My wife and I just bought Rosetta Stone (Hebrew) and are enjoying it tremendously. The User’s Guide explains a bit of the philosophy behind this very successful language acquisition program, and it is worth noting. As usual, I’ll share some comments.
LEARN AS CHILDREN LEARN – IMMERSION
It is the best way to learn, at any age, and it almost guarantees that anyone can do it. Immersion is interactive which makes it fun and increases retention. Because Rosetta uses technology, they call it Dynamic Immersion which uses images and interactivity through the medium of computers. Through this method you absorb the sounds and even the grammar rules without arduous rote memorization.
The most important piece is trusting the method, and the explanation in the manual is insightful:
Rosetta Stone succeeds in teaching you a new language without translation. We don’t want you to think of an idea or concept in your native language to recall a word in your new one. (italics mine)
Why is all this important?
Ideas and concepts (as mentioned above), perspectives about the world, and worldviews themselves are very much carried through the medium of language. In it inescapable to recognize that a language is life, in many ways. Let me see if I can take a crack at seeing if I can explain some of the realities and explain why language learning is so important.
IMBUED EVOCATION & INTERACTIVITY: That is, the language “calls forth” by its mere usage of words and meanings particular cultural nuances such as ethics, emotions, feelings, and activity.
- In American colloquial, much of what we do is “running,” (I’m “running” to the store. I’m “running” on time.) In many other languages, including Hebrew and Spanish, most activity is “walking” (הלך).
- The word “right” mean “direction,” “correct,” while also acting as an identifier, “that person is right.”
- “Up” in American English means “north.” “Up” in Ancient Hebrew (not so sure as much today) means “elevation.”
- Hebrew doesn’t have a word for “is,” as in “the dog is white,” or “John is walking.” Recent American history has given us a much too graphic depiction of our obsession with what the definition of the word “is” is.
- GENDER: American English is much more gender neutral (“they”, “them”) where as in most other languages, gender identification is still very much a part of the grammar construct. Objects, as well as people, are generally “masculine” and “feminine.”
All of these examples (and there are many others) tell a bit about how the culture thinks and acts and behaves with and inside the world. How a people group or an individual acts and interacts can often be found inside the language itself.
TRANSLATION: There are some words and phrases that don’t easily translate into other languages, if at all. I like to use the examples of “flabbergasted,” “contemplative,” “dumbfounded,” “kicked the bucket,” “bought the farm,” and countless others. In Hebrew words like חסד and סוף don’t easily translate. Pick any slang in any language, and you’ll have a difficult (but fun) time trying to translate into a receptor language. Meaning, therefore, is in many ways often confined to the very language it originates from.
As long as you read English you are always staying one good step away from what was actually written. – Bill Mounce.
CONTRAST: Perhaps one of the neatest realities, is that when one begins to grasp a new language, one is able to see more fully the meaning systems behind the original language. That is, once I began to learn Spanish, and now Hebrew (and this is true even in ASL-American Sign Language), I was able to see more clearly what and how I thought and processed meaning and understanding in my original language, American English. Learning something outside of my comfort zone helps to illuminate the zone itself.
POWER: Controlling trade, commerce, government, etc., is through the medium of language. Therefore, to dominate a people, you must own the language that dominates. Perhaps no one understood this better than Alexander the Great. Principally, if you know more than one language, your ability to then live in varying power structures of the world increases.
MEANING: Ultimately, language is the window into new systems of meaning in the world, and new ways of understanding the universe. And there are great discoveries to be made when you dive deep into the world of linguistics, for all the reasons above, and perhaps several more than we are unable to mine.
AN ARGUMENT FOR HEBREW: Genesis 11 accounts for one common language in the world until a dispersion happened that created multiple languages. Though much more study by myself needs to be done on this, perhaps learning an ancient Semitic language helps us get closer back to that time? Greek and Latin are fairly late in the game, comparatively speaking, to the Semitic?