5.0131 Responses: Hebrew Software (1/68)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 10 Jun 91 17:54:25 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0131. Monday, 10 Jun 1991.

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 1991 11:33:05 GMT+0300
Subject: RE: 5.0126 Hebrew Software

Re: Allan Corre's Modern Hebrew Software:

When I read Allan's posting, my initial reaction was "boy, what
a neat idea!" The more I thought about it, however, the more
dubious it seemed. The first problem that occurred to me was
technical: you're teaching them to "type" Hebrew via a very
strange interface. Once they know some Hebrew, they won't be
able to use any other programs (such as a dual-language word
processor) without relearning typing. Then I wondered about
how the transliteration system would handle pronunciation --
if "king" is mlx, is "like a king" xmlx? Or kmlx in deference
to pronunciation? If the former, how much help is this to the
student learning the language? Which brought up the question,
what problem is a transliteration system trying to solve? Is
Alan trying to teach the students Hebrew, or how to TYPE
Hebrew, or how to SPELL Hebrew, or what?

Then I started to think that if the reason for a transliteration
system is the intricacies of the vowel system, I suspect he's
trying to solve the wrong problem.

When I was a kid in England, Hebrew in transliteration was a great
help, because the letters were so strange that it took for ever to
read anything otherwise (when you're just starting). BUT the
problem was NOT the vowel system, with which neither I nor anyone
else I ever spoke to ever had any problems (as long as you're only
required to READ it, not to WRITE it as the poor school students
in Israel are. There's a big difference between knowing what the
sign for hataf-patah sounds like and knowing whether to point with a
patah or hataf-patah in any particular case...). Nor do the
six year olds who learn to read Hebrew in Israel via the vowel
system have any trouble with it (and once they can read, you
unobtrusively drop the vowels and they don't even realise, except
for the feeling of surprise and achievement that arrives sometime
early in Grade 2: "gee, I can read this even though it hasn't got

In short, I'm not sure this is the right problem. Transliteration
is a help to beginning foreign students, but it's because the alphabet
itself is so unfamiliar, NOT because the vowel system is too
unwieldy to be taught. But then if you're going to transliterate, it's
a lot easier to disregard the vowels, because otherwise your
transliteration system obscures the Hebrew spelling. So disregarding
the vowels is a strategy forced on you by the solution (trans-
literation) you adopt, not the reason for it. If the problem is that
the alphabet is unfamiliar, isn't the solution to make the students
more familiar with the alphabet rather than distancing them from it?
Returning to my childhood experiences, transliteration was a solution
because the problem was to learn songs to sing round the campfire at youth
group meetings, NOT to learn Hebrew. If you want to learn to read
Hebrew, then once you've learnt the letters the only way is to
practice reading them. If you put the transliteration on the
screen with them, you seduce the student (because it IS so much
easier to read the transliteration) into looking only at that,
rather than at the Hebrew which she's supposed to be trying to learn.

On the other hand, it would be nice to give the student some
feedback as to the pronunciation of what she's just typed,
or whether the letter just typed was the one she intended.
But the Hebrew letters should be the "main" display, and the
transliteration an "optional" addition for those who want to
check themselves. And since the only thing this tells you is
whether you've learnt the letters, surely it isn't useful for
more than the first week? (OK, month?)

I look forward to seeing what others think of this problem.

Judy Koren