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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who’s your “Spokes-oleh?”

Right now, in my world, it’s cookbook author (and more!), Jamie Geller, who is making aliyah, iy”h, with Nefesh b’ Nefesh (is there any other way?) this August, and who plans to blog / vlog about it all the way…

See how nice and normal and sane she looks?

Me, too.  Well, from above, maybe…DSC00160

But check out this great rice-based Israel Map project we did two weeks ago for Parshas Shlach!  This would be a fantastic way to introduce kids to where they’re going to be living in Israel, and the geography of the Land in general…

However, I was reflecting afterwards on a comment Naomi about how small Jordan and Syria were.  Because the map focuses on Israel,  it really does appear to be the superpower of the mideast.  You’ll want to supplement this map with plenty of others that show exactly how tiny Israel is in comparison with her neighbours…

DSC00175

Monday, June 18, 2012

Scenes from Rosetta Stone Hebrew

imageA couple of Nefesh b’Nefesh reps have now heavily recommended Rosetta Stone to us, which is great because we’re already using this program, so I thought I’d offer some screenshots, along with my opinions after about a year, off and on, of using the program to learn Hebrew.

One thing I like about the program is that it’s very customizable and moves totally at your own pace.  Everyone else is still on Level 1, but I have taken a number of Hebrew things, so I started myself on Level 2, and so far, I’m on Lesson 4.  If I’d done it more often, I would be farther ahead, because the lessons move along pretty quickly.

There are very few programs, I suspect, that one can use for family members ranging from about 6 years old all the way up.

I don’t have a great screenshot of the very basic way that this program introduces vocabulary, but it’s pretty darn brilliant.  Basically, even if you know NO Hebrew to begin with, without using a word of English, the program will get you comfortable with a basic vocabulary and then work up to some fairly intricate grammatical concepts.

They do this, initially, by showing you a picture and telling you what it is.  For instance, they might show you an egg and say “baytza” ביצה, then a salad and say “salat” סלט.  At that point, your task might be, when shown a picture of an egg, to click the button that says ביצה.  However, the fun begins when it wants to throw in a new word.  It will show you a salad, an egg, and SOUP.  It hasn’t taught you the word soup (which is “marak” מרק), but because you have learned the other two, it’s pretty easy to rule out the other two options and click on the button that says מרק.

Then, on the next screen, you might see a man eating an egg, and a woman eating a salad, and it would say “ish ochel baytza” איש אוכל ביצה.  You have to click on the right picture – the man eating the egg.  In that way, you have not only learned your first noun (egg), but also the words for “man” and the masculine singular present-tense form of “eat.”  In a few more lessons, you might work your way up to a sentence like “the men are cooking at work” or “the women are cooking at home,” just one word/concept at a time.

This is a French-language example of what I think of as the 3-2-1 style of instruction (don’t know what it’s really called).  Even if you know absolutely no French, you can figure out from the top row that chien = dog.  And then, if you’re reasonably bright (Naomi Rivka, at 6 and 7, was and is), you’ll see that chat = cat on the next row.  Finally, there’s the single horse, cheval… and then you have learned 3 brand-words with not very much work!

(not my screenshot)

Here’s another French lesson – you can see the international character of the photos they use – for “men” they invariably use a picture of a gang of Zulu-type African warriors, which never ceases to amaze me.

(not my screenshot)

My own screenshot at the top of this post is from a Level 2 pronunciation lesson where the concepts of “can” and “can’t” are introduced, along with the concept of verb infinitives.  By this point, you already know the words “baby” and “swim,” so it is fairly easy to figure out that you are supposed to use the new words to say that the baby CANNOT swim.  Ditto, when you see a fish, you know “fish” and “walk,” so you can say the fish CANNOT walk.

The oral language practice is good, although I often wonder how well the program does at picking up actual mistakes, because I don’t make many.  When I was testing it out just now, I did notice that a simple mistake, like switching an M for an N, goes unnoticed.  And sometimes, there’s a false negative, where I say something right and it beeps that I’ve gotten it wrong.

In general, the program is infinitely patient, which is a surprising feature because you’d think any program would be patient – it’s a computer, after all; it’s not going anywhere.  But some computer programs for learning stuff make you crazy with timers and lights and flashing and the pace of Rosetta Stone is definitely stress-free.  I am happy about this because it lets me answer the phone and have a life in between questions.

The program uses recordings of native Hebrew speakers, accompanied by photographs of people in real-life settings.  I have been amused by many of the photographs, which depict multi-ethnic individuals in a range of settings, most of which don’t look like Israel at all.  This is by design:  the images are designed to be universal, and used with any language.

That means there’s nothing not only Israeli, but also nothing JEWISH about the program.  It’s hard to explain, but learning Hebrew completely outside of the framework of Judaism is a surreal thing at times.  Saturday, of course, is referred to as Yom Shabbat, but people are doing regular things, like walking dogs on beaches, on that day.  There is no religious content whatsoever.  Strange  (okay, I know that’s not a great example… considering that there isn’t much problem walking a dog, except maybe if there’s no eruv on the beach). 

In any event, you won’t pick up much Jewish or Israeli culture from the program.  And you will learn a LOT about taking subways, although Israel contains only one subway system, in Haifa, which, with 6 stations, is listed by Guinness as the world’s shortest subway line.  (Haifa’s “subway” is technically an underground funicular railway… I wonder how you say that in Hebrew???)

The program offers a lot of variety:  some sections are straight vocabulary and reading (with or without vowels; it’s a simple one-click to turn them off and on), but others include typing and oral pronunciation exercises that at least give you some practice speaking the vocabulary as it’s taught. 

Unfortunately, Naomi Rivka hasn’t able to use the oral portion, I think because her voice is a bit squeaky.  If we were using the “official” microphone / headset that comes with the “official” version of this software, the setup might work a bit better, but as it is, we are using a webcam as a microphone and I just couldn’t make it pick up her responses.  It works fine for Ted and I, though.

Here are a couple more screenshots from the oral practice screens – simply because that’s what exercise I was on when I decided to write it up for this blog. ;-)

In this first one, you are expected to say each part of a dialogue.  I was on the final box, the one with the dot lit up in green.  As you speak the word, it appears “lighted up” in the box to show you have said it correctly.  If you say the word wrong, it appears in kind of a grayish shade.  However, unlike in the rest of the program, the pronunciation screens, you’re not marked as right or wrong; if you pronounce the word ALMOST correctly, the program goes ahead and doesn’t give you the dreaded Red X for that screen.

image

Here’s another screenshot, where I was to ask how much these sunglasses cost.  This irks me because the prices for the items are listed only in Euros, dollars, or Pounds Sterling.  They totally disregard the concept of local currency, which I feel is carrying the program’s universality just a bit too far.

image

If you DO get an answer wrong, two little music notes play a “wah-wah” tune  (hard to describe!) that is not scary or offensive and most importantly, is not too discouraging.  And if you get it right, there’s an angelic-sounding harp trill to keep you on the right track.  The one time I let Gavriel sit down with the program (to see what happened), I didn’t explain at all but he figured out very quickly which were the “happy” and “sad” noises (which didn’t stop him from clicking the wrong picture over and over just to hear the “wah-wah” tune… but when he was ready to move on, he knew which was the right one to click, so he really DID learn; he just thinks he got away with something :-)))).

As for the typing, they have thoughtfully provided an on-screen keyboard in case you don’t have Hebrew-language typing abilities.  I don’t have a screenshot of my own, and this one I’ve stolen is obviously NOT Hebrew, which works a little differently.  They introduce the letters one by one and then the typing practice ramps up to the point where I have actually become quite proficient at touch-typing (no peeking!) in Hebrew – an actual marketable job skill.

(not my screenshot)

In any event, I’ve been most impressed with this program.  However, I haven’t touched at all on the biggest drawback:  price.  Our local public library (and perhaps yours!) offers a program called Mango Languages that is totally free to Toronto Public Library cardholders, and I’ve heard good things about it from other homeschoolers who want to teach a language without being out any money.  There are a number of language-learning programs that fall out anywhere between free and Rosetta Stone, which is pretty much top-of-the-line.

The rock-bottom homeschool Hebrew version begins at $159 (US), and that only includes Level 1.  You can get a set of all 3 levels for $349.  They have also introduced a new, complete online package called TOTALe that I know nothing about yet.  Here’s a more complete review of that package.

Anyway, this has gone on rather long for something that started as NOT a real review.  Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments, below.

Cons:

  • Context-free; nothing about Israeli culture and in some cases, useless vocabulary (subways etc)
  • Context-free = Nothing about Judaism
  • Couldn’t make the oral portion work for a young child
  • Price!!!

Pros:

  • Great for a wide range of ages
  • Universal, no English or Hebrew required to begin
  • Fun pictures engage even kids with minimal reading
  • Difficulty and challenge ramps up at a very appropriate pace

Have you used Rosetta Stone, or another language-learning program for modern Hebrew?  Let me know what you thought!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shallow Reason #27…

… to make aliyah:

No footwear dress code, even at weddings!  Check out Batya’s post over at me-ander to see what I mean.

Google