Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Hebrew Breakthrough!

Yesterday, I had a Hebrew breakthrough. It may sound silly to some of you, and certainly not worth a post, but hey, it's my blog! I think this was a major milestone in my Hebrew education, and it's not a milestone I expected.

We spoke recently about the concept of internalization. When you internalize a language, you're thinking like a native speaker in one or more ways. The languages I've studied most are French and Spanish, which share the same alphabet with English. 

My previous language learning experiences couldn't prepare me for this breakthrough. Yesterday, I was quite surprised when the Hebrew letters actually began to look like letters. For only about two minutes, I continued to read and reveled in the fact that the words actually began to look like real words, instead of a collection of pictures that are equated with a sound. They had an independent meaning that I could see at first glance. I was able to read the words almost as well as I can read an English or Spanish word. I don't know how to describe it as anything but magical. It was like walking through a door in my mind that had never been opened. The possibilities seemed endless. And then after two minutes, it was gone. I continued to stumble my way through the davening.

Funnily enough, it never occurred to me that I didn't view the letters as "letters" like I do in English. Maybe the best breakthroughs are the ones you never expected.

I've tried to be "good" from the beginning and avoid linking the Hebrew letters with a mental visual of English letters. Instead, I memorized the letters as a sound. I hope that makes sense to you, reader. (That's why I didn't know the Alef Bet until...well, not really now either.) But even then, reading is still relatively slow, and I have to really think about it. It actually makes me physically tired, even though it's only mental gymnastics. In case you want to compare yourself to where I'm at right now, I clocked myself most recently at about 20-25 words/minute. Put another way, the weekday amidah takes me 20-25 minutes.

It may not seem like much if you've never experienced it, but I had the goofiest smile on my face.


  1. 20-25 words a minute is pretty darned good.

    Bear in mind that you're actually reading the Amidah while a lot of people are buzzsawing through something they've memorized, like the digits of pi.

  2. I had that moment too!! I'd been living in Israel for about 2 weeks, marveling at the experience of being functionally illiterate for the first time since I was 4 years old. I'd had maybe a week of ulpan and was really struggling to memorize the alef-bet (in cursive, funnily... I wasn't really learning in traditional print). I was walking on emek refaim in the German Colony, and looked at a sign for a restaurant, and actually read it! I read it on sight like I do in English and Spanish; I didn't have to sound anything out! The restaurants name? Baba. (Don't laugh, we gotta start somewhere!)

    My reading comprehension took off from there! That was THE moment! Congrats, Skylar! Sounds like it's happening for you!

  3. agreed S. its 3.14 and then you can just ramble because know one pays much attention. FFBs make sure they pay attention to the first couple words of each para and then wake back up when they hear 'baruch ata..' to make sure they get the right ending to the para. Repeat 19 times, take a looksee to make sure no one is behind you (only applicable if you are really frumie - generally also wearing a jacket) and step back

  4. Wow. I thought it was just me! I'm not nearly as far along as you are, but extended efforts in Hebrew make me actually tired.

    Good to know I'm not crazy!

    1. Originally posted: December 15, 2011 at 4:35 PM

      Definitely not! When I moved to France, I had almost no French knowledge. I was asleep by 8pm every night for the first month or two because of the mental exhaustion! Same thing always happened the first few weeks of a new school semester too. It's a very real thing :)

  5. Congratulations skylar! So happy for you! Anon only frumies wanna make sure they don't step on someone ...?

  6. I say you can always tell the converts because they don't know the alef-bet song. Like you, I learned sounds, not letter names (which, ironically, is the way reading teachers say you should learn a language). Just this week I was able to tell a "kaf" from a "kuf" (after 10 months of study)!

  7. Congrats! That is a milestone. I know that I've been close a couple of times but not quite there yet.