reading hebrew

Bearpecs at aol.com Bearpecs at aol.com
Sun Jun 10 11:23:02 EDT 2001


In a message dated 6/10/01 10:00:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kfleming at wctel.net writes:
> How do most of you all whose
> original language is not Hebrew read the Hebrew?

I think this is an extremely important question, and worth our discussing.  I 
came to Biblical Hebrew after beginning to learn Modern Hebrew, so I was 
already speaking and hearing the language.  That, however, also has its 
downside:  First, it's easy to mistakenly apply MH concepts to BH, such as 
thinking as if the prefixed verb form indicates future tense (MH) versus 
imperfective aspect (BH).  Second, MH conflates sounds, so the distinction 
between kaph and qof may be lost (unless your MH teacher is from an 
Arabic-speaking Sephardic/Oriental community).  (I had the advantage of some 
prior linguistics study, so it was easier to understand the MH/BH 
differences.)

I'm sure that mentally translating from the second language into English is 
an inevitable step in language learning.  (I remember the first time someone 
spoke to me in Hebrew and I *didn't* need to translate before answering.)  
But I imagine that it must be more difficult to get beyond that if you are 
only reading and not speaking and hearing the language.  Do others agree?  Is 
anyone familiar with language-acquisition studies that would answer the 
question?

I do have one small suggestion.  Move as quickly as possible from using 
vocabulary lists and textbook glossaries to real translations using BDB and 
other lexicons.  Also make use of multiple English translations, including 
modern and classical, Jewish and Christian.  (I think it's a significant 
lacuna that many Christians studying bible don't use the New JPS 
translation.)  The danger, of course, is that "wayommer" does NOT always mean 
"and ___ said".  It could be "[then] he said", or "but he will say", etc.  
Getting in the habit of translating it as "and ___ said" therefore leads to 
errors.

I admit I've never really mastered a language that is only read, so I'm 
particularly interested in hearing from others about that experience.


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