A Snapshot of the HDS Summer Language Program

July 23, 2015
Students Studying
Students examining German texts in Andover-Harvard Theological Library / Photo: Jonathan Beasley

"By the end of this week, I'll have you translating Goethe."

This was the promise that Karin Grundler-Whitacre, director of the HDS Summer Language Program and lecturer on German, made to us on the first day of class.

We looked back at her, incredulous.

"I'm serious," she said. "Every year I say this to my students, and they think I’ve gone off the deep end, but by the end of the week you’ll see that I'm right. The transformation that you'll experience in this next eight weeks will shock you."

The SLP is an important facet of life at HDS. Summer language courses are designed specifically to teach students skills in academic or scriptural translation and are important resources for both MTS and MDiv students looking to fulfill language requirements and prepare for eventual PhD language exams.

This year, the SLP offered a bevy of language programs: French, German, and Spanish for reading in religious studies; classical Arabic; elementary and intermediate New Testament and Hellenistic Greek; elementary and intermediate Biblical Hebrew; Christian Latin; and—for the first time—elementary Pali.

Immersive language programs with high expectations often help language learners achieve the fastest and most striking transformations. The SLP allows HDS students to experience this type of transformation tuition-free, right on their own campus.

These intensive courses correspond with language courses offered during the academic year and count as two completed semesters of a language for all participating HDS students. For MDiv students, successful completion of the SLP fulfills two of their three language course requirements.

For MTS students, passing the SLP with a final exam grade of an A minus or higher satisfies their language requirement without their having to take a language placement exam.

As an MDiv student hoping to pursue a PhD in religion, I hoped the German program would prepare me to translate the work of German theologians and also to pass a PhD language exam. So, on June 15, I dove headfirst into the most rigorous language course I've ever encountered.

An intensive, 8-week course designed to cover two regular semesters of German, each week of class covers over a month's worth of material. We meet for three hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

We begin our Monday sessions with a vocabulary quiz and end our Thursdays with a translation exam. Both in class and in our assigned homework, we spend the bulk of our time translating passages from German to English.

Sure enough, our first night's homework included translating lines from Goethe's Faust I.

Now that I am weeks into the program, I admit that, despite my class's initial skepticism, we have already learned more than I could have imagined.

After our midterm exam, our professor arranged for us to take an exkursion to a German restaurant in Boston. As we savored our bretzeln und biere, we basked in our momentary reprieve before cracking open our German dictionaries the following Monday. After all, when you're in the SLP, "winter break" is only three days long.

Caroline Matas is a master of divinity degree candidate at HDS

Learn more about the Summer Language Program courses, fees, hours, and application process. The SLP is open to all college and university students and is tuition-free for full-time HDS degree candidates, including incoming first-year HDS students.