Monday, September 15, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (6): Jason Weaver

Here now is the sixth in this series of interviews. I completed the first round of answers I received, and then put out a little call for more responses, and so was introducted to Jason Weaver, who has been working for some time as Biblical Languages and Exegesis Consultant for New Tribes Mission. Most excellent to hear from another respondent.

Earlier posts in this series may be read here (Parts OneTwoThreeFour, Five).


1. What has been your own academic background?

I entered the training program of New Tribes Mission at 18 years old and upon completion received a BA in Intercultural Studies.  Afterward, I taught at the 2 year Bible College (www.ntbi.org) for 10 years covering courses in Systematic Theology, Biblical Studies, and Greek.  During that time I also completed an MA in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

2. Specifically in relation to Greek, how did you first learn it? What was that learning experience like?

I began studying Greek on my own using The Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce.  Once I finished that, I began ‘reading’ (translating) portions of the NT and began reading through Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.  It was a couple of years before I took any official courses in Greek.  I liked grammar and was quite motivated so I pressed on through the grammar/translation method not knowing anything else.  I progressed in my familiarity with the portions of the NT that I ‘read’ regularly in Greek, but I wasn’t making any progress in my ability to read anything in Greek that I wasn’t already familiar with.  All my grammar study didn’t seem to increase my ease of reading, which is what I was really after. 

3. You're currently working as an Exegetical consultant with New Tribes, tell us a little about what that involves day to day.

The main goal of my job is to support Bible translators in interpreting the texts that they are translating.  I answer exegetical questions via email on a regular basis and I do overseas seminars once or twice a year that help train folks to translate epistles.  The other major aspect to my job is to teach Greek to current and potential translators.  This semester, for example, I have six students in Greek, and it runs full time for 6 ½ weeks.  Next year I’m scheduled to run Greek 3 times: 6 ½ weeks in the spring, 4 weeks in the summer, and another 6 ½ weeks in the fall.  Since I’m located at the Missionary Training Center (http://usa.ntm.org/mtc-overview), I also teach a few other classes and help in the discipleship program.

4. What role do communicative methods play in your teaching? How did you come to utilise them?

I taught Greek for five years using the traditional grammar/translation approach with classes meeting one evening a week.  I don’t remember where I came across it first, but somehow I discovered Randall Buth’s Living Koine Greek materials.  Since I had been trained as a missionary in language acquisition, I understood the merit of the approach.  However, like many others, I wasn’t sure if it was worth all the effort since all I want to be able to do is read the NT.  After using Buth’s materials myself I became persuaded that the benefits of the approach far outweighed the work it would take to implement it. 

After trying the approach for a semester I realized that I needed some help to know what to do with class time, so I signed up for one of the Biblical Language Center’s 4 week courses in Israel (2009).  It was a great time.  The two teachers I had were Randall Buth and Jordash Kiffiak, both are very good.  I came back with better Greek and the tools to teach it in the classroom that still form the foundation for my course today.  I took a second course from the BLC in Israel (2010) and then was privileged to teach with them for two annual courses in Fresno CA (2011, 2012).  These experiences, along with substantial online interaction with Jordash, are what have brought me where I am today in teaching Greek.

Currently, the curriculum for my Greek course is all built around using communicative methods.  I’d say between 70%-80% of class time is devoted to TPR, TPRS, and other live language exercises.  Being at a training center instead of a college or seminary gives me the freedom to craft my course however I want.  The downside to this is that my course is the only Greek course available to them in our program, so I have to make it count!

I still find it difficult to know how much grammar/analysis to cover and when to do so.  Since we don’t have a year or more of full-time language learning, students don’t have time to fully learn the language before talking about such things (see my thoughts at the end).

5. What sort of responses do you get from students by using communicative methods? What impact has it had on your teaching?

As far as my teaching, it has completely transformed what I do.  My ultimate goal of students learning to read and understand the Greek NT remains the same, but almost every step on the way to reaching that goal has changed.  Specifically, I’m learning that it’s better to spend time gaining some competency with the most common forms in the language rather than flying through every possible way to form nouns and verbs in the first year.  By the end of the course, my students have been exposed to all the different moods and tenses of the verb, but we don’t spend time going over how to form all their endings.

The students love it!  One very positive aspect to the approach is that it allows those who aren’t necessarily analytical or aren’t the best at grammar to begin to read the NT.  I’ve also had several students tell me that they did nothing with their Greek after class and picked it back up a year or more later.  When they did so, it came back quickly.  This is another strength of the approach.  It’s especially helpful since I train translators who will likely learn two more languages before they start getting back into their Greek for the purpose of translating.

6. If you could name one desideratum, a resource for communicative teaching that would appear 'overnight', what would that be?

I’d love to see a Koine version of Rosetta Stone!  While this wouldn’t directly help in the classroom, the potential for motivated students to learn on their own would be immense.  It would also provide a great source for homework.

Also, while not a physical resource, we need a place to go and spend a semester or more in Greek.  Such an experience would greatly increase a teacher’s ability in the language and eventually provide a great opportunity for students as well!  The problem, of course, is the organization and funding it would take to do something like this.


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Some closing thoughts from me

I'd never corresponded with Jason before, as I mentioned. I'm not sure a Koine version of Rosetta Stone would be useful, simply because Rosetta Stone is a wildly over-priced, unsuccessful learning tool. While I am in theory very pro- using technology to facilitate language learning, I have yet to encounter much in the way of truly useful language learning software.

Meanwhile a 6-month Greek immersion school would be a wonderful thing. I expect it will remain a pipe dream for a little while yet.

I have some other thoughts on related topics, but they will need to await another day. I have at least one more interview slated to come in, but we're definitely open to hearing from anyone else teaching Greek communicatively, in whatever context; don't wait for me to e-mail you, e-mail me today.

3 comments:

Paul Nitz said...

Again, very interesting. You've done a great service by conducting these interviews.

Derek Greer said...

Enjoying the series. Thanks.

d. miller said...

Thanks for this very informative and helpful series, Seumus. I'd love for you to do interviews with Randall Buth and Jordash Kiffiak.