It seems like everyone is throwing “SLA” into their conversations about learning Biblical Hebrew. But like most areas of study and research, SLA (Second Language Acquisition) is not monolithic. We cannot co-opt this research out of context. I am grateful to have a few colleagues in the field. They have been giving me some very helpful research to read and also some valuable direction for interpreting the “SLA” field and how it may contribute to understanding Biblical Hebrew language learning and as a result, what type of pedagogy should be considered. Their insights and cautions are invaluable as I begin to evaluate and critique some current trends in BH pedagogy (i.e. the COHELET Project). The more I read, the more I see that we must be much more careful about loosely claiming the SLA banner and tagging it onto our Biblical Hebrew methodologies in the hopes of finding some magic pill to solve our learning/teaching issues. While I continue to read, here’s a cautionary quote from an interview with Rod Ellis (2000):
“One of the main things that SLA has actually contributed to is the demise of the method construct, the notion that there is a method out there that will somehow enable learners to magically learn successfully in the minimal possible time. One of the major lessons in studying SLA is that learning a second language is hard work and takes a long time. There are no short cuts.” [emphasis mine]
When I think SLA methodology, I think TPR mainly, since that’s what I’m trained in. And whileI do think you’re right that we tend to forget its not a magic pill for language learning, I do consider TPR to be both faster and more effective than the traditional grammar/translation methodology on the basis of my own experience in using the method. I walked away feeling rather ripped off in terms of my learning experience with Biblical languages.
I agree that there are definitely things to be learned from some aspects of SLA. What I’m trying to do is to be methodical in evaluating the research to see what is truly applicable to broader Biblical Hebrew instruction. But, for any teacher, what works “at the end of the day” is definitely something to keep using in individual circumstances.
I am currently tracking down more information about TBLT (Task Based Learning Teaching) which provides the “learning by doing” angle that CLT appeals to, but provides more opportunity for focus on linguistic form. TBLT grows out of CLT and is a more recent method than CLT (the COHOLET base), and it is considered to have addressed some of the problems of CLT.
Karyn, I certainly agree with you that SLA theory is not monolithic–indeed, from the reading I’ve done, it seems quite fractured. I do find, however, one thing all SLA theorists agree upon: the grammar-translation method of the 19th century is fatally flawed and totally discredited when it comes to achieving fluency in a language. If Hebrew and Greek professors could just agree on this, I think Biblical language pedagogy would make a quantum leap in its effectiveness (not to mention its enjoyableness)!