The following is an excerpt from the Preface to the Instructor’s Manual, a new resource for Beginning Biblical Hebrew by John Cook and Robert Holmstedt. You can find this preface in its entirety, along with sample quizzes, vocabulary cards, the Jonah Reader Beta, and a number of other resources, at this title’s Textbook eSources page.
Pedagogical Principles behind Beginning Biblical Hebrew
Less English, More Hebrew
To speed students’ progress in acquiring Biblical Hebrew, the use of English has been kept to a minimum. The grammar lessons are discrete and concise, with each lesson containing no more than one new topic. Ideally, discussion of the grammatical concepts should not take center stage in any classroom session. Instead, after a bare minimum of explanation, the concepts should be illustrated and thus acquired by practice through the exercises and the instructor’s extemporaneous variations on the exercises.
Immersion by Visual Text
Since a true language immersion context for an ancient language like Biblical Hebrew cannot be provided, this textbook offers “textual-visual” immersion. The cycle of biblical texts combined with the illustrations is the most effective way for students to acquire the creative productivity necessary to comprehend Biblical Hebrew. The textual-visual nature of this textbook does not, however, mean that its approach to language learning is “text-centered.” Rather, the exercises are meant to be used (and manipulated) in classroom settings so that the eyes, ears, mouth, and whole body are engaged in the language acquisition process. In other words, the textbook merely establishes a trajectory for an effective language learning context. To flesh out the learning environment more fully, the instructor should introduce additional content through the use of objects, video clips, songs, live animals (!), and whatever else proves useful….
The illustrated stories, iconic vocabulary, and variety of exercises are intended to encourage a spirit of curiosity and discovery, in contrast to parsing drills and translation exercises, which encourage a view of “language components as puzzle.” In our textbook, the “puzzle” that excites the student should be how the text is comprehended. Thus, this textbook does not focus on the “nuts and bolts” of Biblical Hebrew but provides just enough nuts and bolts to enable students to understand the language of the texts. The desire to understand the “language of the text” is, after all, why students study Biblical Hebrew.
Repetition is the key for embedding any language within the learner’s language faculty, but this repetition must also be carefully planned, such as highlighting recently learned skills by simple substitutions. Also, the repetition must occur across cycles: a recently learned skill may be briefly left behind and then picked up and reinforced with minimal new information a few lessons later. The exercises in the lessons and the readings are designed with this principle in mind. For classroom drills, the instructor can introduce minor variations in the textbook exercises to create additional repetition exercises, focusing especially on topics that prove diffcult for students to master.