In 1990, I was planning a trip to Israel, but it got postponed due to Desert Storm and the Gulf War. I finally go on a tour trip of Israel in 1996. But in the late 80s, in Oklahoma, before the internet, how does one begin to learn Hebrew?
Via a language catalog (there was no internet then), I discovered the FSI courses. I had used FSI for Brazilian Portuguese, and thus ordered it for Hebrew. At least Portuguese used the same alphabet as English, but Hebrew required learning 22 new characters, and reading at first was very slow.
Back then, the FSI course included a large book and about 24 cassette tapes (today, you can find the book in PDF and the tapes are often on MP3 files). The course was designed for instructor-lead classroom use, and was definitely not designed for home-study. To this day, I have never finished that course.
Back then, Borders was building it’s first huge book stores in large cities. On a business trip, I visited one, and found a small selection of Hebrew books not normally found in other bookstores. The book that helped me master the alphabet was a “reader” that was full of practice exercises of reading short two to four letter syllables or words.
Attending synagogue and learning some of the Hebrew prayers really accelerated my understanding of Hebrew. The music, along with the weekly repetition, clearly helps with the learning the words and phrases. Each week, I would pick a favorite tune, and go home and break down the words of that particular prayer.
To learn more Biblical Hebrew, I used Mansoor’s book, “Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step”. After that, a friend was teaching Biblical Hebrew to a small group, using Weingreen’s “A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew”. This is another book that would be hard to pick up and learn on your own. By completing one lesson every week or two, we finished the book in about two years.
A full exposur to Hebrew requires at least some Modern (“Modernit”) and Biblical (“Tanachit”). Two modern Hebrew books from bookstores includes 3 or 4 cassette tapes: “Hugo Language Course: Hebrew in Three Months” and also Eliezar Tirkel’s “Every Hebrew”. Listening to audio in the car is one of my favorite ways to learn any language; the trick is that the lessons don’t get too complex too fast.
A few years ago, I signed-up for two semesters of an online Hebrew course offered by Boston’s Hebrew College. The textbook was “Hebrew From Scratch – Part II” (with 5 CDs available). There was a lot of homework required, and we met with our teacher online each week for practicing conversation. Later, I took classes in Aggadic Literature and Talmud, which introduced Medieval Hebrew and Aramaic.
I still feel that I have just scraped the surface of learning the beautiful Hebrew language. By creating courses and teaching classes for others, I have continue to learn more each and every day.