Learning Hebrew without a dummy

I got this book before I came over here:

Actually its a terrible book, its really לא טוב / Lo Tov (no good) for learning Hebrew.   Why?   There’s no Hebrew symbols on it apart from on the front!! The tuition is based around purely only phonetically using Hebrew using Roman letters.  Makes me wonder how much the Dummies franchise check things out before putting their name to their titles.

This is a bit like people I have seen learning to drive a car that’s an automatic, and they can’t get to grips with a manual, it requires drastically re-tooling your brain a second time to learn the native method of doing it.

The symbols in Hebrew are quite different, there is no upper or lower case like there is in European language, or Greek for that matter.   As well as being right to left, there isn’t an upper and lower case set of characters, but there are ‘sofits’ a longer leg on some (N, P, F, etc) characters, you can see this trend also with Arabic which has curvy bits also at the end, as bother languages are derived from Aramaic, an ancient language spoken by Jesus as used in the Passion of the Christ movie, almost extinct but still practiced by a small number of people in small towns in Syria.

What can make it harder is only a small number of things you see in Hebrew include the vowels (dots above and below symbols)  making looking at some words involves a bit of guess work!!

I am learning in a small class of 6 with a friend, most people tend to opt for doing Ulpan, a professional type class, if you want to immigrate to Israel, use the language just for religious or biblical study or if you are just curious.

I only learned French at school which I wasn’t interested in, nor can I really remember any of it.  Its made me think though how hugely challenging it is for a teacher to demonstrate a language, and build the confidence of all the students at the same time and motivate them to practice speaking/listening, reading and writing, and if anyone in the group struggles, helping them out without making them embarrassed.   I think with any type of adult education, you inevitably get people dropping out, not want to persist when it gets difficult.   This happened to us with two pupils thinking that were not making enough progress and worried about letting down the rest of the class.

I know several Japanese people learning Hebrew from a Japanese teacher, which surprised me is that Japanese Christians read their bibles up to down! apparently they used to read all old style books like this but all other modern books contains the kanji symbols left to right.

This book on the right is what our teacher recommended us, it has a mix of conversational bits and individual words too.  Notice this book is ‘proper’ as looking at the front it has the spine on the right hand side!

My personal recommendations would be:-

  • Make sure books and training materials are of good quality, check on Amazon or review sites to see if they can offer learning all the aspects of Hebrew at the right time.
  • Be persistent.   I meet up with some of my class in an Aroma coffee shop in between my monday night lessons, I am not motivated to do practice on my own, so being with other people is good.
  • If you are not yet in Israel but planning to, do some searching for flash cards and learn the symbols and the numbers, print them off and go through them at least 3 or 4 times a week.
  • If you are Israel already, try practice whilst out shopping, when buying things in the big outdoor Shuk (market)  I found I could pick up the names of numbers well this way.
  • Encourage those in your class that aren’t making so good progress and be sensitive not to embarrass them.
  • Asking friends who already know Hebrew to help you practice!

I am a long way from having anything that useful, but I look forward to being able to gain some understanding of what was spoken in the bible and get more detailed examination of the harder to understand parts of the old testament.

This week our teacher showed us Cursive (hand written) Hebrew letters, which really throws me as they look radically different from the regular right-angled looking ones!

For a new immigrant to this land, it is critical to persist and get to grips with Hebrew if you want to get employment, make friends and fit in here, its not easy, but possible when you put your mind to it.

Its quite embarrassing as like most other British person I have been not conversant in any other language, friends from Europe seem to speak 3 including English, and my various Israeli friends immigrant and sabra also know a third language which maybe Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, French, Spanish, Amharic or Armenian!

During my time I went to Karmiel and Nazareth again, its a pleasant surprise to know I can read the boarding gates now in Jerusalem bus station without having to ask someone! 🙂

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