“About” vs. “In” – Brandeis and Hebrew Immersion

Check out this article about Brandeis University cutting their Hebrew major (HT: James Davila). Here are a couple of portions relevant for readers of my blog (emphasis mine):

Ringvald believes that the lack of students who choose to major in Hebrew is a result of the former major’s structure, which required students to take Near Eastern and Judaic Studies classes taught in English.Those classes include a foundational course in Judaic Studies and options such as Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic Hebrew and Modern Hebrew literature. Though they often analyze Hebrew texts, such courses often serve as deterrent to students looking for total Hebrew immersion.

“Our population, their goal is to be able to function in the language.  . . . But when they have to spend a semester not taking Hebrew, but taking another course about Hebrew and content related to Hebrew and it’s not in Hebrew, they feel they might lose the fluency,” she said.

“I’m not interested in taking the Introduction to Judaism class. It might be interesting and fascinating, but my goal in learning Hebrew was not to improve my Judaism; it was to improve my Hebrew,” Sinnreich said.

These students get it! You don’t learn a language by talking about it in English. You learn by immersing in it and using (listening primarily) it. What an amazing idea–“to be able to function in the language!”

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6 Responses to “About” vs. “In” – Brandeis and Hebrew Immersion

  1. mvpcworshipblog says:

    Hi Daniel,

    While this illustrates your point, I think it also illustrates the challenge of creating and maintaining institutional support for an immersion program in Koine Greek.

    Keep fighting the good fight.


  2. The “about” versus “in” dichotomy is a good way to summarize the difference in priorities. One thinks about Wallace’s book, which is all ABOUT Greek, and Rico’s book, which is entirely IN Greek. I imagine Wallace has sold at least 100 times more than Rico.

    Things will change, but I don’t know how much.

  3. Mark,
    I don’t know this book you’ve mentioned. Rico’s?
    Where can I buy it at internet? I’m really interested in this kind of approach.

  4. Of course, it helps those students who want to be immersed in Hebrew that there is a country which will be happy to immerse them – the State of Israel. Without a Koine Greek land, it will be hard to satisfy students who really want functionality in that tongue.

    I imagine that if Israel were to go away, Brandeis and other places would suddenly have a market for second-best, “about” education. Until profs are ready for “in”struction, though, it’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum.

  5. Karl in Afula says:

    Speaking as a Hebrew-language nationalism (ie, political movement for the restoral of a Hebrew monarchy with citizenship irrespective of religion, which is not commonly familiar to non-Hebrew-newspaper readers, and which most accurately reflects the original Israelite Kingdom) activist…. we share a common problem along with Mandarin/Korean/Japanese/HIndi/etc programs. The non-Latin-character alphabets scare away a lot of gringo folks. Which is sad, because just memorizing a coupla dozen new graphemes is not terribly difficult. I do not have any suggested strategy to fight this. I find it easier to sell Hebrew-study (as a good business decision) to Asians (the real ones, in Asia) , than to American Jews.

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