February 25, 2016

Modern Hebrew at G.O.A.

Nina Robins ‘19


      If someone were to ask a GOA student what their favorite subject is, Hebrew might not appear toward the top of the list in many cases. Even with this in mind, however, students cannot deny the subject’s importance.
It's a good reference to help understand some languages that are not Latin-based like English,” said junior Daniel Cohen
Other students agreed with Cohen, but more notably it was not only students who agreed with his statement, as teachers agreed, too.
Mastering a language is one of the highest abilities of the brain,” Morah Israel explained. “It’s not only knowing the vocabulary, it’s understanding how it evolves and that’s fascinating.”
Israel seemed to feel that by incorporating the language of Hebrew into the curriculum, it not only enables students to speak another language, but it also improves upon other skills.
During these conversations, a frequently raised question was what makes modern Hebrew so special, aside from the aforementioned advantages of learning foreign languages.
“You can use modern Hebrew in [modern] Israel,” said freshman Amanda Feldman.
Cohen elaborated on this and added, “[Hebrew] helps with our connection to Israel if we can communicate with the people there.”
Morah Israel agreed with Cohen’s assertion, adding, “Thinking about this era; it’s an era of communication. People in Israel aren’t communicating in biblical Hebrew; they’re communicating in modern Hebrew.”
Many GOA students find their connection with modern Hebrew specifically through trips like Na’ale and Neshama.
I think it’s important to learn modern Hebrew in our school because when we go on Israel trips and when we go on vacation to Israel, it’s important to stay connected with modern Hebrew, not only with Hebrew in the Tanach.” said freshman Dana Bluevise. “If we know how to communicate in today’s Hebrew language then we pretty much know how to do anything in Israel and stay connected with Israel.”
In a more international sense, Cohen argued that “many modern Jews around the world learn modern Hebrew, giving us a way to connect to Jews in other countries as well.”
He felt that the ability to communicate with Jews across the world was something extremely important and special.
While the GOA population sees the importance in learning modern Hebrew, the way in which it should be taught is heavily disputed.
The very positive thing about the NETA program [the current curriculum] is that it is systematic and it has been revising itself periodically,” said Israel. “It is much more technology-oriented now than it was in the past and it’s something that students relate to.”
Bluevise provided a slightly different, yet still positive view.
“I think that the NETA curriculum is definitely working,” she said. “It could be modernized, but I think that it’s teaching good basics and that we get a good foundation from that.”
However, not all students agree with this view.
Cohen argued against the usage of the NETA curriculum, criticizing what he perceives as its disadvantages.
I believe that our curriculum is not effective due the lack of clarity and explanation to help students understand grammatical concepts,” he said. “NETA's detached topics make it difficult to retain vocabulary, since specific words from one book may not appear again for years, giving little incentive to retain them long-term.”
Cohen also argued against class bans on usage of English, claiming that “it is often much easier to understand grammatical topics and even vocabulary when we are able to convert it to our first language.”
Senior Veronica Slater feels similarly.
“I don't think that our curriculum is working to it’s fullest potential, because there aren't enough interactive ways to study Hebrew with the NETA curriculum,” she said. “However, I don't know of any alternative.”
Nonetheless, Morah Israel did pose something of a solution.
It could be that if you had more than one program in schools, students could choose and whoever is more advanced could choose another program,” she said. “There is no perfect program. There is a range, just like there is a range of students.”
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