Learn Hebrew Cheaply with These Resources

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Learn Hebrew and learn to read Hebrew on the streets like this.

There are plenty of resources around for learning classical Hebrew. But surprisingly, there are relatively few good resources online for learning spoken Hebrew — free or paid.

One of the most important things for any language learner is a learner’s dictionary app. There are great ones for many languages. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one for Hebrew. This is a real setback!

Our plan doesn’t include Hebrew, but I’ve been working on a new experiment in 80/20 learning where I try to learn ten sentences a day and record myself saying them. Results are good so far and I’ll record a final video when I’m done.

These are the best resources I’ve found around the web and app stores for learning Hebrew, and I what I used to learn what I did.

TeachMeHebrew

Common phrases on TeachMeHebrew. I asked for two of these, and two days later they were up on the site. Can you guess which ones?

This is a website put together by “Gorgeous Moe”. He/She (I don’t know) has put a fairly basic website together that is mostly just lists of phrases and words.

But despite being very Web 1.0, it remains one of the most useful spoken Hebrew resources on the internet. This is because:

  • It has transliteration. Colloquial Hebrew not only doesn’t show short vowels, it doesn’t even have enough consonants. What kind of alphabet uses the same letter for “B” and “V”? There are several double-ups like this. So transliteration is critical for the learner.
  • It has cool phrases lists. They’re really useful. Also, Moe (or Gorgeous?) says you can email in to ask for new phrases, and you will get a response and they’ll go up on the website!
  • There’s a word list that you can kind of use as a dictionary. It’s actually just a list of words, organised by frequency you see them in written texts (not necessarily spoken ones). But I find it really useful to cross-reference words I get out of other lists.

Bing (yes, Bing!) Translator

Bing translator is sometimes better than Google Translate, like for Hebrew

Bing sometimes is better than Google. For Hebrew, this is one of those (admittedly rare) times.

There’s just one reason: Bing can pronounce Hebrew words for you, whereas Google cannot. Neither Bing nor Google provide written transliteration though, which I’d have preferred.

Bing’s pronunciation means you can hear how a word is pronounced, which is critical because Hebrew omits short vowels and has several consonants that vary in pronunciation. Otherwise, you’d be unable to know whether to pronounce the letter ‘vav’ (ו) as ‘v’ or ‘u’. Note that you can tell once you are an intermediate-advanced learner and understand common word patterns, but I mean for beginners.

Meanwhile if you look up a word or phrase in Google, you’ll just get the Hebrew characters, without pronunciation guides — which means you can’t, or read any of the short vowels that aren’t written in Hebrew.

Like Google Translate, the Bing Translate app has an offline mode, and does live translation. It translates a lot of basic phrases (like “go away”) really well with one major caveat: sometimes you’ll get a feminine form of a sentence, and sometimes you’ll get a plural form. You will get no warning about this. For example, “I’m going” is pronounced slightly differently if you’re a man or a woman. Learn the basic differences, be aware you might see the feminine or plural form randomly, and you’ll avoid getting tripped up.

The only part where Google Translate is better is image recognition. Bing can’t scan Hebrew characters and read them (though it can do this for a number of other, bigger languages). So if you’re in the shop and can’t figure out what the difference between types of milk are, you have to use Google Translate (or a Hebrew keyboard of course).

Sometimes the pronunciation in Bing is a little off or unclear, which so I’ll cross-check a word with the word frequency list from TeachMeHebrew.

Colloquial Hebrew: A Complete Course ($40)

Books aren’t free, but they’re VERY cheap. Especially compared to your university education, which can cost around 1,000 times more.

I like the Routledge books because they cover a lot of languages, come with audio you can download and don’t focus on teaching you the alphabet too early.

I used one for Egyptian Arabic and loved it. And I’m really enjoying the Hebrew one!

Like the Arabic book, I really like the Routledge Colloquial Hebrew book for

  • It’s clear descriptions of how grammar works, like how to conjugate verbs. I’m a fan of learning rules, because they save my ass when I forget sentences from rote memorisation through sentence bank systems like Glossika.
  • There are cultural notes on things like gender, addressing people with the right formality, and slang/colloquialisms
  • It has exercises to drill things in
  • It’s searchable, so I can hunt down phrases I really like (this is the main reason I prefer ebooks to physical books)
  • The Hebrew conversation audio is all online, and downloadable so you can chuck it in your phone.

Definitely recommend this. I’m learning a lot.

Glossika Hebrew ($30 p/m)

We wrote previously about Glossika. It’s not free (and might even be considered expensive, unless you’re a dedicated learner), but it’s crazy invaluable because it hammers in sentences that you can recall quickly without even having to think about it. It has happened to me multiple times in multiple languages. That’s why we call it “the one app you have to get”.

It’s no different for Hebrew.

A few reasons why Glossika is an awesome resource:

  • It teaches you vocabulary in context — not just words in a vacuum
  • You listen and repeat to full sentences
  • You constantly hear language spoken the way people do in everyday life
  • You learn to say truly useful things, and are able to select from topics important to you, so you don’t learn arbitrary words and phrases

However, the quality of the transliterations in Hebrew for Glossika is inconsistent. I find it often ambiguous or downright misleading. It seems have been done via machine, not via human transcription, so it’s not useful. This isn’t bad overall, as it does force me to learn to read the Hebrew to resolve ambiguities.

Glossika Hebrew in action. This also shows the transliteration error I descrived above. For the first word, “כמה”, the first letter “כ” character has been automatically transliterated as being pronounced ch (a hard aspirated k from the roof of the mouth), when in this word, it’s pronounced k.

What Hebrew resources I didn’t find

If you’re thinking of making a product to help people learn Hebrew, this is what I couldn’t find.

There is no good English to Hebrew dictionary app (not even paid)

There are no decent English to Hebrew dictionaries online or in the App stores. The best one I found was Morfix, but that dictionary focuses on teaching English to Hebrew speakers. It doesn’t have pronunciation guides for the Hebrew, and it only has sample sentences for the English words.

If someone wants to build a great English to Hebrew dictionary with pronunciation and sample sentences, I’d download it!

There is no good electronic Hebrew phrasebook — neither an app nor a book in Kindle format

Phrasebooks are useful for common slang, words and phrases, as well as a quick review of the foundations of grammar. I’d never refer to them on the fly, but they’re good as a study guide.

If someone wants to make one of the above — let me know and I’ll be a customer!

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