Hello, fellow language learners! My name is Wesley Wood. A few days ago Jason messaged me asking if I would be willing to discuss the internet resources I have found and have been using to learn modern Hebrew. I quickly agreed to do so. In my experience, it is much more difficult to find comprehensible input for Hebrew than for other languages, and I hope that this information will be beneficial to others. In this post I have assumed that you have learned the alphabet and are to the point in your studies where you are looking for this type of material. Let’s get started!
You may need to take a moment to finish laughing and wipe the tears from your eyes. Better? Now before you completely write me off, let me explain my reasoning. The most important component of language learning is vocabulary acquisition. Even though most people don’t have immediate access to a Hebrew-to-English dictionary, there are few who cannot access Google. It is easy to open Google translate, type in an English word, and find its Hebrew equivalent. For me the best use of this function is to learn new “concrete nouns” in those moments when you can’t do much else. You can do the same thing with verbs, although I feel that these are much better learned in context from reading.
Google translate will also give you a rough idea of what a Hebrew text says. If you find its translation particularly egregious, you can sometimes improve it by changing the arrangement of the words. This process is learned more easily by experience than by explanation, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid splitting phrases of the text between two different lines. For instance, Google will translate a phrase with והתרומם מעל on the first line and פני המים on the second line as “and rose above water surface.” The same phrase arranged with והתרומם מעל פני on the first line and המים on the second gives “and rose above the surface of the water.” Even though this example is intelligible either way, sometimes this trick can make an incoherent passage understandable. I frequently use this function to double check my understanding of difficult sentences. If the translation matches what I thought the text says, I find Google translate reliable enough to trust it and move on. At the very least, this tool is good enough to use while reading children’s books for vocabulary acquisition.
Because modern Hebrew texts don’t normally use vowels, it can be especially challenging to know how new words should be pronounced. Even though Google Translate is a good resource to use to know what a particular word means, it generally does not show what vowels the words should have. This is the tool that I most frequently use to overcome this difficulty. Once you get to the website, all you need to do to use the tool is paste in the text you want pointed and press the blue button at the bottom left corner of the page. If we take the same phrase that we used above (והתרומם מעל פני המים) and plug it in, it returns וְהִתְרוֹמֵם מֵעַל פְּנֵי הַמַּיִם. Like any tool, it isn’t perfect, but it is certainly much better than a blind guess.
This website hosts a number of free children’s books written at various grade levels. The title of each book is in Hebrew and serves as a link to that book. The difficulty of these books varies widely, and occasionally you will find one that does not allow you to easily copy and paste from it. (It seems to me that some of them expect you to copy and paste from left to right as in English rather than right to left as in Hebrew and that causes problems.)
I generally look for one of three things:
- A book with lots of pictures and few unknown words. In these I will use what I can already read along with the picture to try to guess the meaning of the unknown words.
- A relatively short book with obvious repetition. When reading these, my goal is generally to read the parts of the book that I can read as quickly as possible, stopping only to make notes of words or phrases that occur repeatedly and that I feel I will encounter rather frequently in other texts. I tend to learn a few less common words in this manner since they are frequently sandwiched between the words I am trying to learn.
- Books that I have already read. This is a very rewarding exercise since books that you once struggled to read become easier and easier over time. It also allows you to focus on learning new words from those stories. As you make your way through the book again, you already have some idea of what happened in the story that will help you remember the meaning of words you didn’t know before.
This is a YouTube playlist that has 160 videos of a children’s puppet show in Hebrew. The biggest benefit of these shows is that someone with little to no vocabulary should be able to learn new and common Hebrew words. Not all segments are helpful. For example, it is best to skip any of the segments that have claymation. Like the children’s books mentioned above, it can be encouraging to keep track of what videos you have watched and then to rewatch them from time to time. You should be able to see improvement month after month.
Easy Hebrew News Site
This website is my favorite of the ones I have mentioned so far. It has a wide number of brief news articles and many of these have audio. Even if you don’t understand everything in an article, you will often have a general understanding of what the article is about. I have especially benefited from the articles dealing with the Coronavirus. These seem to have a higher degree of repetition and give good practice with numbers. Here is an example of the type of comprehensible input you can find on this website.
This last resource I am going to mention is one I have only used for a couple of days, so these are my first impressions. In order to use it, you must register, but registration is free. It provides you with audio and graded readings. If you are willing/able to pay for a subscription, it will allow you to create “lingqs” that will help you keep track of words you know and words you are learning. You can drill these terms and set them up for spaced repetition. It also claims to give you access to tutors and an online community, but I haven’t used them and don’t know if this is a helpful feature or not.
I do not have a subscription to this website, and on a free account you are only allowed 20 “lingqs.” This does not mean that you can only have 20 at any given time. It means that you can only ever have 20 “lingqs” unless you subscribe. The way that I have been working around this up to now is that I haven’t made any “lingqs.” The first thing that I did after registering was to go into my settings and make sure that the website doesn’t make “lingqs” automatically for me. So far these two steps have worked, and I can see the community translations for words I don’t know. I assume that this will continue as long as I am careful not to make any “lingqs.” If I like the website, I may splurge and go for the subscription.
I know that there are other excellent resources available that I have not mentioned. However, I hope that these will at least give you some idea of where to start. If you have any resources that you use that you feel are worth sharing, please mention them in the comments. We are all in this together!