[b-hebrew] organic language learning

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Sat Jul 26 03:25:59 EDT 2003

In learning multiple modern languages, I analysed how I was learning them, then tried to learn BH the same way.

When I lived in Europe, I had the radio on to a local station in the background. At first I’d understand very little, but gradually I understood more and more.

Secondly, I think grammatical analysis is overrated. I doubt that native speakers 3000 years ago could give a detailed analysis of their speach as modern grammarians like to give. Even modern speakers for the most part cannot give that sort of analysis to their native tongues. They just speak “How is sounds right.”

Thirdly, unconsciously, people memorize phrases, sometimes complete sentences, to aid in learning “to speak correctly”. Further, when people make mistakes when speaking, they tend to memorize how to say it correctly.

Fourthly, acquisition of vocabulary is more important than learning nuances of grammar. One thing that helps in learning vocabulary is comparing and contrasting new words with synonyms and antonyms and seeing how they differ.

Knowing that I learn languages in this manner, I then tell others the same list when they want to learn English. I suspect that most people learned their “mother tongue” in the same way.

In learning an ancient language, the first step, having the language spoken in the background is not an option.

If I were to design a curriculum to learn BH, I would start with teaching people the phonetic values of the letters. Next I’d teach the basics of grammar with enough vocabulary to illustrate it. Then I’d have them start reading Genesis out loud. I would tell them not to worry about understanding everything perfectly the first time through. If a verse has one stumped, go on to the next. By the time the student reads the verse the next time through, he may have the answer to its meaning. Finally, I’d assign verses, passages and even chapters for the students to memorize. While the memorization for learning languages is largely unconscious, I could choose verses that illustrate principles covered in class.

My whole goal would be to get the students to internalize the sounds, cadances, vocabulary and grammar, of BH.

I’m glad the “Joash Stone” was shown to be a fake. When I first read it, the cadances didn’t seem right, some of the words jarred me as being inappropriate and some of the letters looked wrong. It violated how I had previously internalized BH. I couldn’t give a detailed description how they were wrong, just that they were. I was wondering if and how I would have to integrate that into what I knew, now I don’t have to.

I wonder about the value of learning IH to read BH. The two are different languages. The grammar is different, the cadances are different, even many words have different meanings. It’s like a Swede trying to understand a Dane, or a German trying to understand Dutch: the languages are recognizeably cognate languages and one can often get the gist of what’s said, but then maybe not.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Deborah Millier <deborahmillier at yahoo.com>

> S. Yadav wrote:
> > precisely which points of 
> > neglect have the tendency 
> > toward errors in judgment 
> > regarding a linguistically 
> > adequate description of 
> > classical Hebrew?
> Sameer, are we more interested in
> "descri[bing]...classical Hebrew" or in actually
> understanding it.  Then (afterward) perhaps describing
> it.  I am aware that there is insight to be gained
> from an outsider view of a language.  God knows that
> when I taught Chinese (and other) students ESL, their
> analysis of grammar and etymology was often superior
> to mine.  But none could say that they *knew* English
> better than me.
> I think experience in other languages shows us that a
> person needs to "sit" in a language and "ingest" it;
> let it become a part of him/her for a while.  I used
> to go to a couple of Jerusalem parks and simply listen
> to the tones of modern Hebrew around me.  That way I
> learned vocabulary and grammar in context.  I engaged
> my mind, but also I sort of "felt" the language. 
> Before long I found myself chatting with the kids who
> were playing with my kids.  They were more gracious
> when I made mistakes, plus they would patiently work
> with me in their own tongue without changing to
> English if and when conversation lagged.
> This is true of modern Hebrew.  Why can't something
> similar happen with biblical Hebrew?  Randall Buth's
> approach works on this premise.
> --Michael Millier
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