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Arabic speaker learning Hebrew

Discussion in 'עברית (Hebrew)' started by cunninlynguist, Jun 8, 2013.

  1. cunninlynguist New Member

    To what extent would knowledge of Arabic grammar be useful in learning Hebrew? Neither of my parents are native Arabic speakers but I spent my entire life in the Middle East, so I speak Arabic with moderate fluency. I'm aware that Hebrew and Arabic have some lexical similarities given their Proto-Semitic origins, but is the grammatical structure similar at all? Basically, what advantage do I have as an Arabic speaker?

    Also, what's the most difficult part of learning Hebrew? And what aspects of the language make it seem quite easy? Am I right in thinking that Hebrew spelling is quite straightforward, given the absence of vowels and the "joining" of words like in Arabic?
  2. arielipi Senior Member

    Theyre both semitic languages, share root systema nd a lot more, except for vocabulary, nothing should be too hard.
  3. ystab Senior Member

    Well, Arabic has many dialects slightly different from one another and slightly different from the Modern Standard. In each you can find common and distinct features with and from Hebrew.

    Indeed, as arielipi noted, Hebrew and Arabic share some fundamental elements, and if you are really into etymology and linguistics you're going to have fun learning a sister language like Hebrew.

    I'm not sure spelling would be quite as easy as you think. First of all, writing with Niqqud (the equivalent of Tashkil) is slightly different than writing without it, and is quite confusing for a learner (ask other Hebrew learners here). Secondly, many native Hebrew speakers, if not most, do not pronounce some of the consonants as it was originally pronounced. Hence you will hear many times no difference between א and ע (their respective equivalents are ا and ع) or ח and כ (respectively, ح and خ). Arabic, in that aspect, is very straightforward, especailly MSA.

    What you will probably find easy is the declensions of nouns and verbs, which is very similar, almost identical, between both languages.
  4. airelibre

    airelibre Senior Member

    English - London

    In my experience, starting to learn Hebrew can be very challenging, in terms of spelling and reading. However, I would say that once you have got used to the patterns the spelling is fairly straightforward. Since most letters have different pronunciations in different situations, not to mention omitted vowels, when I first started I had no idea how to pronounce a word I came across for the first time, but now I can tell how to pronounce more than 90% of new words correctly. Compared to English spelling I'd say Hebrew is more straightforward once you get the hang of it. Also, you'd have a head start if you can read arabic since it is also an abjad, even if some of the spelling rules differ.
    I actually find the pronunciation of some letters as the same very helpful, at least in understanding and speaking Hebrew. I'm used to a spelling system which has more than one letter for one sound (English) so spelling isn't made much more difficult for me. In arabic, I still have no idea what the difference is between ت ط د ض, ز ظ and ه ح خ !

    I think the grammar system is very neat in Hebrew and probably shares many characteristics with arabic as said already.

    What I would say is most challenging is knowing how to sound "natural". They often say that Hebrew is very meaning-dense so knowing which words sound right in certain situations can be hard sometimes.

    Also, if you were to go down the route of studying Biblical Hebrew or other historic forms of the language, that would more be challenging because there are many words and even whole phrases whose exact meaning cannot be determined, only conjectured, among other peculiarities not common in modern Hebrew.

    There are also plenty of good resources for learning Hebrew available for free online. When I've tried to learn some Arabic I've found much less useful material, which is surprising for a major world language, one which has 60x as many native speakers as Hebrew. I must be looking in the wrong places!
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Why would this be? Because modern Hebrew has lost many distinctions the Niqqud system makes? I can imagine this to be difficult if you want to transcribe something you hear from a native Hebrew speaker but reading Niqqud is very straight forward.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2013
  6. arielipi Senior Member

    berndf is correct, though people know theoretically what the difference is supposed to be.
  7. ystab Senior Member

    What I meant was that modern Hebrew has developed several standards of spelling: כתיב מנוקד (Niqqud is fully used), כתיב חסר (the same spelling as with Niqqud but without all those dashes and dots - this spelling which is used in Torah scrolls is considered obsolete), and כתיב חסר ניקוד (also known as כתיב מלא, a spelling without Niqqud, influenced by Yiddish writing, in which maters lectonis are added to simplify reading and certain consonants are doubled to distinguish them from maters lectonis. This is the one generally used). Let's put aside the fact that many people don't follow the standardized spelling. All I'm saying is that for a learner it can be quite confusing at the beginning, beacuse contrary to native childeren who start to spell but know how to pronounce the words, a foriegn language speaker learning Hebrew doesn't know how the word is supposed to sound.
  8. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    That I agree with. It means that the absence of Niqqud which is difficult for a learner like me. In your previous post you wrote "... writing with Niqqud ... is quite confusing for a learner" and that statement confused me.:)
  9. ystab Senior Member

    Sorry about the confusion. I should have rephrased it. I meant that the difference between writing with Niqqud and without it is confusing. Thanks for making me clearing that up. :)
  10. cunninlynguist New Member

  11. airelibre

    airelibre Senior Member

    English - London
    It actually seems like a very good article if you read it all the way through. I've heard about half of the words that it talks about and yes they are well known and commonly used. I expect the other half are also fairly well known. Had no idea that some of the words are arabic borrowings, such as רציני and רשמי. Also I had heard salamtak but had no idea of its meaning (which isn't actually exactly what the article says it is.
  12. arielipi Senior Member

    Keep in mind that some borrowings can alter their meaning in hebrew, and only the pronunciation stays the same.
  13. origumi Senior Member

    Well, there are several doubtful fact and some other issues. For example:

    * It's inaccurate to say that in 1948 most Israeli Jews spoke Arabic (beyond possessing a certain small vocabulary)
    * It's inaccurate to say that the Palmakh was a representative of the Qibutz
    * It's inaccurate to attribute communism to the Palmakh, even indirectly, although it may truly portray a notion in Ben Gurion's mind
    * The Palmakh existed for few years, not enough to change the language beyond certain vocabulary, even as an elite group of a small community
    * I wonder why the author concentrates on Standard Arabic influence while Hebrew had closer contacts with Shami Arabic and also Maghrebi, Yemenite, Iraqi etc. via Jews from these regions
    * The author underestimates the influence of the scientific Arabic jargon on Hebrew during medieval times, words that are very much alive until these very days
    * The author underestimates the Arabic influence on Hebrew slang in the last few decades
    * The article contains many isolated examples, which may mislead instead of educate
    * Some examples in the article , like saying that להביא ילד as to give birth is under Arabic influence, are doubtful
    * Quantitative data is totally missing there, letting the reader guess what's important and what's not
  14. airelibre

    airelibre Senior Member

    English - London
    Completely agree with all the points made here, but this is still an informative article and adequately accurate especially when compared with a lot of the rubbish out there on arabic slang in Hebrew.
  15. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    I think that learning Hebrew should be a breeze. Obviously, learning a language is always hard, but Hebrew and Arabic are so helpful in learning the other.

    I did it the other way around, and it was really great - hearing common words and grammatical features is really fun.
    Apart from the very large number of common and vitally important words, conjugations and features that are almost identical, there are things that might take a bit of creative thinking to understand. When you get deeper, you can find yourself identifying words that sound slightly different but clearly come from the same word due to sound shifts like ث = ש

    שני sheini/ثاني thani = second

    and then use your new understanding of sound shifts to identify more obscure ones -

    שלג sheleg/ثلج thalj = snow

    As for verbs, let's look at past tense conjugations. I'll post Lebanese conjugations, not Standard Arabic. I'll transcribe ע/ع as ' and 3, because in Hebrew it is mostly pronounced as a glottal stop or silent, but in Lebanese it is a more thorough '/3 ayin sound. They are both the same letter, just with different local dialect pronunciations. I'll also transcribe ح as 7.

    Verb root: s(h) - m - '(3) = "to hear"

    I heard: אני שמעתי (ani shama'(3)ti)/انا سمعت (ana sama3t)
    You (masc. sing.) heard:אתה שמעת (ata shama'(3)ta)/انت سمعت (enta sama3t)
    You (fem. sing.) heard:את שמעת (at shama'(3)t)/انتي سمعتي (ente sama3te)
    He heard: הוא שמע (hoo shama'(3))/هو سمع (huwe sama3)
    She heard:היא שמעה (hee shamaa'(3)/هيي سمعات (hiye sama3it)
    We heard: אנחנו שמענו (anakhnu shama'(3)nu)/نحنا سمعنا (ni7na sama3na)
    You heard (masc. only and mixed pl.): אתם שמעתם (atem shama'(3)tem)/انتو سمعتو (ento sama3to)
    You heard (fem. plural only): אתן שמעתן (aten shama'(3)ten)/same as for masc./mixed plural
    They heard (masc. only and mixed pl.): הם שמעו (hem shama'(3)u)/هيني سمعو (hinne sama3o)
    They heard (fem. plural only): הן שמעו (hen shama'(3)u)/same as masc/mixed plural

    (note - ש/س sh/s as in שמע/سمع is a common shift; for example, شمس shams/שמש shemesh = sun)

    Figuring out these slightly obscurely similar words was something that really kept me motivated to learn Arabic. It's like cracking a code, and there are hundreds and hundreds of these. It was so much fun.

    Hard aspects of learning Hebrew for an Arabic speaker might include learning to understand the way some Hebrew letters look the same but change sounds depending on the tense and place in the word (ב = b/v, sometimes differently pronounced in the same word and for different number/person/tense conjugations), understanding when to use different constructions for the same meaning (ביתי/הבית שלי beyti/ha-bayit sheli = my house), learning the difference between written and printed script, learning to distinguish between letters which are pronounced exactly the same, learning the "weird" command/imperative/infinitive forms (תלך vs. לך vs. ללכת = telekh vs. lekh vs. lalekhet = "go") depending on politeness or context, learning to pronounce things differently in a formal context (silent ה vs. pronounced ה) and of course learning expressions and idioms.

    Having said that, as others have stated, some dialects are closer to Hebrew than others. Moroccan or other North African dialects are really different to Hebrew, whilst Lebanese (due to proximity and large influence of Aramaic/Syriac, the original language of Lebanon and closer to Hebrew than Arabic even) and Gulf (due to closer resemblance to Standard Arabic than other dialects such as Moroccan, which has been strongly influenced by Berber) can be considered "easier" bases to learn Hebrew from.

    Honestly, go for it! It will be rewarding and not too difficult. I have full confidence in your ability :)
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2013

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