Frequently Asked Questions
(well, maybe not frequently, but they've all been asked at one or another conference or workshop for teaching Hebrew)

I don't like all this talk about methods. I just use what works. - That's like saying you don't use a language, you just speak. Whenever you teach, you're using a method. Almost always it's a method that you picked up somewhere in your own studies or experience. When teachers say that they don't use any particular method, they usually mean that they can't name their method.

Could you please just tell us what the teaching steps are, and leave the philosophy out? - Fine. But teachers also need to know a certain amount of "philosophy" in order to follow the steps without undermining their purpose. Frankly, I think my techniques are novel enough so that they can't be learned in ten minutes. An hour, maybe, but not ten minutes.

How can I remember the teaching steps? - Ever notice how a map is more useful than a set of fixed, linear directions, especially if something surprising happens along the way? You can practice teaching with them (even in front of a mirror). But you should first understand why the steps are arranged as they are.

I see what the steps are, but I don't understand what the advantage is. - My techniques for teaching speaking teach (even within a few hours of study) "confident, continuous, creative, and comprehensible" speaking ability, which traditional grammar-based approaches, or dialogue-memorization, or immersion cannot do. My techniques for teaching elementary Hebrew reading integrate tiny bits of speaking with a meaning-based approach, combining phonics and whole-word reading in a way that overcomes the fact that Hebrew is a foreign language for most American learners.

In my school, I have seventeen students, and three of them are diagnosed as Learning Disabled. The students come from very non-religious backgrounds, including mixed marriages, and two who aren't even Jewish. Even the Jewish parents don't seem to know any Hebrew, even the alphabet, and they don't seem to care much. It's enough of a struggle convincing them to spend the time learning the alphabet just so they can pronounce the prayers. I think they want the bar-mitzvah party, but I don't know if they want any other aspect of bar-mitzvah. - As in any school, the more motivation and excitement that you can generate, and the more efficiency in learning that you can introduce, they better off everyone will be. One mistake that's very common is to think that you have to ignore content so that you have the time. But language without content is meaningless.

But we always used to study Hebrew that way. My grandfather used to go to the minyan every day into his nineties, and he could pray faster than anyone I know, but he never knew the meaning of anything. We say that the prayers are like a mantra: You don't have to know what they mean to get the benefit of saying them. - If you think you can sell that idea to a ten-year-old today, you have my blessing - maybe. But Jewish tradition has content: The prayers are not just la-la-la.

That sounds very nice and idealistic, but it doesn't really fit the time we have. - I don't agree. Learning ? or trying to learn ? a language without meaning is not a shortcut: It's just a way of distilling out something that fits on a little card, but is very hard and no fun to learn. I could display the Arabic alphabet on a single card, but how easily could you learn it ? even if you wanted to?

But Hebrew is the language of the Torah, it's not just a language. - I've had young learners who say, and believe, that Hebrew is the language that God speaks to us in, as well as others for whom it is just another foreign language. Generally, I don't see a lot of difference in motivation. They all face the same difficulty of a foreign language.

Why do you say Hebrew is a "foreign language"? It's our heritage! - I share your feeling on an emotional level. But technically and pedagogically, it is a foreign language for most Americans, because they first confront it in educational environments. Unless you hear a language at home, it's going to be a foreign language for you. And Hebrew is not a specially easy one.

Hebrew is just as easy as English! Children in Israel don't have trouble with it! - No one has trouble with their native language: All children acquire it naturally and quite easily. But foreign languages, even for children, take more effort, and not everyone succeeds at all.

Why don't you just use traditional methods? - Because they don't work very well. Maybe they worked in the old days when students all knew a lot of English grammar, and were prepeared for an academic struggle. Actually, I'm not so sure that things were so great in the old days either, when people were conjugating Latin verbs ad nauseam, and never much used Latin. To me, the people who can pray fluently without understanding what they're saying are using a sort of IOU: If we don't learn the meaning of what they've been saying, I think we're not paying off that IOU. Of course saying the prayers has some value - but so does running your hand over the page, and I hardly think we want the next generation to be doing that instead of prayer.
 

speaking.
I don't speak Hebrew myself. Can I teach with your method?  Can my students learn to speak without imitating me?   - Yes.  Just follow the 4 Study-Steps careful for each lesson, spending the full 20 minutes (40 minutes or so, best done in two installments, for younger learners) on each lesson before moving on.

I'm not an experienced teacher. Can I teach with your method?  - Yes, as long as you follow the Study-Steps carefully, without adding anything to them (such as explanations beyond what is given).

I don't want to study a new foreign language:  Just show me with Hebrew!  - The big problem of teachers is not being able to empathize with their learners o and I don't mean just knowing how hard they find it, but rather what their actual point of view is.  For example, some teachers will use logic to explain Hebrew grammar, not realizing that they're attacking the student's mind that way.  For another example, if you ask whether the learner is a boy or a girl if he or she got the gender wrong, you may well embarrass them a lot.  That won't help their speaking confidence.

I use the same method as you do. - I've heard this a number of times, but I've learned to be skeptical.  I don't see how you could be using the same method on your own, since I designed it in a very specific way over, starting in 1984.  The most noticed techniques I use is word-plays (associations), but they're not the most important part of the method:  You could drop them entirely, as in fact I recommend for very young learners.

Why do you start with speaking?  - Speaking, even though it's neglected in most language courses, is actually the best skill to start with:  It energizes learners for language study.  It gives immediate satisfaction o and yet gives students command of the language structures, because you have to know what you're saying.

I just  talk to my students, and they begin picking it up.  - Immersion works for children well enough in Israel, where they're exposed to Hebrew for many hours each day.  But when they're hearing for just an hour or so, they may learn to comprehend to some extent, but they can never sort out the complexities of even the most basic grammar needed for speaking, even if they develop the confidence.

I always found it hard to memorize sentences and conversations.  - So do most people, plus the sentences are usually not very easy to use to express your own ideas.  That's why I recommend teaching words.

But which words?  I starting teaching words, but the learners ended up knowing a lot of nouns.  And then I didn't know how to teach verbs:  They have so many different forms. - You should start with the present tense, masculine singular.  I've developed a sequence that leads to maximally interesting speaking abilities in a short time.

My students don't read English yet.  How do I adapt the method to younger learners. - Don't give them the pages:  Use them yourself, and present the material completely orally.

I have Learning Disabled students.  Will your method work with them?  - Yes.  I've had a lot of LD students.  Of course a lot depends on the nature and extent of the disability, but the basics of the method are as simple as possible:  learning words and using them.  I generally find that LD learners may be a little slower, and may ask some more interesting questions, but they do just fine.

I think my students are too young for the "word-plays" of Study-Step 1, but you want me to follow each Study-Step.  Can I use the method? - Omit Study Step 1 and any reference to the word-plays.  Put more emphasis on teaching the words with reference to real objects or actions, and pictures.  (You can use English translations for clarity.)

How do you make a "word-play" for a word like laqahh "take"?  How do you exemplify the final hhet?  - I often use h for hhet, and nothing at all for he, because I want them to make this distinction.  Then again, I wouldn't use the past tense of a verb, because I believe in teaching the present tense masculine singular first.  And finally, I teach meqabel "receive" instead of laqahh because laqahh is very irregular and hard to pronounce.  I hope this advice helps a little o but I don't necessarily think you have to make up your own word-plays, so I provide them for the words I teach.

Can I shorten or combine the other Study-Steps, as students get more experience?   - Absolutely not!  A typical mistake of teachers new to the method is to think that the Study-Steps aren't important, or are "too easy."  Steps 3-4 are the important ones, especially 2 and 4.  It's vital to teach the words effectively, rather than assume that they'll learn them at home.  And it's vital to give them practice with free speech:  You have to talk on your own, in order to learn to talk.

My administration says that we don't have time to teach speaking.  What can I do?  - Do a sample first lesson, and show how confidence and enjoyment of Hebrew, as well as motivation and knowledge, comes from speaking so quickly.  Is 20 minutes a lot of time to accomplish so much?

Can you (or I) adapt the method to prayer-book Hebrew?  - Not really, although many of the words are the same.  You see, it's fun to be able to ask for food after a few minutes of study, and then to be able to "tell stories" after an hour or so.  It won't be as much fun for students to speak on the topics allowed by a strictly prayer-book vocabulary.  But many of the words are the same:  They will be telling stories about kings and fathers and mothers and children.  And their speaking ability will energize them and motivate them.

My students already know a lot of words.  How do I get them to use them in speaking?  - This is not easy, because they probably don't really know the words as well as you think.  Then too, the words they know may not be very useful for speaking, especially if they know them in the wrong form, such as the dictionary form.

My students read Hebrew.  Won't the phonetic spellings mess them up?  Can't I teach words with the alef-bet? - You can teach words purely orally.  But I don't recommend teaching them via Hebrew spellings.  You see, some students will pronounce slowly and make mistakes, and this will interfere with the pace of learning that helps confident learning.

How can I integrate your approach with our conversation book?  - Frankly, I think that I could do it, but I don't think you can.  It's like asking the doctor, when he gives you a new medicine, "Doc, how can I combine this with the medicine I've been taking?  I don't want to have to throw it away."  Or like following two diets:  Each one may work alone, but together they could completely cancel each other out.

How would you teach bagan yesh prahhim?  - You seem to be starting with another book.  But just to look at this example, I would want them to know the singular perahh, and leave the plural for much later.  And yesh is very difficult, because it doesn't translate easily into English.  Even if they get it, they may invent lo yesh for "there isn't any" instead of en.

Do you let them make mistakes? - Learners will always make mistakes, whether or not I "let them."  That's the nature of language acquisition.  The question is whether to correct every mistake.  I believe that the curriculum should prevent mistakes to the extent possible, and I do allow some correction while learning words and structures.  But during free speech, I believe it's very counter-productive to correct.

When do you teach grammar?  - I think you may be misunderstanding my method.  I teach all the grammar, in an incremented sequence, designed for maximum success, even in spontaneous speaking.  In theory, I include all the grammar, as long as: (1) it is appropriate for speaking at the given stage; and (2) it can be presented in one clear sentence, and immediately practiced extensively by all students.  Many teachers wildly overestimate how much grammar learners can absorb, and when they fail, they go on to present more.

Why do you bother with shortcuts?  Why not just let them use structures when they come to them?  - If they're using the language, they will extend it on their own.  For example, if you just teach the present tense, they'll use it as a command, and "fossilize" this error because they'll think it sounds OK.

I let my students make mistakes, as long as their meaning is clear.  oThere are several problems with this approach.  First, whenever learners make mistakes, they're likely to keep making and "fossilize" with it.  So they will learn "Pidgin Hebrew," and never be able to learn any better o or sound any good.  Second, they make an error that doesn't interfere with meaning once, but then make the same error the next time, and the meaning isn't clear.  But by then it will be too late to get them to do any better:  They'll be confused with the correction. and get discouraged.  For example, they may say ba, bevaqashah! and you understand, and later they say yoshev, bevaqashah! and you like it less, but it may be  too late to correct it.  After all, the same strategy worked for them before.  The basic problem is that they don't know enough to know how to express meaning, with or without mistakes.  We have to teach them in a way that will maximize their success.

Why don't you just teach them the command forms first?  They're most useful.  - But then they'll extend in the other direction, saying ani shev.

So teach both the present tense and commands!  - If you teach them together, very few will learn them successfully.  Keep in mind that the gender endings are completely different, and there are many irregularities.  Even if you teach the two sets of forms a month apart, that means you have a month when they're likely to extend the known form to the wrong environments, unless you give them a shortcut that allows them to do so successfully, namely saying atah yoshev, ken?

Why not let them use the infinitive for commands?  - It's very complicated in itself, unless you teach it as the first verb-form, but then they won't have the present tense, and they'll say ani lashevet.

When and how should I correct them?   - My basic rule is: Correct each student if appropriate when they are first learning words or practicing structures, but never when they are doing free speech.  Collect errors for future exercises, but don't correct them during free speech.  Even during practice, it's best never to correct more than one mistake per student, and only one time, and even less for some students.  It's a balance:  Any mistake can become "fossilized," but they won't ever sound like never speakers, and they can get discouraged if they're corrected too much.

Should I teach Biblical or Modern Hebrew?  What standard shall I use?  What kind of Hebrew?  - I believe in teaching modern spoken Hebrew.  Even when they learn to read, reading is such a different process that some language differences won't matter much.

reading.
What's the point of your pictures, what do you call them, "glyphs"? - They give an additional way of accessing Hebrew words, via their meaning, other than decoding letter by letter.  An additional learning channel is always a help, no matter how weak the learner;  in fact, the weaker the learners, the more they need such extra help.

My administration says that meaning is best avoided altogeher.  What can I do?  - Do a sample first lesson, and show how confidence and enjoyment of Hebrew, as well as motivation and knowledge, comes from learning so quickly.  Of course you should get the permission of your administrator to do the experiment before doing it.

You've said that the policy of some schools is to avoid the meaning of the Hebrew text, but this is not true.  Our policy is simply not to put a primary emphasis on the meaning.  - Then my point holds all the more strongly for your school.  My point was that, even if a school wants to avoid the meaning, showing the administrators that meaning adds excitement and motivation for the learners is surely going to be persuasive.

I use pictures for reading Hebrew just like you do, but they're for letters, not words.  - I use pictures for letters also, like a "finger over a smile" ("sh") for shin, or "diving board" for dalet.  But those are not the same as my pictures ("glyphs") for whole words, like "two hands of 3 fingers each" for shin-shin meaning "six."

My students don't read English yet.  How do I adapt the method to younger learners. - Don't give them the book, but use it yourself as a curriculum guide.  Just give out the flash-cards as they come to the given words:  Present the method through the flash-cards.

I have Learning Disabled students.  Will your method work with them?  - Yes.  I've had a lot of LD students.  Of course a lot depends on the nature and extent of the disability, but the basics of the method are as simple as possible:  learning words and using them.  I generally find that LD learners may be a little slower o and may ask some more interesting questions o but they do just fine.

I think my students are too young for the "word-plays" of Study-Step 1, but you want me to follow each Study-Step.  Can I use the method? - Omit the wqord-plays in Stduy-Step 1, and any reference to the word-plays.  Put more emphasis on teaching the words with reference to real objects or actions, and pictures.  (You can use English translations for clarity.)

I use word-search exercise too, but I give a list of words to be found on top of the page, to make it easier.  - But that turns it into a matching exercise, not a word-search.  Word-search is a little hatrder, but far more satisfying, and much more valuable.  When you find words in a text (even just a few), you begin seeing what the text is about;  if those words are given at the top of the page, you're not actually learning anything new on your own at all.

Why don't you use the names of letters?  They're useful if students ever want to talk about them with others!  - I know (from my advanced students as well as my Leadring Disabled ones) that letter-names are the very hardest thing to learn about reading.  I do teach them, but I don't push them.  I don't mind if a student says the tov-letter instead of tet, even after years of study.

I don't want to study a new foreign language:  Just show me with Hebrew!  - The big problem of teachers is not being able to empathize with their learners o and I don't mean just knowing how hard they find it, but rather what their actual point of view is.  With my techniques, it's specially important to know what learners know or don't know at a given point in their study.  For example, if a student doesn't recognize the word for "six," you can't say "don't you see the shin?" but rather "don't you see the fingers?"

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