We’re pretty pleased over here that HCHS Bible teacher Keith Blystra ’00 got to fulfill one of his career goals.
But we’re even more excited that we get a high school Hebrew language class out of the deal, to add to our current Spanish and Latin language offerings.
Teaching Biblical conversational Hebrew to high school kids has been something Keith has wanted to do ever since he finished his graduate studies in 2014 in Modern Hebrew and Old Testament from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And ever since he enjoyed the access the language gave him and his family to other people’s, other culture’s tables.
“Many people have assumptions about Christians, but when you speak their Hebrew language they don’t know where to put you,” Keith said. “Learning the language gave credibility to the witness we had as Christians—because they met a Christian who wasn’t like what they thought.”
Many people have assumptions about Christians, but when you speak their Hebrew language they don’t know where to put you.
So fast forward a few years, and here’s Keith directing a class of 20 HCHS students completely in conversational Hebrew, telling them to sit down, stand up, stand on a chair, turn around, hug the bear—and they’re all somehow understanding him, following directions, giggling at results. He teaches them Hebrew vocabulary using toys and commands, just like how little kids learn a first language from hearing and following a parent’s example, and physically responding to commands. It’s a language learning technique called TPR, or Total Physical Response, one of the more effective language methods used today. Once their student feet are on stable ground, and they can understand most of the commands, he spins off into another technique called TPRS, or Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling, another method used with students as they advance further and interact with the language, and can add grammatical structures and reading or storytelling into their Hebrew language toolboxes.
“It’s an interactive, immersive learning style,” explained sophomore Isaiah Lowe ’21. “It’s not too fast, but still pushes you, and of course it’s fun. There’s not the pressure to memorize things: it’s learning through games and songs, and less of assignments.”