Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Learning Foreign Languages

Anna Danilova, "Metropolitan Hilarion: I Owe Everything in My Life to the Church," PRAVMIR.COM. Orthodox Christianity and the World (July 27, 2016):
Vladyka, you work with a great amount of literature in various languages. How many foreign languages do you know?

– Several languages to varying degrees. I speak and write fluently in English. I would even think in this language when I studied in England. I speak and read in French when the necessity arises, but not so fluently. I also speak Greek, but not so confidently (I don't have enough practice), although I can read fluently in it. And then in descending order of importance I read but don't speak Italian, Spanish and German. Of the ancient languages I studied Ancient Greek, Syrian and Hebrew.

How did you learn foreign languages?

– I studied foreign languages using the Gospel. I always began with the Gospel of John. It is the most convenient Gospel for learning words, they are repeated constantly: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the same was in the beginning with God." Experts say that the vocabulary of the Gospel of John is half of that of the other Gospels, although in volume it is no less than the others. This lexical laconicism is connected to the fact that many of the words are repeated.

Why is it convenient to learn language from the Gospels? Because when you read a familiar text which you know practically off by heart, you don't have to look up words in the dictionary, you recognize the words. That's how I learnt Greek. At first I read the Gospel of John, then I read the three other Gospels, then I began to read the Epistles of the apostles, then I began to read the Church Fathers in Greek. Moreover, when I studied Greek, I listened to a tape recording of the Liturgy in Greek. I studied it in the pronunciation which is used by Greeks today.

I studied Syrian in a different way. This was in Oxford, I had an excellent professor, the best specialist in Syrian literature in the world, Sebastian Brock. But he said to me right away: I have no intention of teaching you the language, I'm interested in reading texts. So I began to read the texts of Isaac the Syrian with him, and along the way I read the Gospels in Syrian and used Robinson's textbook to master the basics of grammar and syntax.

The most important thing in languages is, of course, practice. No textbook can be a substitute for practical work with a text.
I made one small correction (changed "arise" to "arises").

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