How to Learn Hebrew

March 28th, 2013

If your motivation for learning a new language is curiosity and learning, Hebrew is a challenging and unexpected choice.

Why Hebrew

Hebrew is not the most obvious choice, of course. While Hebrew is a thriving language it isn’t always the most practical because you don’t encounter it too often unless you’re travelling in a specific area of the world. But there are plenty of reasons to learn Hebrew if you’re not interested in being practical but just have a curiosity about language and history. Because Hebrew is a great challenge for people used to English or German or Romance languages, and because Hebrew is at the foundation of many of our cultural touchstones these days, including the Bible and plenty of secular history. In other words, if language fascinates you, Hebrew will be an enjoyable and enlightening experience.

Learning Hebrew

Hebrew is a challenge. If all you know, for example, is English, there are a lot of adjustments to be made.

Start with the alphabet. Unlike languages like Spanish or Italian, Hebrew has an alphabet separate and distinct from the Latin alphabet we use. There are just 22 letters, but five of them change form if they appear at the end of the word (similar to way we use a capital letter when it appears at the beginning of certain words). You won’t get far unless you can spell and recognize Hebrew words, and it takes some getting used to.

Next, learn the nekudot, the markings that can appear in various places around the consonants. These tell you how to pronounce the words, because Hebrew is written without vowels. The nekudot markings take their place, and can be combined in different ways to indicate different sounds. This is possibly the most challenging aspect of the Hebrew language, and where I suggest people spend the bulk of their time and energies.

Eventually, you’ll need to interact with other Hebrew speakers if you’re going to conquer this complex and beautiful language. But it’s well worth the effort, as it will open up eons of history and cultural richness to you, and make you welcome in one more place in the world than you were yesterday – and that is always worth it.

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