I have learned many things over the course of my years teaching and tutoring Biblical Hebrew. For most people, the process of learning a new language is an intimidating one. This feeling of intimidation is compounded when you learn an ancient language, especially a Semitic one. The letters are foreign, apparently consisting of symbols rather than letters. It sounds strange to the ear. OK, more than strange – downright foreign. So, when it comes to learning a language like Biblical Hebrew, what is there to be done?
The answer is “plenty.” But there’s one thing in particular that “must” be done: you need to learn how to READ it.
Almost without fail, the students that struggle in Hebrew are the ones that don’t learn how to read it, precisely because of what I mentioned above. It’s scary. It’s intimidating. It’s foreign. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of practice. Unfortunately (or, for the nerds among us, fortunately), it’s all necessary.
In fact, studies have shown that the more senses that you can engage in learning a language, the better that language will “stick” and the easier the process will be. In case you’ve forgotten, the senses are sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
OK, so “tasting” and “smelling” are definitely out of the question. But three of the five are definitely present in the language-learning process:
SIGHT: For the visual learners among us, this is particularly important.LOOK at the text or passage you’re reading. Engage with the letters and vowels. Use Flashcards. Watch demonstration videos. Read Hebrew cartoons (more on that in a later post!).
HEARING (this is my learning style!): As read, listen to your voice. Make note of what you’re saying. Record yourself saying the text (important: correctly!) and play it back. Download audio versions of flash cards.
TOUCH: Write it. It’s a pain, and some colleges and seminaries don’t even require this step. However, again, engaging as many senses as you can while learning the language helps immensely with the process. Plus, you can integrate the “writing” component with the “hearing” component and kill two birds with one stone for added effectiveness.
So, what’s the foundation you need to learn Hebrew? Read it! The ability to read the language is the cornerstone from which all other learning is derived, writing and vocabulary in particular. You don’t want to be caught trying to memorize vocabulary by sight. Unless you’re a genius with a photographic memory, this isn’t gonna work. But if one can read, memorizing vocabulary becomes exponentially easier, the “auditory” sense is immediately engaged, and you know “how” to write.
I mentioned above that the students who struggle with the language are the ones who don’t learn how to read it. On the other hand, the students that take the time to read and practice with the language are among the most successful students. In the Sea of Intimidation, perhaps this idea will serve to encourage you on your learning journey.
Now go read some Hebrew. 🙂