Learning Hebrew words, our learner of the week shares his tips

Why did you choose to learn Hebrew?

I was accepted for an internship with a tech start-up in Tel Aviv and decided that learning Hebrew would go a long way toward helping me fit into Israeli society. I firmly believe that learning a country’s language is not only an amazing intellectual and linguistic endeavor, but also a way of showing respect for those who are hosting you. Hebrew is a very interesting language, and quite different from other languages I have experimented with, such as Chinese, Turkish, Russian, Hungarian, French, German, Dutch, and English. Thus, it also posed a nice linguistic challenge for me.

What’s the most difficult part of Hebrew for you?

There are three things I find difficult about Hebrew: conjugations, pronunciation, and reading. Verb conjugations are hard because the verb form sometimes depends on the gender of the person speaking and the patterns change depending on tense (past, present, or future). Pronunciation is complicated with regard to overlapping sounds which seem similar to the non-native ear. Lastly, reading requires some effort; first because Hebrew is written from right to left, second because the letters do not resemble the Latin alphabet at all, and thirdly because it is quite normal for vowels to be omitted from the written form of the word. Because of this, if you don’t already know the word, it can be hard to get the pronunciation right when you first encounter it.

What advice would you give language learners?

You have some amazing tools at your disposal, regardless of the language you are learning, and you should definitely take advantage of them. I use Anki for memorizing vocabulary, Linguee for checking the best translation of a sentence, and of course for learning new vocabulary and reading in a foreign language. I also recommend making sure you stay motivated. One of the best ways to achieve sustained motivation is to find a friend or partner who speaks the same language and get plenty of contact with Native Speakers.

Do you have any tips on how to learn Hebrew words?

In my opinion, the best way to learn words in ANY language is by using what is called the keyword-method. It basically involves associating the sound and meaning of the word you are learning with the sound and meaning of a word in a language you already know. I remember when I learned the word for ‘party’ in Hebrew,  מסיבה (pronounced mesiBA) I imagined that I had decided to throw a party for my friends at a bar. My friends, however, were super loud and left a mess after the party, leaving a messy bar (which sounds like mesiBA) for me to clean up after they were gone. Thanks to this technique, I’ve never forgotten how to say ‘party’ in Hebrew. It takes some creativity to come up with such connections sometimes, but the effort certainly pays off and is a great way of speeding up vocabulary acquisition.

What’s your favorite word in Hebrew?

My favorite word in Hebrew so far is בלילה, (pronounced ‘baLAila’), which means “at night.” For some reason, it is a pleasure to pronounce this word and it makes me associate the word with a ballad, since the two terms sound somewhat similar. Life at night can be very fun in Tel Aviv, with lots of music and shows, so the word בלילה was a word I used quite a bit during my days in Tel Aviv.

Why is language learning important?

Learning a language is important for so many reasons. First, it is one of the best ways to make sure you keep your brain active. Secondly, learning a language is a way of taking a glimpse into the soul of a country and its culture. No matter how long you live in a place, you won’t fully understand it until you can converse in the local tongue. Knowing various foreign languages can also bring you better career opportunities and open your mind to a different way of thinking and viewing the world.

How does duolingo help you with your Hebrew?

One of the things I love most about duolingo is the fact that I can hear the pronunciation of the words I add to my dictionary. Since Hebrew reading can be tough, this  really helps me with my reading. I can also find topics I am interested in, instead of having to read things that other people have chosen for me.

What’s next on your list of languages to learn?

The other language I am currently learning and will continue to learn is Russian. My girlfriend is Ukrainian and speaks Russian as her first language. I like the sound of Russian, and am very motivated to learn it as it has 6 cases and I like challenges. I also have  a fantastic private tutor to help me navigate the difficulties of the language!

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