Bringing Hebrew to the Masses

by Chris Quah

The Hebrew language may seem like a complicated jumble of scrawls to the uninitiated. Stephen Ng, co-author of the book ‘Where Is Pastor Raymond Koh?”, is out to prove that the language isn’t as hard to learn as it looks. Our writer Chris Quah reviews the book.

If you have ever seen Hebrew words, you might just assume they are just a bunch of lines that are simply scribbled in different directions. Either that or that they are just another form of script almost like Chinese writing. However, in reality, Hebrew isn’t anything like that but is its own unique language.

Stephen Ng believes that there is a logical system to the Hebrew language, and in his book, “You Can’t Read Hebrew? Let me Prove You Wrong” also wants to prove this to the reader too. Going beyond that, he aims to make Hebrew accessible to the masses, and not just to the select few consisting of Bible Scholars and Theology or Seminary Students.

Stephen dives into the lessons by introducing the readers to the First Four Letters of the Alphabet. These alphabets are Aleph, Beth, Gimmel, and Daleth.  Just like any language, it can be very challenging at first, but Stephen helps by comparing the pronunciations of these Hebrew alphabets with that of the everyday words we use.

An example of this is how he explains that Aleph may look like a capital N but is written more like an X. And the h in Aleph is silent, just like the English word Hour.  More humorous and Malaysian reference comparisons such as Ayin which he compares to the Chinese girl-next-door Ah Yin can be found on other alphabets later on.

Using these layman terms instead of academic high-sounding ones makes the book less intimidating to the public. One does not have to be an academician to understand the lessons. Each chapter also consists of just a few pages, making it short and easy reading. This is important as the lessons become more challenging when the chapters on Niqquoads, Mnemonics, Phonetics, and the different intonations in Hebrew begin.

Furthermore, Stephen has managed to aid the readers by cleverly incorporating QR codes into his book. Far more than just reading the book, one can also scan the code to go to online sites which showcase Hebrew music in regards to a certain alphabet or lesson or a Hebrew lesson that beginners can enjoy, as they were made simple enough and catered to be easily understood even by children. This not only makes things interactive but also saves time for the reader who does not have to browse around the internet in search of resources.

Stephen’s style of writing is also refreshing as he puts in encouraging messages here and there, as well as gives God the glory when it comes to certain benchmarks of a lesson. This encourages the reader to move on to the next lesson.

The entire book is 76 pages, and so if you do at least two pages a day, it would be done in two months. It is not recommended to finish the book in one sitting as there is more than just the alphabet to learn. Sentence structures, the different intonations, the guttural letters, and so on need time and understanding to digest.

Once you are done with the lessons in the book, you can test yourselves with the short homework which Stephen has prepared, such as sections where you can do some easy Hebrew exercises like reading Bible verses written in Hebrew. (No English words in these sections, as this is a real test of how much you have managed to master.)

As such, the entire book helps make Hebrew a little more palatable for the beginner, and his approach of linking Hebrew to that of everyday common things and words helps readers recall and remember Hebrew easier. It is also very good that Stephen has put in very localised comparisons, as it helps the local readers to get the gist of what is trying to be imparted by the Hebrew language and its meaning.

In conclusion, I found that this book is a valuable help in exposing beginners to the Hebrew language, proving that it is not an impossible language, but one that can be learned if we persistently take the time to do so.  As Stephen also mentions, learning a new language helps to develop the brain. Learning Hebrew also helps us to see the Bible in a different light, within its cultural context, and where the words in it originate from along with the proper meanings.

If you want to know the basics of Hebrew, this would be the book to pick up as it combines the best of both worlds; the traditional ink but also takes advantage of digital resources. Additionally, it is written in a very easy to understand Malaysian style, with simplicity and uncomplicated approach that even young children would have no problem understanding.

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