The Jewish Eye
Foreign Service Institute's Hebrew Basic Course
FSI Hebrew on CD-ROM
A digital edition of:
Foreign Service Institute's Hebrew Basic Course
Edited by Lloyd Swift
Foreign Service Institute, Washington DC: 1965
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - May 11, 2006
The Foreign Service Institute's Hebrew Basic Course was first released in 1965, and it has long been a stable of students, travelers, and diplomats desirous of learning to understand and speak modern Hebrew. It is also a course that provides generous training in the reading and writing Hebrew. However, the oral and aural aspects of Hebrew are emphasized. The course consists of a textbook and accompanying audio files. In the digital edition now being produced by Multilingualbooks.com, the course comes one a single computer CD-ROM with the course book contained in a single PDF file, and the audio files are in MP3 format.
The audio files that go with this course can be played on your computer or laptop, as well as on your MP3 player, or other audio equipment that will play MP3 files. This gives you the option of listening to the audio component of this course while on the move. The audio files are of a very good quality.
I studied this course on my own, back in the 80's, for the purposes of improving my ability to understand and speak Hebrew. I studied from a printed textbook with audio cassettes and it greatly enhanced by ability to understand and speak Hebrew proficiently. The textbook in this digital edition of the course appears to be a very close copy of the textbook I used in the 80's which, from its appearance, was simply reprinted directly from older mimeographed pages. As such, while 95% of the text was of excellent quality, although the print size throughout was very small, there were a few instances where the text was light or spotty. By this I mean that it looked liked that in few cases a page here and there was typed with a manual typewriter that did not have the best ribbon in it causing some pages to have text printed in a lighter shade of black type face than others, and causing some letters to look like they had white spots within the black print. However, throughout the text was legible and usable. The PDF version of this text has these same imperfections. However, it does have the added advantage of enabling you to increase the font size to make it easier to read the print. These imperfections are not a major drawback to the course, but they are something that I think that potential readers of this book should be aware of.
This is an ideal course for anyone wanting to learn modern Hebrew, but it is especially valuable to those wanting to learn to speak and understand Hebrew. The audio files were recorded by native speaking Israelis. While the audio files do not cover all the material in the book, they do cover most of the dialogues called Basic Conversations, as well as most of the exercises contained in the text. These exercises include vocabulary, verb, and grammar drills and come in a variety of formats including substitution, substitution-agreement, expansion, transformation, response, and translation drills.
The textbook assumes no prior knowledge of Hebrew and it begins with the bare basics such as the alphabet, letter and vowel sounds, and information on how Hebrew is pronounced and read. The text then moves onto basic conversation skills and Hebrew grammar, and gradually builds upon this foundation. By the end of the course you will have a basic ability to read, speak, and comprehend general conversations and reading selections. The lessons and conversations in this course are presented in Hebrew with English translation, along with the phonetic pronunciation of the Hebrew words. All instructions are in English.
The highlight of this course is, by far, the audio files. They will not only help you to perfect your pronunciation of Hebrew, but they will also improve your listening skills. In addition, this text includes a plethora of exercises and drills that not only reinforced the course lessons but which will also provide you with ample reading and speaking practice. This is a rather long and difficult course that was designed to be completed in a relatively short period of time by diplomats needing access to basic Hebrew language skills. Modern students, who are not so rushed, can take their time working through the course. However, for best results, you should work on the course daily and spend as much time as you can to improve your skills. The textbook for this course runs about 550 pages and is accompanied by more than 60 MP3 audio files. This is not an 'easy' course, nor one for anyone afraid of doing a lot of hard work to master the material, especially if you are studying this course without a teacher. However, while this course does require a great deal of perseverance and practice to master the material, it is well worth the effort as you will come away from this book with an impressive degree of fluency in modern Hebrew and the ability to engage in 'adult' level conversations with native speakers! I highly recommended this course.
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