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I have heard it said more than once that there are advantages to gaining a basic fluency in Modern Hebrew before attempting Biblical Hebrew. Getting comfortable with text decoding, basic vocabulary, some grammar in context to a living language gives you a huge leg up on ancient forms, is how the argument usually goes. Basically like studying Shakespearean English if you already know Modern English.

Has this been proven to be more effective than immediately jumping into Biblical Hebrew (or any other older form of a language?)

Any other recommendations on learning Hebrew in Biblical or Modern form?

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    Are you interested in learning and using Modern Hebrew, or do you only consider it as a possible stepping stone towards learning Biblical Hebrew? – michau Nov 19 '16 at 11:40
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    @michau yes on both accounts. I'm looking at it as a gateway language but I also occasionally run into people who speak MH. – Hashamyim Nov 19 '16 at 13:06
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    Anecdote only, but I've found that studying Shakespeare and the King James Bible (16th/17th century English) is helpful in understanding Chaucer (14th century English), so it makes sense that starting with a "waypoint" that is part way to your target can be helpful. – Robert Columbia Nov 19 '16 at 13:31
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    @Hashamyim OK, so I understand that your question is about learning order: you want to learn both MH and BH, and you're unsure which one should be learnt first. I imagine answers could be different if you didn't have much interest in speaking MH. – michau Nov 19 '16 at 17:21
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    @Hashamayim Your premise is correct, from what I have heard. "Knowing" Biblical Hebrew aka loshon kodesh will offer you not very many advantages in acquiring Modern Hebrew, particularly for speaking purposes. But the reverse is not true; Modern Hebrew will indeed get you most of the way toward "knowing" Biblical Hebrew for general purposes. – SAH Dec 15 '16 at 7:24
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I'm an Hebrew native speaker, not a teacher nor a linguistic expert. I love learning new languages, a hobby I only "discovered" after age 35.

I can tell you as a language learner and as a Hebrew speaker that starting with the biblical Hebrew is much harder as you will not only have to learn uncommon sentence structures but also way more "passive" constructions which is a bit more opposite and not very common in modern Hebrew.

Moreover, moving forward from Biblical to modern Hebrew is, from my own eyes, seems like a very hard, nearly impossible task. I imagine my kids do that with tears in their eyes.

Going the other way around, reading biblical Hebrew after learning the modern version, at least some of it, will feel a bit awkward at first but you will definitely understand a lot.

I do find the English bible translation a bit "far" from the original, whereas it feels like the translation is more for the meaning and not sentence-by-sentence translation.

Pay attention that there are several layers of meaning in the original text. The translation cannot explain them all. you should know that when you read the translation.

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I'm an European and my native language is part of the Romance family of languages. I wasn't born in a bilingual family.

Still, I've been studying MH for some years in University and I agree that there are advantages to gaining a basic fluency in MH before attempting BH. Why?

  1. You'll get used with the Hebrew script, an issue which concerns reading. Reading is very important if you plan to study the Bible/Tanakh, etc.
  2. You'll get used with the Hebrew pronunciation of all the important characters, places and items in the Bible/Tanakh, etc.
  3. You'll learn the Modern and simplified form of the BH, including vocabulary, expressions, grammar, etc.
  4. You'll be able to communicate with and study works of Israeli specialists and experts of Judaism, etc.

P.S.: Learning on your own will take more time and it will be more difficult. Try to find some teacher, online or IRL. I've been learning from this book, but taught by an academic from my University. https://www.amazon.com/Hebrew-Scratch-Part-HaHatchala-HaChadash/dp/B0035G8WME

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As a fellow Hebrew learner, I would recommend that you focus on whichever language interests you. There is absolutely no need to learn Modern Hebrew in order to learn Biblical Hebrew, and vice versa, as there are separate study materials for each.

But if you are equally interested in learning both, then I would start with learning the basics of Modern and then start adding Biblical into your studies. There are many similarities between Modern and Biblical. This concept is somewhat similar to learning Arabic dialect and MSA - in the end, they are simply two separate languages with some overlap.

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As a general rule, learning a foreign language to a descent level is a difficult and lengthy process (we are talking about years of study here). Thus, learning one language in order to be able to learn another faster is largely a waste of time. There is an important caveat though: some langauges have a lot more resources available in terms of textbooks, classes, reading materials, and the quality thereof. Thus, one may prefer to learn Russian before attacking other Slavic languages or one may have easier time learning Spanish before trying to learn Catalan, etc.

Either point is hard to make for Modern and Biblical Hebrew, since the two are indeed very close and knowing one impies being able to understand the other to a great extent. I would suggest considering the following points:

  • There are perhaps more resources for learning Biblical Hebrew (as a non-Hebrew speaker) than for learning modern Hebrew. Hebrew has been an important langauge for Christianity over the centuries, and there are excellent textbooks written for native speakers of various languages. On the other hand, the target audience for Modern Hebrew are mainly the immigrants to Israel, and only for about a hundred years. There are some very good books, but compared to the amount of textbooks for such mainstream languages as Spanish, German or French, this number is clearly lacking, especially when it comes to the advanced levels.
  • On the other hand, the reading resources for Modern Hebrew are readily available in the form of newspapers, tv programs, books, blogs, etc. The use of Biblical Hebrew is mainly limited to religious texts, which are not everyone's point of interest. (This is unlike Latin or Greek, where many other types of literature are available.)
  • Grammar of Biblical Hebrew has been well classified and analyzed, so learning it may appeal to a nerdy or scientific mindset (as it appeals to me). But it also may be a drawback for more intuitive learners.
  • One does not need to speak Biblical Hebrew and one does not need to master it to fluency. One is even unlikely to have to write it. There is a great gap between mastering passive skils (reading and listening) and fluency (writing and speaking), which is the standard for knowing a live language.
  • Biblical Hebrew is fully vocalized, which facilitates reading. This is rarely the case for Modern Hebrew.

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