Competence in Hebrew

Ben Crick ben.crick at
Fri Dec 31 16:48:15 EST 1999

On Thu 30 Dec 1999 (21:08:17), polycarp66 at wrote:
> I think there is a problem in learning a language such as Hebrew which we 
> don't have with modern languages (that's leaving out modern Hebrew for
> the  moment).  That being that it's not easy to learn in the optimal
> way.  When I  learned French, German, Dutch, Spanish, I could sit down
> and read passages and simply try to make sense out of them without looking
> up every word to be  certain I was absolutely correct.

 Dear List,

 As a schoolboy I learnt French and German by "conversational" methods,
 backed up with grammar and syntax lessons from a teacher. I found both
 easy, because they are both languages not too far removed from English
 (Teutonic grammar; Norman-French vocabulary).

 Latin was a different matter. This I learned by rote from a Grammar
 (Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer), with exercises. Then I was given the
 Aeniad Book II to work through, which I must say I thoroughly enjoyed.
 Oh yes, and the ubiquitous De Bello Gallico. The Classics staff produced
 a latin "newspaper", /Acta Diurna/, which we found amusing.

 In the Army I learned Russian, which involved two complications for an
 English speaker: a different alphabet (Cyrillic) and an entirely
 different verbal system (Aspects instead of Tenses). But as Russian is
 fully declined and inflected in 6 cases, this and Latin was a great help
 when I later tackled Koine Greek.

 At Uni I learnt Koine Greek and Classical Hebrew (using Weingreen for
 the Hebrew). Again there were the complications of learning two completely
 new alphabets, and in Hebrew reading and writing from right to left.
 The Greek verbal system was sufficiently like Latin to be no problem;
 but the Hebrew verbal system with its seven conjugations and its
 Waw-consecutive (or Waw-conversive) conventions was something I'd never
 come across elsewhere. However I did mentally compare Hebrew Perfect with
 Russian Perfective, and Hebrew Imperfect with Russian Imperfective:
 which I found helpful (well, a bit...).

 I am impressed by the number of people learning Hebrew on their own
 without a tutor. I would say that the help of a Tutor is indispensable,
 especially in the early stages. This need only be a friendly local clergyman
 or rabbi.

 An advantage with "dead" languages is that their words do not continuously
 change their meanings with time. But the English equivalents we use for
 them do!!!

 Shana tova,
 Revd Ben Crick, BA CF
 <ben.crick at>
 232 Canterbury Road, Birchington, Kent, CT7 9TD (UK)

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