Hebrew for dummies
The one word I do not like is ‘dummy’; it implies that a person is stupid. Maybe I am just being a little oversensitive. I do have the same reaction when I hear or read the phrase Hebrew for dummies. I know there is a whole collection of “…for Dummies” books available to buy, such as ‘DOS for dummies’, ‘MYOB for dummies’, and so on. Even so, the word still irks me.
I think we should deconstruct what the phrase is saying. Hebrew for dummies. Obviously, the word ‘Hebrew’ is the Semitic language that I am referring to. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a ‘dummy’ is a stupid person or a model of a person that is used to put clothes onto. Somehow, when a person writes these words ‘Hebrew’ ‘for’ ‘dummies’, they are not referring to the model of the person, but rather to someone who is ‘stupid’.
If you noticed, I put the word ‘stupid’ into singular inverted commas to make a statement that it is someone else’s reference, not mine. As mentioned earlier, I do not support the use of this language at all. Therefore, I want to make this phrase redundant!
There are other ways to phrase this, such as ‘simple Hebrew’, ‘beginner Hebrew’, and the list goes on.
Many studies have been conducted showing how language can profoundly affect a person’s self-esteem, which is why we should not use negative language with children (or anyone, for that matter). For example, imagine saying to a child: “You’re a dummy!”. How do you think the child might feel? I know if it was said to me, I would feel terrible. The same can be said for the title of this article. So, let’s not use it. Instead, let us find another term to support first-time learners.
Hebrew for dummies – a positive approach
Hebrew for dummies in its positive form is starting to learn Hebrew from its very fundamental basics. This could also be termed ‘foundation Hebrew’, beginner Hebrew, Hebrew for beginners and so on. Let us look at what the fundamentals are. Firstly, there is becoming familiar with the Hebrew letters, their shapes, and how to pronounce them. Secondly, there are the Hebrew vowels and how Hebrew words are constructed using letters and vowels. Thirdly, there are the Hebrew syllables; Hebrew syllables relate to how the word is broken up into its constituent parts. Breaking up a word into syllables helps a person read the Hebrew word section by section, thereby making it a lot easier for the reader to be able to read the Hebrew text fluently.
A commitment to learn to read Hebrew
How many twelve-year-olds are committed to learning to read Hebrew? I recently started teaching a new Hebrew pupil for face-to-face lessons. I am absolutely taken aback by his commitment to learning to read Hebrew, both biblical and for the siddur. He is 12 years old, and he lives in an area that does not have a Jewish community nearby. He goes to a Catholic school and has not had much Jewish input throughout his childhood. However, his father is Jewish, and he had a Bar Mitzvah when he turned 13 years old. Clearly, this had an impact on this boy, as he told his father he also wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah. The father did not push him at all to start learning to read Hebrew (unlike other Jewish parents!) This boy is driving the entire process.
Every two weeks, they travel two hours to come to my house for Hebrew lessons. Initially, we started using the online program Easy Learn Hebrew as a tool to support him with his practice in between lessons. He even used the online program overseas to ensure he did not forget the material he had learnt with me. I saw him yesterday after about two weeks, and he started reading his very first Hebrew prayer; the prayer for the bread, referred to as the hamotzi.
However, he started feeling bad about himself, even referring to himself as a ‘dummy’ because he was not reading the prayer fluently the first time! He clearly has very high expectations for himself! Nonetheless, I explained to him that reading Hebrew fluently for the very first time is highly unusual, that he needs to work on his Hebrew reading practice, and never refer to himself as a ‘dummy’ again!
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