I was asked to review the book Teach Yourself to Read Hebrew, by Ethelyn Simon and Joseph Anderson for basically one reason, I could not read Hebrew. Granted I could say a few words in Hebrew, but before opening this book, I did not even know the Hebrew aleph bet (alphabet)! When I was given this book to review, I was also given a couple of rules - first, I wasn't to ask for anyone's help and secondly, I wasn't to look up anything on the internet or in another book. I was simply to take this book, and working at my own pace, see if I could learn to read Hebrew all on my own with only this book as a guide. To my amazement, I could!
There are ten lessons in this book, and it took me less than two weeks to work through them. I am still flabbergasted over how quick and easy it was to learn to read Hebrew. That is not to say that it did not take a goodly amount of work. I worked at it every day, and religiously did all the exercises in the book, and I made a set of flash cards for myself that I used whenever I had a free moment or two.
Teach Yourself to Read Hebrew assumes that you have no prior knowledge of Hebrew, and therefore starts with the basics, such as teaching you that Hebrew is read from right to left. Each lesson introduces you to one or more consonants, vowels, or combination of the two. The only exception is the last lesson, which is devoted to teaching you how to read long Hebrew words by breaking them into syllables first. Each lesson also includes instruction on how to pronounce the various consonants and vowels, learning tips and suggestions, examples of how to write the various letters in block print, and reading exercises. Most of the lessons also include written exercises, the answers to all the written exercises can be found at the end of the book. At the end of the book you'll also find a fold out chart that lists all the Hebrew letters and vowels, their names, how they are pronounced and how they look when printed in a book, as well as when written by hand in block print or script (Hebrew script is not taught in this book), along with their corresponding number value. Throughout Sephardic pronunciation is used, which is the same as Modern Hebrew.
EKS Publishing offers a companion audio CD set that will help you to refine your Hebrew pronunciation, but I was able to work through this book without it. Primarily because Simon and Anderson explain how to pronounce the Hebrew, by using English sounds and words as examples. Their instructions are clear, precise, and easy to follow. Along the way you'll learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to pronounce all the letters and vowels and how to meld the various letters and vowels together to pronounce words, including multi-syllable words. These are not just nonsense words, for the most part, the authors seem to be using real words and they help you to begin building your Hebrew vocabulary by introducing words that you might already know the meaning of, even if you could not previously read them, such as Shabbat, Leah, tallit, Negev, matza, kippa, Torah, Rosh Hashanah, Bar Mitzvah, and many more... The last reading exercise in the book is the Kaddish prayer. After going through this book, I grabbed my Hebrew-English prayerbook and tested myself. While I did not understand most of what I read, I found that I could sound out all the words with relative ease, and I could decipher far more words then I expected.
Teach Yourself to Read Hebrew was written for adult learners, but it should be just as useful to high school students. As well, this is a book that can be studied on your own, or with a teacher or tutor either in a home or classroom setting. If you have 'access' to someone that speaks Hebrew - try your newly discovered Hebrew skills out on them - both as a means of practicing your new skills but also to check and make sure that you are pronouncing all the sounds correctly. After finishing this book, I have to admit that I am not a fast reader - that will take practice. It will also take time for me to build my vocabulary to the point that I can understand what I'm reading. In the meantime, I can proudly state that I am a reader of Hebrew, something that I never thought I would be able to say. This is because I figured that it would simply be too hard to learn to read Hebrew. I was so wrong, and I wish I had discovered this book sooner. So, if you have ever considered learning to read Hebrew, stop considering, get your hands on a copy of this book, and do it! It is so empowering and fun to master a new skill, especially one that will open up a whole new world of experiences. I'm looking forward to continuing my study of Hebrew and hopefully one day I will be able to say that I read Hebrew fluently!
Prayerbook Hebrew the Easy Way, by Joseph Anderson, Linda Motzkin, Jonathan Rubenstein, and Laurence Wiseman.
Perfect for adult learners studying on their own, this step-by-step book explains the basics of Hebrew grammar in east to understand terms and introduces you to the vocabulary and beauty of the Hebrew prayers.
Contemporary Hebrew 1, by Menahem Mansoor.
A grammar-based introductory course on Modern Hebrew that is ideal for college students, adult self-learners, and advance high schools students.