Anne E. Thompson

Hebrew in a Nutshell

I have now completed the first half-term of Hebrew. I find that learning a new language tends to go through certain stages.
Stage 1: Everything is new and exciting, I know nothing, so there’s no pressure and I enjoy the ‘differentness’ of the language. This is quickly followed about a week later by a feeling of panic as I start to think I will never understand it, and even making the correct sounds is impossible, never mind understanding anything.

Stage 2: A few things begin to be familiar (with Mandarin and Hebrew, this is simply the letters, with other languages I begin to recognise words). I start learning vocabulary, I have a feel for how the language sounds, I feel I am making progress. All is wonderful.

Stage 3: I begin to realise how little I understand, I seem to forget more than I remember, the number of grammar rules is overwhelming, I feel like the stupidest person on the planet (after all, even tiny children can speak what I am struggling to learn). Continuing at this point is sheer determination.

Stage 4: I start to grasp some of the grammar, I notice I am making tiny steps forward, and I know lots more than when I started. I cling on to the belief that I will improve and delight in being able to recognise the occasional word or phrase, and I feel as if I actually understand something of the language whilst also recognising that there is a mountain of grammar rules waiting to be learnt.

Stage 5: I have full understanding of the grammar rules, can read and speak fluently, I have arrived. (I have never actually reached stage 5 in any language so am guessing! There might be more stages between 4 and 5, ask a linguist.)

I am currently between stages 2 and 3 with Hebrew. Here is an overview of what I have learnt so far (potentially with mistakes because I am new at this).

Hebrew is read from right to left:

.siht ekil kool dluow hsilgnE  ni ecnetnes a oS

All the letters are consonants. So “Hello!” would look like: “LLH.” The verbs are written underneath the letter they follow:

o  e

Hebrew has its own alphabet, so the letters actually look like this:


All the words seem to be three letters long, with extra letters added to the front and back to confuse foreigners/add meaning. For example, in English we would write: He wanted to… but in Hebrew they would add letters to mean ‘he’ and ‘to’ onto the root of the other words. To make it more interesting/confusing, I think they sometimes remove letters from the root word as well. The letters that are added seem to change depending on the mood of the author, but I suspect there are further rules that we will learn at some point.

At the moment, my brain approaches Hebrew like a code to be deciphered rather than a language. This causes problems, as although I have learnt certain individual words, I don’t always recognise them in a text, because they are not yet ‘words’ for me, they are symbols which when I see them in isolation, I can give the correct translation to. To try and alter this, I decided to try and learn some modern Hebrew along-side the ancient Hebrew—because they are pretty similar at this level. It is sort of working, as for example I know that the words that sound like: “Tov me-odd” mean ‘very good’ and when I decipher the symbols that sound like ‘me-odd’ I can smile and say ‘very.’

To learn modern Hebrew, I bought a few CDs and a DVD for Husband. He enjoyed the Homeland series on Netflix, and it’s based on an Israeli series, so I bought him a copy of the original. It’s always good to share your interests with your spouse. He was less delighted than you might think, but we are dutifully watching it each evening and when I need to translate passages about spies, terrorism and torture in the Bible, I will have a real advantage.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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