There are no ‘naturals’ in original language study

The featured pic is of Bobby Fischer. He was one of the greatest chess players ever. But he was not a natural. There are no naturals in chess, or in study of the original languages.

Months ago I began a series on Greek like Violin. My purpose was to bring to you, the reader, a methodology and motivation for serious language study. The impetus for the series stemmed from an article explaining the value of dedicated study of violin.

Referenced in that article was Malcom Gladwell, the author of Outliers and promoter of the 10,000-hour rule. This past August in the New Yorker online he explained that there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ in cognitive enterprises, such as chess, violin, or as I would argue, in the mastery of the biblical languages.

The article (linked here)  is well worth reading for two main reasons:

1) It reminded me of the importance of patience. Mastering Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German and French will take at least 10 years. Actually, it will take longer, because I’m studying more than one language, and my time is restricted due to family and ministry concerns. I need to constantly remind myself that such mastery will not come overnight.

2)  It encouraged me to keep going. In fields that are cognitively demanding, such as biblical languages, practice trumps natural ability. Gladwell would argue that there is no such thing as a natural, only circumstances that have allowed one person to spend more time than another doing a particular cognitive activity. The one main difference might be how one spends their practice time, as some people are able engage in more dedicated practice.

So keep reading, running your scales (parsing), tuning your instrument (vocab), and engaging with the text at every opportunity. In the end, it’ll be worth the 10, 20, or 50,000 hours you’ve spent poring over the words of Scripture. The benefits will be much more than cognitive.


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