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Rosetta Stone knows that learning Hebrew is about more than speaking the words. It’s also understanding the rich historical, religious, and cultural significance of the language.The story of Hebrew is a remarkable example of language revival. Considered a holy language or lashon ha-kodesh by the Jewish people, Hebrew had ceased to be spoken sometime between 200 and 400 CE. For two millennia, Hebrew existed as the language of sacred, religious texts or Jewish law but was seldom spoken in everyday life. However, in the first decades of the 20th century, as the birth of the nation of Israel became imminent, spoken Hebrew experienced a modern-day resurgence. Today’s modern Hebrew is the language of eight million speakers, the lingua franca of Palestine’s Jews, and the national language of the state of Israel.
Though traditional Hebrew has been studied primarily by religious scholars and academics, learning modern-day Hebrew has many practical benefits. Currently, about 53% of the Israeli population speaks Hebrew as a native language, but many others in the region use it as a second language, making it the most commonly spoken language in Israel. The United States is home to the second largest Hebrew-speaking population with about 220,000 speakers.
Rosetta Stone incorporates a methodology that focuses not on teaching the words but learning the language, with lessons taught in an immersive environment where the words are framed in the context of real-world conversations. This method allows language learners to scale gradually towards understanding not only Hebrew vocabulary, but the native speakers who call this language home.
Learning Hebrew for Beginners
As a beginner, there are a few basics you need to know about the Hebrew language before you get started. One of the things that will be an adjustment for English speakers is that, although Hebrew is a direct and straightforward language, it is written from right to left. And like Arabic and Aramaic, traditional Hebrew has an alphabet or aleph-bet with no vowels. The modern Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters that include vowel sounds.
While Hebrew nouns have just two genders and a simplified system for adding articles by putting a letter at the beginning of a noun, the verb tenses can confuse beginners. Hebrew does have a relatively small number of verb roots to learn, but they can be inflected in a variety of ways that change their meaning. If you’re just getting started learning spoken Hebrew, it’s best to begin with frequently used words in context and then scale gradually towards understanding verb families.
Here are a few common words in Hebrew:
shalom שלום - Hello
ken כן - Yes
loh לא - No
bevekshah בבקשה - Please
Toda תודה - Thank you
The best way to learn Hebrew words is not to focus on vocabulary lists but to practice speaking and hearing the language as often as possible. That’s why Rosetta Stone uses a Dynamic Immersion® method and a robust menu of features like Stories that help learners broaden their exposure by reading along with native speakers. Immersed in a learning environment rich with the audio and visual cues that stimulate deeper connections, these bite-sized lessons sync across devices so you can practice learning Hebrew anytime and anywhere.
The Best Way to Learn Hebrew Pronunciation
Like several other languages, Hebrew pronunciatio has a few unique sounds that may be unfamiliar to English speakers. One of the trademark sounds of the Hebrew language is a deep, throaty noise like the one you use to pronounce the “ch” in Bach. You can practice making this sound in your throat by expelling noise while pretending that you’re breathing on a window, trying to steam it up. It may also help to listen to spoken Hebrew often and immerse yourself in the natural cadence of the language’s pronunciation.
Because the traditional Hebrew alphabet or written script consists entirely of consonants, it can be tricky to get the hang of how to pronounce some words. In some texts, dots and lines were used to indicate the vowel sounds, but those are less common in modern Hebrew. Four of the Hebrew consonants can also double as vowels, so listen closely for how those letters are being pronounced in common Hebrew words you encounter.
One of the advantages of Hebrew pronunciation is that there are, despite a few exceptions, some consistent rules. For instance, most nouns place the emphasis on the last syllable or, if the noun contains a vowel in the last syllable, the second to last syllable. Because, like English, the Hebrew language has several words with identical spellings, it’s important to perfect the stress that conveys the meaning you want to express.
Rosetta Stone provides Hebrew lessons that are uniquely suited to address this challenge, embedded with a patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent®. In each bite-sized lesson, you’ll not only learn Hebrew vocabulary in context but get real-time feedback on your pronunciation by comparing your accent to that of a native speaker. After all, what’s the point of learning a language if you can’t speak up and be understood when it matters.
The Best Way to Learn Hebrew
Experts agree that the best way to learn Hebrew—or any language for that matter— is to invest in a quality language-learning program like Rosetta Stone and commit to practicing daily. However, building the confidence to speak a language takes more than memorization and recitation. If you’d like to accelerate your language learning, here are some tips on how to become a confident Hebrew speaker.
Learn Hebrew phrases in context
While Rosetta Stone incorporates a Phrasebook feature for easy reference, it’s also important to learn Hebrew conversational phrases in the context of the real-world situations in which they’re used. Learning the vocabulary you’d need to use in a restaurant, like בבקשה (bakashá to get the waiter’s attention, alongside other phrases in a contextually rich learning environment will help accelerate your ability to speak with confidence in everyday, unscripted situations.
Don’t get hung up the Hebrew alphabet
You do need some familiarity with the aleph-bet to understand the basic sounds of the Hebrew language, but don’t get stuck on the script. It’s much more important for beginners to perfect pronunciation and to understand native Hebrew speakers than it is to be able to read Hebrew.
Practice speaking Hebrew daily
Language learning is an example of the adage practice makes perfect. Find a way to incorporate learning and speaking Hebrew into your daily routine. Rosetta Stone makes this easy with bite-sized lessons and an award-winning mobile app that lets you learn Hebrew on-the-go. Additional features like live tutoring and an online community of other language learners that gives you the opportunity to get beyond Google translations and engage in unscripted Hebrew conversations.
How to Immerse Yourself in the Hebrew Language
Surrounding yourself with the sounds of the Hebrew language can make deeper connections and provide the confidence you need to speak up for yourself. An excellent place to start is local synagogues and Jewish community centers that might have Hebrew practice groups you could participate in. Even if you aren’t near a hub of Hebrew speakers, there are plenty of other ways listed below to enrich your language learning experience
Listen to Hebrew sounds and music
All language begins with sounds and getting familiar with the Hebrew pronunciation, cadence, and inflection will help you understand and be understood more easily in Hebrew. Even if you don’t know the alphabet or basic sounds, you can expose yourself to spoken Hebrew by listening to Rosetta Stone Stories, streaming YouTube videos, or finding Hebrew music or a Jewish radio station. You can even listen to children’s songs like Victoria Hanna’s Hebrew alphabet, focusing on the sounds and picking out patterns of speech.
Watch Hebrew television or movies
You may not be aware, but there are actually quite a few Israeli TV shows or movies you can find on various streaming services and platforms. Watch with subtitles if you want, but eventually, as your learning advances, try to turn them off and acclimate to the speed of Hebrew conversation.
Yes, there are books in Hebrew you might be able to read if you’re an advanced learner, but even beginners can gain a little insight by attempting to read the news in Hebrew. Don’t worry about purchasing a newspaper or trying to get one from the library, however as there are plenty of online news sources in Hebrew.
Advantages to Learning Hebrew
There are many practical reasons for learning a language, but there are also equally important personal motivators that might make Hebrew a good fit for you. Whether you’re looking to get a better understanding of your neighbors in the Jewish community or you intend to travel to Israel, learning Hebrew can place you in a unique position to get more out of your experience.
If you’re still not convinced yet that Hebrew is for you, here are a few other reasons to learn the national language of Israel.
Connect with Israeli history and Jewish culture
With an origin story that spans 4,000 years, Hebrew is one of the oldest languages in the world, and many important historical and religious artifacts and literature rely upon a knowledge of the Hebrew language. Whether you’re an academic or a religious scholar, you’ll appreciate the advantage knowing Hebrew provides.
Experience Hebrew as a revived language
As a language that was brought back from the dead, Hebrew has a fascinating revival story, and by learning the language, amateur linguists, academics, and culture enthusiasts can experience a bit of that history first-hand.
Understand classic Hebrew and Jewish religious texts
One of the main reasons people outside of the Jewish community want to learn Hebrew is the power of being able to read and study the Bible and other sacred texts in the language in which they were written, allowing for new insights by identifying improper translations or additional meanings.
Travel to Israel
Last but not least, knowing Hebrew will help you to have a more meaningful travel experience and more authentic interactions with the Israeli people. There are over 750,000 Israelis that also reside outside of Israel so there’s a good chance Hebrew will come in handy throughout your travels.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with Hebrew whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.