7 tips for learning biblical Hebrew from Miles Van Pelt
Miles Van Pelt recently shared some tips for learning Biblical Hebrew. If you’re thinking of learning Hebrew, you’ll want to take a look at what he says. And don’t forget to check out his Biblical Hebrew online course.
Tip 1: Find Someone to Study With
When you're studying a language, it's always good to have a study group or a partner.
You want to do this for a number of reasons.
- The first reason is accountability. A partner or a study group will keep you accountable to keep up with the work and to keep studying on time.
- Another reason is that it's important for encouragement and to fill in the gaps. Your partners will know what you don't know, and you'll be able to help your partners with what they might not know and so, in some sense, it makes it go faster.
- Additionally, when students get together and teach each other, they always learn the material better because they're helping each other in the context of studying.
Don't minimize the power of studying together and don't study alone if at all possible.
Tip 2: Study in small chunks of time throughout the day
Another tip that I find helpful for students is that they think not only about the amount of time they study, but how they divide that time up.
If you're going to study three hours in a particular day, it's better to study in one-hour blocks over the course of the day rather than a big three-hour chunk.
Your mind can't really absorb three hours of Hebrew information in a single block. It's better to study for an hour, take 30 minutes off doing something else, then study for another hour, take some more time off and then study again.
By doing that, your brain is a little more refreshed and can absorb information better.
Tip 3: Study every day
In addition to breaking up your study over the day into smaller chunks throughout the day, another important tip for studying Biblical Hebrew is to do it every day.
A frequency of exposure and repetition is really the key to mastering this language. The more you can expose your brain to the language and the letters and reading out loud and seeing those forms, the faster your brain will absorb them and the longer it will retain them.
Study in small chunks throughout the day and study a little bit every day.
Even on the days you think you're taking off, get up early and read a little bit of Hebrew or review your vocabulary or review a paradigm.
Don't let a day go by over the course of the first two years of your language study.
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Tip 4: Write clearly and neatly
You want to write neatly. You want to write clearly. You want to use even spaces. You want to pay attention to every detail, every accent mark, every vowel point, every curve on the consonant.
Your brain is an efficient machine, and it will pick up those visual clues each time you write them out carefully.
When you're writing out things, you're employing as many senses as you can. You're feeling the pencil write and you're seeing the form. If you say it out loud, you'll hear it and you'll speak it.
The more senses you can employ in the learning process, the faster you'll learn it and the longer you'll retain it.
It's very important that you execute those things neatly not just for your own sake, but the sake of your professor's grading and your peers' interacting with you in the learning process.
Tip 5: Memorize like a robot
When you're memorizing anything from the alphabet to vowels or paradigms, you want to memorize those things like a robot. You want to memorize them with robotic recall, like a computer.
You never want to just kind of know a paradigm. You want to know it to the best of your ability so that it's clear frontwards and backwards, from Hebrew to English and English to Hebrew. Don’t skimp on those things.
Usually, in language studies, we require very little memorization of paradigms and maximum exposure to the other items that will help you understand the forms. So the few things we do ask you to memorize, you need to memorize like a robot.
Tip 6: Get enough sleep every night
Another important tip for studying Hebrew is to make sure you get enough sleep every night for your brain to be working properly the next day.
I understand that one of the biggest temptations is to stay up late and to get up early—and minimize your sleep.
The problem is your brain needs rest in order to memorize and understand things.
The more sleep you can get while you're studying a language, the better you'll learn that language and the faster you'll be able to use it.
Tip 7: Have fun and remember your goal
You've been called to the ministry, and you've been called to study this language. What you’re really working toward is understanding God's Word better.
In spite of all the pressure or all the rigor that it might be to learn the language, one of the best things is you're going to be able to read God's word in the original language.
That motivating factor will keep you trudging through paradigms and parsing and difficult translations and understanding morphology that just doesn't make sense.
All of that stuff is good because it helps you to better understand and better read God's word, which will make you a better servant of his church.
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Miles Van Pelt is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, Director of Summer Institute for Biblical Languages, and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. He is co-author with Gary D. Pratico of the widely-used textbook, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, and the instructor of the Basics of Biblical Hebrew online course.
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