Dusty but useful

There is more than one way to teach conversational Hebrew - as has become clear from the plethora of computer programs produced recently in Israel and abroad with this aim.

dino disk 88 (photo credit: )
dino disk 88
(photo credit: )
Habet Ushma Plus, a CD-ROM in English and Hebrew by NBS (Rehov Harofeh 4, 34366 Haifa, (04) 824-5259, jmcais@gmail.com), requires Windows 98 and up and a 900 Mhz Pentium III PC or better, for all ages. NIS 280 or $59 plus $5. Rating: ***1/2 Dino Lomed Havanat Hanikra, a CD-ROM in Hebrew by Pecan (www.dinogames.co.il), distributed by AMG Multimedia, requires Windows 95 and up and a Pentium II PC and up, for first- and second-grade children. NIS 49. Rating: ** There is more than one way to teach conversational Hebrew - as has become clear from the plethora of computer programs produced recently in Israel and abroad with this aim. The variety reflects the demand for this service, the varying needs of different age groups and the types of pupils, whether adult or child, Diaspora or Israeli, religious or secular. Although software designers and programmers stress visual pyrotechnics to attract users, others that use basic and old-fashioned audiovisual methods may be no less, and even more, effective in teaching conversational Hebrew than the ultramodern ones. This disk, produced by a married pair of university pensioners from Haifa (Dr. Judith Cais works in teaching program development, while Dr. Michael Cais is a chemist), clearly falls in the second category. Habet Ushma was originally developed in 1966 by Judith Cais and Paul Enoch (who died 36 years ago) as an audiovisual method for teaching Hebrew using film strips and audiocassettes. Then it was considered novel and enthusiastically received by teachers and students in many countries. A second edition of the kit followed five years later and a third - dedicated to the the memory of Enoch - in 1989. The Caises also released a special version for Russian speakers that was widely used by the Jewish community and new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Then, in August 2000, the US State Department's National Foreign Affairs Training Center, which used Habet Ushma to teach Hebrew, asked the couple to re-format the contnt of the third edition into a multimedia package for teaching US government employees and their families. Recently, the Caises decided to make some changes and additions and issue a program meant for the general public for both classroom situations and individual study. The well-intentioned new disk is called Plus because it contains material not only on basic vocabulary, verb forms and sentence structure, but also an explanation of the Hebrew alphabet and a pronunciation guide. There are 20 lessons, each based on a common everyday Israeli family conversation. Each has two sets of mini-interactions using primitive cartoon drawings, with the sentences printed and narrated in Hebrew and translated on the screen in English. A vocabulary list related to the topic is also provided with each lesson, plus exercises in which you drag Hebrew words to their proper places in sentences or columns. Non-Hebrew speakers who faithfully go through all the exercises and memorize the words will undoubtedly be able to speak a basic Hebrew. But the style and even some of the words need a dusting off. A section that presents a fictionalized radio news report says an American spacecraft is about to return after circling the Earth, but the Hebrew word used for spacecraft is rocketa (rocket), which is very old-fashioned. And in a dialogue in which a family debates about whether to go to Grandma and Grandpa for a Shabbat meal, a reluctant daughter is told by her sibling that it is worth her while because they will be served gefilte fish! Still, if one can ignore the superannuated dialogue and outmoded subjects, the program (which is not cheap!) serves its purpose. Dino Lomed Havanat Hanikra, a Hebrew-reading program for Israeli children, is a bit more modern and hi-tech than the above-reviewed disk, but it paves no new paths. Dino is a dinosaur who constantly (and annoyingly) says Yoffileh (Nice!) to encourage youngsters. There are three different icons on the home screen representing adventures, but all of them lead to the same "adventure" in which some queen is imprisoned in her palace and has to be rescued by Dino going through a maze. The 10 "games" are the actual lessons, with the youngster asked to fill in four blanks to create a Hebrew word; click on words to put them in a logical sentence or four sentences in logical order; match rhyming words; define a word by choosing one out of four options; categorize words; and similar functions. Playing it, I couldn't help but yawn.