Now I Can Read Hebrew!
“I used to always think about how the Old Testament was written and wished to read Hebrew. Now I can read Hebrew – thank God!”
So said Mr. Maniosa Yakasa, one of 15 participants on the Introduction to Biblical Hebrew course offered by SIL Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Ukarumpa from July to September 2010. This was the third time this course has been offered and it was received with great enthusiasm.
Most of the participants were members of the PNG Bible Translation Association; some are currently working on translating the Old Testament into one of the over 800 vernacular languages in PNG, while some are training to offer consultant advice to other translators. One team is the fourth generation of translators working on their translation project. Another group represents the first PNG language community to complete their own vernacular (mother tongue) New Testament and they are keen to be among the first to complete the Old Testament, too.
The course was coordinated by Dr. Phil King and staff included a Brit, a Kiwi, an Australian, an American and a Papua New Guinean, each bringing unique perspectives to the learning environment. This team represented a partnership between SIL-PNG and staff from the Christian Leaders’ Training College (CLTC).
This course is unique in the way it draws on Melanesian language learning skills to learn an ancient written language. The participants act out Bible passages in Hebrew, respond to Hebrew commands and match pictures with Hebrew expressions, rather than focusing on analytical grammatical terminology. The aim is to develop cognitive connections direct from Hebrew to the vernacular, without using English as a third party.
A large part of the course involved participants developing their own Hebrew-vernacular dictionaries. One local participant compared what he had learned with the practice of growing coffee and selling direct to the factory rather than to middle-men . Now he does not need to rely on English versions, but can go straight to the original.
All the participants left with the challenge to continue both listening to and reading two verses of Hebrew every day and thus developing their own Hebrew skills. A follow-up Hebrew course was planned for November to help the participants ‘bridge’ to using resources such as English commentaries and lexicons based on the Hebrew text.
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