With its right-to-left writing system and a curious-looking square alphabet, modern Hebrew seems to be a challenging language to learn at first glance. And although it certainly has some novelty elements (like every other language), there’s an abundance of fantastic reasons why you should learn Hebrew!
Don’t let linguistic anxiety cause you to avoid learning this age-old language! To learn Hebrew is much easier than many people tend to believe. But to prove this and highlight the benefits of learning Hebrew, we first need to take a deeper look at the origins of the language!
Understanding the Hebrew Language
Hebrew is an ancient yet modern language with an amazing history. Its unbroken literary tradition dates back more than 3,000 years, making it a prime example of a classic language revived as a living language.
Although you’ll have a greater potential to connect with the Jewish people and culture of Israel when you learn Hebrew, that’s not the only benefit. Once you gain a deeper understanding of the language and start speaking it, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for its long history.
It’s Hebrew’s revitalization, modernization, secularization, and transformation as a spoken culture that offers its speakers so many opportunities to explore ancient traditions. And when you learn Hebrew, you also understand how the language sustained communities all across the world.
More than 5 million people are native speakers of the language. Globally, some 9 million people speak and understand Hebrew. Before the language was revitalized, it was a community connector for Jewish people that now highlights a language’s ability to unite people across space and time.
Hearing Hebrew being spoken might sound a little intimidating to speakers of other languages, but once you start learning the language of the ancient times, it pays off in so many ways!
What are the Benefits of Learning the Hebrew Language?
Now that you know a little more about the language, here’s a look at the most compelling reasons to learn Hebrew as soon as possible!
1. Modern Hebrew is One of the World’s Oldest Languages
Hebrew is an ancient language. This means that you’ll gain access to thousands of years’ worth of historical, philosophical, and poetic insights when you learn the language. The Hebrew alphabet is at least 4,000 years old, and the fact that it’s still a living language should be proof enough of its worth. Many Hebrew words got mistranslated through the ages, but this Semitic language has withstood the test of time.
2. Hebrew Almost Went Extinct
If you’re somewhat of a history buff, you know that Jews were exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem. And it was during this time that spoken Hebrew almost died out since Aramaic was slowly replacing it. The Bar Kohhba revolt in 132 A.D. further promoted the decline in the use of Hebrew as the Romans suppressed the uprising and Jews spread out all over the world.
In most cases, the Jews acclimated to the languages of the areas they moved to after the revolt. But all this changed when Jews started returning to Palestine. It was then that Eliezer ben Yehudah started reviving the spoken language. To cut a long story short, Hebrew became one of Palestine’s official languages in 1952, and the rest, as they say, is history.
3. Learning Hebrew the Key to Understanding Classic Renditions of the Bible and the Hebrew Alphabet
Learning Biblical Hebrew is especially important for theology students. The majority of the Bible was originally written in classic Hebrew, which is where modern Hebrew stems from. Learning Hebrew gives you the key to understanding word meanings without the need for a written, modern Hebrew translation. This is one of the most significant drawcards that gets people into the idea of studying Hebrew. Especially within the Christian communities.
The Torah is also written in Hebrew, and when you know the language, you have access to thousands of years of historical and philosophical texts. There really isn’t any better way to fully appreciate Jewish prayer and rituals than understanding it on a linguistic level and having an authentic experience in that way.
4. Hebrew is the Foundation of Jewish Identity
Hebrew is known as a holy language among Semitic languages. An ancient text says that “v’romam’tanu m’kol ha’lishonot” – God elevated the Jewish people above other languages. Abraham, Moses, and King David all spoke Hebrew. And according to prophet Zephaniah, Hebrew will become a primary global language in the future. It is said that Hebrew expresses a particular mentality that highlights just how backward Western concepts can be when you look at them from a Torah perspective.
5. It’s the Root of America’s Founding
Harvard and Princeton (along with America’s other original institutions of higher learning) made Hebrew and Bible study part of their curriculum. The Yale seal still depicts “Urim V’Tumim,” an ancient Hebrew item worn in the Holy Temple. Bot Columbia University and Dartmouth have seals that feature the Jewish name for God.
The founding fathers of America were also well-versed in Hebrew. They quoted the Bible more than any other book. In fact, one of them considered designating Hebrew as America’s official language at one stage.
6. Learning Hebrew is Beneficial for Business & Technology
The Hebrew language is becoming more and more relevant in the international economy. As such, so is the Jewish culture. Thus, there are pragmatic benefits to learning the language as Israel’s influence on the international markets continues to grow.
Israel is renowned for its technological developments and gas the third-largest number of companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange. The country is a global leader in Research & Development spending and Venture Capital investments. It’s also home to global R&D centers like IBM, Apple, and Google. Doesn’t it make sense to invest in Hebrew language learning to truly understand Israeli culture?
7. It’s Beneficial for Anyone in Governmental Careers
Hebrew is a desirable language for anyone looking to enter the governmental career field. Specifically in areas like intelligence, diplomacy, and the military. Many agencies and departments of the United States government value Hebrew as an essential language, and many even offer scholarships and grants to students pursuing the Hebrew language.
8. Learning Hebrew Makes Traveling More Fun
Israel is a popular destination for tourists. The country is steeped in intriguing history, archaeology, and religious sites. It also features some breathtaking beaches and a modern food scene that is renowned across the world. Travelers that are proficient in the Hebrew language can venture beyond the beaten path of tourist attractions and immerse themselves in a cultural experience much more authentic than a group itinerary. Many Israelis are also more welcoming toward tourists if they showcase their language skills, even if it’s just beginner Hebrew.
9. It’s an Exciting Challenge to Take On
ACTFL rates the modern Hebrew alphabet and dialect as the third most challenging language for native English speakers to learn. This means it’s more challenging than it would be to learn a language like Spanish or German. In fact, it’s about on par with the difficulty of learning Russian or Turkish but less challenging than learning Arabic or Chinese. This can be an exciting intellectual challenge to take on. The rewards? It promotes positive brain development, might help combat mental health disorders, and even extend your life!
10. Personal Reasons
We’ve given you nine fascinating benefits of learning the modern Hebrew language, but none of them are as motivational as your personal reasons for learning the language. Although some of these might resonate with you, the reasons for learning Hebrew we listed here will never trump your personal motivators. We all have our own personal reasons to learn languages, and learning Hebrew might just be something that helps you gain a better understanding of the world around you.
Learning modern Hebrew is an excellent investment in your career and own mental health, but it also gives you access to an era that our modern world seems to have forgotten. Although it might not be the easiest language to learn if you’re a native English speaker, you’ll be happy to know that English contains a lot of Hebrew loan words that can help make things easier for you!
Sitting at the heart of Jewish life and Israeli culture, Hebrew is one of the very few surviving ancient languages that has almost become a culture in its own right. With so many incredible benefits to learning this language, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
About the author:
Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Interpreting, a phone interpreter services provider.