At no point in history have there been more ways of learning Hebrew. Thanks to modern technology, there are many, many options out there, even for those with limited budgets, schedules and mobility — ranging in price from absolutely free to thousands of dollars.
In addition to the traditional route of consulting books or signing up for an in-person class through a synagogue, Jewish community center or university — or traveling to Israel where there are myriad in-person courses and programs, you now can choose from an array of online courses, apps and software. Or, you can set aside a summer vacation for a full-scale immersion program in rustic Vermont!
Selecting the Right Program for You
In sifting among the options, think about your goals, your level of self-discipline and how much time you are able to commit to the endeavor. Are you looking simply to decode, so you can follow along in the prayer book? Do you want to study the Bible in its original? Seeking to learn a few phrases to use on a vacation in Israel? Or are you hoping to become fluent in conversational Hebrew? Also, bear in mind that a program that’s great for the complete beginner may be less useful for an advanced learner.
Vardit Ringvald, director of the School of Hebrew at Middlebury College and a longtime consultant to a variety of institutions that teach Hebrew, also suggests you think about your learning style. “Some people are very independent” and can teach themselves from a book or self-paced program, but others need the social interaction and structure of studying with other people at a scheduled time.
While apps can be engaging and are useful for introducing and reinforcing vocabulary, Ringvald says, they lack “real interaction,” which can make it hard for students to progress from intermediate to advanced or “be able to use the language in real-life situations.”
Although many beginners are interested in focusing on reading or biblical/prayerbook Hebrew exclusively, Ringvald encourages learners to jump in with conversational Hebrew.
“Modern Hebrew will reinforce your classical Hebrew,” she says. “It’s not a linear process where first you learn the alphabet, second you learn to read and third you learn the language. Doing it all together is key to success.”
Below is a sampling of online courses and resources organized by category and alphabetically. Did we miss something important? Have you tried some of the programs below and had positive or negative experiences? Do you see something that needs to be updated? Please comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
These lessons can be done completely on your own schedule, but they do not include interaction with a real person.
Focused on Hebrew reading. Seven lessons (accessible on computers and mobile devices), includes flashcards, quizzes, videos and other resources. Touts recommendations from numerous synagogues and other Jewish institutions, including major Reform congregations like Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia and Central Synagogue in New York. (Ranges from $39 for three months to $97 for 24 months)
Can sample online Hebrew learning tools, including audio lessons, games, and quizzes, for free before you buy it. Accessible on computers and mobile devices. In addition to conversational Hebrew lessons, offers a separate reading class, as well as a prayers class. Beginners can try out one month free. ($180/year)
Uses “proprietary methodology, engaging interface, and easy, intuitive interactive tools to deliver practical conversational skills and valuable cultural insight for new languages.” Lessons include “strategically placed memory-building exercises” and “critical thinking exercises.” Accessible on computers and mobile devices. Available for free through participating libraries in the United States, Canada and several other countries, or you can purchase a monthly ($20) or annual ($175) subscription.
Mostly audio, but includes reading instruction too. They promise, “Thirty minutes a day is all it takes, and we get you speaking right from the first day.”Available for free through some public libraries, for sale on own site and Amazon. Available in CDs and as MP3 downloads (much cheaper than CDs). Can be purchased five lessons at a time, one level at a time, or all three levels in one package ($335 for MP3). You can also download one free lesson from their official website.
Whole package of software, accessible on computer and mobile devices — can pay for a subscription by the month, year, two-year. Or can pay one-time fee to download to computer (no mobile access, but can use without Internet connection and can be used by up to five people). Has speech-recognition software — so it gives you feedback on your accent/pronunciation. Available for free at some public libraries. Downloads and discs also available through Amazon. ($19.95/month, $144/year)
Online Courses With Teachers or Tutors
The below all include synchronous sessions (whether via Skype, Webinar or other software) where you can see and speak with the teacher and other students.
EteacherHebrew.com (also available for children ages 7-17)
Classes in small groups or one-on-one with Israel-based teachers certified in teaching Hebrew as a second language. eTeacher is the exclusive holder of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ franchise to teach Hebrew online. Classes are scheduled based on students’ locations, time zones, and personal preferences. Option to take classes once or twice weekly. Offers separate biblical Hebrew classes through a partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as other Jewish languages, such as Yiddish and Aramaic. (Approximately $1100 for an eight-month weekly course)
Various levels of Hebrew courses offered online, on a college semester schedule (Fall, Spring, Summer), with option to take for college credit or not. (For credit is more expensive). The beginners’ class, not available for credit, costs $615. Courses include weekly live class session plus assignments and exercises.
Hebrew Homepage (also available for children)
Three tracks: Learn to Read Hebrew for Beginners (decoding skills); Reading Fluency for Prayebook Hebrew, and Modern Hebrew for Beginners. Weekly 30-minute one-on-one sessions with tutor using a webinar platform ($35/session or $390 for 12 sessions)
One-on-one 30-minute or 45-minute sessions via Skype, plus homework and exercises. Also offer video course to teach beginners how to read in Hebrew and free e-book “First 100 words in Hebrew: what a tourist in Israel should know.”($75 for five, option for free trial lesson)
Apps and Podcasts
A search on the App Store or Google Play will turn up on an overwhelming quantity of apps, many of them free, that teach Hebrew reading/decoding and sometimes conversational skills. We selected the following ones because they were personally recommended by individual educators. If you’ve had a good or bad experience using these or others, please let us know!
Offers a placement test and lots of lessons, games and activities. They claim it is “so fun that people would prefer picking up new skills over playing a game.” Can be used on computer or on iOS or Android mobile devices. (Free)
Podcasts are approximately 10-15 minutes each and are based on short dialogues on a wide variety of topics. Despite the very basic-looking website, the technology works smoothly. All audio lessons can be streamed for free, but a subscription is required to download them and to access supporting materials, such as transcripts, flash cards, games and quizzes. The more than 150 podcasts (new advanced ones are added monthly) range from beginner to advanced. Although there is a lesson teaching the aleph-bet, it is not clear whether this would be sufficient to teach reading. ($79/year, shorter subscriptions available too)
Interactive lessons and activities available on desktop computer and mobile devices. Enables users to create customized flash cards and other materials, compete with friends and form or join study groups. According to Memrise, the program “uses clever science to adapt to your personal learning style and performance.” (Free)
A digital primer accessible from computers or mobile devices (both iOS and Android) to learn decoding. Hebrew letters, vowels, and keywords are introduced with animation and reinforced with audible practice readings, interactive exercises, and games. Includes 22 lessons. ($14.95 for 15 months)
Tools for Enrichment
EKS Hebrew Flashcards
Virtual Hebrew-English flashcards for both Biblical Hebrew (includes 335 words) and Prayerbook Hebrew (includes 332 words), with audio feature to test learner’s pronunciation. Available as iPhone or Android apps. ($9.99)
For intermediate learners with Hebrew reading skills who want to improve their oral conversational skills. Series of comic strips and interactive exercises based on various themes from everyday life. Not available on mobile devices. 13 lessons available in total, and the first one can be downloaded for free. (10 euros for one lesson, 80 euros for 12)
Short (approximately 8-minute) and entertaining podcasts about Modern Hebrew, focusing on slang and etymology. (Free)
Intensive Immersion Experiences
Middlebury Immersion Program
Participants live on campus and commit to speaking only Hebrew for the entire three-week or seven-week session. Rigorous daily classroom instruction for various levels, including beginner, plus organized all-in-Hebrew activities, such as soccer and theater. Offers both Modern and Classical Hebrew. ($9,240 for the full seven weeks [includes room and board], $3,980 for the three-week session)
Numerous intensive Hebrew programs (called ulpans) are offered throughout Israel, ranging from one week to five months in length and ranging widely in price. They include Ulpan Etzion, operated by the Jewish Agency for Israel; Ulpan Israeli; and programs at major universities, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University. Click here for a directory of Israeli ulpans compiled by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a group that promotes and facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel.