Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Starting to learn German for NT studies

I’ve often been asked about German language learning and NT studies, and the superb and detailed posts of Wayne Coppins (e.g., here) will be extremely helpful to read through. Here is my short list of advice:
  1. Get  a basic grasp of German grammar and vocab, if possible as part of a visit to Germany. I benefited greatly from the Sprachinstitut in Tübingen. But other basic level texts are always worth perusing, as is the Michael Thomas audio set. Use mnemonics, anything to boost your confidence and keep you motivated.
  2. When you start to read German with a dictionary to hand, don’t jump into Barth, Balthasar, Hegel or Heidegger. Unless you like the feeling of defeat.
  3. For a dictionary-in-hand start, I always recommend Udo Schnelle’s book, Paulus, which is not only v clearly written, but also profoundly educational and very German in its approach.
  4. Also trying a book in a non-theology related topic that you enjoy is helpful at this stage. I like chess, so I worked through Volkhard Igney’s Erfolgreich Kombinieren: Schachtaktik und Schachkombinationen.
  5. Watch movies you enjoy and have seen before, but with German audio. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Blade Meets Bambi and The Matrix in German!
  6. Don’t expect perfection! I lived in Germany for 6 years. My wife and I speak German every day – even if not as much as we used to, now we live in London, UK. But I can still make silly mistakes; I still need to reread some sentences to get it (especially if Balthahsar wrote them. He is to German what the Letter of Hebrews is to NT Greek!)
  7. Read and even memorise favourite bible passages from a modern German Bible, like the Hoffnung für alle, not the Elberfelder or Luther.
  8. This leads me to my final and best piece of advice: Marry a German!
And please see Dr Scott Caulley's advice in the comments for some excellent suggestions. He was the Director of the Institute for the Study of Christian Origins in Tübingen from 2002 to 2010 and knows what he is talking about!


At 2/19/2014 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the tips I gave my students in "theologisches Deutsch" included:

After you get an introductory course under your belt, start to read widely-- reading for pleasure helps in building vocabulary, and for general grammar knowledge. Try to read entire works, to get a sense of the whole.

Read novels and other popular German titles -- it all helps. I also find Hermann Hesse's work good to read-- not too difficult, and entertaining.

Avoid the urge to reach for your German-English dictionary-- try to understand a word or phrase within the context of the sentence, paragraph, and section.

As soon as you can, start working with a German grammar in German (a "Deutsche Grammatik fuer Auslaender"). Buy a German dictionary in German, and always try it first. Outgrow your English-language "German for Reading" book.

Form a group of other students of theological German, and try to discuss your reading "auf Deutsch."

And go to Germany! Spend longer than a week! Go to movies and watch TV in German. Get a tandem Sprachpartner.

Last, think of German as a life-long project. As with any language, ancient or modern, it takes commitment and long experience to move beyond superficial understanding. It's never too late to learn, and there's always room for improvement.

Scott Caulley

At 2/19/2014 9:32 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Scott, have added a note in the main post about your v helpful comment. Hope you are well! We'll be going back for a wedding soon.

At 2/19/2014 2:45 PM, Blogger Hendrik said...

A little help from experience:
Read comics! Even if you don't understand every word you can get the meaning through the pictures.
Or what I did to practise my English was reading Sherlock Holmes.
See you at the wedding :-)

At 2/19/2014 4:37 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I always recommend that students read the Bible in German first.

At 3/01/2014 5:48 PM, Blogger Steve Martin said...

'Danke Shoen'

I think that is German for a song by Wayne Newton.


Post a Comment

<< Home