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Interview with Ken Berding part 1 - "Sing and Learn New Testament Greek"

Categories New Testament

Ken Berding (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology of Biola University. He recently answered a few questions I had regarding his innovative project "Sing and Learn New Testament Greek." These audio recordings enable students to memorize Biblical Greek through the use of popular folk songs (i.e. "Yankee Doodle" and "Joshua Fit' the Battle of Jericho").

1) When did you first become passionate about studying Greek?

I have been interested in Greek ever since God got a hold of my heart as a fourteen year old high school student. When my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas one year, I told them that I wanted a Greek New Testament. They bought me an interlinear Greek Bible that I faithfully carried to church every Sunday (in anticipation of what was to come!) until I had the chance to begin formal Greek studies as a nineteen year old. My first encounter with Greek in college, though, was difficult. No, that’s an understatement…it was a Protestant version of purgatory. I had never worked so hard to learn something that took so long to “get.” But I was committed to learning Greek; I would not, and did not, give up.

2) What inspired this unique approach to learning Greek? Have you been singing Greek for a long time?

The first time I learned Greek (I had to learn it twice!), I learned through a more traditional approach—rote memory of dozens of paradigms and myriads of flashcards. Then my wife and I moved overseas and I began learning modern Turkish. In the darkest days of Turkish learning, I decided to put my Greek studies aside for a time to solidify my knowledge of Turkish. A couple years later when I came back to Greek, I decided that I wanted to re-learn Greek in such a way that I would never again forget it. That’s when I started putting grammar patterns to music. I’ve been putting Greek grammar to songs since 1994. Hundreds of students at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia), Nyack College (New York), and Biola University (California) have used versions of some or all of these songs.

3) What was the most difficult part of this project?

The most difficult part of the project was organizing complex grammar patterns into learnable structures and finding simple songs that worked well with those patterns. I have my father, an engineer, to thank for teaching me that one has truly succeeded when one takes something that is complicated and makes it simpler. I was passionately committed to making these songs as accessible and simple as they could possibly become. That’s why I eventually decided to employ well-known tunes rather than compose new tunes, even though some of the new tunes I had experimented with were probably “cooler.” Many classes of past students have expressed how glad they are that I settled on using folk tunes and children’s songs. Students in the thick of learning Greek care a lot more about whether they will be able to remember what they have learned than how cool a song is.

4) Can you describe the process of putting together this CD?

When the time came to actually produce the CD, I contacted a studio musician in Southern California named Dwayne Condon who had sequenced and recorded some earlier songs for me. Dwayne didn’t do this just as a job; he was clearly excited to support the process of teaching and learning biblical Greek. I told him that even though we were using folk and children’s songs, the recorded music should be smooth and easy to listen to. Dwayne then began laying down tracks and sending me “rufs”—early versions of the background music—which we dialogued about. In some cases, the final songs came out almost identical to Dwayne’s first inclinations of how they should sound; in some cases, we ended up scrapping the songs and starting over. After the music was in good shape, we hired professional singer Steven Harms to sing the songs. Steven doesn’t actually read Greek, so I wrote down the songs in phonetic alphabet and sang them onto a recorder so he could hear the pronunciation. The day he recorded the songs, I sat in the studio as Steven sang the songs over and over again until they were right. Certain lines where the pronunciation wasn’t spot-on were dubbed in later, but a listener can’t hear any of that.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Ken. If you haven't already used "Sing and Learn New Testament Greek you can hear a sample here. IF you have tried the recordings already, how have they helped? Do you have a favorite track?


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