What is NOT the best way to learn Biblical Hebrew from scratch? (For me at least!) Studying grammar!
If my brain is a sponge, it has been so full that it has been leaking after just five weeks of learning! All the new information has just run through and out the other end!
My poor brain has had to absorb:
- A new alphabet.. (excuse me … alefbet!)
- Consonants that are simply placeholders, vowels that are dots and dashes, with 20 combinations of dots, dashes and consonants to make vowel sounds; ‘defective’ writing as part of the norm! Identical dots, one meaning a vowel sound, one meaning that letter is doubled!
- Reading from right to left – and then mixing right-to-left Hebrew with left-to-right transcriptions in my text!
It is very foreign for an English speaker.
Even though Biblical Hebrew is a “dead” language, I wish they would teach it in the same way as a living language (and obviously, teach it using methods proven to promote learning!). But, unfortunately, most classes don’t. I have spend the last weeks learning rules for a grammar I am not yet familiar with. It’s a bit like learning the rules of a super complex game for weeks on end, without being able to play the game to see how it flows. Or learning how to put the pedals of a bicycle at 45 degrees past vertical, to best get a good push-off, but never being able to get on the bike and see how that works. Very, very VERY frustrating.
All the more frustrating when I compare the amount of time it has taken me to be able to translate one sentence in its entirety (about 70 hours!), whereas I can normally introduce myself in my target language and have a conversation (albeit VERY basic and slow) after 70 hours of learning.
I have also found it very frustrating and hampering to not have comprehensible audible input provided to us for the vocab and grammar.
Consequently, I have spent a few hours hunting on the internet for some helpful resources, and thought they might be useful for anyone else looking for the best way to learn Biblical Hebrew from scratch. In this post, I have listed resources for learning the Alefbet, and the Nikud, or Vowel Pointing System.
1. Learning the Alefbet
To hear and see the Alefbet slowly, TeachMeHebrew has a very slow reading of the letters, including suffet (end) forms. It can be a good place to start until you begin to recognise the letters more quickly.
When you have listened to the Alefbet read through a few times, it’s time to find ways to memorise it.
I like musical mnemonics – the patterns of the music and lyrics seem to embed facts in my head. However, I prefer the music to be unique to different fact sets. For this reason I really liked this Sesame Street tune of the Hebrew Alefbet.
However, if you are just starting off learning the Alefbet, you may prefer this much slower, listen-and-repeat singalong tune from Alicia Jo Rabbins:
There are a few other songs that you might like. One with quite a Hebraic sound is from AnimatedHebrew , although it doesn’t include the Begadkephat Dagesh Lene alternative letter pronunciation. (If that’s all Greek… or Hebrew!…. to you, don’t worry… you’ll soon learn 😉 .) And another very NON-Hebraic sounding one from Bryan Ghingold (which I really quite like, but had already embedded several videos!)
To learn to write the Alefbet, find yourself some Alefbet tracing pages. I found a lot of the links online were old and defunct, but there is an abundance of worksheets at the Akhlah: Jewish Children’s Learning Network website. Alternatively, for a tiny $2 investment from TeachersPayTeachers you can purchase the Alefbet dotted font, and quickly make your own trace sheets.
Likewise, the (free) unicode Hebrew font from Tyndale House is a really useful tool to have.
As far as apps and games go, Alphabet Pairs is a memory game to learn the Alefbet
Flash cards (Decks, Anki – here’s a link to mine. They are tagged paleo, suffits, vowels, begadkaphet, square font)
For a different way to remember what the letters look like, check out the written mnemonics on MezzoGuild.com
MezzoGuild.com also recommended the iScript Hebrew (iOS, Android), which is the Modern Hebrew Alefbet. It sounds good but I haven’t tried it as it doesn’t appear to be available in Australia. (Ancient Hebrew is almost the same as Modern Hebrew.)
2. Learning the Vowel Pointing System
The resources for learning the Nikud, or Hebrew Vowel Pointing System are somewhat fewer. I could only find one mnemonic song, from Danny Zacharias. It’s a combined Alefbet and Nikud song, and not my favourite because the song is too similar to the English Alphabet Song for me, but he does include the Vowel Pointing System (Nikud), and it is the only song I have found that does that.
However…. *drum roll*…
Just as I was finishing off this post, I found this awesome video from the Hebrew Virtual Academy using the Total Physical Response method for teaching the Nikud!
The Total Physical Response method of learning has significant research behind it and has shown to be a wonderful physical mnemonic that truly gets new information into our long term memory. I love this game… I just wish I had found it before I had learned the Nikud!
Hebrews4Christians have a range of grammatical learning tools for the Nikkud (as well as the rest of Biblical Hebrew grammar), charts and flashcards and so on (look for links at the bottom of the page).
I’m not including full tutorials on Hebrew grammar here, however they are easily found by checking out some of the channels that the YouTube videos that I have linked to are from. However, there is one short tutorial on the Nikud I thought might be useful, from HebrewToday.
For links to more formal and academic online resources for Biblical Hebrew, check out Lawrence Frizzell’s blog. It includes audio tracks of Hebrew scriptures, parallel bibles, charts and others useful helps.
Also, Hebrews4Christians.com, AnimatedHebrew.com and many other sites have other resources that are worth a browse.
I hope that list of videos and other resources have been useful for you. I am always on the lookout for useful mnemonics, especially tunes or Total Physical Response cues. Or little rules (like “i before e, except after c” type things). So please, if you find anything like that for Biblical Hebrew, share them in the comments. Thanks!