An unlikely resource? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the Bible is a crazy good resource for learning languages.
I have more than once been stuck without resources for a particular language. By resources, I mean things like novels, comics, movies, TV shows– all the things that keep my language level improving. Most recently, this has happened with Dutch. Dutch doesn’t have the highest population of speakers, and it certainly isn’t an international language in the way that Spanish, French, or even Japanese are. It doesn’t have a literature or media market that gets shipped overseas commonly. Dutch media is not easily found in the United States, where I live. Thus, I have to dig through Amazon third-party sellers to find what Dutch novels I can.
I also regularly read the Bible (this post, however, is not meant to be religious in nature), and I tend to use the [FREE] YouVersion app on my iPhone (this is not an advertisement). I amuse myself by frequently changing the language on the app, and stumbled upon one amazing, yet perhaps underused, language learning resource!
Reason #1: It Comes in [Almost] Every Language on the Planet
You’ve heard that the Bible is the most translated book in history, right? The full Bible has been translated into 531 languages, and portions of the Bible have been translated into 2,883 languages. [Source]
What does this mean for us, the language learners and wannabe polyglots of the world? No matter which language you choose, you will have at least one resource.
What’s more, for popular languages on the YouVersion app, you can choose from a number of translations. I would recommend doing some research on these so that you can pick a modern one– no one wants to walk around talking like King James, and you do run that risk.
I personally use the Het Boek Dutch tranlslation, and I’ve learned a lot from it– it’s modern, and it’s easy to read. It’s helped me in more than one pinch when I’ve been short of Dutch things to read.
Reason #2: You’re Probably Familiar with Many Parts of the Bible
Even if you’re not religious, so many countries in the West have been culturally affected by the stories and morals of Judeo-Christianity. You’re probably familiar with the Christmas story, the Passion, the creation story, etc. etc. etc.
We all know that comprehensible input is important for picking up new words and grammar patterns ala Stephen Krashen. The Bible certainly works for this (at least with the parts you’re familiar with). It might not be as transparent as reading Harry Potter (like I do…) in a number of languages, but it often does the job.
Reason #3: Devotional-Style Texts Give You Tiny, Tiny Verses
I said this wasn’t really a religious post, so I’m treading a fine line here. If you’re into it, the YouVersion app also includes a number of Bible reading plans. Some of these are plans that allow you to read through certain sections of the Bible, or the whole Bible in a year, things like that. Others are shorter– some three days, some two weeks.
Other plans are super trendy, and these are the language-learning gems. You’ll recognize them by their cool graphic design and big names. Why are these ones so great? Well, when I was first using the New Testament to get some Dutch reading in, I opted for a Gospel reading plan. Not such a good idea– it went through all four Gospels with three or four long chapters to read a day. Easy for English, not so easy for Dutch. So, I quit that one, but a couple weeks later, I took up a week-long devotional (can’t remember which), and I was thrilled to discover that these devotionals use the smallest verses and portions of verses they could find. I’m talking one-sentence reading lengths here. These are really easy to make a habit of reading– the short length makes it all the more inviting. It’s not intimidating, and I’ve gained a lot of vocabulary from it. Habit is everything, and I’m now in the habit of reading at least some Dutch every single day. Success! (N.B. The devotional content (i.e., the life advice parts) will be in English, unless you sign up for a Spanish plan, but if you’re not interested, you can skim this or skip it).
Hopefully this will give you some incentive to try out the Bible as a learning resource for whatever language you want to take up! It’s done quite a lot for me, and there’s something to be said for a free resource for some of the rarer languages out there. Have you done something similar with Bible readings? Let me know what you think in the comments!