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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