This post was written by by Bogdan Kipko.
The first lesson I learned upon entering seminary was probably the hardest. The positive side-effect of this lesson was that a blunt blow was dealt to my already crumbling pride. I am usually not a glutton for punishment but this foolish choice of mine somewhat proved the exact opposite.
When I was looking for classes during the registration process, the beginning Greek course which would last one month seemed not entirely insurmountable. The class was basically six months of Greek condensed into four weeks. I thought I could take it, literally. My wife begged to differ. In fact, she was absolutely certain that this was a bad idea. She was right, I was wrecked.
On the first day of class, our Greek professor told us that soon, we all would die a slow death, proverbially speaking of course. He could not have been more accurate in his foretelling of the future.
Some people are wired for languages. For them, what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) is a perpetual occurrence. They have the gift of greek and Hebrew without any hassle. They are able to pick up all intricacies and nuances of a new language easily and expeditiously, all the while exerting minimal sweat. If you are this person, thank God for it. If you know this person, become good friends with them.
Despite being bi-lingual, I was not wired for languages. Learning Greek and Hebrew came at a great difficulty for me. I wish I knew then what I know now in terms of how my approach should have been structured.
Whether you are thinking of starting seminary or have already enrolled, you will inevitably be required to take at least some language courses. Here are five things that can help you hone your language skills when studying in seminary:
1. Hire a tutor. Studying with a tutor has served me the most in gaining at least peripheral footing in a new language. I am forever grateful to my friend with whom I spent many afternoons, while he coached me on the basics of biblical Greek. During class, the professor does not have sufficient time to answer all of your questions. A tutor can answer questions for you, be of encouragement to you, and expound on difficult concepts right in front of you. When I took Hebrew, I had a tutor as well. I probably would not have been able to continue forward in those classes, had I not hired a tutor. There is no shame if you are at a loss in the language game. Ask for help and prepare for a humbling experience.
2. Plan to prepare properly. There is no use of praying to God in helping you to define one hundred Greek words, one hour before your test. If you did not bleed in the battle, you will most likely lose the war. Set aside time in your weekly schedule where you will be exclusively devoted to drilling into your memory those verbs and nouns. Yes there will be some social gatherings that you might miss out on. Just remember that this season in your life is not forever. It will pass. Do the work, do it right the first time and move on.
3. Find interest in index cards. This might be a simple point but a very practical one nonetheless. Because most language classes require you to memorize a huge amount of words, you need a system that can be used for this task. I used regular sized index cards. I printed out the Greek word and the meaning next to it on a regular 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Then, I solicited the help of my wife to cut the paper, separating the word and the meaning. She stapled the Greek word on one side and the meaning on the other. I carried this stack with me everywhere I went. Anytime I had a free moment, I grabbed the stack and started memorizing. The index cards fit everywhere, were not cumbersome and served their simple purpose in a very convenient manner.
4. Use the association principle. This one concept has helped me pass many test and quizzes. For example, when memorizing a string of verbs found in the New Testament, use this principle of word associations. Align the Greek verb you are learning with something that is familiar to you. Your memory then becomes sticky and you will not be able to get this verb of the surface of your mind during test time. It does not matter how awkward the association may seem to some people. All that matters is the ability of your mind to memorize the word. Here is an example: We find the word ????? in John 1:1. This word simply means the word or a word. The way I would memorize this is when I thought of it as “logo.” Usually, there are words written on a logo of your favorite brand or a garment of clothing. So naturally, when I would see this word on an exam, my memory is able to recall this word as what it is based on my word association. Again, this is just what helped me. What is important here is not methodology but a systematization of what works best for you personally.
5. Weep over your sin and find satisfaction in your Savior. At the onset of anything you endeavor, a realization needs to be made that it is all about Jesus. Wherever God calls you to serve and whatever heartache you will go through while getting there is for the glory of God. Because we live in a fallen world, we now see dimly what we will see in the future, face to face. This means that some of us will experience difficulty in learning a new language. But this is actually a good thing for us. Because we learn to lean less on our talents and lean more on God and His abilities, which manifest in us. As we weep over our sin and our inability to memorize the various word charts, we must continue to run to Jesus. He is our source of energy and ultimately, we are pursuing Him, not the concept of parsing. When we find satisfaction in our savior, our outlook for the current season of gladiator Greek will look and feel less brutal.
I hope these five points will prepare and position you in the most proper way, for what is ahead. Continue in your quest to understand God more by studying His word more, in the original language, for the glory of God by the grace of God.
Question: What has specifically helped you in learning a new language? What else can you add to the above list to share with the rest of the community?