Working with a local software company, two professors at the University of Washington have designed an interactive CD-ROM for learning Modern Hebrew. “Speak Hebrew!” was produced by SMiles Productions with the assistance of UW professor of Hebrew Naomi Sokoloff, and UW Hebrew instructor Monica Devens.
The “Speak Hebrew!” CD provides a “virtual” trip to Jerusalem where the player can experience the sights and sounds of the city. You “arrive” in Israel at the airport and catch a taxi to Jerusalem. You “take out” your map and choose what to do. Attend a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall? Buy fruit at the Mahane Yehuda market? Dine with friends at an outdoor café? At these and other locales, you interact with native speakers and learn practical, everyday conversation. A unique aspect of the program is that it allows the player to tailor conversations by gender.
The program helps the player practice listening, speaking and reading skills. Dialogue subtitles are provided on-screen. They show the Hebrew text, an English translation and transliteration (Hebrew written in English characters). These subtitles can be shut off, however, allowing the player to rely solely on listening comprehension. For those who want more in-depth knowledge, extended appendices provide more Hebrew vocabulary and basic grammar. For those who are learning to read, the alphabet is included along with pronunciation information.
A little “added extra” is the music section, where the player can listen to a sampling of popular music on the recorder accompanied by abstract pictures of Israel. The recorder is played by local musician Trudy Antolin. A selection of Psalms sung by another Seattleite, Cantor Boaz Pnini of Congregation Emanuel, completes the music section.
The voice talent for the CD was provided by Ran Feder, Asher Hashash, Talia Hirshenson, Amir Oryan, Itai Oryan, Shlomit Oryan, Sharon Perlin and Noam Shoresh. Additionally, Michelle Berry worked as editorial assistant.
Steven and Jill Miles are the owners of SMiles Productions. “We didn’t want to produce just another program of boring word lists. We produced a fun CD comparable to adventure games — Steve’s background is in gaming,” Jill said.
Naomi Sokoloff teaches Hebrew language and literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington. Her research covers a range of modern Jewish writing, with special attention to Israeli literature and culture. She served as Chair of the Jewish Studies Program at UW from 1997 to 2000.
Monica Devens has taught Hebrew for over 20 years, first at Pomona College, then at the Lehrhaus Judaica in the Bay Area, and most recently at the University of Washington. Her research on Hebrew has focused on pronunciation differences, and she is the author of the section on Modern Hebrew in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the World’s Major Languages.
“Speak Hebrew!” is available at Tree of Life Judaica and at the gift shops of the Mercer Island Jewish Community Center and Congregation Herzl-Ner Tamid. The program is designed for ages 10 through adults. It is not Macintosh compatible and works only on PC/IBM-compatible computers.