[b-hebrew] Ancient Language Acquisition

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Mon Mar 1 18:39:02 EST 2004

Ken Penner wrote:
> Is anyone willing to share comments on Paul Overland's article, "Can
> Communicative Methods Enhance Ancient Language Acquisition," _Teaching
> Theology and Religion_ 7:51-57 (supplemented by
> www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/journal/overland.html) or "Benefits and
> Strategies of Communicative Language
> Learning" at
> http://personal.ashland.edu/~poverlan/holes/comm-lang-lrng-ovrview.pdf?

After reading only the latter piece from the Web, I think I have a 
general idea of what he's getting at. (Let me know if there's something 
in the TT&R article that significantly alters the picture.) I've only 
ever taught using more traditional methods, and right now I'm not in the 
class room at all. I do have a certain attraction to this sort of thing, 
though. I've tried out some of Buth's materials on myself (not on 
others), and I can see some of the benefit. One significant problem with 
all of these methods, though, is that they require reconstruction of the 
language students are going to be monkeying with. Unlike with modern 
languages, where a native speaker or someone with near native speaker 
competence can evaluate the accuracy of students' independently 
constructed utterances, with ancient languages the check falls to the 
teacher's intuitive grasp of the language. Granted, some teachers will 
be better at this than others; but even the best of teachers will not 
have an absolute answer. (Or if so, the answer will by no means be 
agreed among other scholars.) You yourself should know better than most 
how much controversy surrounds the Hebrew verbal system, for instance, 
which can introduce some difficult questions into any effort to teach 
students how to construct their own sentences. Of course, the closer 
parallels we can find in the ancient evidence, the more confidence we 
can exercise, but even then there are questions of whether samples from 
the biblical corpus represent one or several dialects. It would seem 
counterproductive for students to internalize a conglomerate that is not 
really any one dialect.

Perhaps the benefits are worth the risks. I'm not sure they're not. I 
only point out what I consider to be the weightiest objection.

Trevor Peterson

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