reading hebrew

Kim Fleming kfleming at
Sun Jun 10 21:05:39 EDT 2001

Thanks to all who responded to my questions. It sounds as though it will be
worth my time to "retrain" my brain to recognize the vocalized hebrew as
well as I now recognize the "visual" hebrew. I found when I wrote out some
transliterations for others to vocally quiz me on vocab, I often had to
"see" the word in my head before I could give the definition - recognizing
the words on paper is no problem for me. I think with practice it will begin
to come naturally - on a smaller scale, the hebrew alphabet now comes
naturally, whereas before I was constantly mentally swapping the letters I
was used to with the hebrew characters.

Yes, as far as lexicons, I almost exclusively use the BDB, it's the only one
I've got for now. And I do enjoy several translations including the New JPS

Being quite new to this language, I thank those who kindly responded to what
I was afraid may be a trivial question.


----- Original Message -----
From: Bearpecs at
To: Biblical Hebrew
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2001 11:23 AM
Subject: Re: reading hebrew

In a message dated 6/10/01 10:00:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
kfleming at writes:

How do most of you all whose original language is not Hebrew read the

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

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

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",
Getting in the habit of translating it as "and ___ said" therefore leads to

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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