What is Biblingo?
Biblingo is an affordable web-based computer software designed to help students improve their Biblical Hebrew and Greek. Biblingo’s mission “is to advance God’s Word in the world by making the biblical languages more accessible and easier to learn through technology.”
Who is Biblingo Designed for?
The software is designed for anyone who wants to grow in their knowledge of the biblical languages. It is beneficial for someone with no background in the languages to lifelong Hebrew and Greek scholars. It can be used by groups or individuals. Students can select to study one of the languages or both. You can advance at your own pace, and a placement test is available for those who would like to get a head start. However, I would highly recommend starting from the beginning regardless of skill level.
Biblingo focuses on developing language skills through all acts of communication. This has led some to associate Biblingo with the “living language” or “communicative” approach. However, the producers of Biblingo are trained linguists, and grammatical concepts do receive some emphasis. Rather than solely focusing on speaking and hearing, Biblingo focuses on grammatical concepts, reading, writing, speaking and listening when each is most helpful, basing and refining their approach on the latest research in the field of second language acquisition. Each session begins with a short video explanation of grammatical concepts that will be learned. After that, the remainder of the lesson is in the ancient language, utilizing comprehensible input to help users acquire new skills in the language. The lessons begin with 4 to 6 new vocabulary words that are accompanied by pictures and videos set in the ancient culture to help with proper association, and optional glosses in English. Audio is included as well to help with pronunciation and memory. The vocab is then drilled passively and actively. Next, grammar concepts are studied passively and actively. There are four sub lessons in each lesson. Sub lessons take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete. There are currently just over 30 lessons. Helpful lesson guides contain more detailed grammatical information for most of the lessons in the beginning stages. Lesson guides for later lessons are still being developed.
As mentioned, manageable chunks of new vocabulary are studied in each sub lesson. Vocabulary is reviewed regularly through the evidence-based learning technique of spaced repetition. Vocabulary that is learned is spaced carefully throughout future lessons to aid memorization. On top of this, the flash card decks in Biblingo abound. Words are automatically put in a new deck when it is time for them to be reviewed. You can also review vocab by lesson, customize a deck with your own words, or with words from a specific part of the Bible by frequency. The settings can be adjusted so that you can begin with multiple choice and move into active reproduction or start with the active reproduction. The ease of memorizing and retaining vocabulary is a massive benefit of this software. On top of that, the inclusion of videos and pictures that seek to depict life in the ancient world is beneficial and fun.
Biblingo also includes various drills outside of the normal lessons. Fluency drills are used to help review paradigms. Rather than relying on rote memorization of paradigms, these drills help you internalize the paradigms. This will boost your reading speed, as you will no longer be running through paradigms in your head when reading the biblical text.
Reading comprehension drills are also used. Engaging short stories are written in Hebrew and Greek, followed by a quiz in the ancient language to test comprehension. This allows for more reading on the learner’s level that he or she is not already familiar with.
The software includes a Bible Reading module with the full text of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible. Audio recordings are available as well. Passages can be organized based on what percentage of the vocabulary you have learned. Unknown words can be clicked on to provide a definition, complete with pictures in many cases. Words can be archived or added to flash card decks for later review. Reading progress can be tracked as well.
For an additional cost, users can sign up for a group that meets weekly online to study with a professional instructor. These groups range in difficulty level, from beginner onward. Most groups progress through the Biblingo lessons. Other groups focus on reading the biblical text, and then discuss the text while speaking mostly in the ancient language to improve fluency with the language. The instructors are humble and extremely impressive in their command of the language. I have found that being forced to hear the language spoken and respond helps train your mind to process the language faster, which has a huge payoff when reading. The cohorts motivate you to memorize new vocabulary to use, force you to ask questions of the language that deepen your understanding of it, and they are a lot of fun. Grammatical concepts are addressed in English from time to time, but the vast majority of the class is in the ancient language. The instructors do a great job of tailoring the class to the skill level of the individual, even though it is done in small groups. The live cohorts are well worth it. Most speakers in these groups use modern Hebrew pronunciation and reconstructed koine, but that is not a requirement, and after a session or two the differences are easily overcome. Users should not be intimidated to jump into one of these groups, even if it is something you have never done before. You will not be the only one who is new to this, and learning any language requires the humility to put yourself out there and make mistakes.
Biblingo is highly motivating. You can set specific plans and goals, and points are awarded for each activity. You also have access to loads of data regarding the vocabulary and grammar you have learned, Bible passages you have read, and more.
The software is extremely intuitive and easy to use. On top of that, the customer service is outstanding. Questions are answered thoroughly and in a timely manner.
What About Pronunciation?
Biblingo’s software is available in Biblical and modern Hebrew pronunciation. Greek is available in Early High Koine (Polis method, Alpha with Angela), Reconstructed Koine (Biblical Learning Center), Erasmian (what nearly all seminaries teach), and modern. The pronunciations for the audio recordings of the Greek New Testament are available in Reconstructed Koine, Erasmian, and modern, with limited availability in Early High Koine. The audio recording of the Hebrew Bible is only available in modern pronunciation.
Does Biblingo Actually Help You Read and Study the Bible?
While the answer is undoubtedly yes, there is a lot to this question. First, we have to ask if knowing the original language helps us read and study the Bible. I would say it absolutely does. Things always get lost in translation. It is less that huge things that are being missed, rather, a thousand subtle nuances are missed. The two biggest barriers to understanding God’s Word (apart from sinful hearts of course), is the distance in language and culture. Growing in our understanding of both will pay huge dividends. My own love for God and his Word have grown dramatically for it, and as a pastor, my preaching is far better for it. If we seek to defend the faith, we must also acknowledge that if we don’t know these languages, in some respects we are at the mercy of those who claim to.
Next, we have to ask what the goal is in learning the biblical language. When I started Greek in seminary, I remember watching a video showing my Greek professor, Dr. Rob Plummer, sitting in his armchair early one morning with no lexicon, no computer, simply reading his Greek New Testament. Immediately I thought, “That is what I want. I want to be able to do that.” Similarly, I remember sitting in class and watching Dr. Peter Gentry day by day translate on the fly from his Hebrew Bible. I want to have that kind of proficiency with the language. The benefits of regularly reading the Bible in the original language is where the real payout for learning them comes. There is very limited benefit in being familiar with certain categories of a language that we are not actively engaged with. On top of that, simply seeking introductory level familiarity with the language makes us highly prone to make mistakes when talking about a language that we are not actively engaging with. If you are going to talk about these languages as you teach God’s Word to others, you should make sure you are actively working with them.
With these things in mind, Biblingo is a dramatic help. Internalizing the language is what it takes to move from being able to read 2-5 verses in 15 minutes to being able to read a chapter of the Bible in the original language in 5 minutes. Those kinds of results take discipline and dedication. But it also takes the right tools. Biblingo is the number one tool to help get you there over time, wherever your starting point is. Higher reading speed means more text is able to be read, which allows you to become more familiar with the language. It also shows that you are getting better at comprehending the Bible in its own tongue, rather than producing your own wooden translation that you then must comprehend. Ultimately, Biblingo is unlikely to help you define whether something is a dative of reference or a dative of advantage. However, it is a tremendous help in reading the Bible in the original languages.
Cautions and Critique
Most of the material that is being studied is obviously produced by non-native speakers. It is fair to say that this warrants some degree of caution from the user. Some raise concern since this approach raises the possibility that wrong intuitions about the language are acquired. For instance, Biblingo often makes use of Subject – Verb – Object word order for most of the simple sentences because this is usually how sentences like this are constructed in the New Testament. However, some scholars would argue that statistical frequency is not the best way to determine default sentence structure, and that the basic sentence construction for Greek should be Verb – Subject – Object. Either one is grammatically acceptable but understanding word order helps us understand prominence and emphasis in particular sentences. In fairness, the Biblingo team is not necessarily looking to produce “default” or “unmarked” sentences (sentences that do not include any special emphasis), and these sentences are far from being “incorrect” in any sense of the word. An argument could be made that NT statistical frequency is what should determine our word order in this case. In addition, most of the time the subject is included in the verb, in which case the conversation is mostly irrelevant. We should also remember that as linguists, the producers are better equipped to make judgments about these things than those who simply specialize in the biblical languages. Still, this is an example of the fact that while there is much we can be certain about with regard to these languages, no software will ever be quite as perfect as we might like given that there are no more native speakers. However, the program designers are extremely careful and thoughtful. These minor concerns can be combatted as long as one makes the ancient texts the final authority on all things related to the language. The producers are gathering their data from the ancient texts to begin with, but Biblingo is not designed to train its users to go “correct” John’s Greek or Moses’ Hebrew. Significant conclusions about the language should never be drawn on intuition alone. We should always consult the data of the ancient texts first.
The software will enable you to read far more of the biblical text, which was written by native speakers. This fact itself will undoubtedly improve your language intuitions. In other words, not only will the software make you better at reading the text, but then your ability to read more of the text will also make you better at reading the text, compounding the benefit. The team is also actively working to make the software better and better.
The only other critique I can give is that regrettably, there is no cell phone app at this time. This is not really the developers’ fault, as there are certain challenges that an app presents, especially when it comes to the Hebrew and Greek keyboards. You can access Biblingo online on your phone. It is doable, but not perfect. I have been told that an app is possible in the future. Still, for the price, it is very difficult to complain about this.
A Note to Some “Grammar Translation Method” Loyalists
I understand there is some degree of cautiousness in taking on a new and different approach. You did not learn the language the wrong way. Your language skills may be great. But I am confident this approach will take your skills to new heights. Don’t be afraid to try it out. Don’t be afraid to fail, or maybe even realize you didn’t know the language as well as you thought you did. I’ve been there. Failing is often what it takes to improve. There is no reason why we can’t benefit from the latest research in second language acquisition. It takes humility to try a new approach, an approach that you may not be as good at right away. But if we don’t have this humility perhaps for all of our exegetical prowess, we have still missed the mark. If we do have this humility, we will be all the richer for it.
The bang for your buck when it comes to Biblingo is off the charts. The software is not cheap, but it is priced very reasonably for what you get. Rather than spending more money on grammar textbooks, I would highly recommend subscribing to Biblingo. It is a motivating, user-friendly one-stop-shop to radically improve your language skills and transform the way you read your Bible.
How do I get started?
Biblingo offers a free 10-day trail. If you are on the fence, there is no harm in giving it a shot. Additionally you can pickup a discount by using the discount code CHRISTISTHECURE when signing up. More information can be found at biblingo.org. You can also check out their podcast, “The Biblical Languages Podcast,” to hear more about their approach, or if you are just looking for a great way to learn more about Greek and Hebrew.
Logan grew up in San Antonio and has been married to his wife Caitlan since 2015. They have three children, Hazel, Baker, and Shepherd. He graduated from the University of Texas in 2016 and is now working on a Master of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with supplemental classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has a passion for the biblical languages and biblical theology. Logan serves as a Student Pastor at Currey Creek Church in Boerne, TX.