The students I encounter at seminary admire the skills of their few classmates who are able to utilize the biblical languages (especially Hebrew). Sometimes the student who acquires the needed tools is looked upon by his fellows as a special someone, especially gifted in language acquisition. Language teachers on the other hand know that there are few, truly gifted students. Those who are successful (i.e. actually use the biblical languages) are those who diligently labor at building those skills. While these students are not more gifted in learning the language, they are more willing to work through the frustrations that come with studying any non-native tongue. I came across a quote recently that illustrates this point beautifully.
I was listening to an audio book entitled The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. It is a true story about the relationship between a LA Times reporter, Steve Lopez, and a homeless man, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was a Julliard trained musician. Ayers, a gifted double bassist at the prestigious music school in the ‘70’s, was diagnosed with schizophrenia during that time. After decades of failed treatments and therapies, Ayers found his way to the streets of skid row playing classical music for hours in a LA tunnel.
Since music held some semblance of reality for Ayers, Lopez thought that he could help him through his mental illness by asking this homeless musical talent for violin lessons. The results were frustrating at best for the sane reporter. Lopez was frustrated with the size of the instrument, the awkward placement of it under his chin, and the closeness of the individual strings. He was frustrated with the inability of his body to do two things at one time: play a certain note with his left hand and at the same time slide the bow with his right. Since his fingers were not use to playing, equally frustrating was the pain that accompanied any note he attempted to play. Totally frustrated with his lesson, Lopez complained to his mentally ill teacher. In a fleeting moment of lucidness Ayers responded, “If you admire the violin, you will weather the frustration.”
What is true for music, I think, is true in biblical language acquisition as well. “If you admire the use of Hebrew (or Greek), you will weather the frustration.”