Here are 7 tips that helped me as I have studied Hebrew and Greek. If I had studied the more traditional methods, I would not be half so far along as I am now and may easily have giving up.
4 Thou Shalts
My husband and I have explained to our daughters that hearing, seeing, speaking and writing are tools to remember things for school. And it is the same for language learning. There are the four main skills used to interact in any language. Start practicing them as soon as possible. The first day you are comfortable with the letters is not too soon. You may be slow and make mistakes, but mistakes help you learn.
Thou Shalt Read
To explain the importance of actually reading a language that most will do little else but read, here is C.S. Lewis´ experience from over 100 years ago.
In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis relates how he learned Epic Greek. His tutor Kirk read him 100 lines with very little explanation. Kirk then gave Lewis the Iliad and Crucius´ Lexicon, challenging him to see how much of those 100 lines he could get through. Lewis was astonished, he had never seen the Greek classics taken in such large quantities before. But soon he could do it and more, making it a game to see how much more. He didn´t even mentally translated. ¨This is the great Rubicon to cross in any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and then substitute the English word for it are not reading Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle.¨
Thou Shalt Write
Copying scripture forced my mind to focus on the text in a way that reading along wouldn´t do. It was the drill that made the grammar and vocabulary I had studied come to life, improving my comprehension and spelling. As I copied, I didn´t look up all the words I didn’t know yet. I knew I would learn as I went. Instead, I focused on what I did know and built my Hebrew muscle gradually.
Six months after I began studying Hebrew I copied the book of Jonah. This was only 3 months after I began my slow amble through my Hebrew grammar. Still I was able to understand a lot by comparing verse by verse using the Animated Hebrew reader. Jonah is considered one of the easiest books to read for beginners. In fact, part of the children´s Hebrew curriculum that I had included a Jonah copybook and Animated Hebrew has Jonah as in comic book style. Here are easiest to hardest book lists for Hebrew and Greek.
Thou Shalt Listen
Listening is still very important even when your primary objective is reading. If you don’t have the sound of the word in your head you will be more likely to translate it. The first resource I found for listening was Animated Hebrew that I mentioned before . It is very well designed for beginning and intermediate students. You can read and listen to one verse at a time. You can quickly switch between seeing an English or French parallel and seeing only Hebrew. Unfortunately it is incomplete, but the chapters that are there are a great help to getting started. Later, I found an audio-visual Bible app by Jaqersoft. It uses the original Hebrew scripture recording by Abraham Schmuelof. The app works chapter-by-chapter instead of verse-by-verse, but it is complete. Currently, I am getting myself into the habit of listening to the chapter I am copying on the app each day until I finish that chapter.
Thou Shalt Speak
Yes, I know you are very unlikely to have a conversation in Biblical Hebrew, even if you are not learning alone. While speaking isn’t as critical for a language that will be primarily read, it is still important. It strengthens your mental voice for what you are reading. You can speak aloud as you are listening or reading to yourself. At the very least you can mouth the words you are unfamiliar with and speak the ones you know well. This is the area I have fallen shortest on, so I am lecturing myself here. Don’t really know a word until you can speak it, right?
3 Thou Shalt Nots
While I was learning the alef bet I spent quite a bit of time browsing for tips and motivation. Which was mostly procrastination and a waste of time. But I did find three ¨Thou shalt nots¨ that freed me to learn faster and better.
Thou shalt not … focus on Masoretic Vowel Points
William Paul Griffin contends that stressing the Masoretic points has done more harm than good for students´ reading comprehension. The rules for the Masoretic points are complicated. And since they were created hundreds of years after their time they are no guarantee that Abraham, Moses, David or even John would be able to understand you. It made perfect sense to me. And I decided to ignore them.
Thou shalt not ….translate and parse endlessly
Another thing that can make a Biblical language student despair is endless translation exercises and diagramming chart creation. It keeps you from thinking in Hebrew and takes you away from what you want to do, which is reading the Bible. Translate as little as possible.
Thou shalt not …. rely on interlinears
I also saw advice against relying on interlinears. So I used the one I had on my secondary Bible app very little after I started studying Hebrew. Instead I compared various bibles I have in QuickBible, my favorite Bible app. Usually my ¨open¨ parallel was not an English version to keep my focused on the original language.
Following this path of what to do and what not to do has really driven my language progress in Biblicial Hebrew and Greek as well as the modern languages I am learning with out the benefit of a formal class or spending much time in a textbook. I do it daily and it is more interesting than traditional exercises because it is the real thing. Jump in and enjoy the fun of learning with me.