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Hebrew, day 1

I have now officially begun my study of Hebrew. I am studying via an arranged course using Thomas Lambdin's Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, which is available in braille from the Jewish Braille Institute. There is a Hebrew class in session at the School of Theology at the same time, and my instructor's goal is for me to keep general pace with the other class.

I met today with my instructor for a couple of hours. We will be taking off the week of May 20-27--the other Hebrew class is out that week as well. We will also be out the two weeks that I am in training at The Seeing Eye. During these first two weeks, we will be meeting daily to get a bit ahead while the other class meets three times a week. I expect I'll have a bit of work to do during the off time, and I anticipate some "catch up time" upon returning. I really want to do well with this, including learning the technology. I've always enjoyed languages, and I want to learn Hebrew not just to meet the requirement but to dig into the wealth of resources available for scholarship and teaching!

Today we reviewed the introductory material from Lambdin's text and spent some time comparing notes about how various things were presented. He asked a lot of questions about how tables were presented. The tables have so far been presented in columns, which is good because I can just zip over and see what the relationship of one column to another is. We did discover a few problems, however.

There are portions of material that have been either omitted or accidentally left out of the braille text. This book was hand-copied nearly 30 years ago, and I wonder if it was proofread. The preface is omitted, and there is no transcriber's note. For some people, this is insignificant. For scholars, a preface can provide important information... There is a sentence in the next to last paragraph on p. XIV in which some wording has been left out; and the final paragraph on this page is missing. In this instance, the missing portion of text is not crucial to the reader's understanding of the material. However, later, there are more serious problems.

On p. XV and XVI, there is a chart showing symbols used for transliteration and how they are pronounced. These are important because throughout the first half of the book the transliterated forms of words are shown along with the Hebrew spellings to aid in approximating pronouncing the words. While this course is not a spoken language course, the transliterations are part of the text; and since I am working with this material orally in some cases, I do need these resources. Unfortunately, two sections of the table are missing. Interestingly, the notes accompanying one section are provided. When I discovered these missing portions, I began to wonder what else would be missing and how I would find out about it if I happened to be reading an assignment on my own.

Due to these problems, the best approach will be to skim through the text with a reader before studying it in depth each day. I don't anticipate that this will be as intensive as actually having the entire text read and studying with an audio text. I could not succeed with that method. But I think that if I tried to do this without a reader, I would risk losing important bits of information and making unnecessary mistakes.

One frustration I experienced in our session today was with the fact that I have to flip back and forth so much in order to interpret things. Most language textbooks done in braille include a chart in the front that defines special symbols. In Hebrew, this would be invaluable because the entire character set is exchanged. No symbols are shared because the Hebrew alphabet is entirely different from the English, French, Spanish, German, etc. Realistically, there is no way to do this. Hebrew braille could really only be taught within the context of learning the language. Whatever is defined would need to be explained. But it is overwhelming to be presented with entire words that I cannot read and feel like I should be able to read them somehow. This, I suspect, is the reason why Lambdin uses the transliterations. We are speaking people; and even though biblical Hebrew is not a spoken language now, we relate to it from the frame of reference of spoken language. Most people read from that frame of reference; and many even mouth words as they read, especially when learning something new.

The solution is for me to spend some time learning the basics, make myself a chart after I have figured out the explanations, and then start memorizing the chart. This is not going to be an easy task. My brailler is 17 years old and not in good working order. I can do the chart using the input features of Duxbury; but I haven't had an opportunity to learn how this works yet. Perhaps there are better ways for me to do this; but I have not explored them yet. A flash card system comes to mind... I'll play with it tomorrow, when I am fresh... The main thing is I have to stop flipping halfway through the volume when I need to look up a symbol--and I certainly can't run back to volume 1 when I'm in volume 3... I do intend to take some Hebrew to Seeing Eye with me, even if it's just supplementary stuff from the Logos library.

Logos... That is another topic. I bought Scholar's Library Gold last semester because I thought it would be a good resource to have on hand. It is a wonderful resource, but Libronics Digital Library software is only partially accessible with JAWS. Logos could make it better, but they seem to be a bit cool on the idea. I suppose it would mean changing things they just don't want to change. It's so close that I keep thinking it couldn't be that hard.

Anyway, I've managed to export some pages from some items. It is a tedious process, but it is doable. I'm hoping that with this method I might be able to access the Hebrew grammars. The key to testing the theory will be having my nifty little chart handy. I did find out that since JAWS will handle Hebrew in Unicode in Windows NT, it should also do it in XP Pro. I'm glad now that I bought XP Pro and upgraded my license.

I need to instal a Hebrew keyboard and see if I can produce Hebrew characters and read my own writing on the braille display. Again, it depends on having my little chart handy so that I can interpret the symbols and determine that the display is translating the characters on the screen correctly--and then that I am typing correctly.

Tomorrow's meeting is at 3:00. We planned to test JAWS and the keyboard and Logos at that time... I don't think that I can realistically get the chart done. Maybe it will help if I just make a note of the fact that the alphabet chart is on braille p. 25 (print p. XXII) and the vowel chart is on braille p. 32 (print p. XXV). I will not be out of volume 1 for a while, so I should have at least a week to do this. I do need to keep copious notes and make good user of Duxbury.

I hope that I will have time and energy to do a good bit of reflecting on this learning process. For one thing, I discovered last semester that I am most definitely a reflective learner and that I don't do well without reflection time. For another thing, I want to provide other people with the resources to make successful study of biblical languages possible for students with disabilities. Finding out how to do this myself has been a difficult task. I don't think that anyone has meant to be intentionally vague when talking to me. I think that it is difficult for a lot of people to communicate specifically about what is needed in order to make technology work in this arena, and knowledge of resources for teaching is extremely limited. So I have been responsible to do my own research, educate myself about how to make my technology work with language materials, etc. Fortunately, I have some educational and vocational background that has proved useful in this process.


Sarah Blake LaRose
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