A Mind for Language

Jun 12, 2019

Learning Syriac - project index

Syriac is a Semitic language in the same family as Aramaic. It also has one of the earliest transitions the New Testament and is a Christian literary language as well.

It's related to the Aramaic that Jesus and the Apostles would have grown up speaking...

... and it's not widely known ...

... and doesn't have near the resources available as do Greek, Hebrew, or Latin.

My hope is that this series of posts will help throw some light on how to learn it by describing my experience as I'm doing just that.

Consider this an experiment and a test to see if some of the techniques that I have found effective with Koine Greek work for another ancient language.


These are some of the principles that guide how I'm going to go about it.

  1. Input over grammar
  2. Cloze grammar cards
  3. Spaced, repeated reading

Input over grammar

In other words, time spent reading Syriac will be more effective than time spent reading about Syriac.

As long as what I'm reading is qualifies as comprehensible input (i.e. at least 95% understandable).

The problem with classical languages is finding material that qualifies as comprehensible.

Since I'm a beginner, my plan is to start by adding the sentences from my text book to an Anki flashcard deck. I'll make sure that I understand the translation of these sentences before I add them.

Because the Syriac writing system is quite different from what I'm used to and has a lot of silent letters. I'm going to include a rough phonetic transcription on the back of each card along with the translation.

Another trick I learned is to bold new vocabulary that you want to learn. This will be more useful after I'm more comfortable reading and don't need a full translation on each card. At that point, I'll stop adding full translations and just note the meaning of the bolded words.

Cloze grammar cards

For more details see this post.

The basic idea is to use cloze deletions to become more familiar with the paradigms.

These seem to work really well for me to become comfortable with how a paradigm works.

This is in tension with the input over grammar principle above, but I find such familarity to be helpful.

Again, not memorizing to memorize, but familiarity.

Spaced, repeated reading

See this post for more details.

In short the idea is to use spaced repetition to schedule rereading material that qualifies as comprehensible input.

This is accomplished by using a spaced repetition software.

For me this is Anki.

At the beginning, the cards will simple be the sentences from my textbooks. Once I'm more comfortable, then the cards will probably be links, book + page numbers, or references to the material that I want to read.

What's next

As I write other posts about learning Syriac, I'll add links to them here.