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“By the end of this week, I’ll have you translating Goethe.”

This was the promise my professor made to our class on the first day of the HDS Summer Language Program. 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 Summer Language Program (SLP) is an important facet of life at HDS. SLP courses—designed specifically to teach students skills in academic or scriptural translation—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 2 of their 3 language course requirements. For MTS students, passing the SLP with a final exam grade of an A- or higher satisfies their language requirement without their having to take a language placement exam.

Emerson Chapel in Divinity Hall is a serene, quiet space for memorizing "Grundwortschatz," or basic vocabulary words. Photo by Caroline Matas

Emerson Chapel in Divinity Hall is a serene, quiet space for memorizing “Grundwortschatz,” or basic vocabulary words. Photo by Caroline Matas

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 3 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 three weeks into the program (and already prepping for the midterm exam), I admit that, despite my class’s initial skepticism, we have already learned more than I could have imagined.

Later this week, after our midterm exam, our professor has arranged for us to take an Exkursion to a German restaurant in Boston. As we savor our Bretzeln und Biere, we will bask in our momentary reprieve before cracking open our German dictionaries again on Monday. After all, when you’re in the SLP, “winter break” is only 3 days long.


Learn more on our website 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.