What are Books in Easy Hebrew ?
Books in easy Hebrew are books designed to help Hebrew language learners progress independently in their studies and enrich their vocabulary. Easy Hebrew books are like a silent teacher. A teacher who is not in front of the board but still helps the student learn and memorize new words.
Who Needs Books in Easy Hebrew ?
At some point in the process of learning a new language every student encounters a glass ceiling. After learning thousands of words, grammar, syntax, verbs, nouns, prepositions and even to speak fluently, there is still the challenge of reading in the newly learned language.
This is a familiar and frustrating situation that happens to almost every Hebrew student when attempting to read something outside the scope of the study materials. This difficulty has nothing to do with the motivation of the student but is due to the large gap between the spoken and the written language. Written Hebrew is very different from spoken Hebrew. The native Hebrew reader has gotten used to this style and no longer sees the gap. On the countorary a non-native Hebrew speaker cannot ignore it. The truth is that even the most determined and strong-willed student usually will give up on reading. Reading a book is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, but this is not the case if there’s a need to check every other word in a dictionary.
In children's books the situation is no better. The language in children's books is often even more sophisticated than normal books because they are aimed at developing and enriching vocabulary. The press and newspapers are also full of passive verbs that are not at all useful in everyday language. Prepositions will appear in the newspaper in higher forms and nouns will generally be used in conjugated forms, which are rarely taught in early stages. Unfortunately, a person who is a nonnative Hebrew speaker simply has no reading materials on the market.
This is not a phenomenon unique to the Hebrew language. In other languages there is also a gap between spoken and literary language.
My Experience as a Hebrew Teacher
Before I became a Hebrew teacher, I had moved to Berlin for a period of three years. My free time was invested in intensive German studies and within a year and a half I reached a relatively advanced knowledge of the language. I had already started to understand dubbed movies, got along fine in everyday situations and when I was in the company of German speakers they no longer had to switch to English just because of me. However, I did not feel as if I had complete enough control over the language.
I reached out to my German teacher and asked what I could do in order to get rid of this feeling. She recommended I start reading books in German. She advised me to start with a translated book.
And so I set out. I bought a Japanese book translated into German, grabbed a German-Hebrew dictionary and sat on the couch. The beginning was not easy at all. Many of the words were new to me, words I had never learned in class. Despite the initial difficulty I knew that soon the situation would improve and the struggle would disappear. Every writer has a personal style that is expressed in a vocabulary that repeats itself. The new words I was learning started showing up again and again and my effort was worth it.
And so it was. After three or four chapters my vocabulary had enrichment and I started to enjoy the reading experience. Towards the middle of the book I no longer needed to take the dictionary over to the couch with me.
The book I read was "The Mechanical Bird" by Haruki Murakami. This is an interesting and special book with surprising events and a very unique view on life. There was something in the book that drew me in, like a meditative process. None of this could have happened if most of my energy was spent on trying to understand words and figure out sentence structures.
"The Mechanical Bird" was the first “normal” book in German that I was able to fully read. For obvious reasons I did not choose to read native local German literature, nor a book written by a writer who is known for a particularly complex writing style. And yet, the fact that I succeeded is probably related to the fact that the written German language is not so different to the spoken German.
This is not the case with the Hebrew language. As I mentioned before, even in the press, the written Hebrew is very different from the spoken language. If so, What book in Hebrew is suitable for a non-native Hebrew student? The ultimate solution to this problem is a book in easy and simplified Hebrew. But what is easy Hebrew?
How can we differentiate between easy and difficult Hebrew? What are "easy words" and what are "hard words"? And if there are indeed "difficult words", how would a student know how to pronounce them when reading them for the first time?
Thanks to my many years as a Hebrew teacher and to the notion that books in easy Hebrew are a rare and missing product, I decided to create one. After fifteen years of teaching Hebrew I was able to decipher with great precision which words students would recognize and which words they would not. My experience and knowledge were key factors in the adapting of “Around the world in 80 days” into easy and simplified Hebrew.
Every language student's knowledge is based on the frequency and repetitiveness he encounters words. Whether in the classroom or in everyday speech, the more often words are used, the more likely the student will remember them. For example, most likely every student will know the words "house" and "food", but on the contrary the words "engine", "punishment" or "stack" would remain unknown. Thus we should ask: In which way can difficult words become more accessible for Hebrew students?
As I see it, simplified and easy Hebrew books are the solution for this question. In these books the overall level of language is made easier - leaving one or two difficult words in a full paragraph. These words become the main and sole challenge for the non-native reader to overcome. In this case, the experience of reading in Hebrew becomes much more enjoyable and fluent. In addition, the difficult words are footnoted and there is no need to have a dictionary nearby. To make the process of reading even more accessible the difficult works are punctuated by diacritics. At the end of the book there is a dictionary with all the words footnoted throughout the book. As the reader progresses the level of language gradually increases. Towards the end the level of language gets very close to the level of Hebrew literature.
Books in easy and simplified Hebrew are a great tool for independent study. A student who reads such books can eventually progress to regular native Hebrew reads. Even native Hebrew readers can enjoy these books. The plot of the stories nor the quality of original novels were harmed in the process of adapting the stories into simplified language. Easy and simplified Hebrew books give the non-native readers an opportunity to enjoy classic literature and develop their Hebrew reading skills at the same time.
After completing a simplified Hebrew book the reades will significantly improve their reading skills. Moreover, they will be exposed to new structures of sentences they may have not encountered in the classroom. Words that are only found in the written language will become familiar and part of their vocabulary. Ordinary newspapers and books will not be out of their reading scope anymore.
Finally, anyone can read a book in Hebrew.
This article was written by Ira Yospa, a Hebrew teacher for adults, Senior instructor for Hebrew teachers and a developer of Hebrew studying materials.