Hebrew from Scratch – At Boston Hebrew College

I just took my semester final exam for the Hebrew IV class I’ve been taking remotely via Hebrew College in Boston.   I’d like to give you a quick review of the course.

The book is the second book in the two-book series called “Ivrit Min Ha-Chatilah” (usually translated as “Hebrew From Scratch”, but could also mean “Hebrew From The Beginning”). Here is the Amazon link to the books: Hebrew from Scratch (on Amazon.com)

The book is about 95% Hebrew, with only a “scratch” of English instructions.

I opted to start at Hebrew IV because of my past Hebrew studies. It was a tough decision to start at Hebrew III or IV, but I think I would have been a little bored in Hebrew III. Hebrew IV turned out to be just right for me.

Back when I took the class, Hebrew College used an online system “Blackboard”, but they have since convert to Schoology. A student can logon to the system, view the lessons, and find the online and written homework.

Online homework consists of three parts: 1) multiple choice quizzes (check your work), 2) Audio answers, and 3) non-real-time Audio Discussions. For written homework, we had three choices:

1) write by hand and submit via fax, 2) use handwriting on a graphic tablet, or 3) I broke new ground and created a third option, use a Hebrew word processor (but had to take screen shots and send in only .jpg images). The instructor usually grades them within 3 days, and emails them back to you (with lots of red marks).

Once per week, there is a 20 minute online discussion. This is one of my favorite parts. You wear a headset and talk to the teacher and the other students in real-time.

Usually there is a day session and a night session, so often there are only 2 or 3 students together with the teacher. This forces you to actually communicate in Hebrew (and let’s you hear how good or bad the other students in your class are doing). The twenty minutes goes really fast. I really wish the online session was more like 45 minutes.

The text is 190 pages, and we covered 9 lesson in the semester. In the Fall and Spring semesters you have one week to catch up after every two lessons, i.e. 9 lessons in about 14 or 15 weeks. In the Summer, there is no slack time.

So how much work is it? You have an average of 21 large pages per lesson. I would say the first time to read it take probably 2 to 4 hours. For the written homework, I usually would send in 8-10 hand-written written pages (well spaced) for each lesson.

Unfortunately, it took me about 3-5 hours per lesson just to do the written homework. I was a little slack doing the online homework.

Each lesson probably had 25-30 vocabulary words at the end of the chapter, but they would sneak about another 15 words in the chapter that you would have to look up on your own in a dictionary.

Hebrew IV focused on the future tense of regular and irregular verbs, and continued to reinforce the present and past tense. I think Hebrew V will get more into Nifal, Hifil and Hitpael.

By the way, Hebrew I-V of the online courses corresponds to Hebrew I-IV of the on-campus courses. These first courses are available for undergraduate, but not graduate credit.

Overall, the stories and conversations in the book were very interesting. Many of them give cultural aspects of Israel and Judaism. There were articles about the mysterious city of Tzafat and why it is painted blue, the hair-cutting ceremony of three year old children in Meron, the holocaust museum in Israel, life on Kibutz (in the 50s and today), and the artist school of Betzalel. We also ready about personalities such as Yanush Korchak, Ann Frank, the poet Rachel Bluvstein, and the painter Yosel Bergner.

Some of the lessons included a little poetry – which was extremely difficult for first timers.

The online website had many recordings of the stories, but I also purchased the optional CDs that went with the book. I “ripped” them to MP3, then cut them down by page and subsection. I would sometime listen to them in a program called Audacity so I could play small portions over-and-over in a loop. I also listened to the CDs in my car about 60% of the time.

My other trick was to enter all the vocabulary and many short phrases into SuperMemo. SuperMemo is an electronic flashcard program. I use it to learn not only Hebrew, but everything else that I’m studying. Each morning, the software selects usually between 70 to 120 items for me to review. It has an incredible algorithm that knows when you need to review something. As you review each card, you click one of five ratings: 1) Bright, 2) Good, 3) Pass, 4) Fail, 5) Bad. If you click on Pass or below, you have to keep repeating that word the same day until you finally click “Bright” or “Good”.

Depending on your number of past exposures to the flashcard and you self-rating, the software re-schedules that “flashcard” for you to review at some date in the future. I currently have about 6500 flashcards in the software, and I spend about 15-30 minutes each morning doing my daily review. Mind you, only about 15% of my flashcars are related to Hebrew. I’m also studying World War I, art, geography, and philosophy and a minor amount of German, Arabic & Greek alphabets, astronomy, British history, and famous scientists.

Probably one of the best things about taking the Hebrew College course is that it forced me to at least get in 3 or 4 hours of Hebrew each week, in one form or the other.

You are probably wondering what the cost is. Non-credit is $900 (and for 3 credit hours is a whopping $2430) [prices as of about the year 2005]. For non-credit, that’s basically $100 per lesson. Plus add about $180 for the two books and the optional audio-CDs. [By the way, I started taking a few Hebrew classes, and ended up getting my Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College in 2013.  Since then, I have been studying the three year Halachic Mastery program from Web Yeshiva.]

By the way, I created my own modern Hebrew tutorial program called “Hebrew Kindergarten“, and it’s a lot more affordable!  Just like “Hebrew from Scratch”, this starts at the very beginning (after the Alef-Bet). My new program assumes you know the Alef-Bet but nothing else, so if you still need to learn the Alef-Bet, order “At Home with Hebrew” now and get started. You can actually learn to pronounce all the Hebrew words in my 13 easy lessons (about 15-30 minutes each).

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