Learning a language at SFI

Learning a language at SFI

Postby Stephen Carlson » February 14th, 2013, 6:43 am

Right now, I have begun a "Swedish for Immigrants" (SFI) class in Uppsala so I can learn to speak Swedish fluently. Though privately administered by one of Sweden's premier adult education companies, this course is subsidized by the Swedish government to get immigrants and ex pats to learn the Swedish language. In Uppsala, there are about 2000 people curently enrolled in the courses, coming from all parts of the worls. For the past two week, I have been observing how a successful language course is being taught here in Sweden.

As I mentioned, the students come from all over the world. In my class of 30, at least 21 different countries are represented. Most of the students can't speak Swedish--that's why they're taking the course--but all the students can understand English, at least rudimentarily as a second or third language (one of the staff is a speaker of Arabic and Farsi, which helps a lot for the students with the most rudimentary English). In this program, we meet in class for 10 hours a week, though there is additional homework and web instruction.

As much as the class as possible is conducted in Swedish, but not 100%. There is a lot of description in Swedish, and pictures to convey the names of things and actions. Still, because everyone knows some English, important administrative information is repeated in English. Also, to avoid getting stuck with an explanation in Swedish, and an English gloss or restatement is occasionally tossed out for help. The grammar teaching is not really inductive. There is a lot of grammatical explanation for parts of speech, word order, plural formation for five different classes of nouns, etc.

I suspect this class will be more effective at teaching Swedish than the average seminary Greek program. For one, the classroom time is more intense--2½ hours a day, four days a week. Some seminaries are lucky to assign more than 2½ hours a week of classtime. Another reason is that the teacher is actually fluent in Swedish and so I am hearing the language constantly throughout the 2½ hours a day of class time. Finally, the culture here is Swedish, so I have plenty of opportunities to practice the language at work and while shopping. None of these reasons seem to be available in the typical seminary, and I fear that the contraints of a masters-level program will make certain standard language learning approaches infeasible in that context.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: Learning a language at SFI

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 4th, 2013, 8:54 am

I've been at this for a month now, and I can say that listening a teacher speak the foreign language for 2½ hours a day, four days a week, has improved my oral comprehension greatly as well as my speaking ability.

The pace of learning the grammar is fairly slow, however. For verbs, we've covered present tense and the imperative, and for nouns the indefinite singular and plural forms, as well as the definite singular forms. Because the grammar is fairly limited and the vocabulary so far limited to basic social interactions, I don't find the living language approach to be as helpful or speedy with reading comprehension.

Of course, my goal for Swedish is to speak and listen, and those goals are different from my primarily reading comprehension goals for a dead language like Greek.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
Stephen Carlson
 
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Re: Learning a language at SFI

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2013, 4:08 am

Thanks for the report.

Just keep going. In the end you will be reading much better than without the spoken foundation. You will be able to access high-level reading skills in Swedish.

there is one point that I would differ on. The constraint of a comparison to a seminary program prevents people from seeing the bigger picture. For example, no one doing a master's degree in German literature would start German at a zero level in an MA. Similarly, one does not learn any language well in the equivalence of 10-20 semester units, even in a well-designed course. In other words, the bar cannot be set with reference to seminary programs. The bar must be set with reference to human language learning and then seminaries must make whatever trade-offs they desire. Canon-text-based adaptions of living methods are available, and the general approach can widen the gate for students entering the language.
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Re: Learning a language at SFI

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 6th, 2013, 1:30 pm

Well, I'm not trying to set the bar, but I am considering what trade-offs seminaries would have to do. And that depends on how much support they give to the Biblical languages program.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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