Let’s face it. If you have followed along with these posts this far I have primarily laid out the “why to learn a lot of Greek vocab” and have focused rather little on “how to do it.” It should be apparent, from what I have said, that this vocab learning journey will require learning and keeping track of thousands of words over your learning career. Just a few numbers to illustrate.
Lets say you begin with the NT. There are 5,427 different words (as they are counted in Accordance’s NA 28 module; counts differ depending on the base text and decisions on what precisely counts as a word). As I argue elsewhere, to read and understand the NT well, you need to read more Greek than what is just in the NT. This means that your vocab set is going to have to increase. How much? Well, how well do you want to be able to read Greek, or, asked differently, how much Greek do you want to read?
A logical body of text to read in is the LXX (Septuagint). The LXX has 13,770 words (according to the Accordance module). To read it all you have to add ~8,000 more words to your vocab stock. In all likelihood, you will probably never sit down to read a text where you don’t have to learn some new words (unless you become a super-Greek reader, in which case, you might, or you re-read a lot of texts you have already read). I’m not sure if I’ve ever read an entire text that required zero trips to a lexicon to get a robust understanding. Sometimes I will go multiple chapters or pages, but probably not an entire text (yet). Reading in Greek requires making peace with a lexicon. Just accept that when you sit down with a text you will probably have to look up a word or two (or a few hundred, as the case may be).
Now, this thought experiment is meant only to reinforce the idea that you will have to learn a lot of vocab. Not every word is worth bothering to learn. Many words are etymologically transparent or contextually obvious, such that there is no reason to make extra effort just to learn them. But even so, becoming competent at reading Greek is going to require learning thousands upon thousands of words in a robust enough way to be able to recognize them with little to no thought in context.
It is unlikely you will ever find a way to do this without recourse t othe tried and true flashcard. I at least have never even heard of a suggestion that does not involve extensive use of flashcards. So lets talk about optimizing our flashcards by using Anki.
Anki for Greek Flashcards
Anki is a free program which was designed for doing exactly what we are talking about: learning vocab. I will have a variety of things to say about Anki over time, which will regularly be appearing on the portion of the site dedicated to Anki. For now, the following two points will suffice:
- Anki cards are fully customizable;
- Anki uses a spaced-repetition algorithm to optimize learning time
These two points illustrate in brief why this program is a worthwhile go-to for all things vocabulary learning related.
Anki makes flexible cards
Flexibility is key because vocab learning is far more complex than having the dictionary form on one side and an English gloss on the other side of the card. We will need to make cards which focus on the morphology of the word or on specific nuances of meaning, like when τράπεζα refers to a financial institution rather than a table (by the way, in Modern Greek τράπεζα is a financial institution; table has become τραπέζι). Further, we will have reason to make extensive use of cards on syntactic patterns that we need to learn, grammar rules, phonetic patterns, etc. Robust vocab learning overlaps extensively with learning every other facet of the language. We want a tool that easily allows us to do this. Anki does that. It allows you to easily do pretty much anything you could write out by hand on a card, and far more. Whatever you want to learn, you can easily make a card (or two, or three, etc.) for it.
Anki uses a Spaced-Repetition System
The other big point to highlight is that Anki uses a spaced-repetition algorithm. This addresses a very foundational problem with learning large amounts of vocab. Our memories are leaky. We tend to forget words we once knew, especially words that are rare, or senses of words that are rare. A spaced-repetition algorithm aims to optimize learning time by scheduling when each card is reviewed based on when it is likely to be leaking out of your ears. This is really practical. It allows one to have thousands of cards actively in play and scheduled for review while only reviewing 50-100 cards a day. For example, as of today, I have ~10,000 cards active in my Anki decks, and my review load for the day is 181 cards, which will take about 20 minutes or less time to review. As I am constantly adding cards, my review load stays pretty steady around 200 cards/day. My personal experience is that, even when constantly adding cards, Anki pops words up often enough that I usually don’t have to pop open a lexicon at all when reading texts whose vocab I have made cards for. This is huge. It drastically increases reading speed and comprehension.
Learning Vocab on the Journey
Learning to read Greek with comprehension requires many things, and one of those is filling your head with a lot of vocabulary. The journey of learning to read with comprehension in many ways is the journey to learn words and word forms. Anki is a robust tool to help on this journey. After having been religiously using it for Greek learning for several years, I can’t recommend it more highly.