or questions with the response missing:
    Tape: το ονομα σοι τι εστιν;
    Learner: (silence for learner to produce)
    Tape: ονομα μοι Παυλος εστιν.

  28. Shai May 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Seeing as you yourself, along with your family and Jordash are pioneers in the the field of reviving Koine as a living language, would you mind sharing with us the story of how you moved from reading texts to internalizing the language? My guess is that at the time that you began, there were very few, if any, avenues to turn to in order to learn to speak it. Did you just start using it amongst yourselves, using each others as guinea pigs? Did you have outside help such as classical Greek speakers who were already using TPR? Were you able to find friends among say, the Greek Orthodox who were able to speak Koine and who were willing to assist you? Do tell! I’m very interested to hear your story and how you arrived at where you are today.

  29. Mark Lightman May 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    ἔγραψεν ὁ Στέφανος

    «…the relative value of speaking and writing for internalization…»

    τὸ «on-line chat» ἐστιν τὸ λαλεῖν γράφοντα. πάνυ οφέλιμον οὖν έστιν.

  30. Justin Gottuso May 15, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Hello Randall and other contributors,

    I am a M.Div student at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. I am 8 weeks into an intensive Hebrew course (8 quarter units). My professor is very gracious and kind, but he teaches in the traditional grammar/translation based system. The whole time I’ve felt like I needed an immersion course where I could read, speak and ‘live’ the language.

    Seminary requirements:
    My seminary requires that I know how to translate passages of the Hebrew Bible in order to prepare for exegetical courses dealing with interpretation. Obviously this is all based on the goal to preach on Sunday mornings. Thus, there is little emphasis on actually learning how to speak and use the language then there is on learning how to parse and understand nuanced differences in sentences. We use Seow’s book on biblical Hebrew grammar, which is very dry and technical.

    My personal struggles with the traditional method:
    I have had a difficult time learning Hebrew using the traditional approach. I have made the flashcards, gone to lectures, met with the TA and talked with other students on best practices. However, it has been hard to learn the language on my own and being expected to do advanced technical grammar skills in a matter of weeks. Another obstacle is I have ADHD and am a ‘right brained’ kind of guy who is very energetic, asks a lot of questions, is theatrical and has a hard time fitting into a box or mold. I also have a terrible work ethic when it comes to language. Some due to ADHD and other due to lack of discipline. Nonetheless, my professor has been very gracious and has allowed me to go at my own pace with my TA. In order to pass the class I need to be able to translate a sizable portion of Hebrew for the final exam which is in three weeks.

    My TA takes a much more action based language acquisition approach to Hebrew. He first learned it in an upal in Israel, studied it in undergrad and is now a Phd student at Fuller. He emphasizes making audio-visual connections, walking instead of sitting, and visualizing real objects instead of just rote memorization. He is also emphasizes VERY much that speaking and reading are the foundations to learning a language instead of grammar rules which he see’s as secondary. This has helped me to focus on vocabulary and pronunciation, but I still feel I’m missing something. I searched but could not find good resources for learning ancient Hebrew (or Greek) in the natural way we learn languages.

    Action based language acquisition pro’s and con’s:
    I figured that in order to really learn the language I’d need an immersion program that was more visual and auditory so I could speak and ‘live out’ the language, but also something where I could pick up a Hebrew Bible and read and comprehend it for translation and interpretative purposes for pastoral ministry. That’s when I came across the Biblical Language Center.

    I read up on the website and other internet sources on Dr. Asher and I really like the approach. I think this method addresses the right brained processing, audio-visual learning and long term retention needed to actually use the language instead of forgetting everything. I looked into both the summer program in June and July in Israel as well as the textbooks and ‘immersion language lab’ resources you’ve created.

    Tension between personal goals and seminary requirements:
    My situation is such that I need to do well enough within the traditional system to pass my seminary Hebrew class, but in order to succeed and actually learn it I need to take a non-traditional approach such as the Total Physical Response methodology you utilize. My school would likely require that even if I use another methodology to learn Hebrew, that I must be able to be proficient in translation in order to pass the language and exegetical classes.

    I would be interested to know what other seminary students have done who are ‘within the system’ and best practices for learning Hebrew through your methods. I am also interested in knowing if there are any teachers in the L.A. area that could help me with this approach, because there seems to be a shortage of instructors who can teach language with a ‘right brain’ methodology.

    What can I do? Please email me at I would very much like to discuss what my options are.


  31. Randall Buth May 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

    For Shai–
    Greek has very much grown up with speaking amongst ourselves and being able to laugh at ourselves when we would compare what thirty years of Greek had (not) done compared to our Hebrew. A fuller description goes way beyond the limits of a blog.

    For Justin–
    How much time do you have over the next three weeks? Yes, it would have been better to hear of this in January, but that is water under the bridge.

    As for translating into English, that is a reasonable expectation though biblical language classes usually teach students to make poor translations because the purpose is to show their recognition of Hebrew/Greek structures and not to communicate in the most natural manner in English.

    Several years ago we had a student come for our summer Hebrew who had been dismissed from his Hebrew class early on (‘unfit for Hebrew, which is not for everyone’). He did well and somewhat shocked the teacher when he showed up for the second year Hebrew at his school and showed that he had learned Hebrew without the class the previous year. For more personal comment, please email to support at

  32. Randall Buth May 15, 2012 at 7:55 am

    PS for Justin:
    Listening to the pictures in LBH Part 1 and to the first lessons of Part 2 might help make something ‘click’ for you. You will want to follow up your course with this material. After all, the goal is to be reading the Bible that Yeshua read with his followers, yes?

  33. Louis Sorenson May 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    There is a language professor, Alexander Argulles, who has promoted shadowing a language. One of his methods is reading the L2 text out loud while walking. So I’m wondering if any kinesis, (not just responding to commands), any body movement, inhibits the left-brain over-analyzing and facilitates the right-brain language processor.

  34. Shai May 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

    So are you advocating a method similar to the Yeshiva method? I.e., learning to daven?

  35. Shai June 1, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Good idea with the pacing prayers. 🙂 Since this post is mainly about Greek, have you looked at St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy? Do you know how close it would be to biblical Greek?

    The orthodox have two traditions when praying. The first is to stand absolutely still in awe of the creator when praying. The other involves shuckling, rapid back and forth or side to side motion. I’ve read multiple reasons for this, one being that it intensifies concentration.
    Apart from the prayers, some also shuckle while seated during regular study.

    As far as Louis’ idea of shadowing, I think he’s onto something. Learning to pray from the Siddur is often done by shadowing. A student prays with the congregation first, shadowing what he hears around him. Afterwards, in the case of the Amidah, the cantor prays it out loud for the congregation to hear. Basically, those that are not proficient in the communal prayers are constantly shadowing the cantor and the community around them.

    The major draw back for evangelicalism, for example, would be the nonexistance of liturgical tradition to shadow. In the case of learning Greek, I suppose one could visit an Eastern church. That is, if they haven’t switched their liturgy to English, as so many have already done.

  36. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for uploading your videos to YouTube, I’m finding what I can watch in the series “Communicative Greek.old” (you can find it at very useful. But unfortunately a lot of the films in it seem to have become corrupted. So I made a list hoping you will (if you can) fix or replace the problem ones. I think being able to watch them would be a big benefit to me and I would appreciate it very much.

    If you don’t get around to fixing or replacing them all please do so to the one named “Lesson 16 – Nominative, Dative, Accusative” (you can fund it at GreekCases) since I’m having trouble in that area.

  37. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 10:45 pm


    Lesson 11-1 Who wants to take a cup?:
    This film (with the exception of a subtitle I saw appear at 4 minutes and 38 seconds) goes black and stays silent after 3 minutes and 38 seconds making the remaining minute and six seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 11-2 Do you want to take another stone?:
    This film freezes after 2 minutes and 39 seconds making the remaining minute and 57 seconds of it useless.

  38. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 11:00 pm


    Lesson 15-2 This one, To this one:
    This film freezes after a minute and 41 seconds, making the remaining 5 minutes and 12 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 16 – Nominative, Dative, Accusative:
    This film freezes after 2 minutes and 31 seconds, making the remaining 5 minutes and 11 seconds of it useless.

  39. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 11:14 pm


    Lesson 18 – wanted-said:
    This film freezes after 6 minutes and 15 seconds, making the remaining 12 minutes and 4 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 21-1 Story: Mr. Pater takes a child:
    This film freezes after 7 minutes and 49 seconds, making the remaining 9 minutes and 32 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 23 – megas megale megan:
    This film freezes after 58 seconds, making the remaining 7 minutes and 19 seconds of it useless.

  40. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 11:31 pm


    Lesson 25-1 Review – This lesson worked well!:
    This film freezes after 6 minutes and 11 seconds, leaving 4 minutes and 44 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 30 – He & This one:
    This film freezes after 7 minutes and 27 seconds, making the remaining minute and 54 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 34 – 1 Vocabulary Review:
    This film freezes after about a minute, making about 9 minutes and 46 seconds of it useless.

  41. David Hammond February 19, 2015 at 11:47 pm


    Lesson 36 – 1 Composition on the fly:
    This film freezes after 42 seconds, making the remaining 11 minutes and 56 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 43-1 WAYK- Who- tis Whom-tina:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 5 minutes and 4 seconds, making the remaining 3 minutes and 59 seconds useless.

  42. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 12:00 am


    Lesson 43-2 WAYK- Whom-tina:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 6 minutes and 4 seconds, making the remaining 4 minutes and 48 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 43-3 WAYK- Whom-tina:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 4 minutes and 43 seconds, making the remaining 3 minutes and 43 seconds of it useless.

  43. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 1:58 am


    Lesson 44 2 WAYKεδειξ και ανεστ:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 7 minutes and 46 seconds, making the remaining 6 minutes and 7 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 44-3 Playing WAYK – Genitive Tinos:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 5 minutes and 9 seconds, making the remaining 4 minutes and 4 seconds of it useless.

  44. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 2:18 am


    Lesson 73 3 The Big Gender Challenge:
    This film’s audio (sound) stops after 4 minutes and 2 seconds, making the remaining 3 minutes and 14 seconds of it useless.

    Lesson 75-1 I want your knife:
    The video in this film is practically useless, because the audio (sound) is out of sync with it. The audio also stops after 4 minutes, making the remaining 3 minutes and 10 seconds of the film useless.

  45. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 2:36 am


    Lesson 75-2 BE HAPPY!:
    The video in this film is practically useless, because the audio (sound) is out of sync with it. The audio doesn’t start untill 8 seconds into the film and stops after 3 minutes and 34 seconds, leaving a total of 2 minutes and 59 seconds of useless recording.

  46. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 2:56 am


    Lesson 87 Demonstration of WAYK:
    The video in this film is practically useless, because the audio (sound) is out of sync with it. The audio also stops after 2 minutes and 34 seconds, leaving 2 minutes and 2 seconds of silent recording.

  47. David Hammond February 20, 2015 at 3:04 am


    Lesson 99 – Genitive of Contents:
    The video in this film is practically useless, because the audio (sound) is out of sync with it. The audio also stops after 5 minutes and 5 seconds, leaving 4 minutes and a second of silent recording.

  48. Paul Nitz February 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    David H, Thanks for the list. I am working on fixing them. Send me further notes at

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