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Encounters in Modern Hebrew

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Encounters in Modern Hebrew
By Edna Amir Coffin
The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor

Level 1 - ISBN: 0-472-08233-7 (book and two audio cassettes)
Level 1 - ISBN: 0-472-08221-3 (book only)
Level 2 - ISBN: 0-472-08234-5 (book and one audio cassette)
Level 2 - ISBN: 0-472-06490-8 (book only)
Level 3 - ISBN: 0-472-06540-8 (book only)

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - August 15, 2005

Encounters in Modern Hebrew is a well-paced academically rigorous college-level language course for English-speaking students that was written by Edna Amir Coffin, professor of Modern Hebrew Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, where this series has been used extensively. Encounters in Modern Hebrew provides students with a comprehensive grounding in all aspects of Modern Hebrew - reading, writing, and speaking Hebrew. There are three books in the Encounters in Modern Hebrew series that provide a unified course of study that begins with the basic fundamentals such as the alphabet and how the letters are pronounced and takes the student through the study of advance Hebrew prose. While each book can be completed in a single semester, the books can also be easily divided for use in year long courses.

The three levels of Encounters in Modern Hebrew are unified in both style and layout. Throughout, nikud (vowels) are only added when necessary for clarification - this enables students to begin reading Hebrew without vowels from the very beginning, rather than the more traditional method of learning to read with nikud, then having to relearn how to read without them when making the transition to reading Israeli (Modern Hebrew language) newspapers or books which are printed sans-vowels. Accompanying audio recordings of the dialogs and vocabularies in the first two volumes in this series are also available. The readers are all native Hebrew speakers and they provide examples of both male and female readers. These tapes enable students to practice the material already studied in class, and they are invaluable for teaching independent learners how to speak Israeli (Sephardic) Hebrew accurately. All three volumes include a plethora of exercises, word lists, activities, drills, and reading exercises. All three also include engaging dialogs that not only help to reinforce the material being studied but which also help to jump-start spoken interactions and to actively engage the student in the study and appreciation of Hebrew. From jokes to Biblical quotes, students will encounter a breadth of material in Modern Israeli Hebrew that amply illustrates the vibrancy and beauty of the language.

Level 1, while providing ample preparatory work in reading and writing Hebrew - including reading and writing cursive, concentrates more on teaching conversational Hebrew than do the levels 2 and 3 of the series. Levels 2 and 3 focus more upon the study of reading and writing, and the differences between the informal form of Hebrew used in common speech and more formal style used in literary texts. Speech patterns and grammatical points are explained and annotated with examples to reinforce each point.

Encounters in Modern Hebrew is a phenomenal course that takes students through their second year of Hebrew study and in some cases, into their third year of study. The material is presented in an intuitive manner that takes the student rapidly from sounding out letters to reading, writing, and speaking Modern Israeli Hebrew with a high degree of fluency. These texts present a wider range (and number) of vocabulary words than most comparable texts. However, the well designed exercises and drills will help students to quickly master the material and rapidly get them reading at an adult level.

What I liked most about this course was the fact that it starts the student reading and writing without vowels from the very beginning so they do not have to relearn how to read and write without them. Secondly, this series provides the student with ample opportunities to learn how to read and write Hebrew in cursive script - something that is sadly lacking in many texts. As well, the dialogs, readings, and exercises in this text are engaging, fun to learn, and they provide the student practice communicating at an adult level rather than starting them out reading nonsensical or juvenile material. After complete the three levels of Encounters in Modern Hebrew, most students will have a firm grasp of Hebrew grammar and structure, will be able (within the scope of their vocabulary) to fluently read and write Modern Hebrew, carry on a conversation in Hebrew, and they will have a command of a large Hebrew vocabulary. Students completing all three levels will be positioned to take advanced Hebrew language classes and to study Hebrew literature - in Hebrew. Although this series was designed for use in an instructor led setting, it can also be used effectively by independent studies when used with the audio cassettes that go with the first two levels in the series. All in all, I highly recommend Encounters in Modern Hebrew for college level and advance high school courses in Modern Hebrew.

Related Reviews:

Literature on the Tip of the Tongue, By Edna Genossar Grad.
Intermediate Hebrew Textbook & Workbook that bridges the gap between introductory Hebrew textbooks and the study of Hebrew literature.

History of the Jews in the Modern World, A, by Howard M. Sachar.
A general, comprehensive reference guide on Jewish history from the late 1700's through 2004.

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