Sweden is providing a new twist on learning an old language, for young learners of Aramaic in the two villages in the Holy Land’s small Christian community, in Beit Jala, Palestine and Jish, Israel.
In the Beit Jala Mar Afram school, run by the Syrian Orthodox church, priests have taught over 320 students Aramaic over the past five years.
In Jish approximately 80 elementary school children are taking Aramaic as a voluntary option in school.
The elementary school children who take part in the Aramaic language learning program learn to speak, listen, write Aramaic script and read the language.
Dia Hadid of the Associated Press reports that:
“The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is “Syriac,” which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used, according to Steven Fassberg, an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”
The language classes have been met with criticisms from some parents and community members, some of whom are worried that having students learn Aramaic may be an attempt to convert them to Christianity or may be a threat to their Arabic identity.
According to the Associated Press, some members of the Christian community in the region still chant their liturgy in Aramaic, but few people understand the prayers.
Enter Sweden. Swedish officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 Aramaic speakers reside in that country. The Aramaic community is strong there and includes an Aramaic soccer team, “Syrianska FC” in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje.
Aramaic speakers in Sweden publish a newspaper called “Bahro Suryoyo”, as well as pamphlets and children’s books, including The Little Prince. But what really helps the students learn the language is Soryoyosat, a satellite television station maintained by the Swedish Aramaic community. For some members of these two villages in the holy land, watching Aramaic programming from Swedish TV station provided the first opportunity in decades for them to hear the language spoken outside church. The Associated Press reports that “Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.”
This is one case, where technology and television are benefitting language learners both in terms of making learning more accessible and in increasing their motivation. These kids are “kickin’ it old school”, using new technology. Aramaic may be saved, yet.
Associated Press. (2012, May 28). Pair of villages in Holy Land teaching Aramaic in effort to revive language that Jesus spoke: New focus comes with help from modern technology. NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pair-villages-holy-land-teaching-aramaic-effort-revive-language-jesus-spoke-article-1.1085728
Hadid, D. (2012, May 28). Aramaic: Efforts To Revive Jesus’ Language In Christian Villages Beit Jala, Jish In Holy Land, Sweden. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/aramaic-holy-land-jesus_n_1550507.html
Hadid, D. (2012, May 29). Revival of Jesus’ language attempted in two Holy Land villages. Southeast Missourian. Retrieved from http://www.semissourian.com/story/1854012.html
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.