Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Creating a Linguistic Landscape in Our Daily Lives

A recent article in Tablet Magazine described the camper experience of Hebrew at
summer camps.  The article observed that camp vocabulary included mainly nouns
sprinkled into camper conversation, and noted that while “Camp Hebraized English”
is a “distinctive cultural phenomenon,” it does not contribute to conversational fluency
in an Israeli setting.   As a seasonal experience, it adds flavor to American Jewish life,
which is meaningful with or without true linguistic competency.  

Viewed from another perspective, however, the “Linguistic Landscape” can become
eminently valuable to those students of Hebrew language who wish to build and
improve their conversational skills.  Comfort with a variety of vocabulary will only
help speakers move to the next level. In a communicative setting, speakers need
to draw upon vocabulary from a multitude of experiences and employ these to
make themselves understood.  

So, if the more words we know helps us to build our conversational skills and get our
ideas across in social settings, how can we boost this number?  In other words, how
can we create a “Linguistic Landscape” in our own daily lives? 

Here are some ideas: 

Music and Movies add an auditory element that lets listeners grow accustomed
to the rhythms and flow of the language.
Print Media - novels, newspapers & magazines- require some concerted effort,
but the value of sinking into good literature and “Scavenger-hunting” familiar
roots in new frames is priceless. 
Picture Books - offer vocabulary coupled with pictures.  Different levels of books
offer different experiences and challenges.  Use the pictures to build vocabulary
and search the text for familiar words.  Stories do not need to be “read” exactly
from the text but can be “told” using accessible language.  
Poetry - offers a short & accessible text experience.  As in one’s native language,
poems can be understood differently upon each reading.  Repeated readings will
yield more vocabulary, greater fluency and more complete understanding of the
Wall Art - these are casually available for view on a regular basis and add both
an aesthetic and linguistic element to home decor
Magnets - short phrases take less effort to comprehend, while repetition leads to
recall and memory
Cookbooks - recipes are short, concise, and offer a challenge with delicious
Labels - for household objects, i.e. cabinet, refrigerator, air conditioner, blocks -
individual words coupled with the physical object encourage learning through
repetition and exposure

As we delve into summer, we have more time to incorporate some of these ideas
into our daily lives.  Creating easy and meaningful opportunities to expose ourselves
to language (for even five minutes a day) will make a difference if we give ourselves
the chance. 

Please share success stories (and challenges) in the comments below!  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Why Focus on Strategies?

People ask about the name "Strategic Hebrew" all the time: "Why 'Strategic?'"  What do you do? 

I like to respond that language learning (and any other type of learning, for that matter) is all about strategies.  It's a question of how well we can use what we know to help us in our lives.

As the proverb goes, if you give a man a fish, you have reached one level of charity.  However, if you teach him how to fish, you have rescued him from needing charity in the future, since he will have developed the skills to fend for himself.

All too often we focus on knowledge as finite, measurable quantities.  Some knowledge may be finite (times tables, laws of physics, etc.) and much is measurable, but how often do we pay attention to the quality of the thought process that helps us arrive at the answers?  Yes, there are certain pieces of information--facts, figures, etc, that are helpful to have at our fingertips through memorization.  For everything else, there is time... and strategy.  

Once you know how to read a map, you can find not only the grocery store, but the bank, the library, and the ice cream parlor.  Think how much more powerful you feel knowing you have the wherewithal to navigate your own way around town!  If you've ever watched a child learning to read, you know how proud they are when they finally connect the sounds to make a recognizable word. 

More than the success of the moment, it's the realization that they can do it again in the future that bolsters the rush. 

When applied to language learning, this suggests a new and different approach.  If we step away from memorization of verb families for the moment, we can "zoom out" to see the interconnectedness of all the different parts of speech and the beauty and versatility of the 3-letter Hebrew root which serves as the foundation of the language.  Once you learn the how to work with roots, you begin to understand how to manipulate them to suit different communicative purposes.  Suddenly the value of all parts of the language become clear and the learner can bring the pieces together for practical application.  

Strategic Hebrew is about focusing on the forest in order to appreciate the trees that make up the beautiful language, and then using that conceptual understanding to best advantage. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Disrupting Hebrew Class

The classroom is abuzz with energetic conversation.  Children jump out of their seats with excitement.  Discoveries abound, personalizing the experience for each individual student.  Every day brings a new depth of comprehension.  The teacher guides, answers questions, suggests a new strategy of attack.  Students are eager, curious and determined to achieve their objective.  

Is this a competitive game or a party?  There must be food involved for students to get this excited...

Nope, no food.  No games.  It’s a serious Hebrew class!  Really.  

No gimmicks, no competition, no prizes beyond the self-satisfaction of wrestling with the meaning of Hebrew text.  Strategic Hebrew focuses on building strategies for independence and agency in language acquisition.  It is unlike any Hebrew class I’ve ever seen before.  

Time flies as inquisitive students plumb the depths of text, engaging in animated discussion about content.  Each day brings a greater capacity for understanding, a higher skill level, a deeper comprehension of the prayers and a stronger connection to the Hebrew language.  The popcorn cries of “I found it!” “Oh, that’s what that means!” and “There it is!” arise in delightful chorus.

Students feel increasingly capable.

They develop tools for parsing the text into meaningful prefixes and suffixes.  They learn about syntax of adjectives and nouns.  They understand what a root is and how to identify them in context.  They teach themselves to recognize vocabulary that repeats and rely on memory to enhance understanding.  The test is the text itself… and every student engages on their own level, sharing word attack strategies that propel comprehension forward.  

Starting with the text, students themselves are in the driver’s seat of their Hebrew education.  Class concludes with a reflection on the new insights developed that day.  

Every single strategy learned can be applied to numerous real life situations beyond the classroom.  Math, science, literature, bnei mitzvah… Students are encouraged to make connections between their discoveries in class and elsewhere in their lives.  They learn to ask: Why are these words relevant?  Where else have you encountered them?  Where else might they come in handy? How did I figure this out?

The recipe for success is simple: Palpable excitement, durable learning, meaningful process, transferable strategies.  With these goals in mind, such engagement with Hebrew text is always possible!   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Celebrating Hebrew Over Dinner and קינוח*

What does it take to bring people to the table to engage with Hebrew?
You might be surprised how infrequently Hebrew is spoken in America.  

Is there room for more conversational opportunities?  Absolutely.

Friday night’s Celebrate Hebrew Dinner proved this point clearly, as 26 participants took part in a pressure-free evening of delicious food and celebration of language.  Throughout the evening, pockets of conversation discussed topics as various as amusing faux paux and prior exposure to Hebrew to career choices and leisure activities.  There was a calm vibe in the candlelit room and the majority of the crowd stayed to talk late into the night.

Was Hebrew spoken the entire time?  Not necessarily.  Was the language at the forefront of everyone’s mind for the evening?  Absolutely.  Conversations occurred on all levels of proficiency and thrived even between speakers on different levels.  

A few lovely examples:
  • A native speaker described her profession to a Hebrew novice, who listened for key words to successfully understand the gist.
  • A group of ladies discussed challenges of learning Hebrew compared to other languages such as Russian and Spanish.   
  • Many diners explored their Hebrew menus and discussed the catered food with the help of a specially formatted Dictionary Page.  
  • Others discussed their interest in learning to understand the prayers and build their reading skills.  
Between these conversational topics and a variety of available books and games (Harry Potter, Taboo, etc.) there was plenty of fodder for conversation.  

Response to initial promotion of the event was mixed: Do I know enough Hebrew to get through the meal?  Will I understand anything anyone else is saying?  What if I love the language and want to learn… but don’t know many words yet?  Will there be enough or any native speakers in the room for me to speak with?  These queries led to fascinating conversations.  

Ultimately, those in attendance agreed that it was an enjoyable and memorable evening that inspired confidence in their ability to communicate in Hebrew.  Everyone was sensitive about helping everyone else feel comfortable and welcome.  Many asked to be informed about the next one.  

Let’s make these opportunities a reality by spreading the word of what is possible in the realm of engaging Hebrew experiences.  What themes or activities would you like to see explored in Hebrew in the future?   


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

City Explorers: Sights of NYC 2014

Last week we celebrated the kickoff of Strategic Hebrew City Explorers with our first "Sights of NYC" tour.  From August 25-29, our Explorers (aged 7-12) and their Madrichot toured NYC attractions in Hebrew.  At each stop on the tour, students learned new vocabulary and experienced the sights, tastes and history of this great city.

Explorers came from Jewish Day School and public school backgrounds, some had attended Hebrew school and some were fully conversant in Hebrew.  Each student was paired with a madricha (Language Guide) who encouraged conversation and supported the learning process.  All showed dramatic improvement in their skills during the course of the week.

The Madrichot had completed last years' Leaders Fellowship, where they learned about language acquisition, lesson planning and how to foster strategy development in Hebrew language learners. They are leaders in their own school communities and are committed to the goal of revitalizing Hebrew language in fun settings.  

Over the five days, the Explorers learned how to pay attention to the strategies they used to understand the spoken Hebrew and written activities.  They spent time drafting scripts for screen plays about the venues and shared helpful tips with each other.  We were very pleased to watch the Explorers gain confidence in speaking Hebrew throughout the week and are proud of their linguistic discoveries.  

As they return to school this fall, we expect that their performance in all subjects will benefit from the language strategies and cognitive skills they acquired during this week. 

Here is a brief recap of our week and what the Explorers had to say about their experiences:

DAY ONE: Lower East Side Tasting Tour

Teambuilding: Find that בָּקְבּוּק!
יְמִינָה, שְֹמאֹלָה, קָדִימָה...
(Find that bottle... right, left, forward...)
Essex Street Market בִּינְגוֹ (bingo)

"אֵיפֹה פִּיתָה"  (Where's the pita)?

"Hey... is banana really בָּנָנָה (banana) in Hebrew?" 
Screenwriting at the
Eldridge Street Synagogue
Yum, חַמוּצִים (pickles)!

"I pretended I knew what to do & followed the others.  It was my first day hearing spoken Hebrew!"

"I especially enjoyed the pickles!"

"I learned the names of lots of foods in the Bingo  game."

DAY TWO: שָֹפָה וְטֶבָע  Language and Nature

Flower scavenger hunt in the
Conservatory Garden
שִֹיחוֹת (discussions)
at the Jewish Museum
"I learned that it helps to keep repeating new words throughout the day."

"I asked questions." 

"I learned to say 'wheels' and 'raccoon'"
!הַמָדְרִיכוֹת הַיָפוֹת
(Our lovely counselors!)
Reflecting on the art of language.

"The painting that I loved is called 'Misunderstandings' because it is so abstract." 

"I learned names of plants!"

"I feel more confident speaking Hebrew!"

DAY THREE: פֶּסֶל הַחֵרוּת (Statue of Liberty)!

Partners in historical discovery...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.... I lift my lamp beside
your golden door."
--Emma Lazarus
Crowning ourselves:
"Lady Liberty's Attendants"

Conversations overheard in Hebrew:
"I liked speaking in Hebrew because I used new words."

"I never knew you could go inside the statue!"

"Did you know how long it took to build her?"

"Learning Hebrew בָּחוּץ (outside) is fun!"

DAY FOUR: Life and Video  

How long are your כְּנָפַיִים (wings)?

Fun with the פֶּנְגְוִוינִים (penguins)!
Can you jump as far as a נַמֵר (leopard)?

"After Tuesday, I found myself thinking in Hebrew... but since I didn't know all the words yet, I couldn't quite understand my own thoughts.  Today it's making more sense!

 "At the zoo, I learned how to describe animals and the names of animals I didn't know before. "

"We created a news broadcast and interviewed the animals.  We asked them what their names were in Hebrew.  I was the Director!"

DAY FIVE: Nature Walk & Ice cream

Ordering Gelato in Hebrew.

After a week of speaking in Hebrew, Explorers had the following to say about their experience:

"I learned conversation skills and that Mel Bochner is awesome!"

"I feel proud of my progress." 

"I didn't know that I knew enough Hebrew to speak for a whole day... but know I know I can. And I feel proud!"

"We played Taboo... I see how you can play Taboo in your head when you are looking for the right word"

"Yum, delicious day!"

We invite you to join us for more language adventures with City Explorers during school vacations in December, June and August.  

Visit http://www.strategichebrew.com/strategic-hebrew-city-explorers.html for more details!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Have a Conversation About Strategies

“But I never learned Hebrew before now!” a student protests.

The question at hand was how students knew how to follow directions given entirely in Hebrew during the preceding activity.  This student assumes that the “right answer” involves translating unfamiliar Hebrew words.  He feels frustrated as his inability to perform.

How do we turn this conversation on its head into a positive learning experience?

Step one: diffusing tension
The most important thing is to assure the students that they are not being asked to define vocabulary at this moment.  Emphasize “how did you understand?” rather than “what do the words mean?”  Refocus the conversation into the realm of strategies:

“We are so glad you are starting your Hebrew journey now.  Of course no one expects you to understand everything in one day!  But I noticed that you were able to play the game with us just a few moments ago.  Can you tell me how you knew what to do?”

By complimenting the student on his success so far, we empower him to reflect on the tools he already has at his disposal.  He may still need time to vocalize his answer.  Tell him you will come back to him after giving a few other students a chance to share their strategies.  (It’s important not to forget to call on him after two or three other students).

Step two: guided metacognition
Prompt the students to identify their process with some of the following questions:
  • How did you know where to go/what to do?
  • Where did you look for help?
  • Did you recognize any words that you heard?
  • Were there any clues besides the Hebrew words?

Many students will acknowledge strategies such as following other students, listening for words they knew, vocal inflections, watching teacher’s hand motions, even guessing.  All of these are legitimate strategies.  The goal is to encourage the students to be honest about their metacognitive response to hearing the language.

Step 3: emotional reconnaissance
Once students own up to the “tricks” they used during the immersion part of the lesson, push them to explore their visceral response in greater depth.  
  • How did you feel when we were speaking only in Hebrew?
  • Did you need to know ALL the words in order to participate, or just SOME?  Are there any words you heard more than once?  Do you have a guess what they might mean?
  • What did you learn about your ability to learn the language?
  • Do you feel successful?

Step four: reflection and planning
Now that the students have unpacked the strategies they used to understand the foreign language, they can begin to think critically about what worked best and what tools they may want to make use of in the future.

  • Was it enough just to follow other students or is it important to start listening for key words among the rush of language?  What will help you to build your Hebrew skills?
  • Which words did you find most helpful?  What can you do to help you remember important new words?  
    • Repeat them aloud?  
    • Write them down?  
    • Review them at home?
  • What might you do differently next time you hear Hebrew?  
  • What strategies did you hear other students using that you can try in the future?

Ultimately, our goal is to prove to students that when it comes to language, there are many different strategies they can use to succeed.  As they grow more comfortable applying strategies, their word recognition and familiarity with the language will only grow.  They will also see that the same strategies can be applied to many other areas of school and life.  

The key is that working from strategies to automaticity (rather than through vocabulary memorization) will afford students the tools to expand their skills beyond the walls of the classroom.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions: Why learn Hebrew through a touring program???

Why learn Hebrew while touring NYC?
Well, the question really should be “why not???

Learning a language is about communication and effective sharing of information.  It’s not about passing a test in a room with four walls.  So, if we can practice making ourselves understood anywhere, why not practice while doing something fun?!

Where does the concept of City Explorers come from?
NYC is home to many different cultural venues.  Why not take advantage of the talent and skill of the many native Hebrew speaking tour guides, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, artists and artisans in the city?  

The sightseeing component adds an extra element of motivation to language studies and creates unforgettable location-centric memories.  

What can participants expect to learn?
We know that there are many different ways to learn a language, so we focus on strategies that can be applied to every situation and every subject.  

Participants will be surrounded by the sounds of the Hebrew language and engage in hands-on experiences during the program.  Through the lens of language exploration, participants pay attention to their brain’s efforts to make sense of information and develop tools and strategies to advance their understanding.  

Join us in stepping out of the classroom and into the great, wide, communicative world!

Who is this geared for?
City Explorers are children ages 6 -- 11 who are excited about Hebrew language and are looking for a different kind of learning experience.  Some (English) writing skills are helpful as students will have opportunities to reflect on their experiences at different points throughout the program.

All levels--from absolute beginner to native speaker--welcome and supported.

Does my child need to know any Hebrew to participate?  What if his/her Hebrew skills are rusty?  
There will be activities appropriate for different levels of Hebrew, and all will be supported throughout the program.  The games, scavenger hunts and discussions will be led by our talented Strategic Hebrew fellows who are prepared to work with mixed age and ability groups.

Don’t sweat it… we’ll give your children all the vocabulary and tools they need to enjoy the program!

They will come away with some new vocabulary, but more than that, they will have the opportunity to watch themselves figure out what to do and how to make themselves understood in this Hebrew centered environment.

What if I am a native speaker and my children are fluent?
Your children are welcome to come along and help contribute to the Hebrew atmosphere we strive to cultivate.  Of course, they won’t be stuck with the beginning language learners all day!  All activities are led by native speakers who maintain a high level of Hebrew exposure throughout the program.  

There will be activities appropriate to each conversational level, and really… who doesn’t love a trip to the zoo?

Who are the counselors?
Small groups of Explorers are led by Fellows who have taken part in the Strategic Hebrew Leaders Fellowship.  American high school students with strong language skills, Fellows have spent time studying the process of language acquisition and are prepared to guide your children through their experience.

For an in-depth look at our training program, check out our recap of the Strategic Hebrew Leaders Fellowship in 2013.  

Tell me more about the team?
Amy Fechter, Program Director, is also Curriculum Strategist at Strategic Hebrew, Inc. Winner of the 2013 Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Amy brings over a decade of classroom experience with students ages 3-adult.  In founding Strategic Hebrew, Amy incorporated the principles of constructivist learning from Bank Street College of Education, where she received her Masters’ Degree in Literacy.  She delights in inspiring confidence and cultivating popcorn moments among American Hebrew speakers.