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Learning Hebrew Over the Last 10 Years

by Neal Walters

In 1990, I was planning a trip to Israel, but it got postponed due to Desert Storm and the Gulf War. I finally go on a tour trip of Israel in 1996. But in the late 80s, in Oklahoma, before the internet, how does one begin to learn Hebrew?

There wasn’t any internet yet. I ordered the famous, or infamous, FSI course. FSI stands for the Foreign Service Institute. These are courses created by the US government, supposedly used to teach military and/or diplomats.

The cassette tapes that came with FSI were useful, but the book lacked a lot. It was designed by the government for an instructor to use in a classroom environment, NOT for an individual to use for self study. Even today, I have never gone back to complete that book.

Eventually, on a business trip, I visited one of the Borders book stores, which were all huge and new at the time. I found a “reader”, a book that teaches the alphabet, and had lots of practice exercises, where the student tries to read pages and pages of syllables and words.

Attending synagogue and learning some of the Hebrew prayers really accelerated my understanding of Hebrew. The music, along with the weekly repetition, clearly helps with the learning the words and phrases. Each week, I would pick a favorite tune, and go home and break down the words of that particular prayer.

To learn more Biblical Hebrew, I used Mansoor’s book, “Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step”. After that, a friend was teaching Biblical Hebrew to a small group, using Weingreen’s “A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew”. This is another book that would be hard to pick up and learn on your own. By completing one lesson every week or two, we finished the book in about two years.

To really know Hebrew, one must study both Biblical and Modern. I remember using two short courses that were books that came with 3 or 4 cassette tapes: “Hugo Language Course: Hebrew in Three Months” and also Eliezar Tirkel’s “Every Hebrew”. I found that I liked the Hugo course slightly better, but learned something from each.

In 2005, I registered for Hebrew IV and V via an online course offered by Hebrew College in Boston. It used the text “Hebrew From Scratch – Part II” (with 5 CDs available). Even though I audited the course, it was required to submit homework weekly, and meet with our teacher online for about 45 minutes per week. Later, I went on to take other classes, which include an introduction to Aramaic via the Talmud, and classes that required reading Medieval Hebrew (such as aggadic literature).

I still feel that I have just scraped the surface of learning the beautiful Hebrew language. By creating courses and teaching classes for others, I have continue to learn more each and every day.

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