Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Hebrew?

I've been asked more than a few times, "Why Hebrew? Why not teach your kids Spanish first." When I ask them why Spanish would be preferable as the first second language that a child learns, I receive one of two answers. The first answer is, "It's more practicle. More pragmatic. You live in Texas. You share a border with Mexico. Your children will be better equipped to enter the business world if they have learned Spanish. They will be more marketable." The second answer is simply, "Well, wouldn't Spanish be easier for a young child to learn? With Hebrew you have to learn a whole new alphabet."

As to the first answer, I suppose that is a correct argument. Learning Spanish would be practicle. More pragmatic. And I would choose to teach Spanish as a first second language if my primary goal regarding my childrens' education were entirely pragmatic. But my primary goal is not that my children will find well paying jobs. My primary goal is that my children will be always be eager to learn and have the tools they need to learn anything they so choose. That's why my children learn piano. Not because I hope that that ability will oneday pay the college bill by way of scholarship, but because should they ever choose to compose, they will already know the language. For the same reason, I believe it is important that children should begin studying a language not their own at an early age. Not because I believe it will increase their chances of getting a good job someday. But because once a person has learned one language, it is easier to learn a second, third, and fourth. At this point I must say that I do want my children to learn Spanish. It is a language we will tackle before the kids leave home. We do live in Texas. Our family lives in a neighborhood where many of the people are Spanish speaking immigrants who speak very little English. I believe it is important to be able to converse with your neighbors. So, yes we will learn Spanish. But we have chosen Hebrew as the first second language that we study as a family.

Which leads me to the second question people pose when my daughter reads a Hebrew word on a package or a friend sees the cirriculum sitting out on the table. "Wouldn't Spanish be an easier language for a young child to learn?" My answer to this question includes one of the two reasons why we have chosen Hebrew.

It is precisely because learning Hebrew involves first learning "a whole new alphabet," that we have made such a choice. Let me just say here that before a person can learn any foreign language, they must learn a "whole new alphabet." When I was in high school, I took two years of Spanish, and I struggled. In college, I studied Spanish for two sememsters, and I struggled. The sentence structure and gender were very hard for me to master. I believe my difficulty was due to the fact that I never stopped comparing Spanish to English. I believe that is because from the very beginning, I saw how similar the alphabets were. The Spanish "M" sounded like the English "M." The Spanish "B" sounded like the English "B," and so on. I noted that the "ll" sounded like our Y, and that the "J" sounded like our "H." I was encouraged to do this by the teacher as a way of remembering what each letter said. And I continued in this comparison pattern. The adjetive/noun order was backwards compared to the noun/adjective order of English. And the gender? Well that was completely foreign without any comparison to English, so I was lost on that one.

When I was in college, I studied Russian. I took part in an intensive language program where two years of material was covered in one semester. I took no other classes, but the the course earned me sixteen credit hours. During the first week of that course, we learned the alphabet. We spent one week, solely learning the alphabet. I haven't figured out how many hours would have been spent on the letters had the course been spread into two years, but I know that it would have been substantial. Certainly, more time would have been spent on the letters than was spent on the Spanish alphabet by my high school teacher. Or college professor. And as a result, by the end of that week, I got it. The alphabet, and by relationship, the Russian language, were completely different from English. So completely, in fact, that I could make no comparisons. This time, I just accepted the fact that their nouns have genders. Because Russian is nothing like English. In studying Russian, I excelled, even going on to receive a BA in Russian Studies, but in Spanish I barely passed each class.

So do I believe that it is harder to learn Hebrew than Spanish? Not really. It just has "a whole new alphabet" to learn. As does Spanish. A language is foreign to a person, because it is different. Once a person understands how vast is that difference, it would be acceptable to look at the similarities (Romantic languages, Germanic languages, etc.) but in the beginning, a person must see only difference and accept it as such.

Onto my second reason for studying Hebrew with our children. Our pastor and my Sunday School teacher are fluent in Hebrew and Koine Greek. They often teach from the Hebrew and Greek text, and my understanding of what the Bible says has grown exponentially since I first came under their tutelage. I believe that the original text of the Bible was Divinely inspired, and that every word of the original text is God breathed, and that every word of the original text is infallible. I don't believe that any one translation was Divinely inspired, God breathed, or infallible. Not one. King James. NIV. ESV. ASV. They are all translations. A person may enjoy the language of the KJ because of its richness and beauty, but that does not make it's words infallible. A person may enjoy the more modern language of the NIV because it is easier to understand, but that does not make its words infallible. The only way to find out what the Bible says in the original text, is to either have teachers who can read the original text, or learn how to read the text yourself. Right now, we fall into that first category. But we are studying. Because one day, we may live in an area where we don't have the teaching. I am thirty-five years old, and this is the first church of which I've been a member where the Pastor and some teachers know how to read, and teach, from the Hebrew and Greek text. So if we ever move, the odds of us having such a privilage are low. We learn, and teach our children, so that they may one day teach others.

So that's it, in a fairly large nutshell. Our choice is neither pragmatic (in a worldly sense) or easy. But to hear my six year old daughter beautifully read those ancient Hebrew words,

And God said . . .

that, my friends, is worth every raised eyebrow, every look of disbelief.

Wouldn't you agree?

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