After time of researching and learning, I have not only learnt many Hebrew expressions and words, but I have also been able to know more about their culture and roots. Fascinating language, “the language of the Bible” is both ancient and unique. Having survived centuries of history, it was finally revived as a modern language over 150 years ago, and today is spoken in Israel and beyond. Now more than ever I want to visit Israel and learn more about the language. That process of learning here as I mentioned earlier, is not easy, since I don’t hang around native speakers. Neverthless, here is a summary of some cultural aspects of the language that I have learnt:
- Hebrew originally was the language of the Bible, was considered as “dead” for 2000 years as the Jewish people were scattered all over the world, then got revived about 150 years ago. Today the language is spoken by more than 9 million people (with about 250,000 speakers in the States ).
- Hebrew is written from right to left, although their numbers are written from left to right.
- The Academy of the Hebrew Language decides on new words for the Hebrew language. Hebrew has vowels but they mostly aren’t marked – you have to know how each word is pronounced.
Here is the first Committee of the Hebrew Language, Jerusalem 1912 (via harvard University Library)
- Hebrew and Arabic are very very close. No wonder why tradition calls Jewish people and Arabs cousins. Both language are called “Semitic languages”. They might have different scripts, however they do have parallel grammar systems and often similar words (shalom in Hebrew is salam in Arabic. Those words both mean peace and hello). Furthermore, many words in Arabic are used by Hebrew speakers as slang words. Sababa for instance means “great” and mabsut is “satisfied”.
- Many Hebrew words are commonly spoken and used in many languages like English or Spanish or French: Alleluia for instance means “praise God”, we have other words like Satan, Abracadabra, Amen (so be it)…
Apart from Saturday (Sabbath day), each day of the week in Hebrew has a number. Indeed, they are all from number one to number six. I sort of knew already that Saturday was Sabbath day, the day of rest and when every shop is closed in Israel, but I never knew that the Shabbat day did not really have a number. Also, Sabbath is the only day that does not start with “Yom”, every other day does. Thanks to the learning project, now I know.
Yom is indeed pronounced “Yome”. The “Kh” is a guttural sound often spelled as “Ch”. There is no “Ch” sound in Hebrew as there is in English. Modern Hebrew, however, can create a “Ch” sound by putting an accent mark ( ´ ) in front of the Hebrew letter “Khet” (or “Chet”). This is used only in rare cases in order to properly pronounce such words or names as Church or Churchill (referring to the person Winston Churchill.)
I hope I will be able to remember these words after two or three months, I guess maybe it will be a matter of practice. I wish I had a friend that speaks Hebrew, that way I won’t lose whatever I am learning right now. From what I understand too, Saturday is the most important day in the Hebrew week.
Another thing we need to note about the Hebrew language is that nouns do have genders. In French (my native language) we also have that concept, but I understand that it is harder for English speakers. Growing up with that idea of gender has always been normal to me; to be honest I was a bit surprised at first when (while learning English) that English does not have it. The types of noun genders in Hebrew are Masculine and Feminine. The subject in Hebrew as I said is divided into masculine and feminine. There is nothing male or female about objects, but when talking about them the verb and adjectives should conjugate corresponding to their gender .
The majority of feminine nouns end in the letter ת or the letter ה. while the majority of masculine nouns end in every other letter. Here are a few examples:
|Feminine nouns end with ה
Exception: It is not that every noun that ends with ה is a feminine. Dustpan (=יָעֶה) for instance is masculine, its ה is not the feminine ה but a part of its root.
|Feminine nouns end with ת
Exception: same here, not every noun that ends with ת is a feminine. Junction (=צֹמֶת) for instance is a masculine, its ת is not the feminine ת, but a part of its root.
Also, some nouns are assigned to a certain gender logically, like the word יַלְדָה (yalda – girl) being feminine and יֵלֶד (yeled – boy) being masculine.
There are other exceptions, but I did not bother learning them all because it was too hard. Nevertheless, these are the main ones. Now I know when a noun is generally feminine or not.
Still learning about the Hebrew language, I’m discovering more and more things. For instance, I have just found out that there are about 10 million Hebrew speakers worlwide, of whom 8 million speak it fluently. As most people know, Hebrew (Modern Hebrew) is the official language of the Israeli state. Israel being a mosaic of people from different backgrounds and cultures (Russians, Arabs, Ukrainians, Polish, Ethiopians, Asians…), modern Hebrew is only the native tongue of 50% of Israelis older than 20. There are about 60% of Israeli Arabs that are proficient in Hebrew, with 30% of them preferring Hebrew over Arabic . Hebrew is also an official national minority language in Poland, since 6 January 2005.
Because of the rapid spreading of English throughout the Middle-East, the Israeli government has been trying to preserve the Hebrew language, keep it as the primary language of use. With tourists visiting from all over the world and close relationship with the United States , English is now spoken by many Israel residents and they tend to frequently incorporate English words into their vocabulary. So the Academy of the Hebrew Language has been coming up with 2,000 new Hebrew words each year for modern words.
(Academy of The Hebrew Language)
It is a miracle though that after two thousands years scattered and without a language (Hebrew), that the Hebrew language was restored. This is what scholars call the Revival of the Hebrew Language.
It is my very first time to self-teach myself a language, I must admit that it is easier than I thought, thanks to the Internet. At first I was worried about how my pronunciation would be (without an actual teacher), but all the pronunciations are online. Finally I decided to not go with duolingo anymore, they use a method I am not familiar with. I am currently trying to learn Hebrew the same way as I was taught English, which means going through the “alphabet first, then the greetings, the numbers, directions….it is working better for me apparently. Honestly, having to post something online every week is so good because it raises up the level of accountability. What was at first like a chore has become discipline, then slowly slowly is turning into a routine. Nobody is slacking, you get rewarded for what you put in. I just wish I had someone that spoke Hebrew handy, I am sure my Hebrew would have been ten times better. I sometimes pass by a Synagogue on my way to the mall, I might check that out sometime, who knows? They might be willing to speak with me.
So far I’ve got the alphabet, some greetings, some songs (that I won’t sing in public, sorry terrible voice) and a few other words. And I am keeping on progressing, next blog post I will touch base some more on the progress.
Furthermore, I like the fact that for this learning project we were given the opportunity to choose what we wanted to do, otherwise it would not have been so fun. I looked at other people’s learning projects, and they all seem to enjoy it because they are doing what they like.
As promised, here is a video of me speaking some Hebrew. This video is quite shorter than the first one (only 3 min). I went through a few greetings but also touched two or three names of God in Hebrew language.
I also master quite a few songs in Hebrew now, but because I do not have a good voice, I prefer not to post anything. I will leave it to my shower.
So far so good to be honest, I was a bit nervous with the idea of making a video but it went better than I thought, I did not panic in front of the camera. I’m also pretty sure that a native in Hebrew would listen to that and say “eh you got an accent!”.
Now that I know the Hebrew alphabet, I decided to still skip Duolingo (actually I might not use it for a while) and use other ways. I found a good ressource which was online and it is called “The Travel Linguist”. I wanted to know about greetings and I found that very helpful.
It is easy to forget some words after only two hours, but practice makes perfect. None of these words is similar to English or French, so it is all about remembering; and it is not easy at all. I am now able to say some greeting in Hebrew such as shalom (peace), hello, how are you, I am fine and you, good morning, good night, what is your name, thank you, you’re welcome, see you later…now I feel so motivated to travel to Israel. Here is the YouTube video I have been working on:
I will be staying on The Travel Linguist for quite a while, and next time I will be showing you a video of me speaking some Hebrew (greetings and a few sentences). I will be translating at the end so viewers don’t get lost.
I like the way they pronounce their “Hs”, it makes me think a lot of German (not that I speak German but I know a few words and that same sound comes up a lot).
Here it is for this week guys, I can’t wait to show you next week video!
Finally here it is, me going trough the Hebrew alphabet. The entire process honestly was super hard, I am even surprised at the results. Now I can identify and pronounce every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Another thing I need to mention is the fact that the alphabet only consists of consonnants, and that we write and read from right to left.
I am still searching about the vowels, how they use them. I somehow found out that vowels are indicated by the weak consonnants Aleph (א), He (ה), Vav (ו), or Yodh (י) serving as vowel letters. They do not use case neither.
One thought filled my mind when I started using Duolingo, it was to quit. “The Hebrew language is too hard” I thought. Different alphabet, no similarities at all with French (my native language) or English. I have seen the Greek alphabet and some Greek words, some characters and words pretty much look like French characters or French words…but Hebrew! Nothing alike. I thought to myself “good for me that my mastery of that language won’t necessarily be something Katia is going to look for at the end of the day”. Nevertheless, I want to learn as much as possible and I accept the challenge. “There won’t be any turning back” I thought, I will go till the end.
Right away duolingo took me into some words, I expected to first start with the alphabet. That surprised me quite a lot. Nevertheless, I got a 10/20 the first time. Passing grade eh! It seemed to me that each character was the same at first, I almost felt sorry for little Jewish children that learn the language. “How can people learn that! ” I thought most of the time, “if you can handwrite these characters, I’m pretty sure you can handwrite anything”. So I decided to put duolingo aside for a few days, and concentrate on learning the alphabet first. At least to start there. And I am still learning, I have not perfected it yet. When I started learning the english language, the alphabet (pronouncing each letter) was the foundation. So brace yourselves guys, on my next post I will be sharing a video of me identifying and pronouncing each letter of the alphabet.
As you can see, it contains 27 letters and I learnt that in Hebrew we read from the right to the left (unlike English or French where we read from the left to the right). I also heard somewhere that Hebrew letters are codes too. Some archeologists and scholars were able to decode some mysteries by decoding letters of ancient writings. Hmm it’s something I will definitely be looking into as well.
Alright, thank you for reading this week’s post, I’m looking forward to posting the video next time. Please bear with me, I will be using some of your undertanding, good sense of humor, and patience.
All my life I have been an adept of history and archaeology. . When the opportunity to learn another language rose (in regard to my learning project), my choice was very clear: I had to learn either Hebrew or Modern Greek. I finally picked up Hebrew. In the Middle East so many discoveries are being made related to Jewish roots, and I am so fascinated by it.
(Ancient Jewish tombstone)
On top of that I have always wanted to learn four languages in my lifetime: English, Japanese , Arabic and Hebrew. So I should be on the right path since I already know a lot of English, and now it’s the Hebrew’s turn. I will be using duolingo for that, an average of 15 t0 30 min a day. I can feel the excitement running through my veins, it will be hard (I know it) but also worth it. I don’t have a specific objectif really, my goal will just be learning as much as I can.
To all people reading my blog, stay tuned because on a weekly basis I will be posting about my progress. Thanks