News and Blog

Why Communicative Hebrew?

The 3 C'sWhy Sattler?

Why Communicative Hebrew?

Not every class at Sattler has a professor somersaulting across the classroom floor, or students waving their arms above their heads as they pretend to be trees, or a couple of guys dueling with plastic swords—but in the context of Hebrew class, anything can happen.

And yes, there is method to this madness. All these scenarios are part of a well-structured educational experience designed so that learners will assimilate the Hebrew language in a natural way. Professor Jesse Scheumann calls this method of teaching a grammar-second, or communicative approach. Students learn Hebrew by taking part in conversations, hearing and telling stories, play acting, and following commands. About 90% of class is spent in spoken biblical Hebrew. 

Students find the interactive exercises of Hebrew class exciting and enjoyable.

“I thought [Hebrew class] was going to be very grammar-focused and traditional, [I was surprised by] the emphasis on enjoying it as opposed to strict memorization and grammar.” David Dodson

“I was expecting it to be more of a classroom setting when in reality, it was just more of a conversation.” Julie Hoover




A Focus on Story

Professor Scheumann teaches largely with stories because of their proven ability to capture students’ interest and engage their imagination. Julie Hoover says her favorite Hebrew activity is “definitely acting out stories because [Professor Scheumann] has a great imagination, and so the stories are often very funny but yet interactive.”

In three consecutive Hebrew class periods, students learn to understand a certain story, to read it, and finally to tell the story for themselves. Because, as Professor Scheumann says, “If you can tell the story from memory, you can read the story from the text.”

The Goal of Elementary Hebrew

Professor Scheumann’s goal for students after a year of elementary Hebrew? Equipping students to read Hebrew from any of the narrative portions of the Old Testament with few helps. “Ultimately,” he says, “the goal is that they would do their daily devotions in Hebrew.”

Students who wish to gain proficiency in the word-dense poetic portions of the Old Testament or to work on biblical translation teams should pursue his intermediate and advanced Hebrew classes in coming years.




Communicative Teaching Method

Professor Scheumann models his Hebrew classes after the methods of biblical linguist pioneer Randall Buth. Like Dr. Buth, he employs “total physical response,” or TPR, along with the reading and telling of stories. However, he has adapted the model even further to enhance the learning experience of his students in three ways. 

First, he’s woven grammar instruction into the learning model. “Within [certain communicative language models] there is a tendency to really spurn grammar translation,” he says, “[But] adult learners like structure, they like understanding. And so I’ve developed a very intricate system of building up the structure very, very gradually.” He continues to lead with the communicative approach but undergirds it with grammar.  

Second, he teaches only the most frequently used vocabulary words of the Old Testament. Teaching with only the most frequent vocab has been challenging. “A lot of lesson plans have been very difficult to craft,” he says, “like how do I teach these using TPR?” The benefit to this approach, however, is clear to the students who are excited about being able to read the Hebrew Reader’s Bible (which footnotes the less frequently used words), after only one year of Hebrew instruction.

Third, Professor Scheumann offers students a unique set of supplemental materials. He and his wife, Merissa Scheumann, have developed what is currently the only comprehensive set of biblical Hebrew picture flashcards—a tool that encourages instant visualization. Another key aspect of his curriculum are graded reader stories. During three consecutive class sessions, students learn to read three versions of the same story—first a short version and then a medium-length version, both embedded in the completed story. After acting the story out and reviewing it multiple times, students are ready to tell it for themselves, without the help of text.

“[My favorite part of Hebrew class is] having the ability to emphatically tell stories to each other in another language. It is the best part of my Monday.”  Mike King

What About You?

Professor Scheumann seems to enjoy elementary Hebrew as much as his students. “I’ll edit and put together the movies [of stories acted out in Hebrew class],” he says, “and when I get home the first thing the kids want to watch are the Hebrew videos. I had high expectations for what this course would be like but…it’s already exceeded my expectations.”

Sattler’s inclusion of Hebrew in its core curriculum is unlike any other college in the nation. If you would like to join the fun as well as gain the long-term benefits of learning Hebrew, consider joining the Sattler student body for your undergraduate studies.

Leave your thought here

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *