teaching Hebrew reading to special needs and regular learners

This site is devoted to the Sheltered Initiation Language Learning (SILL) approach to teaching elementary reading in Hebrew, which involves special illustrations, visual associations called "glyphs".

For FAQs (frequently asked questions) on teaching reading as well as speaking, use this link.

For a parallel lesson in Arabic, use this link. This lesson is specially recommended for Hebrew teachers, to see how the method works from a learner’s point of view.

What teaching "method(s) & techniques" do you use to teach reading?

If you use various methods, put a percentage on each. Where & when is each most appropriate?

  origin name of method  


3000BCE Alphabetic "alef-komets ‘oh’"…


1910 Phonics "bah-bah-goo-goo"


1980 Whole-Word Methods  


1980 Whole-Language Approach  


1800 Grammar-Translation with "parsing"


1920 Comprehension-based  

My own recommendation for an order (sequencing) of these teaching approaches is: c-f-b-d-a-e. This is the order in which different reading skills should be introduced.

the magic of reading.

Øf yøø høvø ønø trøøblø røødøng thøs møssøgø, trø høldøng thø pøgø førthør øwøy!

Reading process is mysterious and very powerful. Most interestingly, it can be adapted to foreign learners. For example, while foreign learners can’t "skim-read" (perhaps ever), they can learn to "skip-read" by just noting words that they know, and making up their own sentence (in their native language!) using these words.  

question: How does reading work?

ç "decoding"

reading for comprehensionè

Which aspects of reading are harder for Learning Disabled students? Which aspects are easier for beginning and other students?


Reading as decoding is taught in most Hebrew programs in America. It is difficult and frustrating for many students. While many older people may be satisfied to read prayers without knowing their meaning, children don’t usually enjoy this very much.

Comprehension is a better basis for language study – yes, even in Hebrew, and even for Learning Disabled learners.

Especially with the help of "glyphs"...

"glyphs" (visual associations):

Glyphs are special "visual associations" to help associate whole Hebrew words with their meanings.

Glyphs by-pass sound altogether; because of this they offer an independent way for learners to recognize Hebrew words.


a person IS COMING to the house

a head IS SINGING notes

2 slices of BREAD with a knife

tree (with falling branches)

(3 + 3)


They can be used completely without pronunciations; that is, anyone can learn how to comprehend Hebrew without knowing how to pronounce it. But the best way to use them is along with pronunciations taught orally.

Hebrew school was never like this!

´´´´k! A joke tells of a priest, a minister, and a rabbi talking about the problem of mice in their houses of worship. The rabbi explains how he solved the problem: He made the mice bné-mitzvah – and they haven’t been seen at the synagogue since!

Shush … , in terms of this joke, is just a "better mousetrap." Its special tricks may not be needed by every learner – but on the other hand, they will hinder no one (and once a given student has had problems, it’s much harder to undo them).

Shush… uses three different kinds of "learning tricks" (often called "associations")

(1) for letters (like seeing as a finger over the mouth , for "sh!"),

(2) for spoken words (like "Shush and say ‘SIX’!" for shesh "six"), and

(3) for written words (like seeing as 3+3 fingers).

Type (1) associations are also used for vowels, for example eeek is the association for one dot below a letter, which has the sound eeee.

These helps are both fun and effective. They are often "silly", and they work because they’re silly!

Associations can help adults and older children learn words: To see how they work, follow the sample here. (If you already read Hebrew, try learning to read in Arabic.)


sample: the first lesson in Hebrew via glyphs.

YES, Ken!

NO, it is NOT low!


Start by practicing "yes" and "no" in Hebrew. Practice "acting out" the words. When you say "yes", nod your head vigorously while smiling; when you say "no", cross your arms in front of you, high and low, making a mean expression.



Here are two more words, with "associations" to learn them:



THIS is Zelda;

shush and say "SIX".

"this is" = zeh

"six" = shesh

Americans may pronounce "ay" instead of "eh" in SIX (but probably not in "this is"), but this is not recommended for beginners.


Do you want to think in Hebrew? Can you really think in a new language? Point at someone holding up 3+3 fingers and say:

Can you read a conversation using the word-pictures? (Read from the right.) First make sure you recognize the pictures by saying the meaning of the conversation in English; then, "read" it in Hebrew. Read it a few times, to ensure fluency.


Can you visualize words as pictures?  For example, can you see ww as two hands, with three fingers held up on each? It’s the written Hebrew word for "six" (3 + 3). ("Hebrew hieroglyphics")

How many of the words learned can you match with their Hebrew spellings, by virtue of their similar shapes?


group 2


group 1


finger pointing at box

3 fingers + 3 fingers

nodding head


nodding head



arms crossed in front of person



finger pointing at box

 How many can you translate? How fluently can you learn to translate them? Say them first in English, not in Hebrew!





The focus here is on learning words as meaningful wholes. You may find this exercise difficult for any of several different reason; for example, it may be harder if you have studied Hebrew before.

Can you read a conversation?
! ,

Study-Steps å and ç.

å Say! Learners say the new words (with or without the help of a verbal association), "Shush and say ‘SIX’!": shesh
ç See! Then they learn to say it when looking at the "glyph". They should review all glyphs at this point.  shesh
é Say! Then they learn to say it when looking at the "glyph". They should review all glyphs at this point.     shesh

Later, in è, after they have learned several written words this way, they learn letters (and vowels) that have occurred several times in these words:

a) look at the picture-trick for the letter,

such as a finger over the lips:


to indicate that "sh" is the sound of the Hebrew letter

Can you still see the finger over the smile?

b) Say it:

And they learn to recognize words by sound:

c) Which word is shalom?

Website designed and developed by Dr. Zev bar-Lev and Stefan Schumann .