Trends in education come and go. Some trends are good, others, well...not so much. One big trend in Hebrew education is the immersion method, i.e., teaching students how to read and speak Hebrew through an immersion program, where the teachers ONLY speak to the students in Hebrew, not allowing any English in their classroom, not in conversation, not in the books, and not even on the classroom walls.
I want to make my position clear: Immersion style learning is useless, slow, and counter-productive. Before I explain our position, it is important to explain my three arguments:
Using our CAP IT!® program, we successfully taught 5 year old students to read in as little as 16 hours. We were convinced that day schools and religious schools would find these results to be of great interest. After all, most day schools take at least a year to teach students to read Hebrew, and religious schools take longer. To our great surprise, the reason some schools rejected our program was due to our use of visual mnemonics that were in English. I refer here to our Tactile Visual Mnemonics™. For example, to teach the letter Bet, we use an image of a Ball in a Box. (See our Imagery Triangle™ on the right. We provide these Tactile Visual Mnemonics™ for every sound in the Hebrew language). It took us some time to precess this. They liked our program, they believed our results, but they refused to use it in your school because it used visual mnemonics that were in English? How could this be? We were under the impression that when something worked (and the price was right), it should be used. If we can teach kids to read more efficiently, at a faster pace, and more accurately than with other methods, why would some schools not use our product?
What we discovered was that the culprit preventing some schools from even considering using our CAP IT!® program had a name. It was IMMERSION. These schools, found it unacceptable to bring any English words or images into their Hebrew classrooms. They only spoke to kids in Hebrew. Using our program — they felt — would compromise their full immersion method.
As an anecdote, when visiting one of these schools, the principal was eager to show me the classroom and the students. When we entered the class, the principal (a good friend of mine) called the teacher over with a couple of the children, both 6 years old, who have been learning Hebrew for an entire year in that day school. The teacher showed some words to the kids, asking them to read the words. Word after word, attempt after attempt, the children failed to read. They were simply guessing. Feeling bad for the students, and embarrassed for my principal friend, I finally turned to the teacher, and said to her: “These Hebrew words have no vowels. Let’s give the students words with vowels, maybe it will be easier for them.” To which the teacher replied: “Oh no! I do not teach reading with vowels. I want the children to read the entire word all at once. Not sound by sound. This is my personal philosophy, and this is how I do it in my classroom.” I was shocked. It was then that I realized what was one of the biggest hurdles to Hebrew literacy: IMMERSION.
NO ONE HAS EVER LEARNED ANYTHING THROUGH IMMERSION!
Any one who disagrees with the above statement lacks a basic understanding of how man acquires knowledge. There are no such things as “innate ideas” (ideas that are hard-wired into our human brain), and while man does posses a natural instinct, this instinct only offers basic functions, such as fear of noise and a reaction to pain and discomfort. But instinct is not a source of knowledge. Our instinct will not even tell us which mushrooms we should eat in the wild, and which are poisonous.
All knowledge ever possessed by any man who has ever lived, was acquired though the use of the mind. First the individual must focus on reality and begin identifying objects. Later these objects will be grouped into concepts, filed into organized groups, and stored into memory, ready to be recalled when needed. This is true when learning to use a spoon, ride a bike, basic math, and raising children, etc.
Even learning our first language requires a conscious focus, and an active storage of information. This is why it takes so long for kids to learn their first language — and even when children are finally able speak — they have the vocabulary of a 3 or 4 year old, which is quite small relative to what they will later learn in school. This is because little children miss out on one, or all of these steps. They don’t focus. And even when they do focus, they do not identify. And even when they do focus and identify, they don’t make a conscious note to file the information. Not so with an adult, who can master a new language at great speed. This is because an adult will focus on the words he wants to identify and memorize. (Should the adult use these new words regularly, he will be proficient in his new language, without ever forgetting it.)
To repeat: No one has ever learned anything through immersion. All human knowledge is conceptual, which requires the active, and volitional use of one’s conceptual faculty. Therefore, all knowledge must be acquired though focus, identification, and a proper conceptualization of the material.
The above is true about all of learning. But it is even more pronounced when it comes to the most basic and important human activity ever invented: Literacy. Reading and writing is the mother of all human knowledge. It marks the beginning of human history not only because history could finally be written down, but because the written word is the concrete version of the human ability to form, and communicate, concepts. The notion that we can teach children how to read through immersion is no different than expecting a monkey looking over Shakespeare's typewriter to eventually type out his own Shakespearian play. Children who are not taught directly, will never learn anything (unless the child is advanced enough to focus and recreate the process on their own, a feat few children can accomplish).
As a mental exercise, imagine if pilots were taught how to fly planes through immersion. The same goes for architects, bus drivers, electricians, school principals, and Hebrew teachers, etc.
It is our opinion that when teaching students a foreign language, one must first teach simple decoding skills. The ability to read words in their original language offers the students a handle on these new words in concrete form. Once students can read Hebrew (Step 1), they can begin to learn the meaning of these new words, memorize them, and practice them often (Step 2). Once these words are memorized, students will learn to build phrases and sentences (Step 3). This idea is expressed in our Reading Circles:
The above Venn Diagram is a snapshot of our general and guiding philosophy in creating our CAP IT!® Hebrew Reading products and services. It is this basic philosophy that has enabled us to create a comprehensive Hebrew reading solution for schools. Our program is so effective that we are able to get every 5 year-old to read Hebrew, in just two months, roughly between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Here is how it works
One’s ability to read Hebrew with comprehension and fluency (represented by the big circle) depends on three elements (represented by the three smaller circles).
The first — and most important element — is strong Decoding Skills (represented by the top small circle). Without decoding skills, the student must guess, or resort to needless memorization of hundreds of sound combinations, or even thousands or words. Unfortunately, this all important skill, is often given short shrift because of various immersion methods, or just a lack of a coherent and purposeful curriculum. Our reading program (Level 2: Learn to Read Hebrew) tackles the Decoding element head on, ensuring that every child receives the tools to decode any word, with ease and confidence, in just a few short weeks.
After gaining proper decoding skills, the student can enhance their fluency and speed by adding Sight-Word recognition to their bag of tricks (represented by the small circle on the right). REMEMBER: Outside of Israel, where the student is not familiar with the Hebrew language, sight-words recognition is a serious problem. It is not easy memorizing words when one does NOT know their meaning. Nonetheless, if the student practices certain words often often and learns their meaning, these words will be stored in the student’s “Memory Word Bank” for easy and quick recall.
Our fluency program (Level 3: Read Fluent Hebrew, Siddur Edition) reinforces the decoding, while building a word-bank of 222 of some of the most common Siddur words.
The last step the student will use to enhance their fluency, is their ability of using language and context clues (represented by the small circle on the left). When the student is able to recognize the meaning of the sentence, or understand its context, fluency is naturally increased. This, of course, is the very last step in fluent reading, and the most inaccessible to non-Hebrew speakers.
We believe that it is inexcusable that children who learn Hebrew for over a year cannot decode Hebrew. It is cruel to expect from children to memorize “whole” words in Hebrew, instead of giving them the tools to decode them. And it is unacceptable that teachers teach children how to read WITHOUT vowels. It is our belief that the immersion method is hindering students from progressing in their Hebrew literacy, as well as their Hebrew language skills in general.
CAP IT!® offers a complete solution to Hebrew reading. We train, mentor, and support educators in their effort to teach Hebrew reading properly and painlessly. Please contact us with any questions regarding our products and services.