I recently wrote a report on the Greek Fluency Workshop to share with my institution, and something dawned on me in a new way.  First here is what I wrote (with more pictures from the workshop):

The impetus for reviving the speaking of New Testament Greek and becoming fluent in a language which hasn’t been spoken for over 1,500 years is driven by two primary factors.  Some see it as the quickest and most efficient way to grow their own competency in the language, even after years of teaching Greek.  But for most, it is the conviction that the advances in the last fifty years in the fields Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition (the fields that study how one learns other languages in addition to one’s mother tongue) need to be applied to the teaching of biblical languages just as they are with modern languages.  These advances are often summarized under the general title “Communicative Language Teaching.”  These new pedagogies take advantage of the way in which the human brain innately and almost effortlessly internalizes languages, making the learning process easier, faster, and longer lasting.  For the learner, these pedagogies are a win-win-win.

In simple terms, the two cornerstones of Communicative Language Teaching are providing students with comprehensible input (hearing the language just slightly above their current level of comprehension) and the opportunity for oral production (speaking practice as comprehension is being built up).  Regrettably, neither of these have been a part of traditional curricula for the biblical languages with the unfortunate consequence that current teachers of New Testament Greek (and biblical Hebrew) are unable to speak in the language they are teaching.  This in turn precludes them from being able to use Communicative Language Teaching pedagogies that enhance and speed up student learning of the biblical languages.

The advantages of Communicative Language Teaching are numerous: it fits all learning styles, not just the analytical mind; students enjoy it and often describe it as fun, even though the work load is intense; it allows for the internalization the language in addition to learning how to analyze the language; higher levels of language skill become attainable, both within the limited time frames and absolutely in terms of ultimate attainments; and more.  Probably most significant of them all is that it allows for both faster and more advanced reading comprehension, of utmost importance when dealing with Sacred Texts.  FPU faculty Ryan Schellenberg, who attended both last year’s and this year’s workshops, put it this way:  “Since beginning to engage the language this way, I’ve seen that it is possible to read Greek, not merely to translate it. Sounds like a subtle distinction, perhaps, but it’s a much richer experience.”  Another participant concurred, “I was skeptical but I came away seeing how this improves my reading skills.”  One put it this way: “Before

[the workshop] I thought it was a good idea among many, now I think it is a necessary component.”

This is one way in which the workshops are particularly useful. Research into the mechanics of reading is demonstrating how oral fluency is key for advanced reading comprehension. But without anyone in the field of Koine Greek with such fluency, it has not been possible to test or experience. Before dismissing such claims, therefore, we need to see this fluency built up and worked out within the world of New Testament studies, in the same way that it has been tried and tested with modern languages.  It is at these workshops that professors are first able to catch a glimpse of how fluency does indeed enhance their reading comprehension of the Scriptures.  It may only be a glimpse, but already the feedback suggests it holds great promise, as the comments above demonstrate.  What is more, one church leader present at the workshop realized that bringing Koine Greek fluency to New Testament studies is not just about introducing a pedagogical shift, but about impacting lives: “Every workshop makes a big difference in real lives… The program here will impact our church body for years to come…  May God bless you as you teach many to ‘really learn’ the biblical languages which bring us God’s truth” (emphasis by the author).

I realized anew in writing this that in the same way that some who have not invested in learning the biblical languages will downplay the usefulness of learning them (even denigrate it), so it is that all those who doubt the usefulness of becoming fluent in the biblical languages have never tried it.  Nor, to echo a biblical passage, have they believed the testimony of those who have, or are trying to, become fluent.