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I didn't have the opportunity growing up to learn Hebrew. My goal is to be able to sight-read the Hebrew in Torah. I have taken several classes in grammer and syntax, and my vocab is moderate. What is the best way to take what I've learned and actually learn to sight-read? Any approach will involve much practice and devotion, obviously. That said, what is the best approach?

I'm also interested to know how many out there can actually do this. Setting aside the learning one does specific to their bar mitzvah portion, how does one become a successful today reader?

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Welcome to Mi Yodeya. When you say "sight-read", do you mean reading the unpointed text with comprehension, or something else? (And are you including trope as part of this? That is, when you say "read torah" do you mean leining, or do you mean sitting down with the text and understanding it but not doing a public reading?) –  Monica Cellio Jan 19 '14 at 2:54
By sight-read I mean reading the Torah in personal reading with pointed text and being able to understand. Not for congregational canting. –  noobie1 Jan 19 '14 at 3:23
Sign up for this site: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/36772/… –  McGafter Jan 20 '14 at 9:29

3 Answers 3

Reading Hebrew isn't any different than reading English. It's just a different language. If you have taken classes in grammar and you have a moderate vocabulary, you should already be able to start. Obviously you will have to add to your vocabulary over time, but you can ask someone or use a dictionary when you come to a word you don't know.

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Reading Hebrew is slightly different than reading English. The "science" of grammar has a way of measuring the depth of languages. See here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthographic_depth (as much as this article groups English and Hebrew together in terms of their depth, when I was a master's student we were taught that Hebrew is deeper). This doesn't affect the answer, but is important to know so you don't get discouraged! –  YeZ Jan 19 '14 at 0:59
I disagree entirely Daniel. If it were that easy I'd already be doing it after 2 years of grammar courses. –  noobie1 Jan 19 '14 at 3:31
@noobie1 Perhaps I don't understand what you are asking. If you know grammar and you know vocabulary, then you can read. The more you practice, the more your vocabulary will grow. But as far as reading goes, there isn't anything to learn besides grammar and vocabulary. If you have indeed taken two years of grammar classes and your vocabulary is moderate, that should be enough to start reading. Perhaps you could clarify what exactly you are having difficulty with? Is it figuring out what tense a word is in? What the shoresh of a word means? Something else? –  Daniel Jan 21 '14 at 20:37
@YEZ I am sure that without vowels Hebrew is indeed deeper than English, but with a pointed text, the pronunciation is more easily derived from the spelling in Hebrew than in English. –  Daniel Jan 21 '14 at 20:47
@Daniel Orthographic depth is affected by more than how hard it is to pronounce the letters. Grammar rules (and exceptions) play a big part. Sight-reading means recognizing the words by seeing them, which can be difficult in a language with words with so many syllables and words that "look" different depending on the tense, gender, and pronouns associated with them, which are incorporated into the word itself (hence the orthographic depth). –  YeZ Jan 21 '14 at 20:52

There is a mitzvah to review the parsha that will be read on the following Shabbos twice in Hebrew and once in “Targum”. See this OU article for more information.

Could you consider starting this with a few pesukim and slowly building up to the whole parsha?

There is an OU shiur on this which (if you can get along with the pronunciation of the Hebrew) could be a useful resource.

This should develop your ability to sight-read the Torah in Hebrew.

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This is helpful. The OU shiur may help me along. My practice up to this point has been to take short sections (maybe 10-15 pesukim) and read through several times with audio assistance from machon mamre if necessary. Then I go back and start to dissect meaning. –  noobie1 Jan 19 '14 at 3:30
I have heard mixed opinions on relying on interlinear layouts too much vs parsing verbs effectively, etc. Some opinions seems to put MUCH emphasis on needing to know and and be able to work with the complex mechanics of grammer before reading. The other side says you can learn to read without being a master at grammar (which makes sense to me since I naturally acquired my first language this way and after taking several grammar classes my reading had not progressed greatly). My goal is simple. Read Torah, understand Torah, with progressively less need for english translations. –  noobie1 Jan 19 '14 at 3:30

As a Torah reader for about 25 years, my advice may sound somewhat unconventional, so accept this as my own method that worked for me. It may or may not work for you.

First, learning Hebrew vocabulary and grammar is certainly a good and important start. But, you should also learn Biblical Hebrew, as its grammar is markedly different from "Modern" Hebrew. Most notably, the Torah uses "Vav Hahipuch" which is a method of adding a vav to the beginning of a verb that "flips" a future verb to past and past tense to future. This is one of a few examples where Biblical grammar may be different from modern Hebrew.

It is not necessary to know the meanings of every word in the Torah, but a fairly strong command of grammatical rules will help tremendously in Torah reading. It's not necessary, but it is a big help. It's not 100% required as you could read a Torah portion without knowing the meaning of any words - just by memorizing what to read. But, if you know the meaning, it will help with the verse's grammar. The trope (notes) is primarily for grammatical purposes - not just to sing them.

(When I read, I'm sometimes unsure of the trope. But, since I understand, mostly, what I'm reading, I can tell that if I group certain words with the wrong trope, the sentence meaning may change, or it won't make sense at all. Certain notes have pauses, similar to a comma in a sentence. If you pause (comma) in the wrong place, you change the sentence's meaning or it doesn't make sense.)

It is essential that you practice recognizing Torah script - the shape of the letters in the Torah is significantly different from standard Hebrew font. This may sound trivial, but in my shul, I have a majority of people that have no problem at all reading from a siddur or Chumash, but only about 5 people can read Torah lettering. Along with that, it also helps to have a good vocabulary of most common Hebrew words and know how to read them without vowels. This second skill is not 100% necessary for Torah reading, but it will ease the challenge.

Next, is trope. I've seen almost every Bar Mitzvah teacher teach the names of the trope and how they sound, prior to combining the trope with the actual Torah words. Unless the Bar Mitzvah boy will become a continuous Torah reader, this is a waste of time, IMO. In your case, however, this skill is valuable, but also not 100% necessary.

OK, HOW do you learn trope?

I learned in a pre-computer era. I sat in shul and listened carefully to the Torah reader and followed the notes in the Chumash with listening carefully to the reader. I would focus on a few notes each week until I felt comfortable, then I would focus on another group of notes.

Eventually, when I got all the notes and sounds down, I used a Tikkun - which is a book used for studying the Torah reading. Each page has 2 columns - the right side having the font and verses as they appear in the Chumash (in "regular" Hebrew) and the left column with how it looks in the Torah scroll. From there, it's memorizing. Do a few verses at a time - start with the normal type column and "test" yourself reading from the Torah column. Of course, the more often you practice, the easier it becomes. Keep in mind, that after all these years, I have pretty much memorized the entire Torah.

There are, now, several good computer Torah reading programs available. One of the best ones is called Trope Trainer. I use it, mainly, to print the weekly parsha sheets and I study the parsha during my daily commute. However, I think it is a great disk for a new learner. You can adjust the speed and pitch "level" (tenor / baritone / bass, etc.) to your liking. There are even several "accent" options (Israeli , various Hassidic styles, etc.) I also like that it has an option that lets you click just one word at a time so you can hear it sung with the note, or go a whole verse or an entire section at a time. This is excellent for reviewing. The disc also has separate tutorials that practice just notes and note "groups" (certain notes commonly appear together).

Supp: See @Shokhet's comment, below this answer. I should have researched this linked answer, myself (too much pre-Shabbat soup made me lazy :-) There's much good practical advice there!

I know I gave a lengthy answer, and, again, my method has several ideas that, hopefully, will work for you. If you can find a Torah reader or some other similar mentor to help you, that would be wonderful. And, remember that the mentor can be online as well. Skype works quite well!

I commend your efforts and wish you success. The population of good precise professional Torah readers, I think, is diminishing these days.

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/92/5323 –  Shokhet Dec 26 '14 at 18:30

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