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The 6 Best Ways to Learn Hebrew Right Now

The Jewish Agency started the first Ulpan in 1949 as a method to rapidly teach Hebrew to the hundreds of thousands of new immigrants we helped settle in the newly founded State of Israel. It’s still one of the best ways to learn Hebrew.

Hebrew isn’t especially easy to learn. There are lists of online resources, and software you can buy that promise to sit on your shelf or at the bottom of your to-do list for years to come. But why not just immerse yourself in Hebrew? You’ll absorb it faster and it’s much more fun.

1. Don’t start with the Aleph-Bet
If you are a beginner, you might think you need to know the Hebrew alphabet to get started. If you went to Hebrew school, you are probably familiar enough with the Aleph-Bet. You might not know it by heart, because you skipped every other Sunday when your parents were too tired to drag you kicking and screaming.

But even if you don’t know the Hebrew alphabet at all, don’t start learning Hebrew by staring at a chart. Start by exposing yourself to real spoken Hebrew. Just listen to the sounds, the patterns, and pick up a word or two here and there for now. Listening to Israeli music might be a good way to do this. Or here’s a video of Natalie Portman giving you some basic phrases. Or if you are past that, here’s the dreaded Aleph-Bet chart. Or you can listen to the Aleph-Bet in a song. Or listen to Victoria Hanna’s Hebrew alphabet song, which is kind of crazy and amazing.

2. Go to Ulpan. Ulpan is Hebrew for “The best way to learn Hebrew”
Just kidding. It literally means “studio,” but the fact remains: The alternatives just don’t compare. The Jewish Agency started the first Ulpan in 1949 as a method to rapidly teach Hebrew to the hundreds of thousands of new immigrants we helped settle in the newly founded State of Israel. If you are a college graduate aged 22-35 you too can rapidly learn Hebrew by joining one of several branches of Ulpan Etzion across Israel. You’ll study Hebrew intensively along with a group of peers and have the time of your life.

3. How do you say “Netflix and Chill” in Ivrit?
Not ready to get on a plane to Israel, or even get off your couch? No problem. Our favorite online streaming services have been adding more and more Israeli TV shows recently. Watch them. Whether or not you want to learn Hebrew, these shows are amazing. Watch with subtitles. If you are more advanced, set the subtitles to Hebrew when available. Even if you don’t understand everything that is going on, this is the best way to learn. Start with Fauda, a show about an undercover unit in the Israeli army. You might pick up some Arabic, too.

4. The word for Radio in Hebrew is “רדיו”
…It’s pronounced “rah-dee-oh.” This might sound daunting at first. But try listening to the radio in Hebrew. If you are a beginner or even a little more advanced, you will probably have a lot of trouble with this. You probably won’t understand one word. But pay attention closely. Eventually you’ll be able to pick out a word here and there. And then eventually more and more. If you are committed, this can be one of the best ways to learn Hebrew. Check out Gala”tz [Israel Army Radio], Reshet Bet (focused on news), or Reshet Gimmel (focused on Hebrew music).

5. Just read the headlines
The news in Hebrew? Impossible, you say? If you are past the “Shalom” and “Aleph Bet” phase, try to open a Hebrew news website and just look at the headlines. Guess what they are about. Yes, the pictures will help you, and that’s OK. Or if you are more advanced, dive in to the articles themselves. If there’s a word you don’t understand, skip it. The Hebrew in Haaretz is a little more difficult. You might want to start with Ynet or NRG.

6. Open a book
If you are already reading Hebrew news, good for you! But your vocabulary will be on the newsy side. You’ll know all the words for political scandals, military operations and financial markets. What about words for emotions, adventures, food? Check the foreign language section of your local library for Hebrew books. Or check out some of the children’s books in Hebrew here; you might recognize some of them.

But really, whatever you do, the idea is to get more Hebrew into your life. Go to Israel, or travel there symbolically by listening to Israeli music, or just sing the Aleph-Bet song. L’hitraot!

15 Mar 2017 / 17 Adar II 5777 0
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