Looking for a not-so-painful way to improve your Hebrew?
I always am. For an olah, my reading is okay. For an Israeli… it’s lousy. I struggle through my daughter’s third-grade readings for school – with great difficulty. Ouch. It’s very humbling.
Everybody recommends reading newspapers, but it’s not the easiest way. Every Shabbos for months, I’ve stumbled through the free Friday paper, trying to bring my reading up to a passable level.
It seems like I have to pull out the dictionary for every other word, and many articles are full of useless jargon and abbreviations.
Now, I have a better way.
I’ve found a Hebrew reading “coach” who is tough without being impossibly demanding: Leah Broderson and her two books of Hebrew short stories. Each of these little stories is less than a page long, and each illuminates some aspect of life in Israel: a place you might want to visit, a historic figure, travelling around Israel and the types of people you meet here.
Her books are called להיות ישראלי / lihyot Yisraeli, “To be Israeli” and אני ישראלי / ani Yisraeli, “I am Israeli.”
Essentially, they’re primers, the simple story books we give to kids learning to read – except that they’re written with grownups in mind, covering topics and anecdotes suitable for an adult reader.
The books are written in Hebrew that is easy without being condescending. Each one includes a little vocabulary list at the bottom of the page (you can cover it up if you want to challenge yourself). The pages are clear and uncluttered: there are no photos or illustrations inside. Just one story per page.
I love the fact that the vocabulary focuses on expressions and idioms that you won’t necessarily learn in ulpan. You won’t usually find them in a regular dictionary, either, but these are phrases you need to know if you’re going to read (or write) anything more complex than a shopping list in Hebrew.
All of these entries are also listed in a handy cumulative “mini-dictionary” at the back of the books. The back of the book also includes a small crossword puzzle and – for one of the books – a CD with a selection of the stories read aloud.
Leah’s stories introduce the people, places and events in Israel – from the historical to the mundane; the sights and sounds of daily life in Israel.
Both books include the same types of stories and the same level of vocabulary (I asked my daughter to read through one and she declared that it was written at a second-grade level). If I had to recommend one over the other, I’d say go with “Ani Yisraeli.” The stories have English titles, which I found helpful, and that’s the one that includes the CD. However, both are very much worthwhile.
Because I received review copies of the books free, I had no idea of the price. On Amazon, you won’t find them for less than $30, but I managed to find them at MyHebrewBooks.com for around $20 each, which is far more reasonable. Think of it as a textbook, not a story book, an investment in your own literacy.
As a special bonus, you can hear one of the stories read aloud here. It takes a little over two minutes, which is a pretty typical length.
I’m so happy to have discovered these books. I really hope you’ll enjoy them, too.
By reading a couple of these stories a day until you’ve made it through both, you’ll increase the level and fluency of your Hebrew reading tremendously. I’ll never be perfect, and my daughter will soon surpass me with her reading fluency, but as we say here, “Le’at, le’at” (slowly, slowly). Just keep moving in an upward direction.
These books do that, helping us grownups ease into the language that our children dive and splash in as easily as if they were born to it.
Have you tried these books? Do you have something else that has helped you improve your Hebrew reading? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!