Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary around the BiblioBlogosphere

It appears that my good friend Daniel has brought up some of my research on Biblical Hebrew vocabulary HERE and HERE (in the comments). I take Daniel’s compliments in high regard.

I have kind of been waiting until I defended my dissertation before I posted much on my research.  That will happen in less than two weeks now.  But, I’ll go ahead and say a couple of words.

I like what Adam is doing in his post on vocabulary, in general.  I also think it is problematic that flashcards do not provide contexts.  And, this is one things that I tried to remedy in the new approach that I tested in my dissertation.  There is indeed research that shows that vocabulary learned in a meaningful context is better learned.

With that said, I would throw out a word of caution, which I have mentioned here before. Learning vocabulary in frames is helpful, but might be better delayed to a later stage in the learning process.  The main problem with learning similar Biblical Hebrew words together is that it can cause interference.  Interference means that the vocabulary items are not distinct enough from each other and are easily confused by the learner.  This phenomenon has been demonstrated in no less than twelve empirical studies.

The idea of interference seems counter-intuitive because we have heard time and again that we learn by association.  However, most research on association has been done in monolingual contexts, i.e. learning lists of related words in the person’s native language.  This is not the same as learning a second language.  I think the empirical research on interference is difficult to argue with, and one must be careful about presenting too many semantically related words at one time, though they must come to be associated later in the learning process.  Thus, rather than association helping students to learn words initially, they can help to cement the learner’s knowledge later in the process of acquiring the word.

Second, I would also comment, just briefly, on Adam’s dislike of L2 (second language) – L1 (first language) vocabulary cards (e.g. Biblical Hebrew word on the front and English translation on the back).  I am sympathetic to this to some degree as this seeks to mimic the way in which we learn a first language.  However, I am not convinced that using the L1 in the second language instruction is as problematic as some think.   In fact, some researchers in second language acquisition (e.g. Michael Lewis well-known for his “lexical approach” the language learning) have concluded that using the L1 in second language instruction is inevitable, so we might as well make the best use of it we can.  And, Nation who has written one of the more important texts on second language vocabulary acquisition proposes traditional flashcards as a very helpful strategy, though they have fallen into disrepute with some second language instructors.

Ironically, I think not including the L1 on a flashcard might actually benefit because it makes more use of the first language translation than flashcards that include the L2 and L1.  Take Adam’s example of prepositions.  Imagine that a student looks at the picture for the preposition bet and sees the preposition “in” the glass.  It is difficult for me to imagine that the student learning Biblical Hebrew is doing anything other than looking at the picture and thinking of the English word “in.”  Thus, they might be making more use of translation than required by traditional flashcards.

Anyway, I’m just weighing in on a couple of these matters here.  I realize that there are some who would disagree with the assessment I gave above.  But, hopefully I can let you all know soon when my dissertation is online, and you all can judge these arguments as they are developed more fully.

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