Stuck at the Start

We had driven out into Indiana farm country to visit a friend, and now it was time to head home.

“What’s the best route back to Indianapolis?” I asked.

“Just head west on Highway 234 and turn right at Knightsbridge.  You can catch the Interstate there, and the rest is easy.”

That sounded good, so I hit the road.

Unfortunately, my friend neglected to tell me that the first road I encountered was NOT Highway 234.  I really needed to drive a mile, turn right, go a few blocks, turn left again and drive two more miles . . . and THEN I would be at Highway 234, ready to start following instructions.

Instead, I turned left and spent the next 10 miles looking at Google Maps on my phone.

I had just run into the problem of instructions flawed by overfamiliarity.

The person giving instructions knows his subject so well that he doesn’t realize the depth of your ignorance.  He operates at a knowledge level of 10, and he thinks he is giving a clear explanation when he simplifies down to a level of 7.  But he doesn’t realize that you’re operating at a level of 2!

I often get stuck at the very beginning of a project because the people writing instructions don’t realize how little I know.  Here’s an example of the explanation I found on a Web site that helps you manage your emails:

    “To protect against accidentally adding invalid, stale, or unusable addresses to your subscriber list, you can import contacts as unsubscribed to create a suppression list.

    “Each list in your account is separate from the others, so your suppression list won’t be global.  You’ll need to create a separate suppression list for each list in your account.

    “In this article, you’ll learn how to set up a suppression list from a CSV, TXT, or Excel file.”

No, it doesn’t make much sense to me either!  They haven’t put the cookies on a low enough shelf.

The same problem pops up when you try to learn New Testament Greek.  Anyone who knows enough Greek to write a textbook is an expert.  But experts sometimes forget what it’s like to be a beginner.

I recently reentered the role of an absolute beginner.  My wife and I spent three weeks visiting our missionary daughter in Sapporo, Japan.  She has lived in Japan for ten years, so she speaks Japanese fluently.  I, on the other hand, know only a half-dozen phrases.  People all around me were carrying on lengthy conversations, and I could barely manage to say “Good morning.”  The signs and bulletin boards were meaningless squiggles, and I was completely dependent on translators.

It was a humbling experience.  And it was a healthy reminder of how a person feels when they first start Greek!

You start out facing an unfamiliar alphabet, a mysterious set of spellings, and a wall of meaningless vocabulary words.  No wonder so many people get stalled at the very beginning!.

At the Ezra Project, we strive to put ourselves in your place.  We aim to remember what it’s like to start the occasionally frightening process of learning a new language.

We try to explain everything in the simplest possible terms.

We keep technical terms to a bare minimum.

We provide the answers to all exercises so that you can be assured that you are on the right track.

We present Greek in bite-sized pieces of information.

I have been teaching Greek for over forty years, and I know the places where students are most likely to stumble.  I have watched blank expressions of confusion turn into satisfied smiles of understanding hundreds of times.  And I aim to help you get on the road to success.

You don’t have to get confused at the very start.

If you have trouble at any point as you are using Ezra Project materials, you may contact me for help.  Send your question to

We’re not done until you have succeeded in reaching your destination!