Hebrew week six

Not sure what it is about this subject. I’ve studied a lot before, even worked and studied before, I’ve learned a dead language before, but I’ve never had as much trouble learning something as I have with Hebrew.

Part of this has been underestimating the amount of work that would be required. This has left me a little off the pace, which doesn’t help. Another problem has been spending a week in between classes trying to do revision instead of spending as much time on that week’s homework as I should.

So here we are, working on chapter 10 of the textbook, and I’m struggling with vocab, with language rules, and even – occasionally – with pronunciation!

There’s just over a month now until the mid-term exam, with no classes. Time (I guess) to knuckle down further and keep working at it.

I guess nothing that’s worthwhile comes easily, but I’m used to things coming more easily than this!

hebrew week four

I’m starting to get the hang of catching the train in to college, and still having time to spare. This week, despite spending the whole trip practicing vocab, and then more time at breakfast (in a cafe in Burwood) revising vocab, I only managed to get 6/10 on the week’s test. This is a sign that I’m not spending enough time practicing, or that I’m doing oo many other things outside of Hebrew study, or that I’m spending time on unproductive things. I’m not entirely sure which, but this week has been spend doing more revision, and less flipping of vocab cards to make sure I know the rules of sticking nouns with prepositions and definite articles and such.

The speed people read the Hebrew words in class seems to be increasing dramatically, and I’m not getting the sense that my own speed is improving at the same rate. In some sense this is an incentive to try harder, but I’m really not sure what would help me get this right. The lecturer has offered to mark any additional exercises I complete, but it’s hard to know what exercises will help: the ones in the textbook don’t seem to be numerous enough, and it seems empty to attempt them multiple times!

Time will tell: there’s a break coming up in a couple of weeks, and it will be a good chance to catch up on what I’ve been missing.

Hebrew week two

This week, instead of driving to college, I caught the train in. This meant I had some extra time to look at this week’s homework, which only took about 25 minutes to finish. I think I spent more time than that just tellin myself I could get to it later, and that I should concentrate on vocab first.

Arriving early gave me the chance to talk to another college student, who was thinking about giving up on Greek studies, as he still hadn’t worked out the alphabet. After looking at the problem for a while, I encouraged him to spend more time doing written revision, and less time listening to audio revision: if you want to be able to read something, I think you have to be writing the script too!

Again we start class-time proper with a test. Five Hebrew words from our vocab list, translate them and then form plurals.

I’ve done a lot of vocab work this week, so the first part is easy enough

Sometimes words have (more than) two meanings

One challenge that comes with learning Hebrew is when a word has multiple definitions.

It’s worth trying to learn these definitions in order, since the earlier meanings occur more frequently than the later ones.

This means that my vocab drill process is to look at the Hebrew characters, try to convert them straight to sounds, fail, have the English letters appear in my head, make the sound of the English letters, then think of either the definition or – for a complex word – the mnemonic, and then remember the words that go with that definition.

So Torah is LIT-C: law, instruction, teaching, custom. More controversially, Nephesh (I’m told there’s no equivalent sense of this word in English) is Slipknot: soul, life, person, neck, throat.

Does anyone have any tips for learning the vocabulary of a new language, or am I doing everything right?

Hebrew week one

With boot camp out of the way begins the first week of Hebrew proper. First up is a vocab test, with ten of the 20-odd vocab words needing to be translated from Hebrew squiggles to English.

It looks like the repetitive work I’ve done with the vocab cards this week has helped, as I score 10/10. First week is the easiest, as there are no complex rules to worry about. Not for long, as we will see.

This week we learn about nouns. Hebrew only has two noun genders – masculine and feminine; there’s no neuter like in Greek, which should make the tables easier to remember.

With pluralisation, though, there’s the singular, the plural and the dual, so we’re back to six endings. Learning how to spell -ayim is oddly satisfying, as if I’m making progress.

In reality, this next few weeks will be pretty taxing. As we learn the three different rules for pluralisation – normal, segholate (nouns that have the accent on the first syllable) and geminate nouns all make plurals with special rules and caveats that will need to be memorized this week.

The real challenge is to keep volunteering to read passages in Hebrew and write things on the board, even when making mistakes. I don’t especially enjoy being caught out making mistakes in pronunciation and pluralisation, but it seems the best way to go, so I swallow my pride each time.

I apologize if you feel I’m going on about Hebrew too much; several people have asked me how it’s going, and others have asked why. Still working on a good answer to the latter, but I find the former a big encouragement.

hebrew boot camp day three

The third day of boot camp is one of consolidation and learning new rules. We went back over the vowels in a short test form (and I managed to forget the name of one, and mix up another… still more work to do) and then started learning the rules for syllables.

Yes, this is day three, and we still don’t know what sounds the syllables are supposed to make. By the end of this third day, we’re able to look at the first couple of verses of Genesis, and convert the odd looking squiggles into sounds (though not, yet, meaning).

Syllables in Hebrew are either open (ending with a vowel) or closed (ending with a consonant). In general, written Hebrew always alternates between vowel and consonant. Where it gets confusing (at least to an English speaker) is that there are silent consonants and silent vowels. So if a word starts with a vowel, like “Abraham” then the first letter of the word will be a silent consonant, and then the opening vowel “a”.

Beyond that, there are special cases of vowels, and there are some consonants that normally make a sound, but when combined with certain vowels they are silent. Learning these rules takes another hour or so, and then it’s on to practicing marking out the syllables in a word. The very effort of doing this exercise helps to consolidate the rules, and of course, with the carefully chosen examples, we get to see the various rules in action, even the more obscure ones.

So the next challenge is to learn the 20-odd vocab words, and then it will be time to start learning what the rules of the language are!

Hebrew boot camp day two

Today we did some revision – I now seem to have a reasonable handle on the consonants, and the Hebrew alphabetical order.

Sadly, that was only 15 minutes out of the three hours, and so the rest was spent on new work: learning the Hebrew vowels.

Because the original Hebrew scriptures had no vowel markings, the consonants were held to be particularly sacred, and so a method of writing vowels was developed that left the consonants intact.

This is particularly unfortunate for people learning the vowels, as there are a lot of dots, in various configurations, with Hebrew names like Qamets (looks like a capital T below the consonant).

Hoping to post more details on the vowels when I understand them better.

hebrew boot camp day one

The first day of Hebrew boot camp is a three hour session where we learn about the course structure (in class tests, a mid-semester exam, and a final exam)

We haven’t covered typing in Hebrew yet, so I may have mixed up some of the characters on this keyboard, but here’s what the Hebrew consonants look like (these are the medials – the ones that go in the middle of a word: a few of them have different forms if they’re the last letter of a word).

Also, I’ve left out the dots (dagesh lene) that modify the sounds of some of the letters, as we’re going to cover them in more detail soon.

א (not voiced – aleph)
ב (b/v – bet)
ג (g – gimel)
ד (d – dalet)
ה (h – he)
ו (v – vav)
ז (z – zayin)
ח (kh – het)
ט (t – tet)
י (y – yod)
כ (k – kaf)
ל (l – lamed)
מ (m – mem)
נ (n – nun)
ס (s – samech)
ע (not voiced – ayin)
פ (p – pesh)
צ (ts – tsade)
ק (k – qof)
ר (r – resh)
ש שׂ (s – sin)
ש שׁ (sh – shin)
ת (t – tav)

If you’re doing well, you’ll be able to spot that a few of the letters look really similar, and are easy to mistake.

In addition to recognising how the letters appear in print, we also need to know how to write them, and what sounds they make.

The main advantage to classroom learning for this (so far) compared to watching a vodcast has been hearing the whole class say the letters aloud: this gives you a sense of how well you’re doing compared to other people. There’s also the obvious benefit of being asked a question that you need to answer immediately: you can run, but can’t hide.

Tomorrow is day two of boot camp: vowels.