Language Laws (memorization)

Ken Penner pennerkm at
Thu Dec 19 14:31:08 EST 2002

I've been mostly content to stay out of the thread about the best way to
learn Biblical Hebrew, but the repeated claim that memorization is an
impediment to learning a language needs a counterpoint. 

I will address only the question of memorizing vocabulary, not

Vocabulary acquisition does not have to be time-consuming or tedious. I
develop (and use) vocabulary memorization software, and have
conservatively calculated the rate of vocabulary acquisition at about 1
minute per word for the most recent language I learned (French). Last
summer using Flash! Pro I challenged myself to learn 100 words per day
for two weeks, and found I could do it in an hour and a half each day.
I've had similar results for German, Hebrew (modern and Biblical),
Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. For a traditional Hebrew textbook (Seow), the
vocabulary list includes 730 words, or about 30 words per week. A
half-hour per week (6 minutes per day) is not a large time commitment
for learning vocabulary. And for Greek, Mounce only expects about 13
words per week! 

I would risk sounding like an advertisement if I explained that Flash!
Pro works like traditional flashcards, but being software, it can do the
tedious things quickly and intelligently, and keep track of which cards
you find difficult. It uses a sophisticated algorithm to select which
cards need to be reviewed, and brings them up for reinforcement just
before they fade from your memory. Treated as a game, it is even fun to
watch your progress!

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Clayton, and others who want to get
students into the original texts as soon and as much as possible. It is
there that real language learning happens. In my experience, the key to
a pleasurable reading experience is to know the a general meaning of
words _before_ tackling the text. Then, once in the text, I can use the
context to nuance the memorized glosses. I've found that if I know
_what_ is being talked about, I can usually figure out what is being
said _about_ it, even if I don't know all the grammar perfectly.

Here is where Flash! Pro shines. It can select all the vocabulary from
any given Biblical passage, or all the vocabulary of a given frequency
range in that passage, and serve it up in digestible chunks, noting
those words it will have to bring up again, and when. I used this
feature for a course in Acts, in which we had to be able to translate
the whole book unaided. Acts contains some 2000 vocabulary words. We had
12 weeks. Flash! Pro made it possible for me to get an A+.

Or, if one wants to learn inductively by reading Genesis, they can get
Flash! Pro to select all the words in chapter 1 that occur 30x or more
in the Bible, learn the general glosses for these, and then jump in! It
will speed up their reading considerably, and give that feeling of
success that is so necessary to maintain motivation!

In sum, you don't have to find ways _around_ memorization if you can
make the way _through_ it so much easier!

Ken Penner, M.C.S. (Biblical Languages), M.A. (Hebrew Poetry)
Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, 
Biblical Field (Early Judaism major)
McMaster University
Hamilton, Canada
pennerkm at
Vocabulary Memorisation Software: or

-----Original Message-----
From: Clayton Javurek [mailto:javurek at] 
Sent: December 19, 2002 10:26 AM
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: [b-hebrew] Language Laws

Clayton Javurek 
E-MAIL: javurek at 
Here is the bottom line: 
If you want to teach the biblical languages to the greatest number of
you have to minimize the amount of memorization required. This is what I
try to do. 
I do not care if they are learn the language thoroughly or not. I do not
if they become original thinkers and can sight read the text. What I do
is that they have face to face exposure with the original text is the
convenient way possible. 
If you are only concerned that persons learn the language thoroughly,
automatically expect that the number of students in class will be very,
very low. 
This law is inflexible and absolute. 
Why? People, like electricity and water, generally search for the path
of least resistance. 
Memorization is resistance to learning a language. People will try to
find ways around 
the memorization. If they cannot find those ways around it, they will
leave your language class. 

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