Duo makes learning Hebrew ‘hilarious’
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Duo makes learning Hebrew ‘hilarious’

Israeli ex-pats in UK use silly memory cues to make words stick

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A page from 'Hilarious Hebrew.' (Courtesy)
A page from 'Hilarious Hebrew.' (Courtesy)

For many English speakers, learning Hebrew doesn’t come easily. Familiar with the challenge, Yael Breuer and Eyal Shavit have written a new book they hope will make acquiring Hebrew more pleasurable than painful.

Israeli ex-pats living in Brighton, England who met through the local Israeli community, Breuer and Shavit self-published “Hilarious Hebrew: The Fun and Fast Way to Learn the Language,” a pocket size tome full of mnemonic devices to help Hebrew learners memorize new vocabulary without tedious repetition and drilling.

Breuer and Shavit’s methodology is geared toward people who learn best through narrative and visual cues. For instance, they present the Hebrew word for “cold” through a picture of a man freezing in his vehicle. “It’s COLD in my CAR,” reads the text under the image. “The Hebrew for ‘cold’ is…kar.”

Another cartoon-like image has a woman sitting on a chair screaming, apparently because she has a fork stuck in her leg. “I accidentally stuck a FORK in MA’S LEG,” is the caption. “The Hebrew word for ‘fork’ is mah’zleg.”

The concept for the book came from Breuer’s Hebrew lessons to private students, as well as to children in local religious schools. Over the course of 20 years, she had come up with a list of about two dozen such mnemonics. After she mentioned to Shavit in passing that she was using these memory aids, he started coming up with more of them.

'Hilarious Hebrew' was written by a pair of Israeli ex-pats in the UK. (Courtesy)
‘Hilarious Hebrew’ was written by a pair of Israeli ex-pats in the UK. (Courtesy)

“We were coming up with more and more of these little sayings and texting them back and forth to one another,” said Shavit, who is a professional musician and has been living in the UK for nine years.

Before long, they had amassed a considerable collection of amusing mnemonics, enough to fill 16 chapters on topics ranging from food to hobbies to feelings. Neither of them had written or published a book before, but they nonetheless threw themselves in to the project, finding an illustrator and graphic designer who could help them realize their goal.

“We are fully aware that ‘Hilarious Hebrew’ is not a substitute for serious Hebrew lessons with homework and lots of practice,” said Breuer. “But what our book does is put words in to a context to aid memory.”

As the authors worked on the book for a year and a half, they saw evidence of its effectiveness.

“I shared many of the memory aids with friends who aren’t Jewish and don’t know Hebrew, and they learned the words,” said Shavit.

‘What our book does is put words in to a context to aid memory’

“And our illustrator, who is English, learned a lot of Hebrew from working on the book,” said Breuer.

The two admit that not all their mnemonics mimic precise Hebrew pronunciation. For instance, there is a scenario with a woman asking a man, “Where is the NEWSPAPER?” and the man answering, “I put IT ON the table” (all the while there is a dog under the table, the ripped newspaper in his mouth). The mnemonic is cute, but readers are liable to mistakenly think that “iton,” the Hebrew word for newspaper, is pronounced with a short “i” sound, rather than correctly with a long “ee” sound.

“The pronunciation is near enough and good enough,” said Breuer. “In reality, there are Hebrew speakers in Israel with all different accents. And remember, this book is just a starting point for learners of the language.”

“Hilarious Hebrew” is available for purchase online and at selected stores in London and Tel Aviv at the price of $12.99 (NIS 54, £7.99)

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