Help me learn new skills in 2017 – Hebrew!

This post is part of a series in which I’m dedicating two months to learning six new skills this year. The full schedule can be found here. This is month seven/eight. (tl;dr at the bottom of this post)

Yeah. I’m an idiot. You can’t learn a new language in two months. I mean, maybe you can if you go immerse yourself in another place where it’s all you hear and speak all day. But as part of your already overloaded life? Not going to happen.

That didn’t stop me from trying.

After a lot of investigation, I went with Rosetta Stone. I paid for the online version, because that would let me work on all my devices, no matter where I was. I committed to 30 minutes to an hour each day.

I should state that – for the record – I can already read Hebrew fluently. As part of the strange childhood education many Jews in America receive at Sunday and Hebrew school – I can read the language very well, without any idea what I’m reading. Very strange, but also very common. This would have been much harder if I also had to learn the alphabet. The program was prepared for this, though, and offered an option where it assumed I was already literate.

If you haven’t used Rosetta Stone before, it’s pretty well thought out. There are overarching lessons that have a general theme. Each of these is broken up into four units. Each unit has 7-8 components. The general way it works is to present you with four pictures and then – and this varies – get you to make choices based on cues. Sometimes the program speaks to you, and you have to pick the right picture. Sometimes, it shows you words, and you have to pick right. Sometimes, based on the pictures, you have to choose words, and sometimes you have to speak.

The voice recognition is generous. I was often way off, and it judged me correct, but I was ok with that. You can change the setting (I didn’t).

One of the frustrating, but also satisfying, aspects was that they just drop you into the beginning of each unit. No list of vocabulary words to learn. They just show you new pictures. Based on old words you already know (man/boy/woman/girl) you have to try and learn the new words. Sometimes you have no idea whatsoever what they’re trying to get at. I guessed a lot. But as I proceeded, I was conscious of many “aha” moments, when I finally truly learned what a word meant. That helped. I’m sure this “self-taught” reward system is the lynchpin of the whole Rosetta Stone philosophy.

There are units on grammar, on listening, or speaking, on reading – but they all follow the same general format. The program is clearly geared towards tourism. The units often transparently nodded toward this in their choice of topics.

One problem is that while my confidence in hearing Hebrew and reading went up, my speaking did not. I have a good friend who told me that it’s natural for listening language skills to improve years before speaking skills – so this is normal – but I can’t see how I’ll get better at this without speaking the language with others who can.

One more aside – eight months into this “learning new skills in 2017” project, I’m already starting to see the flaw in my plan. There are only so many hours in the day. This works well for adding in a skill I’d like to have, but rarely use (like drawing), but not for one I’d like to continue (like knitting or meditating). How do I find the time to continue to do the things I enjoyed while learning new things? I need more time.

Anyway, back to this block. the bad news is that I’m nowhere near to fluent. The good news is that I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m curious to see if I stick with it, if I’ll get there. I paid for 6 months, and I’m going to try.

tl;dr: Rosetta Stone was a worthwhile investment. But I was an idiot to think I could get this done in two months.


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