Hebrew, See What You Say

Ruti Ofer first grade closeI would like to tell you a funny and true story with a good message at the end. 

Way back, in Israel, when I was in fifth grade I had just begun to learn English. Of course, growing up I heard English songs on the radio and had many opportunities to hear it spoken. I could even sing parts of quite a few English songs but I haven’t seen the written language. In short, I picked up what I heard on the “street”.

One day in my English class, I wanted to show off. I came early and wrote on the board ‘halafyoo’ with the intention that a very specific boy would see it. With great pride I showed it to my friends who just smiled and nodded, faking they knew what I wrote. After all, I was one of the best students in my class so I had some altitude.

The teacher came in. She glanced at the board while I smiled from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat. She then turned, looked at the class while I proudly volunteered that it was I who wrote it. She smiled back but then to my utmost surprise she burst out laughing and rushed to erase what I wrote and instead wrote: I LOVE YOU. She turned to me and asked: Is that what you wanted to say? Blushing and embarrassed I looked at the board, surprised to see that what I wanted to say to this boy consisted of three whole words and not just one… not to mention the pronunciation.

Moral of the story? When you learn a new language, it is not enough to only hear it – you’ve got to SEE it written. If you want to make big strides while learning a new language there are no short cuts; you HAVE to be able to read it, write it and – know your grammar.

When we are dealing with the HEBREW language seeing it written is even MORE crucial because Hebrew words ARE based on three-letter roots:

When you see a familiar root you will immediately get the concept of the word. For example,  כ.ת.ב has to do with writing. Here are a few words that are based on this root:  מִכְתָּב – a letter; כְּתוֹבֶת – address; מִתְכַּתֵּב – correspond; מַכְתִּיב – dictate (makes another write); כְּתוּבִיוֹת – subtitles;  כַּתָּבָה – report/article; כּתֻבָּה – Jewish marriage contract; הַכְתָּבָה – dictation/dictating; מְכֻתָּב – addressee/recipient; תִּכְתֵּב – transcribe, etc.

You may hear:    קָרָעתִי את הספר שלך  (I tore your book) and think the person said: קראתי את הספר –  I read your book.

Conclusion: See what you say. See what you hear.

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