[b-greek] RE: Three quick questions

From: Trevor & Julie Peterson (06peterson@cua.edu)
Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 21:46:52 EDT

> I have been studying
> NT Greek on
> and off for some time. Recently I decided to get involved in
> more intense
> study. But I also want to learn OT Hebrew as well. So my questions are:
> 1. Is it wise to attempt to study two languages at once?

I think one important question is, how much time can you devote to them?
You say "more intense study." What does that mean? For instance, I'm in a
FT Semitic philology program. In 60 semester hours over three years, I will
probably be studying at least three languages per year. Hopefully some of
them will be further development in languages I've already dealt with
before, so that I'm not actually learning more than two new languages at the
same time. But keep in mind that they are all Semitic, which means they
have a lot of similarities. Also, I already had four years of (fairly
unrigorous) experience with Hebrew before starting, which means that I had a
pretty good handle on at least one Semitic language. That's quite a bit
different from learning an Indo-European language and a Semitic one at the
same time. (On the other hand, if you've made a reasonable amount of
progress in Greek so far, you might not be too bad off. I find that the
hardest thing is learning the basics of two languages simultaneously.)
Depending on how far you have left to go in the basic grammar of Greek, you
might consider waiting until you've nailed down at least your common
paradigms and a decent amount of vocabulary before jumping into Hebrew.

I could also give you the example of a friend of mine who has been trying to
learn both languages this past year simultaneously. He's basically just
doing it for his own personal gain, not as part of a formal academic
program, and it's guided self-study. (I meet with him for an hour each week
in each subject.) It's been hard for him to stay on top of the work,
though, and I suspect that it will take him at least another year to work
through the basics of Hebrew grammar and get the two up to a similar level.
Then he'll still need a lot of time in assisted reading to develop a healthy
level of familiarity with the languages.

> 2. It seems to me that OT Hebrew is much easier to learn than NT
> Greek once
> you can recognize the alphabet. Is this true?

The alphabet (and the general foreigness of the language for English
speakers--lack of cognate vocabulary, for instance) is a major hurdle with
Hebrew. (Not as major as you might think, though. When I finally buckled
down and learned it, it only took an evening.) My Hebrew prof. told us that
the learning curve for Hebrew does tend to climb more steeply at the
beginning and level off sooner than Greek, but I think the point is valid
that it depends on how much you really want to get in terms of syntax.
Sure, Greek has its fine points of morphological complexity, but the newer
emphasis on pragmatics has tended to level the playing field a bit between
the two. I think it would be a tough call as to which is easier. I do know
that a Biblical Studies student at CUA will spend less than a semester
learning the introductory grammar for Greek and two semesters for Hebrew.
What that says about the languages is beyond me, though. In my own
experience, it took about as long to learn both, but I feel like I learned
Hebrew a lot better. A lot of that is clearly a difference in teachers,

Clay wrote:

> But the fact that Hebrew syntax uses
> fewer formal mechanisms to mark the syntactic structure means that it is
> much more subtle and for that reason hard to get a handle on.

This is a fairly general trend. Syriac is one of the easiest languages I
know to learn the forms. Because of that, it's often said that you need a
teacher more when you start reading than when you're acquiring the grammar.

> 3. What study schedule would you advise? (Example: 1 hour per
> day on each
> language - 6 hours per week on each language.)

Whatever you can give, really. A lot of it's a question of how quickly you
want to get it done. I do think there is something to be said for getting
through the introductory stuff in a timely manner. Once you have at least a
partial handle on all the basic tools, you can refer back to the grammars as
necessary while reading actual texts. Some of it, though, depends on the
kind of supervision you have available. If you're going to be reading on
your own once you're done with the grammar, you might want to make sure you
nail it down a bit more thoroughly.

Ken wrote:

> (6) Since Greek was easier for me, I spent more time reading it, and
> pretty much dropped Hebrew completely after seminary. I've only picked
> it up again in the last six months or so: so of course it's going to be
> more difficult for me. I *do* seem to be improving, but it's slower
> than I would like.

This is a fairly common story. A lot of students avoid Hebrew if they can
in seminary, and a lot who take it never touch it again after. When I
started at my church there were three FT pastors, all with M.Div. degrees
that required Hebrew. None of them seemed to use it more than they
absolutely had to. It was actually part of what motivated me to get a Th.M.
in OT. I had an extra year of fairly intensive interaction with the Hebrew
text to nail down things just a little better. This could actually be one
of the advantages to learning them simultaneously, that you'll get to adjust
your pace in the languages to keep them fairly even.

Trevor Peterson

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