As a middle aged woman, I decided I would like to learn Hebrew. My initial, repeated efforts to learn the alphabet using standard alphabet instructional materials seemed thwarted by an inability to remember the letters and their sounds just a few days after seemingly “learning” them. I knew I would have to try some novel approaches to meet my goal. Here’s how I went about mastering the alphabet and gaining an ability to read.
Hebrew Alphabet Blocks: I purchased Hebrew alphabet blocks on eBay and displayed one letter per day on a shelf in my kitchen. On the day that the block was displayed, I would say the name of the letter and its sound every time I passed the block. In the evening of the same day, I looked up words starting with that letter in a Hebrew dictionary, pronounced them using the pronunciation aid in my dictionary and wrote them down.
Learning the Diacritical Marks: I had as much trouble learning the diacritical marks representing the vowel sounds as I did the alphabet. As these marks are not represented on alphabet blocks, I made my own blocks by folding sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 paper into a cube and writing the diacritical marks, one on each cube face. I practiced the name of the mark, and its sound, one per day. I used a Hebrew children’s book to find words which used that mark.
Spelling of Commonly Known Hebrew Words used in English: As I knew very few Hebrew words, I looked up words such as Israel, the names of Israeli cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Old Testament biblical names such as Abraham and holidays such as Hanukkah. I wrote the English word next to its Hebrew equivalent. These were practiced without any diacritical marks so that I could get the feel for eventually learning to read without the marks.
Transliteration of Known English Words: I used resources available on the internet to transliterate words that are of personal importance to me into Hebrew lettering. While this did not assist with the diacritical marks, it cemented in the consonant sounds. I used words such as my first and last name, my city and state, and a variety of words that are second nature to me until I had all of the letters of the alphabet covered. I wrote these words freehand over and over to commit them to memory.
Even with these methods, learning the Hebrew alphabet and diacritical marks was not a quick task. It took two months of daily effort (about an hour or two per day) to master the alphabet and the sounds such that I could read most words in a book slowly without using a reference. This level of reading, though, now allows me to advance to the next task: learning the Hebrew language without transliteration!