Will You Teach Your Kids the Languages?

We all have hopes and dreams for our children, do we not? Even if we are yet to be parents we sometimes think about what we would desire for our children.

I find myself right now searching online for classical/Hellenistic Greek and classical Hebrew resources for kids. I have a 2 year old and back before he could speak a word of English I thought it would be fun if his first word was Greek. Since some of his first sounds were “k,” “a,” and something resembling “oo” I tried, foolishly, to get him to say “ἀκούω,”  (akouo) the Hellenistic Greek for “I am listening.” But he didn’t get it. Why didn’t I try something easier like, “μεθερμηνευόμενον” (methermeneuomenon)? Oh wait, something easier like, “καί” (kai)? 3 syllables was too many! Well, hindsight is 20/20. I decided to let it be after that but only to be picked up at a later date.

When I think about the desires I have for my son, they are plenty. Primary among them is for him to desire to and, in fact, love Jesus. If only this happened I would be a happy man. Following from this I have many desires with respect to his character and education. Not only do I believe having desires for our children is good, I think it is inevitable that we will have them. Some may care more than others, but we have desires and we do have a responsibility with our children. We decide, at least in their younger ages, what they watch, what they learn, etc. I don’t want to be naive and think my wife and I have the only influence in his life (nor should we) but we are strong influencers with great responsibility nonetheless.

Of course this can be mishandled. Just as the failed wannabe NHL superstar can foist upon their son their own dreams of NHL stardom and work the kid ruthlessly through rep hockey, so I can foist upon my son the education I never had with wrong motives (My education wasn’t a poor one, it just didn’t include classical languages and the study of the Bible). And while this is a danger to avoid, we as parents do have control over many of the influences our children will encounter and the education he or she will receive. What are we going to do with that influence and responsibility?

If we care about the Bible as God’s Word to us, then chief among our children’s education should be a grounding in the Word; English, German, Spanish, whatever. And this next part isn’t for everyone, but maybe some of us will begin to teach our children the original languages of the Bible from a young age: Greek and Hebrew. I’m sure that sounds daunting for someone who doesn’t themselves know the languages, but for those of us who do (and maybe we can create resources and training for other kids) is it a worthy endeavor?

It seems to require wisdom based on the personality of the child, but how is teaching them Greek any different from teaching them math? I’m not sure yet if two years old is too young without immersion in a native context (which unfortunately doesn’t exist), but some exposure surely can’t hurt and I want to show my son that I love Jesus, love his Word, and love the study of it in the original. Something might rub off as I begin to teach him.

Give a child a modern language and they can read in their time. Give a child a classical language and they can read beyond their time. Hmm, doesn’t have the same ring as the “fish proverb” but I think it makes a point. Learning Greek and Hebrew wouldn’t be helpful only for biblical study but also to be able to read widely in classical literature and gain all that comes from being multilingual.

Have you considered this or in fact started this endeavor with your kids? I’d love to know how you’ve approached it. And if you have any resources to recommend, please share!

Two resources I have quickly found that look like they could be good (though I haven’t spent a good deal of time investigating them yet) are:

Greek for Children from Classical Academic Press; and

these Hebrew books from EKS Publishing Co.

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2 comments

  1. mvpcworshipblog

    Hi Andy,

    I think that Randall Buth and Daniel Street are right to point out that being able to produce a language is a necessary part of actually learning it. So while some of the materials from EKS (such as Og the Terrible and Tale Tales Told and Retold in Biblical Hebrew) can be great aids – you are still going to need to talk with your children in Hebrew or Greek if you want them to learn these languages naturally and well.

    This is actually easier to do than it might sound. You can start with expressions like “Boker Tov” and this will just become natural for your children to think that “Boker Tov” is another way of saying “Good Morning”. I would also suggest that you try to focus initial vocabulary acquisition on things that your children see everyday such as dog, tree, table, salt, water, chair, cup, bowl, or common actions like drink, eat, walk, go, come, sleep, smile, laugh, love, etc … That way you can keep pointing to these things and name or describe them using familiar vocabulary.

    Best wishes,

    David

  2. Andrew Rozalowsky

    I’m sitting with my son now and saying, “boker tov,” and asking him how he is in Hebrew. Good idea, David!

    I haven’t yet interacted much with the varying views on Greek pedagogy (“The Linguist as Pedagogue” is always checked out at our library! haha ;) I should think some more about it given that I want to teach my son and have taught some adults in the past.

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