Learning to read Hebrew is one of the foundations of Jewish education. But it can be a chore for children.
Many of us will recall that stark parade of black letters against otherwise bare white pages at cheder.
But now a new digital programme will make the aleph-bet experience a lot more appealing. Designed by Jewish Interactive, the London-based education software designers, it consists of a series of animated sketches devoted to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
It contains songs, interactive exercises and more advanced stages so that by the end of the 24 chapters, users will not only be able to read three-to-four letter words but can also acquire a basic Hebrew vocabulary of 150 words, from ach (brother) to gelidah (ice-cream).
As well as being an aid for schools and chedarim, children can also practise at home and learn at their own pace. There is a downloadable booklet, too, so parents can help to guide them —and perhaps parents whose own Hebrew is shaky may be tempted quietly to overcome their inhibitions and take a step towards reading fluency.
The dialogue in each cartoon emphasises the sound of the particular letter so we meet zig-zagging zayin and naughty but nice nun.
Orah Soller, head of Jewish studies at Rimon School in Golders Green, says Ji Aleph Bet is “an exciting new resource, for children to use when reinforcing the sound and shape of a new letter. The best part is that the children don’t even realise they are learning, as they see it as a fun game on the iPad.”
Chana Kanzen, chief executive of Jewish Interactive, says the programme came after she was approached by a representative of the Michael Goulston Foundation. “He felt passionately that a lot of children coming up to bar- and batmitzvah couldn’t read Hebrew accurately — and with little or not understanding. I told him how I used to teach Hebrew when I was a teacher through stories.”
While online Hebrew learning programmes exist, often they are tailored for schools which use Ivrit b’Ivrit — Jewish studies taught in Hebrew — which is not usually the case in the UK. “Many of the resources are not suitable and can be quite overwhelming and intimidating,” she said.
The programme, she said, also includes “all the animated characters in a sticker pack — a collection — so children can use them to create their own games.”
Ji Aleph Bet, which is backed by the Goulston Foundation, comes in both American and UK versions — evidence of Jewish Interactive’s global reach.