Basic Methods


Improving Chumash Skills

To help future Gemora skills

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  1. For quickly improving reading accuracy


  • To improve speed and confidence in reading
  •  two

  • Learning Chumash with Onkelos
  •  three

  • In-depth analysis of select words
  •  four




    A method for quickly improving reading accuracy


    This method is similar to the sight-sound system used to teach touch-typing by reducing recognition to an automatic reflex.


    Requirements are a stop-watch and a reading first primer such as Hamasores.


    1. Ask the talmid to read the / as fast as he can, timing him as he reads (average is around 9 - 12 seconds). He should read the names of the / - aleph, bais, vais, etc. Ask him now to repeatedly read over the / faster and faster until he cannot read it any faster. Time each go and note down the times. His speed should then be between 2.5 - 4 seconds.


    2. Now turn to a page of random-order / and repeat the process. This reading may take 15 - 20 seconds on the first go. Again, ask him to repeatedly read over the / faster and faster. Time each go and note down the times. Probably, as his speed increases he will begin to falter over certain letters and interchange some of them. Note down the interchanges.


    3. For example, he might say instead of , or he might call a as a . This indicates that he is confusing the letters because of the similarity in their shapes.


    4. He might say instead of or instead of . This indicates that he is confusing the letters because of the similarity in their sounds.


    5. Taking each weak letter in turn, go through the practice exercises in the book with the talmid, perhaps timing him with the stop-watch.


    6. The talmid should always be told his times and encouraged to go even faster and to beat his record. All times should be written down, to provide an objective record of progress.


    7. Repeat stages 1 and 2. Speed should increase and a new crop of mistakes will probably become apparent.


    8. Repeat stage 5 with the relevant letters, and so on, until the talmid reads all the letters accurately and at high speed.


    Some weak letters might improve immediately. Others might take longer to correct. Usually, the older the talmid, the more intensive the exercises need to be.


    The process can also be repeated for the vowelling.


    These exercises can be very tiring and may also build up stress in the reader. Do not hesitate to take a break and engage in some general chat so as to give the talmid a chance to relax and defuse.


    This process can be spread over several sessions. However, often, there is marked improvement in reading accuracy and speed after only one session. Some talmidim report increased awareness of and sensitivity to the letters which comprise the words they are reading. Others feel more relaxed and confident when reading.




    A method to improve speed and confidence in reading


    Select two clearly printed texts for the talmid to read. Some well-printed editions of Selichos or Kinos are suitable; the syntax is often a challenge for even the best reader so there is no shame for the poor reader if he stumbles. Also, there are no ta'amim which can confuse a poor reader when he reads Tehillim or some parts of tefilla. Select a passage which has no shaimos and which should take a good reader about two minutes to read.


    1. Ask him to read first one text and then the other text as fast as he can. Time his reading and note down the times.


    2. Select one of the two texts and ask him to repeatedly read the text as fast as he can, timing him and noting down the times, until he cannot read any faster.


    3. Now select a portion of the text which will take him around 15 seconds to read. The portion should be about one third from the beginning of the text. Ask him now to repeatedly read the portion, concentrating on perfect accuracy but increasing his speed. Again, time him and note down the timings.


    4. As his familiarity and confidence improve, his speed will increase until he reaches a limiting speed beyond which his time does not improve. This might be after twenty or thirty repetitions.


    5. Now ask the talmid to continue trying to read faster. Eventually, he will suddenly begin to increase his speed. This breakthrough might be preceded by a bad reading in which he seems to lose control and makes silly mistakes and reads slower and less accurately than usual. This sudden improvement indicates that he attained new, improved level of eye/brain/mouth co-ordination.


    6. Reinforce the improvement by a few more runs, noting the consistency of the new timings.


    7. Now ask the talmid to read the entire text as fast as he can. There should now be a significant improvement in speed, accuracy and confidence. He should repeat the readings until he cannot go any faster.


    8. Now ask him to read the other text (which he read only once at the very beginning of the session) as fast as he can. There should now be a significant improvement in speed, accuracy and confidence. This reading shows objectively that the talmid has indeed improved the efficiency of his reading.


    Sometimes the talmid is so tired by the end of the session that he finally reads slower than before. However, by the next day he will feel the improvement in his basic reading skills. Sometimes readers complain that they are now making more mistakes in their regular davening. This is because they have actually improved their reading ability and, as a result, they are now seeing mistakes, which previously went unnoticed.


    These two Methods A and B are selected from the author's Breakthrough to Dynamic Reading Self-Improvement which is devoted to exhaustively dealing with reading and allied problems. If those two methods do not help the talmid significantly, please refer to the above-mentioned book for details of how to screen for and correct problems in reading efficiency.




    An approach to learning Chumash with Onkelos


    Starting with B'raishis quickly builds up basic vocabulary and a feel for the grammar of Aramaic. The accounts of each day's creations automatically provide reviews of basic words while, at the same time, covering ground.


    1. Ask the talmid to translate the Onkelos into English using only the Hebrew for help. The Targum is sufficiently different from the Hebrew to preclude passive translation from the Hebrew.


    2. The talmid needs to think into each word and compare it with the Hebrew.


    3. After each sentence, ask the talmid random Aramaic words from that sentence and from previous sentences and ask him to translate them into English.


    4. If the talmid cannot work out a word from the Hebrew, he can refer to a reliable English translation, but he should realize that the English will only be a general guide since translations rarely translate word-for-word and Onkelos might be translating according to a different aspect to that of the English.


    The differences between the Hebrew and Targum Onkelos provide interesting points for discussion and for illustrating the roles and limitations of translations. Of course, it is always necessary to remember that Targum Onkelos was written with Ruach Hakodesh and sets the standard to which other translations must be compared.


    The sefer Yayin HaTov highlights every place where a Targum differs from the literal translation, translates the Targum back into Hebrew and sometimes explains the significance of the difference.


    Treasure Trail, designed for learning Hebrew and Aramaic and published by the author, is a work-book for quickly and easily picking up the basic vocabulary and grammar of Hebrew and Aramaic. The work-sheets help the talmid learn through parshat Lech Lecho devhis translation skills as he goes.




    In-depth analysis of select words


    When learning Chumash with Onkelos, some individual words should be analyzed into root, prefix and suffix. You can use pens of different colors allocating specific colors for specific functions. The talmid can build up a notebook of words analyzed into colors


    Compare words of Loshon Hakodesh with their Aramaic equivalent. Contrast the prefixes and suffixes and see how the Hebrew root converts into the Aramaic equivalent.


    Using this method, the talmid slowly develops an eye and ear for analyzing words into their constituent parts. He also learns to appreciate the significance and power of each letter in each word.


    Certain words which are commonly found in the Gemora can be noted and discussed. Often, Aramaic words when used in the Gemora are used colloquially and the talmid never sees the words used literally. Seeing the word used literally helps to anchor the various forms which the word can adopt when used in the Gemora.


    For example:


    And a river went out from Eden


    Braishis 2:10


    We can now focus onto the Aramaic word qwpn. From the Hebrew yotzo we can see that it means went out. So the root qwp refers to going out.


    Actually, qwp is used in many key words of the Gemora:-


    It is much easier to learn one root with five shades of meaning than to learn five unrelated words.



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