As the woman walks through the aisles in the Israeli grocery store, she studies the Hebrew words on packages of food. A recent immigrant, the woman has not yet mastered the language. The woman is a fictional character in a video designed to show how foreigners learn Hebrew through experiencing daily life. And University students who watch the video may get a better grasp of the language than if they had just memorized their textbooks. The videos are only part of a project that Associate Hebrew Professor Yael Zerubavel has organized to completely restructure the way Hebrew is taught at the University. Zerubavel said she initiated the project because of the vast difference between the way Hebrew is written in Israel and how University professors teach language here. Because the Hebrew alphabet only contains consonants, traditional Hebrew has small signs above, below and inside letters indicating which vowel sounds to make. And learning the intricate rules that dictate which vowel to use when writing can often take months of practice -- taking considerable time away from studying Hebrew vocabulary and literature. So for the past 15 years, Israelis have virtually abandoned vowels, relying on the word's context to determine its pronunciation. Aiming to give students a more practical education, Zerubavel brought Hebrew Professor Ronit Engel from Tel Aviv University to help develop a new curriculum that emphasizes conversation and reading -- teaching only the basics about vowels and grammar. "The level of teaching can be higher now," Zerubavel said. "Students can move from simpler text to more complicated text much faster. "Before, the transition from vocalized to non-vocalized text was so difficult that students often lost momentum," she added. College senior Dana Rice, who studied Hebrew at Penn before travelling to Israel last year, said the new curriculum should make students more prepared for Israeli life than she had been. "Because the Hebrew I learned at Penn focused on writing skills, I lacked the oral skills necessary to converse with people who studied in Israel," Rice said. "Learning in Israel was fun -- we were thrust into a real life environment. We had to do things like go to the market and speak to people in Hebrew." According to Engel, the Hebrew language itself is changing as well. Because Hebrew dates as far back as Biblical times, the language has only recently gained words to represent modern ideas, such as alienation and privatization. Because these new words do not obey traditional laws of grammar regarding vowels, students learning with the old curriculum would have even more trouble adapting in a modern Israeli setting.Comments powered by Disqus
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