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.