Introducing “Beginning Biblical Hebrew” (videos)

Last November at SBL, John and I sat down to record a few videos introducing our textbook (Beginning Biblical Hebrew; see here), its pedagogical approach, and the supplementary materials we’ve made (or are planning).

 There are a few humorous backstory details, but the one I’ll share is that we did this at 8am after a poor night of sleep (I never sleep well in hotels). So, for me at least, keeping my eyes open was the first victory and stringing together coherent comments was the second.

Below are the videos for those who are interested.

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More on our Beginning Biblical Hebrew

The good folks at Baker Academic have set up a website for us to use as a way to support instructors using our new textbook.

The site has a blog, a forum, an area where we will post more draft supplementary materials, and links to the existing materials that Baker has edited and makes available to instructors. 

So, if you’re using our textbook or are interested in using it, stop by the new textbook digs:

We will be putting up more posts there in the coming week.

Beginning Biblical Hebrew (BBH) is shipping!

Our new textbook, Beginning Biblical Hebrew: A Grammar and Illustrated Reader, is now shipping from Baker Academic (and presumably other booksellers). I received my author copies earlier this week and was holding the book with a mixture of pride (it’s really nicely sized, like a workbook should be, and the layout, type, and binding quality is excellent) and relief (it’s been 13 years since John and I began formally working on Hebrew textbook materials).

A couple months ago, I put a link to the textbook on the left sidebar that takes you to the Baker site for BBH. We describe the principles of our approach herehere, and here. We recognize that our pedagogy may require new effort, even for seasoned instructors. And this is why Baker enthusiastically agreed to host a web page for additional teaching materials to go with the textbook.

Yesterday I noticed that the folks at Baker have now added the pages for resources for students and instructors. For students, there are vocabulary flash cards and audio files. For instructors, already available are sample quizzes and exams (with exam answer keys). Coming soon will be sample lessons plans, vocabulary cards to print out for in-class games or drills, and a full instructor’s manual and answer key.

We hope those of you already using the textbook will find these resources useful. For those not yet using the textbook, we hope you’ll check it out. Perhaps knowing that we’re creating a significant support framework for using it in a highly-interactive, communicative, fun BH learning environment will encourage you.

Biblical Hebrew Pedagogy

For the 2012 annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting I was asked by Randall Buth to participate in a panel of the Applied Linguistics for Biblical Languages Group on the question, “Where Do We Set the Bar in Biblical Language Training?”.

I was flattered and intrigued. I haven’t participated in this group in the past and didn’t quite know what to expect. However, since our Biblical Hebrew textbook is coming out in the early Summer with Baker Academic and I am currently teaching intro BH using the draft textbook, I thought I’d throw in my 2¢, listen carefully, and hopefully learn something I could apply.

Perhaps for those who have attended this group in the past, it was more of the same tune. For me, it was stimulating, encouraging, and energizing. As I listened to the presentations of the other panelists (and listened as I read my own presentation!), it dawned on me that I’d been slipping into old, lazy patterns in the last few weeks of my BH class. That realization was combined with Daniel Street‘s presentation in which he drove home the point that reading proficiency (the widely-agreed goal of biblical language learning) only comes after conversational proficiency. That is, you can’t get to real reading without first learning to communicate by speaking and hearing. (By the way, Daniel has begun his round-up of the relevant sessions at SBL on his blog, here). [Update Dec 7, 2012: Daniel has continued his post-SBL report here.]

The result of the experience was that I returned with a renewed dedication and refreshed energy to create a better communicative classroom environment. So far, it’s been a lot better. I happened to mention the panel to one of my students after class last week and her response was encouraging: “So that’s why you’ve been using more Hebrew in class” (and, I will add, why I put an abrupt stop to their increasing habit of coaxing English glosses out of me if they didn’t immediately get the meaning of our vocabulary icons).

Below is my presentation for the panel. I hope it provokes a productive discussion. (One of the comments after the presentation was a concern that my learning outcomes would not fit that instructor’s context; to be clear, my proposed learning outcomes are about “setting the bar” generally and I acknowledged to the audience that a good and wise teacher will also adapt to his or her contextual needs.)

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Pedagogy and the Lesser-Taught (Ancient) Northwest Semitic Languages

In late September I sent out a survey via Jack Sasson’s Agade list. The topic was the pedagogy of less-commonly-taught ancient Northwest Semitic languages (that is, courses in Hebrew epigraphy, Phoenician and Punic, Aramaic, and Ugaritic). My interest is to learn from others by determining a sort of ‘best practices’ short list for teaching these languages.

You may wonder why I am concerned. It’s not because I’ve had poor teaching results. Final exam results and the quality of research projects illustrate that my students are learning about as much as is possible in a term (indeed, they might say is that my “as much as possible” is actually “inhumanly” possible, based on how hard I push them!). Rather, what drives the survey and this post is my own dissatisfaction with how the course unfolds. I become … I hesitate to admit it … bored with my own techniques about half way through the term. There must be a better way (or ways)!

As with my undergraduate Biblical Hebrew courses, I am always looking for better techniques—techniques that are both more effective and more fun. For BH this motivated our second textbook, which recognizes the student interest in learning to “read Bible” but also tries to draw what we reasonable can from modern language techniques. The question is, can we do something similar for the less-commonly-taught ancient NWS languages? Is that even possible, given the nature of the evidence? For example, Ugaritic has a large corpus, but little narrative and very little vocalization. How could it be taught more “communicatively”. And if we could find a way, would the method serve our teaching goals (i.e., would the [mostly graduate] students learn enough of what we want them to learn)? [For a thought-provoking blog discussion of this issue on BH, I suggest starting here and following the various links.]

I wrote the simple survey to probe others who teach NWS languages regarding their goals, curricular structure, and pedagogical style. I received only 8 replies, but they were instructive and represented an interesting distribution (seminary and research university, North America, Europe, and Israel).

I used the survey comments to provoke a discussion at the just-finished MICAH gathering (that is, the Mainz International Colloquium on Ancient Hebrew**). Many commented and below I have summarized both the email survey responses.

** What a blast this event was! The level of expertise, and thus papers, on Hebrew and Semitic languages represented by the participants was impressive and inspiring. So much to learn …

I am indebted to the organizer, Dr. Reinhard Lehmann for inviting me to speak and participate in the panel discussion. I will also take this chance to thank publicly those who organized the event with Dr. Lehmann: Dr. Johannes Diehl, Dr. Anna Zarnacke, Kwang Cheol Park, Anna Schneider, Karoline Ehinger, and Editha Lefebre. Vielen Dank!

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