Latin and Greek

Tinüs   Fri Dec 26, 2008 12:29 am GMT
Are Latin and Greek relatively easy languages to learn? Is the grammar of these two languages very complex? Are verb conjucations, noun cases and such very irregular? Which one would be easier, if we ignored the Greek alphabet?
K. T.   Fri Dec 26, 2008 1:20 am GMT
The Greek alphabet is easy to learn, fun to write-I don't think that it will add much to the level of difficulty.

I am slightly familiar with Latin, and am studying Modern Greek, but there are people who post here occasionally who can help you more, so I'll bump this up and hope that they see it.

I think learning Latin will make learning both German and the Slavic languages easier if you don't already know these languages.

I like Greek a lot. If you study Greek, then other languages, you'll probably see a lot of Greek in them.

I hope you are not making the decision for a child. In my area, "classical" education is becoming popular again-especially among homeschool/private schools. It's hard to say which would be most valuable for a middle school student.
renard   Fri Dec 26, 2008 9:30 am GMT
K.T. , Could you please tell me what sort of matirials are you using to learn modern Greek? I had started studying it with Colloquial Greek but I did not like it at all and I gave it up ( I mean the method)... In my opinion it's suitable for the people who want to learn some sentences and phrases for tourism purposes...Thanks
Xie   Fri Dec 26, 2008 10:31 am GMT
>>I hope you are not making the decision for a child. In my area, "classical" education is becoming popular again-especially among homeschool/private schools. It's hard to say which would be most valuable for a middle school student.

Do you guys learn grammar at all at school? I think my time was being wasted without having learned classical Chinese and Chinese grammar at all. Knowing grammar helps very much even when I learn some other languages.
Tinüs   Fri Dec 26, 2008 11:30 am GMT
K.T., thanks for your answer. Actually I already know the Greek alphabet, (which is why I asked ye to ignore it). I agree on what you said about the etymological aspect of Latin/Greek and languages based upon them.

However, I've been told several times that Latin and Greek are two very irregular (like irregular verbs and so on) and difficult languages to learn. So are they, compared to, for example, English?

I'm not making a decision for a child, I'm just myself interested in the "old-style classical sophistication".

One more question: how much do classical Greek and modern Greek differ from each other? Is it more like "Shakespeare and modern English" or "Beowulf and modern English"?

>>Do you guys learn grammar at all at school?<<

According to my experience, oh yes we do, more than 50% of the time.
guineu   Fri Dec 26, 2008 12:04 pm GMT
Do you guys learn grammar at all at school?<<

Yes, we do, more than 60% of the time. Moreover most students learn latin too in my country and some of them ancient Greek as well. How can you speak properly your own language if you have never learnt its grammar??
K. T.   Fri Dec 26, 2008 6:22 pm GMT
"K.T. , Could you please tell me what sort of matirials are you using to learn modern Greek?"

I bought the Cortina method in sections. I got it at a very good price.
If you buy directly, negotiate, if you can. I always do. If you don't need all of the items that I will describe below, tell them that.

It comes with a book (dated, but good) with both the Greek letters, how to say the words and a translation for the entire text, a Modern Greek Dictionary ( 1990 Langenscheidt), CDs or cassettes, a take-along book (vestpocket book), a book of Modern Greek literary "gems", a workbook, a guide to better language study (including suggestions if you are going to use this with children), and (I believe a form to send to a teacher (you have access to a teacher for a year by mail.) if you have questions.

Caveat: The text seems to have the old breathing marks, but how many programs offer you access to a teacher?

I borrow from the public library to update my vocabulary.

Vocabulearn offers two levels of Greek, I think. This is a vocabulary builder (booklet and recordings) and has nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and phrases. It's usually more than 2,500 words per level.
That's the usual format, I don't own the Greek copy.

I don't know if Vocabulearn has a Greek female speaker or a Male speaker. I would ask before you buy. If you decide to do this, I would ask for a discount or search the internet for the best price.

Price may not matter to some people, but since I like many languages, I try to keep my expenses down.

I also have the FSI Greek, but I am not using it currently.

I hope this helps. I know how hard it is to find good Modern Greek texts.
K. T.   Fri Dec 26, 2008 6:37 pm GMT
"Do you guys learn grammar at all at school? I think my time was being wasted without having learned classical Chinese and Chinese grammar at all. Knowing grammar helps very much even when I learn some other languages"

Yes, we learn English grammar. The kind of classical education I meant is the study of languages like Latin and Greek in middle school and high school. I suppose a classical education could include Hebrew as well, but I don't know if this is offered in many places.
K. T.   Sat Dec 27, 2008 12:00 am GMT
K. T.   Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:34 am GMT
Other suggestions: Look at the reviews on Amazon. I didn't (and don't) think that one book in Greek is modern and good enough to cover all the areas. If someone knows of other materials, please share them here.
Xie   Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:47 am GMT
>>Yes, we do, more than 60% of the time. Moreover most students learn latin too in my country and some of them ancient Greek as well. How can you speak properly your own language if you have never learnt its grammar??

This is interesting. It seems that many people in western countries and other European countries do learn classical languages and some or a few foreign languages, and _do_ learn grammar. I'm afraid something was being dumbed down in my own education. How come I speak my language properly without grammar?

I'm thinking of something else. People like Farber did write about how to learn grammar - you know, he's American, and he says you guys might have forgotten what was taught at school about English grammar, and so he's telling you again what adjective, adverb...means. I don't know the situation of America, and while such is just basic information, well, yes, it's useful for some of us. People like JC might know very well that

Modern Chinese Dictionary didn't have parts of speech at all until the newest edition some years earlier. Even though some Chinese guys outlined "grammar" along the lines of Latin grammar more than a century ago, my education never really dealt with grammar, except for English. For this reason, the more traditional view was that Chinese had no grammar (though, it was believed learning Hanzi could be formidable). I have practically no idea about English grammar, either, until I briefly went thru

this book. But until now, even with some knowledge of English _syntax_, my grammatical knowledge of English is far more implicit than explicit, i.e. I know how to say it better than how to ....analyze the grammar itself.


This turned out to be rather harmful for learning a foreign language properly, I have to admit. It might not be a problem if I learn another Chinese language/dialect, because every word is a cognate and I don't need any grammar to know word order, measure words... Whichever kind of Chinese I learned doesn't stop me from learning Mandarin without grammar at all. There's no hard and fast rules whatsoever about how to put the comma and how to separate sentences. Practically nobody except Chinese majors would ever read a grammar book, so despite virtually no phonetic connection between writing and speech, Chinese IS written as it is spoken now - I don't say something with grammar in my head. Sometimes I simply infer from how people say, and make up, and it always works.

This has no problem as long as I don't leave the security zone of my culture and native language, but when I was reading traditional textbooks for German by some Chinese guys, it didn't work out. Why? They were designed for German majors in the mainland, not me, and those who would use them were supposed to have grammatical knowledge at least in Chinese, and they weren't supposed to know English in order to learn German, either. Then, I felt overwhelmed with grammatical vocab like

predicate 谓语
attributive 定语
nominative, genitive, dative, accusative (ordered in the usual German order, with nominative being the first case, genitive the second)
preposition 介词
subordinate clause 从句

Incidentally, my English grammar book by another Chinese guy turned out to be quite useful. My first English grammar book was actually in English only (that means I could read English), but very often I simply couldn't understand what those words mean - for English, only the cases are missing. English does have subordinate clauses. Perhaps you might have met Chinese people who turned out to be very proficient in grammar but couldn't speak, or spoke with a horrible accent. But at least they know grammar, huh? I know, to be libertarian, we have no duty to urge others to learn grammar if "they want to learn some lingoes", but I do think I could have learned much faster if I had known grammar much earlier.

It'd be unrealistic to think Latin and Greek would ever be taught in my country in a fashion like yours - our classical language would actually do, but still, learning "grammar" along the lines of Latin might have been forgotten among many in your countries; on the other side of the globe, "Latin" grammar was at least unknown to me. Still, the question still remains: why can someone (me) speak a language without knowing the grammar (explicitly)?
Rahela   Sat Dec 27, 2008 2:27 pm GMT
I was taught Latin and Greek for 8 and 6 years, respectively, in middle/high school, due to the beauties of 'classical education' my parents insisted I receive.

Both languages were taught in very formal, traditional way. First you had to go through a couple of years of grammar, combined with practice on shorter and, usually, adapted texts - by 'practice', I mean that you had an excerpt and had to apply all the grammar taught to it, which mostly meant quite miniculous, in-detailed analysis of each word for itself and then the syntax on the whole. First you learnt the entire morphology of the language this way, then you proceeded onto syntax. Meanwhile you were also expected to learn by heart all the words which appeared in practice texts, so this was the way you acquired vocabulary, and from the very beginning you had small translation exercises - from translating a couple of sentences, to translating the entire excerpts, usually without dictionary (which was supposed to force us to learn vocabulary by heart), and ALWAYS with linguistic analysis included. Sometimes we were asked to create our own sentences or to rewrite paragraphs in another person (e.g. from first person to third person) or number (from singular to plural), to practice grammar, but mostly it was not about producing anything in a language, but rather learning it analytically.

There was a lot of learning by heart (which was a good practice for law school for a bunch of my friends, as most of us ended up in law schools later, it was sort of tradition, first classical school then law school :-)) - we had to know all the endings and rules, all the irregular verbs and nouns, all the rules of syntax...
Translation was very formal and hard as well - there were precise rules as to how is each form translated into our native language depending on its context. Students were regularly failing translation texts just because they translated pluperfect with perfect, and such stuff.

Basically, Latin and Greek were pain in the ass, particularly the latter; but in the overall picture, they were no greater trouble than Maths or Philosophy - since they were obligatory subjects with their continuous presence in the curriculum, we just got used to them and never really thought about them much, nor thought it was such a big deal that we studied classical languages. Later, particularly among Americans, I was surprised to see how many people started to see me differently the moment I said I had undergone classical education, as if it was something so utterly fascinanting. To us, Latin and Greek were just regular school subjects with no particular charm.

After those couple of years of 'grammar', we were ready to go to the next level, which was 'texts' - that is, not adapted shorter excerpts, but large excerpts of the original texts which were to be analysed, studied, translated, discussed. And learnt by heart - if those were particularly important passages.
That is when studying became 'serious' - at the point we already KNEW the language, at least in theory. We reached that stage with Latin about the end of 7th - beginning of 8th grade, and with Greek by the end of 9th grade (but keep in mind that Greek was started two years later). I mean, it was not a precise line, since you little by little proceeded towards more serious texts with less grammar.

We were allowed to use dictionaries when translating (but were still expected to learn bunch of words by heart), and, till the end of 12th grade, once in each semester we wrote a huge 'all-inclusive' grammar/syntax test, to force us to repeat it thoroughly, but in classes we dealed only with text and its context, not much more with analysis (it was assumed we recognised what was what instantly). We also learnt a bunch of theory of literature - particularly metrics, regarding poetry, so AGAIN it was a lot of learning by heart - metrical schemes of various types of verses, learning poetry in meter by heart; and we learnt 'theory' about any single author we studied - from biography and bibliography to historical and cultural facts regarding the context.

We also had thematical units of 'culture and history' of Rome and Greece, particularly in earlier grades, and later we thoroughly went through ancient history and philosophy in two separated subjects (separated from our 'usual' History and Philosophy classes), while rhetorics was studied as a part of Latin classes. Overall, 10th-12th grade, Latin/Greek lessons were all but "language lessons" - it was more about culture and texts, language was just an 'assumed tool', even though the subjects were still named after the language. Ironically, that period was MUCH harder than younger grades in which we learnt the languages formally, because it was assumed you knew things and because there was a lot more learning by heart (I mean, while you learn the languages there is still some logic in it, but when you start learning whole excerpts of Cicero and lines upon lines of Homer, combined with tons of historical and theoretical facts, it is pretty much pure learning by heart, not much space for reasoning and concluding stuff... it was funnier in earlier grades ;-)).

Now, regarding difficulty, it actually depends on the language. Latin and Greek are, first, two VERY different languages.
The greatest problem with Latin for us was SYNTAX. Morphology, even though challenging a bit in the beginning, was not a big deal; the problem with Latin and, later, with Latin texts, was nearly always in syntax - in the fact that you had huge complex sentences which were impossible to analyse without very good command of syntactical rules. Simply, you were lost in a text way too more than with Greek.

With Greek, you were not lost in the text and texts were easier, generally, but the greater problem was MORPHOLOGY and the fact that Greek is extremely irregular language (the list of irregularities was always larger for Greek than for Latin). Another great problem with Greek was vocabulary - the words were just strange. With Latin, it was much easier because way more words were 'known' from before, from international words, from English or French, etc. With Greek, far lesser words were easily recognised, so vocabulary was always a big problem, and nobody in our class ever mastered Greek vocabulary to a point of being able to read any original text naturally (while when it comes to Latin, there were a couple of students who reached that level and could pretty much normally read). However, there were very few students who were genuinely interested in classics - since they were mandatory, they were just as any other subject and the amount of typical teenage apathy towards them was just as in any other subject, so maybe it is more our fault than the difficulty of Greek as a language.

Which one would be easier? Unless you are a Modern Greek speaker, probably Latin. Greek was always the 'tough' one, as far as I remember from my school, and not only in my generation, even back at my parents' education Greek was more problematic for students, and probably one day when I will have kids, they will also have it tough with Greek rather than with Latin. Also, a bunch of young classicists I have spoken to from other countries also thought Greek was overall harder, especially at the stage where you study morphology (as I said earlier, texts were generally easier to read in Greek than in Latin, except for the fact you rarely understood all words).

One thing is certain, though: you MUST learn grammar. Forget 'natural approach' when it comes to classics, it simply does not work (and it is looked down upon by :-P). I have seen examples of kids who were taught classics as if they were living languages in their school as a part of experimental projects, and they NEVER learnt classics to the level we did in our traditional, tiresome manner (even though they certainly had more fun).

Classics are to be studied systematically and by heart, regularly, there is no other way. As such, they are excellent preparation for law school (:D) and good mental exercise.

Still, I would not really suggest studying them at all, unless you are still at school or unless you want to be classical philologist.
In most other cases, classics are something you either learnt as a part of your education as a kid, or you did not. There are so many more useful languages to learn, if you feel like learning a challenging language or something. They are simply not rewarding, it takes way too much time to reach the level of being able to read naturally in them, and pretty much everything you would read is translated anyway.

When it comes to kids/teenagers who learn classics systematically for many years as an integral part of their schooling, because that is the type of education they or their parents chose for them, it makes sense, because it is studied in combination with enriched lessons of some other subjects (History, Philosophy, etc), and because classics in that case form a part of one larger SYSTEM, and you cannot kick them out of the system because it is a unity which includes them.

However... Other than certain "chic factor" and an opportunity for occasional snobbery in conversations, I cannot think of any good reason why would an adult, who had finished his education outside of that particular system, learn classics in 21st century (except if you have to for your profession - historians, philologists, etc).

Don't let me discourage you though. :-)
pula mai mare   Sat Dec 27, 2008 7:34 pm GMT
Thanks a lot for your story, it is very interesting
Lidia   Thu Jan 08, 2009 6:01 am GMT
I think there is more to it.
Borman   Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:58 am GMT
If you get the right teachers.