How to read Hebrew
Making sure you know how to read Hebrew fluently is integral in your Hebrew journey. I have lost count of how many pupils I have taught how to read Hebrew, but I always emphasise that fluent Hebrew reading is more important than reading Hebrew quickly. I will always remember when I was at a Jewish primary school; the Hebrew teacher had competitions to see how fast the students could read Hebrew. Sure, they knew how to read Hebrew, but were they reading fluently, kavanah?
What does kavanah mean? The word kavanah is one of my favourite words in Hebrew. It means ‘intention’ or ‘direction of the heart’ (thank you, Google Translate! So, I often think back to primary school, where the students read with kavanah. Unfortunately, most likely not, which makes me wonder what kind of example the teachers were setting for the kids. That it is better to read fast than to read with kavanah?
How to read Hebrew fluently
How to read Hebrew fluently is a skill that needs to be taught when a person starts to learn Hebrew. Having the ability to read this ancient language fluently is a skill that not everyone can master. Therefore, teaching people to read fluently is part of my main goals. Yes, I teach my pupils to be able to read the alphabet letters and vowels of the Hebrew alphabet; however, there is more to Hebrew reading than being able to recognise the letters and vowels.
Being able to achieve fluency in Hebrew reading, one needs to be able to recognise where the syllable breakups are, allowing the student to read the word fluently. Therefore, a significant part of my Hebrew teaching is to be able to provide my students with the skills to recognise how to break up a Hebrew word into syllables. These tips and tricks are included in the online program, Easy Learn Hebrew.
I have been teaching students of all ages to learn to read Hebrew fluently for almost 27 years! Over the years, I have worked out that there are six different types of Hebrew syllables. So, I tell my students that it is not difficult; it is just a matter of working out the pattern. Once they can work out the pattern, learning Hebrew reading will become a lot easier.
Breaking up words into syllables also helps slow the reader down tremendously. It is all very well being able to read the language, but if it is riddled with mistakes and the reader is stumbling over every word, they cannot claim to be able to read. As mentioned earlier, I always emphasise fluency over speed. Even when I am asked to read Hebrew in the synagogue, I take my time and mentally break the words into syllables. It helps me concentrate on each word, slows my reading down, and helps me to read fluently. Nothing is worse than a person reading a prayer in Hebrew and not knowing the correct way to read it.
Reading without vowels
Reading without vowels is another hurdle that some people will need to overcome. Again, note how the word ‘some’ and not ‘all’ was used. Not everyone will need to master this skill, as some people are only learning to read Hebrew to be able to read the siddur (prayer book), which includes the vowels in the Hebrew text that I have seen. For the most part, the people who fall into this category are those who are converting to Judaism and do not necessarily want to learn biblical Hebrew from the Torah or go and live in Israel. However, people who want to read or chant from the Torah, or read the text in Israel, will need to be able to conquer reading the ‘no vowel’ Hebrew text.
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