Since finishing my A-level exams in June, I had the problem of deciding what language to learn over the summer. Do I learn something completely different? Or do I choose a language related to the others that I speak, perhaps another Germanic language? (as they’re my favourite) The choice seemed impossible to me, so I decided to have read through the vast array of language blogs and the polyglot videos on YouTube to help me choose a language. Whilst reading through Alex Rawling’s blog, I stumbled upon the mention of Hebrew. I though to myself “what would it be like to learn Hebrew?” “Would it be a difficult language to learn?” Everyone who has ever been stuck on deciding what language to learn has had to answer these questions.
So why Hebrew?
The truth is, I don’t really have a particular reason for studying a selected language except for the simple reason that it interests me, and so does the history/culture of those who speak it. A good friend of mind pointed out that I “choose rare languages” and she couldn’t be more right. I don’t choose to study a language such as Dutch or Afrikaans because I think they’ll be useful, I study them because I find them interesting. The same goes for Hebrew. Now to business, one of the first things people are struck down by when learning Hebrew is the script. We are simply not use to reading or writing backwards, nor are we used to reading without vowels. However, this is not as hard as you think. The way I went about learning the Hebrew script was by using what is called an ‘associative technique’. That is to say, I would associate the letters with something to help me remember how to read them.
Let’s take the letter ‘lamed’ ל. Now, this may not look like anything in particular, but its shape could almost look like a bolt of lightning, as a result of my decisions to think of lightning when I saw it in a text, I remembered that it is pronounced like the English ‘L’. The same goes for the letter ‘daled’ ד. Again, doesn’t look like much, until you begin to associate it with something. As this letter is pronounced like the letter ‘D’ I noticed that it sort of looks like the corner of a door, and thus, I remembered how to pronounce it. I’m not saying this is the best way to memorize the script, this is just one that works for me.
How difficult is Hebrew compared to other languages?
Well, you may be surprised that it isn’t actually that difficult. There are however certain things one has to remember. Firstly, there’s no ‘to have’ verb in Hebrew. Instead, one uses the expression (there is/isn’t) with the preposition ‘to’.
Boris has a shop
לבוריס יש חנות
(Lit read: To Boris there is a shop)
The same form of learning can be applied to learning the pronouns of Hebrew. For example, the phrase ‘my family’ המשפחה שלי Is literally translated as ‘the family of mine’. The same goes for the plural ‘our family’ המשפחה שלנו ‘the family of ours’. Once you begin to notice these patterns, learning Hebrew becomes a lot easier.
Will it take me long to learn Hebrew?
Only you can answer this question, some people say that it takes month and months to even learn the basics of a language (which I think is nonsense) And there are polyglots such as Benny Lewis who prove to us that a lot can be achieved in under three months, even if you’re learning a difficult language as Benny demonstrates here. The truth is, I don’t know how long it will take before I can say I am comfortable speaking in Hebrew. Currently I study for about an hour a day, that is 15 minutes in the morning, half an hour during the afternoon, and 15 minutes again in the evening. I’ve been doing this for about a month and a half now and I am nearly finishing chapter 5 of my Hebrew course.
Does the future seem bright?
So far, I can say yes. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed learning a language as much as I’ve enjoyed learning Hebrew. I don’t plan to be discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict in perfect Hebrew, but I would like to communicate with Israelis, or anyone else who speaks Hebrew without much hassle, as well as to make friends in the language. Who knows, maybe one day i will be sitting in a cafe in Israel just chatting with people, talking about my hopes and ambitions, my family back home in England, and how I got to where I am. Yes, my goal with Hebrew is the same as my goal with any language, which is to express myself through another language rather than just my native English. My ultimate goal however, is to simply broaden my horizons and step out of my comfort zone and into the place where the magic happens.