Hebrew Hear-Say: Enjoy your trip (and lesson)

Here is one of those "why did nobody think of this earlier" ideas: a Hebrew language instruction book which also takes you on a trip around Israel.

hebrew book 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hebrew book 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Here is one of those "why did nobody think of this earlier" ideas: a Hebrew language instruction book which also takes you on a trip around Israel. Although it might have been done on computer programs, I haven't seen a book using this concept before. Hebrew and Israel First Steps (Ivrit ve'Yisrael Tza'adim Rishonim is subtitled "A perfect textbook for those who love both." Nothing, of course, is perfect, but Dr. Irit Amit-Cohen and Noga Perry's book (Achiasaf Publishing House Ltd.) is quite a trip. Each carefully thought-out lesson takes the student to another site somewhere in the country. Lesson 1 appropriately enough begins At the airport (Besde hate'ufa) where we meet tour guide Dafna as she greets grandfather Saul and grandson Yonatan on the latter's bar mitzva trip to Israel ("matana yafa," - "a nice gift," as Dafna notes). We travel around Israel with the three of them, the unseen passenger in Dafna's car, as they head north (to Gamla, for example), south (in Eilat, Yonatan wants "rak yam," "just the sea"), east (Beit She'an: "Hi ir atika vegam ayarat pituah," notes Dafna. "It's both an ancient city and a development town") and west (a lesson is dedicated to the Coastal Road to Haifa). Every step of the way, we learn more Hebrew and more about the country. A nice touch, the book has a map with the sites marked in accordance with the lesson numbers, alphabet charts and spare pages for important notes and slang. The language (it contains a basic vocabulary of about 2,000 words) is contemporary and colloquial, and the different age groups speak in their own style. As we pass through Jerusalem, for instance, we learn phrases about missing things which in this case includes the slang: haser lo boreg - "he's got a screw loose" - and haser lo pilpel (literally, he's missing pepper, used to describe someone who is dull or boring). Amit-Cohen is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environment at Bar-Ilan University, whose love (and knowledge) of the land shines through, while Perry is a linguist who spent many years in the US. The result is a cute way to both learn the language and travel the country without breaking into a sweat from either hard work or the summer sun. They dedicate it to "all of you, young and old, who dream of seeing the land and learning Hebrew." The lessons are intended to be learned either in small groups or privately and are suitable for Jews and non-Jews. Each unit starts with a picture and text introducing the subject and site. There is a vocabulary list next to the text and exercises in both English and Hebrew. The texts start out with nikud, but gradually the vowels are eliminated. The authors boast that "the English translation is accompanied by [a] transliteration format unique to this book." Unique indeed. Knowing the obsession of the average Jerusalem Post reader with transliteration, I feel I ought to warn you that the letters "het" and "chaf" are transcribed by "X." It's hard to imagine the result had Bill Clinton's speechwriters used that transliteration to end his famous eulogy for Yitzhak Rabin, "Shalom, haver." I would also have appreciated an appendix listing all the vocabulary and in what unit it can be found. But the course is well thought out and fun and the layout and design are attractive and easy to follow. The lessons take readers/students not only to the well-known sites but also slightly off the beaten track (hashuk bedaliat al-carmel - the market in the Druse village of Daliat al-Carmel, for example). "Ani soneh preidot," says Yonatan as they part company five minutes before the security check (bedika bithonit/bitxonit) at the airport: "I hate good-byes." Fortunately, readers can return to the book as often as necessary to help them remember the vocabulary and understand the grammar. I'm not sure the book would work for the truly independent traveler/student - "It's difficult for me to believe/kasheh li leha'amin" - because of the problems of pronunciation, but the publishers promise an accompanying CD is on the way, and together they should provide a valuable asset for lovers of the land and language, just starting out. The book (NIS 125) is available at all major book stores or through the publishers (www.achiasaf.co.il). For the motivated beginner student, the book is definitely a step in the right direction. liat@jpost.com