December 11, 2011 | Hebrew

Status Report: Hebrew

What is up with my Hebrew studies.

Since I last wrote, much has happened.

Despite the silence on this blog, I have logged many Hebrew hours, studying every day. I have learned the Hebrew alphabet and am on the 45th of 90 half-hour Pimsleur lessons available for Hebrew.

Still Getting a Lot of Studying Done at Aroma: Many Thanks to All the Customers Who Have Answered Hebrew Questions!

Still Getting a Lot of Studying Done at Aroma: Many Thanks to All the Customers Who Have Answered Hebrew Questions!

To gain some historical perspective I have begun Edward Horowitz’s book How the Hebrew Language Grew. In it I read, “Hebrew gradually ceased being a spoken language after 70 C.E., when the Jews were driven from the land of Israel by the Romans and were scattered throughout the world.” He explains that it continued to be used as “the language of prayer, study, reading the Torah, and correspondence.”

Then, he continues, around 1880, “a young man was inspired with a vision that Hebrew could once again live as a spoken language.” The man was Eliezer ben Yehudah, who went to Israel to work.

“At first,” writes Horowitz, “he was thought an idle dreamer, but slowly and surely, something of the fire that burned within him spread to his friends and neighbors, and to wider and wider circles, until in a few years almost all Jews in Israel were speaking Hebrew. One of the greatest miracles of all modern times had come to pass. This was the very first time in all human history that a language which ceased being spoken in ancient times came back to life on the lips of men and women and little children.

A Good Seat for Studying at the High Line (Hi, Usher!)

A Good Seat for Studying at the High Line (Hi, Usher!)

I haven’t gotten very far with the book yet, but I love when writers are passionate about their topic and when they don’t bury the allure of their subject in academic jargon.

Another thing that has been happening: in my studies, I have repeatedly benefited from the similarities between Arabic and Hebrew. They both read from right to left and both rely on a root system. That means for example that you will have a particular meaning associated with a trio of consonants, and then a host of words related to that concept are created out of those three consonants through an assortment of prefixes, suffixes, and I believe what are known as infixes (sounds like something you might buy at a plumbing store).

Hebrew and Arabic have many words in common, which also makes my life easier, in spite of the fact that the Arabic I learned more than two years ago is at present mostly sleeping in a dark corner of my brain.

I have learned that pronouncing certain Hebrew sounds is hard on my throat, so good hydration is essential.

In Union Square on a Warmish Day, Doing a Pimsleur Lesson (I Mean Me, Not That Guy)

In Union Square on a Warmish Day, Doing a Pimsleur Lesson (I Mean Me, Not That Guy)

As of late last week, I was liberated from the boot protecting my stress-fractured foot. I still have to take it easy, but things are improving, and Hebrew field trips are imminent. Recently I have been having running dreams, where I am fleet of foot and injury-free. I look down and can see the path beneath me, and I am moving swiftly along. When I wake up, I am a little sad.

The language dreams haven’t gone quite as well. I had one about Hebrew not long ago. In it I dreamt I could not think of a single word in Hebrew, despite all my studying. In the dream Hebrew then turned into Greek, and suddenly I could not speak a word of Greek either (which at this moment is largely true; that’s another one that has really gone to sleep).

What is funny, though, is that lately words I haven’t thought of for many months in certain languages are suddenly are popping into my head on demand. In Arabic and Greek in particular. Very basic stuff, but still…it’s been interesting. As though Hebrew is reinvigorating a particular part of my brain different from the one devoted to Western European languages.

Pimsleur Lessons Have Been Done on This JCC Exercise Bike

Pimsleur Lessons Have Been Done on This JCC Exercise Bike

I asked the JCC on the Upper West Side if I could visit a Hebrew class and write about it for this blog, and they said no. It took me more than a month and multiple messages to extricate that answer from them. Very disappointing.

Although I am a wee bit annoyed, I have been going to the JCC regularly to work out, and have done a little Hebrew Pimsleur on the exercise bikes. However, I have mostly decided that exercise-and-language-learning multitasking is not a good approach for me. If you do Pimsleur while you are doing sit-ups (I guess what people do these days is actually called a “crunch,” but that word bugs me for some reason), you tend to achieve fewer sit-ups and more grammatical errors.

I have something I want to say about Rosetta Stone, but I will save that for another day.

Comments (3)

Ron • Posted on Tue, December 13, 2011 - 2:36 pm EST

Congratulations, Ellen, on finally getting your foot back! I love how learning Hebrew is awakening your non-western language brain. So, the similarities in Arabic is helping your Hebrew. What a shame that the people who speak those similar Semitic languages can’t dwell more on what they share in common than on their differences.

I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say about RS. They certainly have convinced the American public through mass marketing that the reason they can’t learn a language is not having their costly program.

Good luck, Ellen, and happy holidays!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, December 13, 2011 - 11:48 pm EST

Thank you so much, Ron! I am working on the Rosetta Stone entry right this minute…

Katherine • Posted on Thu, December 22, 2011 - 12:02 pm EST

That’s very interesting about Greek and Arabic making a resurgence in your brain from studying Hebrew.  I wonder if it is just from association or if different types of languages access different parts of your brain like you said.  That would make a very interesting study for linguists!  Even though Greek is an Indoeuropean language I did find similarities with Arabic, like possessive pronouns being added to the end of nouns. 

I agree with you about exercising and Pimsleuring simultaneously.  I used to do that on the bike and would go between slowing down my cycling and then having to rewind back a few sentences because I stopped paying attention.

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