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The First Hebrew Primer Set (Student book, Answer book, Audio CD, and Interactive Bible Flashcards) The First Hebrew Reader Set (Hebrew Reader and Audio CD) Review by Donna Campos

EKS Publishing Co.
322 Castro Street
Oakland, CA 94607

The First Hebrew Primer Set (third edition) includes a glossy softcover book of 414 pages, an Answer Book of 76 pages with glossy soft cover and a folded staple binding, a set of nine audio CDs in a sturdy plastic case, and a CD-rom containing Interactive Bible Flashcards. Subtitled "The Adult Beginner's Path to Biblical Hebrew," this curriculum is set up in 30 lessons, using the Sephardic (Middle Eastern) pronunciation. The program is designed for Adult Beginners. The book advises the use of a Hebrew-English dictionary, as it is based on recognition and translation, not memorization. Each component is available individually, or you can purchase them together as a set. The Primer's goal is to assist the user in learning the words that occur in the Bible at least 200 times, aiding in further reading of biblical text. Interactive Bible Flashcards cover sets of words, categorized by chapter, for chapters 4-29 of The First Hebrew Primer. The Answer Book is indispensable for students working alone, and it is considered beneficial for classes and groups using the Primer, but not essential. The Audio Companion CD Set includes chapters 1-29, presenting accurate Sephardic pronunciation for all students. The First Hebrew Reader is a glossy softcover book of 195 pages, and it is available with a companion Audio CD. Each reading includes the English and Hebrew, plus a list of new vocabulary, verb analysis, and grammatical notes with notations according to verse. This program reviews and enhances a student's knowledge of grammar through biblical texts. It is divided by 18 "readings" from the five books of Moses and an additional set of "The Writings" that include readings from Psalms, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. The Reader is considered a transitional tool for anyone desiring to study biblical translation after first learning Hebrew grammar. Although available separately and geared toward differing abilities, The First Hebrew Primer is referenced in The First Hebrew Reader as a source for further knowledge.

The First Hebrew Reader is oriented for Hebrew reading, with right to left page turning and overall book orientation and layout. Designed for individual or small group study, it is appropriate for students who have completed an introductory course in Biblical Hebrew grammar. The instructions include How to Use This Book and Abbreviations. The book closes with a Guide to EKS Terminology, Suggestions for Further Reading, a Hebrew-English Glossary, and an Index of Grammatical Notes. The single Audio CD begins with each page number and the track numbers follow the even-numbered pages. Both male and female voices are included, allowing the listener to hear proper pronunciation with different tones. The included notes in the book shed light on Hebrew meaning and provide in-depth study of Scripture itself, with comments on the possible meaning of Scripture as intended in Hebrew.

The Interactive Bible Flashcards are easily installed. They allow for automatic or manual progression and will scroll repeatedly through a set of words from any specified chapter from 4-29 of The First Hebrew Primer. From the tool bar, you can set it to proceed in numeric or random order. A replay interval is also available, with one to twenty seconds available between words (three seconds is the default). First, the words are shown in Hebrew. Then, seconds later, they are spoken in Hebrew as the English translation is revealed on the "flashcard." Manual mode allows you to look at the word in Hebrew for as long as needed before pressing the "Say it!" button. Cards may be added and removed individually to build a review list of cards. Intended to provide pronunciation help and assist in word-by-word memorization, the program works in concert with The First Hebrew Primer, but it could certainly be utilized separately.

As mentioned, The First Hebrew Primer is intended for use by those desiring to learn the words that occur in the Bible at least 200 times. By the end of the book, users will be reading biblical text more easily. Supplementary notes provide enrichment for the understanding of Hebrew grammar but are not required. The first three chapters are essential for new users and should be studied carefully. The remaining chapters cover masculine and feminine nouns and verbs, tenses, adjectives, prepositions, commands, numbers, verb patterns, and more. Chapter 30 covers using the Dictionary, followed by the Bibliography, Spelling charts (with conjugations of common Hebrew words), Notes (with specific helps regarding pronunciation, spelling rules, possessives, etc.), a Hebrew-English Glossary, an English-Hebrew Glossary, and an Alphabet chart. Chapters include reading practice and exercises, along with an extensive amount of rules and letter comparison, with words to practice that include referenced rules. Exercises include vocabulary drills from English to Hebrew and vice versa. Students should work through the exercises in The First Hebrew Primer and then refer to the Answer guide to check their answers. Translations are as close to word-for-word as possible in an attempt to allow students to analyze more easily, even though some sentences will sound awkward. Reading Hebrew from right to left is reiterated throughout, and the exercises are oriented that way. However, the instructions generally follow a typical English left-to-right format. Various reading exercises from the Old Testament include extensive selections from Ruth. There are also some familiar "Tall Tales" for additional reading, including the Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Three Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Fisherman and His Wife, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and more. The tall tales often include references to wine as a main beverage, and several include references to "gods." Cinderella references the spirit of her mother instead of a fairy godmother; Sleeping Beauty includes six "spirits" rather than the usual fairies; and Daedalus and Icarus call for the gods of Greece and comment on the spirit of heaven as a guard. Many of these adjustments in story line are intentional translations in order to facilitate the learning of Hebrew.

These products from EKS are geared toward adults and require some previous knowledge of Hebrew. My college daughter has been learning Hebrew for years on her own, and she was able to easily jump into the material and found the various components helpful and enjoyable. I was incredibly intimidated but was able to follow instructions, and I have begun to understand more Hebrew words. The audio companion CDs for each book are incredible. The sound quality is good, and it is easy to find a particular chapter by track. I also liked having both male and female voices in order to hear the variations in pronunciation. It really is a beautiful language. My favorite item by far is the Interactive Bible Flashcards. I wish more programs were designed this way. It allows visual learners, like me, to study the Hebrew for longer times when first learning and then slowly reduce the time confidence is gained. The books as a whole are well done, although I prefer The First Hebrew Reader because of the thoroughly Biblical content (without the additional "Tall Tales").

The only thing I found frustrating was the lack of a written English pronunciation. When using the Interactive flashcards and the other audio components, it is difficult to hear exactly what phonetic sounds are being spoken without a written reference. Supplying the English translation and the written word in Hebrew was not always enough for me. I'd like to see the written phonetic representation of the Hebrew word as well. Overall, this is an incredible offering of material, but it is most decidedly geared toward adults and those with a basic understanding of some Hebrew. Homeschool students using the program will need to be fairly comfortable with Hebrew before using these programs. I would encourage parents desiring to teach Hebrew to their children to use these products in tandem with a children's version of Hebrew curriculum. These EKS products will increase a parent's understanding and still offer further Hebrew education as children progress in the language.

EKS Publishing offers additional resources and books for children which may light an initial fire in younger children that will grow into a desire to fully learn Hebrew. Offering a good blend of components covering reading from books, listening from CDs, and watching words via computer screen while listening, The First Hebrew Reader and The First Hebrew Primer will enable users to gain insight into Hebrew and an appreciation for the intricacies of the language.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2008