Image: Exodus 31: 16-17 in Hebrew. (from www.ReformJudaism.org) If you look carefully, you can see the word “Shabbat.”
Yesterday’s post about a first Hebrew lesson got such a warm response that I thought I’d follow up with the secret for learning Hebrew as an adult. People often say to me, “I don’t know, Rabbi, I am not good with languages.”
Here’s the secret I learned the hard way: persistence counts. When I was learning Hebrew, there are two and only two things that may be happening: I was improving, or or I was falling back. There is no standing still with Hebrew.
I needed to practice every single day because either my Hebrew was getting better or it was getting worse. 5 minutes moved me forward. On days I skipped, I lost ground.
I began my Hebrew studies in my 40’s. I still read some Hebrew every day (easy for me now, since it is also my work.) I get out the book, I look at the words, and I read them. It is still true, twenty years later, that I am either moving forward or backward in my skills.
The good news is that persistence will work, even if you believe you are no good at languages. Persistence is everything.
4 thoughts on “The Secret to Learning Hebrew”
I started studying Biblical Hebrew this semester & you are exactly right —there’s no standing still with Hebrew. It’s painfully technical at times & just when I think i’m getting it —I’m banging my head against the table in frustration lol. It’s paying off at a glacial pace…but I suppose I should be grateful there’s progress at all.
I found that it was most effective to work in short bursts – when I wanted to cry and throw things it was time to do something else for 10 minutes. Which text are you using? Is this a college course or a class at synagogue? I wish you the best with your studies – it IS worth the trouble, I promise!
What I love about Hebrew is the lack of exceptions to rules! Things work the way they are supposed to. No “i before e except after c, except in this whole long list of other words stolen from who knows how many languages that are different just because and you will never ever ever understand why.” I also love the compactness and elegance of the system of working outward from the shoresh. OK, I don’t love it when there’s a weak letter that’s part of the shoresh that disappears when stuff gets added to it, but even that happens in a pretty systematic way.
Totally agree on the either moving forward or backward.
One of my favorite classes my first year in rabbinical school was dikduk (grammar.) It was almost like algebra or music. We learned why a dagesh here but not there, how to shorten roots or add things to them, etc. I loved the predictable quality to all of it.