Zionism - Israeli Flag

עברית

Learning Hebrew made less hard I

Zionism maps history biography definitions e-Zion about issues photos documents contact

Introduction

 

 

I have been told, and I have read, that Hebrew is an "easy language" to learn for many reasons. You have probably read and heard the same thing. That makes it all the more frustrating when you find that Hebrew is like nothing you ever saw before and it is NOT an easy language for someone who knows only English or Romance languages.

What Makes Hebrew Hard to Learn

First the bad news:

Different Alphabet - and many of the script letters are different from the written ones. The good news - it's easier than pictographic languages like Chinese, and even easier than Arabic.

Pronunciation - English speakers in particular may have difficulties in pronouncing unfamiliar sounds.

No vowels - Hebrew is usually written without vowels, which are guessed from the context,  can be read as "sefer" - meaning book, "safar" - meaning "he counted" and "Sapar" - a barber.  

Irregularities and exceptions - There are a lot of grammatical rules that should make it easy, but there are numerous exceptions.

Unfamiliar grammatical concepts - While Hebrew is not as difficult as languages that have noun "cases" - (nominative case, accusative case, dative case, ergative case, genitive case, vocative case, ablative case) it is a moderately inflected language. It has seven verb conjugations that are not always regular, different verb and plural endings (and numbers!)  for gender, possessive forms and something called Smichut.

Spelling - Because pronunciation of Alef and Ayin and 'het and chaf are usually indistinguishable, there are many common words that SOUND the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently.

What makes Hebrew Easy to Learn

Some good news:

Only three or four real tenses - Past, Present and future are complete tenses. The imperative form is fairly simple Conditional and imperfect forms of the past are easy to form using conjugations of the verb to be.

   - (holech) - Go (as in I go, you go, he is going or he goes).

  - (hahyiti) - I used to go.

  - (Hahyiti Holech) - I used to go, I would go.

Some people know at least the alphabet before they start - If you have been to Hebrew school, you learned the alphabet, and likewise if you know Yiddish you are familiar with the alphabet. You probably know at least some Hebrew words like:

  (Shalom) - means peace.

Easy to learn vocabulary - Hebrew, like most Semitic languages, is made up mostly of 2, 3 and 4 letter root words that are used in different forms to generate nouns and verbs: 

(oved) means "worker (or laborer)" and "he works (or he labors)."

  (Avoda) means "work"

(maavid) means employer.

- (ma-abada) - laboratory and so on.

Many prefixes and "difficult words" are familiar to you from English or other languages - Even though there are Hebrew equivalents, the foreign language words that were used originally are often still used, and may be the preferred usage. Some prefixes are also taken directly from English. Some examples:

  (pronounced "Ahntee") - Anti - as in "Anti-Shemi" - anti-Semitic.

  (pronounced pro) - Pro - as in Pro-Ma'aravi - pro western.

  (telefon) - guess what that is!

  (televiz'iah) guess what that is!

  (Hendbreyks)  - Hand brakes. (Colloquial)

Don't Learn to read Hebrew by the syllabic method

Save a lot of time and effort in the long  by learning to read by the whole word recognition method. In Hebrew, the very same letters and combinations can stand for very different sounds.   That is why reading Hebrew is harder for people who learn to read syllable by syllable and easier if you learn to read whole words. If you laboriously learn Hebrew by the syllabic method, using "dots" and reciting "AH" "EE" "OH" "OO" "HE"  "BA" "BI" "BOH" "BOOH" "BEH" etc. you will be able to read a very limited number of words. When you get to the "real thing" - reading signs, menus, newspapers and books without vowel signs you will repeatedly scream out in agony - "It is NOT FAIR!!" That's life. Learn to Recognize Words!   See Hebrew Reading Cheat Sheet  Even that is not enough, because the same "word" can really be a different word in different contexts. Don't worry - you'll get used to it.

Mistakes are forgiven - Understandable errors (and not so understandable) are usually forgiven. Even educated native Israelis sometimes misspell words and make common grammatical errors. "Don't worry - be happy."

Hebrew Pronunciation and Transliteration


Learning Hebrew