Re: On teaching Hebrew
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Re: On teaching Hebrew

January 13, 2019 10:27AM
Dear Shalom,

Mazel Tov on 20 years of Lookjed! So much has changed over the past couple of decades in the 21st Century Jewish education world and yet so much has remained the same in many ways.

For example, Larry Kobrin's observation that Robert Alter's inspiration came from a Hebrew summer camp immersion environment is powerful since the implication could be that a Hebrew language environment that is not immersive like a camp is 24/7 may fall short such as is the case in many day schools.

Much like SAT or ACT standardized tests can indicate how well our students compare as learners nationally, one simple relatively affordable way to accurately get a snapshot assessment in high school could be requiring the SAT 2 Hebrew language test as a final exam for Hebrew language programs. I have been surprised at how well some students did or didn't do on this national standardized exam. Many students who have "A's" in Hebrew still struggle in Israel with Hebrew at times.

After decades spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours chasing the latest trends in Hebrew Language instruction from Yonai to Tel Selah to Tel Am to Neta to the Proficiency Method to Ulpan Or to asynchronous Ivrit online options like Rosetta Stone to synchronous real time online options like Bonim Byachad, I am convinced that the missing link is not as much curriculum as much as it is immersion.

Day schools may be better off creating a cooking class in Ivrit or opening a canteen or cafe Ivrit (I saw this done effectively each month at RASGHA) where student can be a Meltzar and menus are in Hebrew and lunch is ordered in Ivrit than buying a new Ivrit program.

Day schools that have Ivrit Bivrit Jewish studies programs along with Hebrew Language classes often do a better job at creating a culture of Hebrew speaking in a school.Rabbi David Twersky once showed me an article by Rav Meir Bar-Ilan of Mizrachi fame from the 1920's where he suggested that day schools should not only teach Torah studies in Hebrew but they should also teach Math and Science in Ivrit as well.

Jewish communities may greatly benefit from universal Hebrew language pre-schools as immersion for language is most effective the younger the age it is introduced. The language learning center of the brain forms at a very young age.In Shinichi Suzuki's classic "Ability development from Age Zero" the author uses the example of babies learning complex languages as the basis for his famous Suzuki Violin method being introduced at young ages.

That said a 24/7/365 immersion is even more likely to succeed. School plus camp plus home plus a gap year after high school in an Ulpan in a Hebrew speaking environment produces more Hebrew speakers than only one of those individual immersive settings alone would produce.

The old minhag of Rashi to speak only Hebrew on Shabbos would help many more people become fluent even at a young age. The Rabbi of my shul growing up spoke to his children on Shabbos in Hebrew and they would answer in English but understood him and eventually they became fluent in Hebrew even before they entered elementary school. I regret not doing this in my own home as an adult parent for my own children.

There is a concern about multiple languages introduced to very young children creating confusion in some learners and actually delaying all language development that is legitimate. In Montreal where they have some tri-lingual schools a study was conducted that showed that for some students the more languages a child is exposed to the slower the mastery of any one individual language may be for them. That said, eventually almost all students master the multiple languages they are exposed to as children if they stick with them.

I am not sure that students who have diagnosed language processing issues such as dyslexia would benefit from intense multiple language instruction at an early age especially with Hebrew and English having opposite directional alphabets going right to left and left to right, but as far as speaking ability and oral instruction the issue should be less of a problem and a focus on conversational mastery at a young age as opposed to reading and writing could be prudent in such cases.

I am curious to learn what different schools are doing to successfully bolster immersive Hebrew experiences and environments in their schools and communities. Does anyone artificially create immersive experiences such as Ivrit only Shabbatons or Ivrit only Israel trips? I know some kids and as a result some parents might freak out at such ideas but then again they might go Meshugah instead and then we may actually make more progress towards our goal of creating Hebrew literate youths.


Elisha Paul

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/13/2019 10:28AM by mlb.
Subject Author Posted

On teaching Hebrew

Shalom Z. Berger January 13, 2019 10:08AM

Re: On teaching Hebrew

Shalom Z. Berger January 13, 2019 10:21AM

Re: On teaching Hebrew

Larry Kobrin January 13, 2019 10:23AM

Hebrew/English sound changes & idiom formation

Israel A. Cohen January 13, 2019 10:25AM

Re: On teaching Hebrew

Elisha Paul January 13, 2019 10:27AM

Re: On teaching Hebrew

Dania Shapira January 15, 2019 09:37AM

Re: On teaching Hebrew

Jeremiah Unterman January 15, 2019 09:32AM


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