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Get Started in Modern Hebrew

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Get Started in Modern Hebrew

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Get Started in Modern Hebrew
Absolute Beginner Course
A Teach Yourself Book & CD
By Shula Gilboa
Hodder & Stoughton, London
McGraw-Hill, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4441-7511-0

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 9, 2015

Get Started in Modern Hebrew by Shula Gilboa is an innovative learning system that teaches students the fundamentals of Modern Hebrew and which provides a solid foundation upon which to take more in-depth courses either on their own or at university. This course presupposes no prior knowledge of Hebrew or the Hebrew alphabet. As such, it begins at the very beginning - with the A-B-C's, or in this case Aleph - Bet - Gimel's, and covers how the letters and vowels (nikud) are pronounced and used. It then quickly moves on to the first chapter where you immediately begin reading and speaking modern Hebrew. This course also includes an MP3 CD so that you can hone your pronunciation and practice your listening skills. An icon (a picture of headphones) in the book alerts you when a section can be heard on the accompanying CD.

Geared toward self-learners, Get Started in Modern Hebrew uses a learning system called the "Discovery Method." The method is intuitively based, with students discovering patterns and 'rules' on their own without being spoon-fed all the fundamentals. This is not to say that rules are never taught. Rather they are used judiciously, allowing learners to really learn on their own. This ensures that what they learn is internalized and that it sticks with them, rather than simply being memorized for a test and then forgotten. The chapters in this book are organized thematically, with topics covering such routine situations as shopping, traveling, food, and sports. As such, not only is this book ideal for those just starting their journey toward the mastery of Modern Hebrew, but it is also a great introduction for tourists and business people who might want to carry on rudimentary conversations while in Israel.

Throughout, this book provides ample reading, writing, and speaking exercises and periodically you'll find review exercises that will help you to judge the progress you are making in the course. Answers to these review exercises, practice questions, and more, are located toward the end of the book. The print used in this book is on the small size. However it is printed in a very dark, clear font. It is readable throughout, if you can ordinarily read small print.

Get Started in Modern Hebrew represents an almost total revision of one of Gilboa's previous books, Teach Yourself Modern Hebrew that came out in 2004. The new version is more streamlined, and it adheres to modern pedagogic techniques, one of these being the almost total lack of vowels. In Hebrew, the vowels consist of dots and dashes that are located above, below, or next to letters. In Israel vowels are only found in children's books, biblical texts, poetry, and in some works written for those just starting to learn Hebrew. As such, most teachers of modern Hebrew now frown on the use of vowels when teaching motivated youngsters and adult learners.

Learners are encouraged to learn the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew words by listening to native speakers. In that regard, the accompanying audio CD is especially helpful. The native speakers on the CD pronounce the words clearly, and they speaks at a moderate pace, not so slow as to be unnatural nor so fast that you cannot understand what they are saying. If you diligently listen to the audio component and practice what you hear, you will soon become proficient in pronouncing the Hebrew you are learning, and in reading Hebrew on an adult level. In addition, vocabulary words are presented in both Hebrew and in a transliterated format to aid your understanding of the words pronunciation.

The one item missing from the new edition of this book that I would have liked to have seen retained, at least in a brief fashion, were the two units on writing Hebrew that were included in the first book. Learning to read and write Hebrew print and script is fairly easy, but it does help to see how the letters are formed. In Get Started in Modern Hebrew, Gilboa does not show how the letters are formed. You just need to absorb their formation by reading the text. If this is not sufficient for you, you will find numerous tutorials online that will walk you through how to write both the script and print forms of Hebrew. In regard to script, in Israel, other than printed text, most Israelis write using the script alphabet, which is akin to cursive handwriting in English. It is essential that you learn not only how to read and write printed Hebrew, but also script as well. In this book, Gilboa introduces the script alphabet in the section that deals with the alphabet, in general, and then, beginning in Unit 3, most of the vocabulary words are presented in both script and print.

Get Started in Modern Hebrew offers learners an excellent introduction to Modern Hebrew, and upon successful completion of the course you should find that you are able to carry on basic conversations, read Hebrew with a high degree of fluency (even when you do not know what every word means), and that you can understand spoken Hebrew within the confines of the vocabulary that you have learned. On the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR) this equates to having reached the A2 level and have completed the beginning stage of language mastery.

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