Learning through Language: Learning Hebrew at Beth Tfiloh
“Learning Hebrew is a blast!” exclaimed a third grader in the midst of Beth Tfiloh Lower School’s recent Yom Hasafa, Hebrew Language Day.
This festival, a celebration of modern Hebrew language, radiated the joy children feel when learning a second language. They heard stories in Hebrew, acted in skits while speaking Hebrew, created signs for their bedroom doors in Hebrew, and danced to music with Hebrew lyrics.
For Jewish children, learning Hebrew offers the keys to both the ancient traditions of their religion as well as life in modern day Israel. Their knowledge and facility with their second language grows with daily instruction, which is reinforced with delightful games, songs and stories.
One Nation, One Language Yom Hasafa celebrates the birthday of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew. “His dream was to make Hebrew the national language of Israel, the Jewish people’s homeland -- one community with one language,” explained Mrs. Ina Krief, Lower School Hebrew language coordinator. Ben-Yehuda created the Hebrew language dictionary, filling it with modernized versions of Hebrew words sourced from ancient texts, or adapting words from other languages, like transforming the Italian gelato into the Hebrew glidah.
“We wanted to bring this celebration to Beth Tfiloh to show our students that Hebrew is a living language that is still evolving – people are still inventing new words,” said Mrs. Krief. “The goal is to show kids where modern Hebrew came from, and the differences between ancient and modern Hebrew, but that we are still connected to our ancient language.”
The Benefits of Language Learning “Elementary-age children derive many benefits from learning to speak, comprehend, read, and write in a second language,” explained Lower School Principal Dr. Susan Holzman. Educational research shows that those who learn another language are more creative, have more proficient mental flexibility, and have better problem-solving and critical reasoning skills. Additionally, children who learn another language are more adept at multi-tasking and have better focus and attention.
Many adults studied a new language in their high school years. We used to believe that learning another language in early years slowed or confused children’s facility with their first language. But current research now proves this belief wrong: learning another language in early childhood has significant advantages.
“Until about eight years old, children often learn to speak like a native without an accent. Their brains have an innate ability to distinguish between sounds and pronunciations; this ability fades with the onset of puberty,” Dr. Holzman said. “Now we know that the younger children are when exposed to another language, the easier it is for them to learn it.”
Exploring Cultures – Including Our Own Learning a second language in preschool or elementary school has benefits beyond learning and brain development. Research tells us that children who learn another language have more positive attitudes about other cultures. While learning the language, they also learn the foods, music, celebrations, and history of other places in the world. Beyond this, children develop an appreciation for the challenges of hearing and speaking in a language that is not their first one. This, in turn, develops empathy and a kinder view of those who are different.
“As the children acquire reading and writing skills in Hebrew they also develop a connection to their heritage through the language,” commented Mrs. Krief. “By teaching songs, performing skits, celebrating life cycle events and holidays, both modern, like Yom Hasafa, and ancient. Here at Beth Tfiloh, we cultivate a real concrete connection to our heritage that goes beyond the written text by creating an environment of fun hands-on experiences with a strong connection to Israel and the modern Hebrew language.”
So, studying Hebrew in the early years at Beth Tfiloh has benefits for children’s brain development, attention, creativity, and empathy. With it, they unlock the doors to the rich traditions of Judaism and life in today’s Israel. Besides, learning Hebrew is a blast…just ask any third grader!