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I started to learn beginner Hebrew in my teens because there was something pulling me to unlock the treasures of this beautiful language.
Like many people, I started off my journey in a prayer book. I could read the words, but the poetic language and nuances of what was on the page were passing me by.
However, I knew that I wanted to do more than understand liturgy; I wanted to connect to all the vibrancy and energy of the Hebrew language.
If you feel the same way, then this guide on how to learn beginner Hebrew is just for you.
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- How I Learned Hebrew
- Why You Should Learn Modern Hebrew
- Is Hebrew Hard To Learn?
- Learn the Hebrew Alphabet First
- Take an Ulpan Hebrew Class
- Try an Online Hebrew Course
- Listen to Hebrew Language Podcasts on Spotify
- Watch YouTube Videos
- Use Netflix
- Turn On The Radio
- Read Broadly
- Connect With Other Learners
- Now, on to You
How I Learned Hebrew
I’d be lying if I told you that learning Hebrew was a breeze. Back when I was learning the language, there were not as many language tools as there are today.
At first, I began learning with a book. Then I progressed to other methods, but learning resources in those days were pretty limited. I know it’s shocking, but there was a time before YouTube, Google, and social media.
Nowadays, there are so many wonderful ways to learn Hebrew and enhance your learning, that I admit to being a little envious of anyone learning now. However, since learning a language is not a static activity, I now take advantage of every resource available to progress even further with my Hebrew studies.
Because I love the language, and because I want to give a helping hand to anyone wanting to learn Hebrew, I’ll give you a quick guide to how to begin learning the language.
It’s going to take time, effort, and lots of patience, but you’ll find that learning Hebrew can be as rewarding.
Why You Should Learn Modern Hebrew
Many people who I’ve met seem to think that you have to be Jewish to learn Hebrew, or they think that Hebrew is limited to religious study or prayer.
This way of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Hebrew is a living, breathing, and totally useable language that has quite an interesting backstory.
Firstly, it’s pretty cool to learn a language that, until the 19th century, was considered dead as a vernacular language. Today the language flourishes and continues to add words as times change.
Another reason that Hebrew is a great language to learn is that it ties you to Biblical times and people of note, such as King David and even Moses. Of course, the language has changed since then, but many words and grammatical rules are the same.
There are many Hebrew literary works that are fine to read in English, but the deeper meanings tend to get lost in translation. If you want to really understand Israeli poetry and literature, it’s much nicer to read it in the original language.
Lastly, Hebrew is a fun language to learn because it reflects the melting pot that is Israel. People from all over the world live and visit Israel, and the language has borrowed many words from other languages and cultures.
It’s true that many people in Israel speak English, but you’ll miss out on lots of meaningful experiences if you don’t learn at least a basic level of Hebrew.
Learning Hebrew gives you a better ear for the many accents and cultural flavors of the language, and there’s nothing like the connection you’ll get when you try to speak to the guy selling ice cream or the clerk at your hotel.
Is Hebrew Hard To Learn?
This is a difficult question to answer because what is tricky for one person may be a piece of cake for another.
Some people may be put off because Hebrew uses a different alphabet or because the language is read from right to left. But to be honest, with a little patience and time, these things will come as second nature.
The hardest part about learning Hebrew is probably the aspect of dikduk, or grammar, which involves verbs and their conjugations. On the positive side, Hebrew has only one case, there are not very many irregularities, and there is only one article to worry about.
Ready to learn? Than let’s take a look at some of the great resources out there that can make learning Hebrew fun and easy. Kadima (let’s go)!
Learn the Hebrew Alphabet First
You’ll probably hear people say that learning the Hebrew alphabet isn’t necessary if you only want to learn a few useful conversational phrases.
If you want my honest opinion, however, skipping this step makes things harder if you decide to dive deeper into your language learning later on. Plus, why bother learning a new language if you’re going to do it half way?
You can certainly learn the Hebrew aleph-bet using a YouTube video or a program such as Duolingo, but my advice is to use a book.
To me, learning the Hebrew alphabet from a book is best because you can trace the letters, take notes in the margins, carry it around, and have it nearby for quick glances or impromptu study sessions.
Back in the day, I used a book called Reading Hebrew: A Programmed Instruction Book. This book is still published by Behrman House, and is now called The New Reading Hebrew: A Guided Instruction Course.
This book really helped me learn the alphabet well in a short time. It teaches you the alphabet in such easy steps, that you will be reading simple words almost right away. It also teaches you how to write the letters, which is very important.
The one issue with this book is that it doesn’t teach you to write Hebrew cursive letters. But for learning basic printed Hebrew, this is an excellent resource.
Once you learn the printed alphabet, you’ll want to learn Hebrew cursive letters. This is important because personal correspondence, handwritten signs in stores, and lots of other things are written using cursive letters.
There are lots of books out there to help you learn Hebrew cursive.
To find out more, read my another article on how to start learning Hebrew alphabet for beginners.
Take an Ulpan Hebrew Class
If you’re ready to jump in and learn from day one, then I suggest looking into an ulpan. This is the Hebrew word for studio, and it’s a program of intense learning that was originally designed in 1949 to help new immigrants quickly adjust to life in Israel.
Ulpan is still used in Israel to give immigrants the chance to develop the language skills they need to succeed in their new country.
However, you don’t need to be an immigrant in Israel to take advantage of ulpan classes. There are classes available to non-immigrants in Israel and in other countries around the world, and these classes are taught in the same intensive, total-immersion manner.
If traveling to Israel isn’t possible, or if you don’t have an ulpan class near you, then there are a couple of great websites that you can use to learn Hebrew in an ulpan-style setting. Ulpan.com and hebrewulpanlnoline.com are two of them.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to take a few ulpan classes at Hebrew College in Boston, Massachusetts. By the time I began taking ulpan there, I already had a pretty good working knowledge of Hebrew, but they offered ulpan classes for all levels.
Ulpan is great, and I highly recommend it if you’re able to find a class. However, be warned that it can be intense since the lessons are traditionally given only in Hebrew.
So, even if you don’t know a single word of Hebrew, everything will be taught in Hebrew. This is actually easier than you think, and everyone else will have that same deer-in-headlights look for a while.
Before you know it, you’ll be able to understand and speak basic words and phrases.
Try an Online Hebrew Course
If ulpan doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, then you may want to consider taking a different kind of Hebrew course.
Believe it or not, there are some websites that offer Hebrew classes for free, and a really great place to start is HebrewPod101.
Before I get into a few details about the program, I do want to clarify that the most basic lessons are free. You’ll get access to free weekly lessons and a few other learning tools, but if you want extra perks like lesson notes, flashcards, quizzes, dictionaries, and other cool stuff, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee.
How much you’ll pay is based on what you want to get out of the course. There are different levels that offer different enhancements. For example, the Premium Plus level gives you access to all the perks, and you’ll have the chance to work one-on-one with a teacher.
This is the most expensive option, and it costs around US$47 per month.
The Basic and Premium levels are US$8 and US$25, respectively. You can also pay in advance, which gives you a small discount.
So, what do you get from HebrewPod101? It offers lessons for total beginners and for more advanced students. Also, it tailors lessons and teaching approaches according to individual needs and goals.
The website utilizes all of the modern teaching tools like online flashcards, interactive lessons, word lists, and voice recording options. The best thing is to go on the website and check out all of its options.
Sometimes it offers a free trial period, and this gives you the chance to check out the program to see if you like it.
Listen to Hebrew Language Podcasts on Spotify
These days, there are so many resources available to anyone who wants to learn Hebrew.
One of my favorite ways to grow my vocabulary and practice my listening skills is to listen to a podcast on Spotify. Even if you’re an absolute beginner, listening to a podcast in Hebrew is a great way to get used to the sound of the language, learn various inflections, and pick up the basic phrases.
Here are a few that I have tried, but I’m sure that some research will uncover more.
StreetWise Hebrew is a good one if you want to get short bites of Hebrew, learn a little slang, and learn a little bit about Israeli society, culture, literature, and other topics.
There are plenty of episodes to choose from, so pick ones that interest you. Again, don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. Listening to a language over and over again will help you pick up on commonly used words and phrases.
Learn Hebrew by Word of Mouth
Learn Hebrew by Word of Mouth is another podcast that can be found on Spotify. It does assume that you have some basic knowledge of Hebrew, but the episodes are worth listening to. Each episode begins with new words, and then it goes on to the actual story or topic.
Hebrew Podcast by Ulpan Integraliah in Tel Aviv
A podcast that is good for all levels is called Hebrew Podcast by Ulpan Integraliah in Tel Aviv. Yes, that’s quite a mouthful, but the podcast episodes are full of interesting stories, great dialogue, and new vocabulary words.
The thing that I really like about these podcasts is that they are great when you’re on the go. I listen to them in the car, while grocery shopping, vacuuming, or cooking.
Podcasts are learning tools that I wish was available when I was a beginner, and I highly recommend giving any of these a listen.
Watch YouTube Videos
For more visual learners, YouTube is an amazing source of Hebrew lessons. I suggest trying out a few different YouTubers, so you’ll be able to pick the one(s) who you seem to connect with the most.
YouTube is an excellent and fun resource because learning with the platform can give you a true look into Israeli culture while you absorb new vocabulary and grammar patterns.
There are different kinds of videos to choose from, ranging from strictly educational videos to ones featuring real Israelis going about their daily lives.
I suggest trying both educational videos and vlogs. The educational videos will help you with grammar and vocabulary, then you can practice what you learned with vlogs from real Israelis.
Love Netflix? Then it’s time to add an Israeli movie to your next Netflix night. Of course, Israeli movies on Netflix will have subtitles, but try looking away from the subtitles once in a while. You might be surprised that you can recognize a few phrases.
Here’s how I use Netflix to help me keep up with my Hebrew. It’s not necessarily a method for beginners, but it can really help you get used to the sound of the language.
First, I watch a movie exclusively using the subtitles. Then I watch it again – not on the same day, of course – using the subtitles less than the first time. Finally, I try to watch it exclusively in Hebrew. Do I catch the whole thing? No, but it’s an excellent way to boost my confidence.
Turn On The Radio
The radio is an amazing resource for picking up new vocabulary and for getting used to the sound of the language.
Back when I was first learning, there was no internet for live-streaming international radio stations. I did, however, listen to broadcasts from Kol Israel on the shortwave radio, and I listened to a weekly Jewish radio program that came on every Sunday.
These days, you can listen live to any radio station in Israel through live-streaming platforms. I love doing this, and depending on my mood, I will tune into music, news, or even talk radio. There are so many choices, and a quick Google search will help you find just the right radio station.
These radio stations have it all, from top 40 songs to news to Israeli oldies and informational broadcasts. What’s great is that lots of people call in to make requests or just to talk, so you can hear real Israeli accents, up-to-date slang, and more.
There are lots of other fun Israeli radio stations that you can stream, and a quick online search will give you links to classical music, news, talk shows, top 40, and every kind of station in between.
If you think back to the way you learned your own native language, chances are that colorful picture books were a big part of your learning experience.
Books for kids, written in Hebrew, are a super fun way to learn basic words and phrases. And because the words are easy, you’ll gain confidence and fluency in reading.
For more adult-type reading practice, grab a newspaper. You may not live in an area where you can buy an Israeli newspaper, but there are lots of online options.
In fact, the Jerusalem Post has an easy Hebrew version of the newspaper that’s available for subscription.
Connect With Other Learners
One of the best ways to learn a language is to dive right in and give it a try.
Many communities have groups, either online or in person, where you can get together with other Hebrew learners to practice.
This kind of setting is great because you’ll have the chance to practice without pressure. Everybody else will be struggling and making mistakes too, and you’ll be able to benefit from more experienced speakers who may be in the group.
If you end up taking an online Hebrew course through a place like RosenHebrewSchool.com, then they will probably have their own online community groups.
Now, on to You
I’ve given you a few tips and tricks based on my Hebrew learning journey. But you’ll need to find a learning path that makes you feel comfortable and successful.
After all, learning Hebrew is a process that shouldn’t be rushed, and you’ll get to the level you want in time. Enjoy the journey, make friends along the way, and feel proud of your accomplishments.