• Second Edition Flashcard Updates

    The second edition of the Picture Hebrew Flashcards is launching fall 2018. Read The Evolution of the Flashcards to see how the first edition of the cards came to be. This blog shows the latest improvements that make this valuable resource even better.


    Updated Illustrations

    One big improvement we made was to touch up every single illustration, darkening all the details to make the image pop more. This is one of the more dramatic improvements:

    ed. 1 “Esther answers the king”                               ed. 2


    There are about 40 illustrations that we redrew to make more realistic:

    ed. 1 “family”                                                                     ed. 2


    We received a lot of feedback from users in this last year, which led us to reconceptualize about 30 illustrations. Here are three examples.

    First, some users had trouble distinguishing between לִפְנֵי “before” and אַחַר “behind,” so we found a better way to show the spatial relationships of all prepositions (there are also separate cards for each preposition):

    ed. 1                                                                                   ed. 2


    Second, the original perspective for “you” and “he” was too similar, so we changed “he” in the second edition:

    ed. 1 “you”                                                                     ed. 1 “he”


    ed. 2 “you”                                                                   ed. 2 “he”


    Third, the picture for “water” looked like it could be “well,” so we simplified it:

    ed. 1 “water”                                                                  ed. 2



    Other improvements

    We centered the images centered on the printed cards.

    We corrected four minor typos on the card backs.

    We changed the order of the cards to match the revised Graded Reader’s Hebrew Stories (coming 2019).

    We reduced the 580 audio files to 417 by combining the matching flashcard forms and verb phrase files.

    We cleaned up the audio files and corrected four minor speaker errors.

    All of these changes for the second edition of the flashcards are included in the app package.

  • Using the Pile System on the Picture Hebrew Flashcard App

    One of the unique features of the Picture Hebrew Flashcards app is the pile system. Most flashcard apps use a learning-algorithm review system, which can make the user passive in the learning process. Our pile system enables self-evaluation, a key component of effective learning.

    We assume all of our users are mature learners who are able to take full ownership of the learning process. Part of that ownership is to self-evaluate your knowledge at each stage. Is the card known or unknown? And do the known cards require daily, weekly, or bi-weekly review? The motivated student will learn faster and retain knowledge longer through self-evaluation.


    Activating New Flashcards

    When you download the app and import the package, only the first chapter of five cards is automatically activated. To activate new flashcards, click the “Activate Chapters” tab on the home screen. Then scroll down and select whichever greyed-out chapter you want to activate. Any newly activated chapter will be imported into your “New” pile.


    Most chapters consist of fifteen flashcards. The default flashcard package is ordered according to the Graded Reader’s Hebrew Stories (coming 2019). However, we can make custom packages keyed to the order of any frequency-based vocabulary list upon request.


    Defining the Piles

    There are three default piles on the app. A newly activated chapter is imported into the “New” pile, because these are cards you haven’t learned yet.

    • New: unlearned flashcards that you should view 2x daily
    • Daily: learned flashcards that you should review 1x daily
    • Weekly: learned flashcards that you should review 1x weekly


    Learning a New Chapter of Cards

    In your “New” pile, I recommend you start learning the cards “backwards.” To do so, click “Settings” on the home screen. Once there, select the “Direction” to be “Back to Front.” Then all the cards will default with the Hebrew word as the “front,” and the picture as the “back.” If you are unsure of what a word means, click the “Information” (i) button to make sure you notice exactly what we tried to illustrate with each picture.

    Use the audio feature liberally as you toggle between the back and front of the card. Try to associate the oral and written word with the picture. Once you got it, move to the next card. Learn it, and try to guess both cards correctly before moving on. Continue until you can go through all the cards in the pile without getting one wrong, pronouncing the Hebrew out loud and trying to picture the front before flipping the card.


    Once you can get through the whole pile without making a mistake, take a break. Or, if at anytime you feel yourself stuck and getting frustrated, put the phone down.  After a few hours or a night of sleep, you will be energized and will have more success in learning. Optimally, you can go through the “New” pile in the morning and again in the evening each day.

    When you can go through the pile once without getting one wrong, push yourself the next time to go through the pile twice without an error. Randomize the pile between viewings. Once you think you have mastered “Back to Front,” switch the default “Direction” to go “Front to Back.” It is harder to produce the language by seeing a picture and saying the Hebrew word(s). But if you can do so, you have internalized the language.


    Moving to a Different Pile

    Once you think you have any one of the cards in the “New” pile learned, you can move it to a different pile. While viewing the card, click the “Pile” button (outlined below). The filled-in oval indicates which pile the card is currently in. Click the “Daily” oval to move the card. The pop-up window will automatically close, and the card will move from the “New” pile to the “Daily” pile.



    Working with Many Active Chapters

    Once you learn the first eight chapters, you will have over 100 cards divvied up in your piles. What is the optimal distribution of such a large set of flashcards? As a general rule, I work towards emptying my “New” pile, keeping my “Daily” pile capped at 30–45 cards I know well, and placing the remaining mastered cards in the “Weekly” pile.

    So with around 100 active cards, my goal would be to have about 70 in the weekly pile. But this starts to become a big pile. I suggest capping the weekly piles at 50–75 cards each. You can add new piles at the bottom of the “Piles” page by typing in something like “Weekly 2” and pressing “Submit.” When you have hundreds of flashcards active, you will want to have multiple weekly piles, and you should review each of them on a different day of the week. This way, you review no more than two piles (and no more than 100 cards) on any given day, even if you have all 400+ cards in working memory.



    Reviewing Most Effectively in the Pile System

    The idea behind the pile system is to spend only as much time as needed on each card in order to master it. The danger with this mindset is letting any cards slip through the cracks. Because this danger is real, I recommend moving a card back a pile whenever you get it wrong. If you guess a card wrong in a “Weekly” pile, move it to “Daily”; if you guess wrong in “Daily,” move it to “New.” And don’t make any excuses (e.g. “I wasn’t paying attention” “I drew a blank”). Be hard on yourself. Whenever you guess wrong, move that card back a pile.

    Conversely, don’t be afraid to move a card up a pile. In order to transfer memory from short-term to long-term, you need increasingly longer breaks between exposure. Push yourself, and if you can’t remember it after a day or a week, then you move it back a pile. Similarly, when you feel you have cards completely mastered, create a “Bi-weekly” pile.

    If you have any other tips or tricks with the pile system, leave a comment for others below.

  • Kickstarter for Flashcard App

    ***Update: We successfully raised $4,615 thanks to our 97 backers. The app is finished and available for purchase here.***

    We have been anticipating this for months. Finally, we have launched a Kickstarter project in order to build the Picture Hebrew Flashcard App. This is the culmination of at least 3,000 hours and three different editions of making uniquely-effective picture flashcards for personal or academic study of Hebrew.


    Kickstarter Fundraising Goal

    There are several fun rewards to choose from: including the app, the physical set of flashcards, and the Jonah picture book. We need to raise $4,200 by May 31st. For full transparency, here is the breakdown of where all the money will go:

    • $3,000 – paying the app developer
    • $800 – fulfilling rewards
    • $400 – paying Kickstarter host and card-processing fees


    App Features

    The app makes several improvements on our physical flashcards:

    • Cost: While the set of physical flashcards costs $50, we will be able to sell the electronic set of flashcards through the app for $20, making it highly affordable for anyone.
    • Convenience: No bulk from 420 flashcards. Instead, you can study on your phone any time, anywhere, with or without internet connection.
    • Audio: The app syncs all vocabulary recordings and 153 verb phrases perfectly to the flashcards. You can listen to a native Israeli while looking at the picture with the tap of a finger.
    • English notes: With no English on the cards themselves, currently a massive 87-page PDF houses the English Companion. Every entry has a definition, a verse and translation using the word, and a note on usage and extra forms. The app syncs each of these entries to its flashcard.
    • Multiple features: We avoid any one-size-fits-all learning algorithm for the app. Instead, we give you the ability to create “piles” based on how frequently you need to review. You can move a card from one “pile” to another as you master vocabulary. Also, you will be able to add your own note synced to a card–perhaps a mnemonic to help you remember the word.
    • Customizable decks: Most Hebrew grammars assign a frequency-based list of vocabulary words, just like our flashcards. With the app, we can create custom sets that match the vocabulary order of any grammar to be used in any Hebrew classroom.


    Kickstarter Project Description

    We are working with Adrian Roth from HisDesigns. Since he is one of our Hebrew students who has used physical flashcards, he is perfectly suited for this project. He will specifically tailor the app to maximize all the unique features of the Picture Hebrew Flashcards.

  • Picture Hebrew Flashcards Open Box with Illustrations on wooden table Why Picture Flashcards?

    After we completed edition 0.2 of the Picture Hebrew Flashcards, I sent several decks to Hebrew professors around the country to gage interest in the product. One excitedly wrote back with this endorsement: “Yes, I think students need to have access to this type of tool. Some are very visual and would learn faster with such a tool.” This is a good point that some students are visual learners while others are not. But there is good reason to believe that picture flashcards are the best tool for all learning styles in memorizing vocabulary.


    Reading is Visualizing

    Amy Vander Deen, who researches second-language acquisition, explains that fluent readers process written words as images: “Studies have shown that fluent readers process words as a single chunk — we see words as an image rather than a collection of individual letters. We only think about the letters when we are sounding out an unfamiliar word or questioning how to spell a word. Beginning readers process character-based writing systems, like Chinese, and alphabet-based writing systems, like English, differently. Fluent readers process them the same way — we see them both as images.”

    Fluent reading is an automatic process of seeing words and visualizing the meaning. Hebrew-English flashcards take students on a translation detour to arrive at meaning. A common approach trains students to go from the Hebrew word to a mnemonic to an English gloss before constructing the image, as represented below:

    These mental gymnastics make it impossible to develop any sense of reading fluency. In contrast, picture flashcards train students to make immediate connections for Hebrew words. Thus, from day 1 of Hebrew class, students can build language skills that will develop directly into fluent reading.


    Picture Superiority Effect

    Many studies claim that people are more likely to remember pictures than words. A recent study (Meijs et al. 2016) provides the most conclusive case yet for the picture superiority effect.

    This experiment tested children aged 5 to 16, and measured the delayed recall of nameable objects. They first presented the objects through one of three different modes: as pictures, as audio, or as text. Their results show that pictures have the greatest effect on recognition. What is striking is that this effect only increases with age.

    A lot of people think of pictures as childish. However, the picture superiority effect is strongest on adults. This is why we encourage more college and seminary professors to assign and quiz students on our Picture Hebrew Flashcards. It is the best vocabulary tool on the market.


    Dual-Coding Theory

    There is a well-worn theory that explains why pictures are so effective: dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971). Put simply, Paivio stated that humans have two processing systems: visual (pictures) and auditory (spoken words). Kirschner & Neelen (2017) clearly articulate how this theory applies to vocabulary acquisition: “In our brain, written and spoken words only get coded once, however images of words get coded TWICE, first visually, then verbally. . . . Images leave double and thus stronger traces in our brains.” Picture Hebrew Flashcards can uniquely promise long-term vocabulary retention.


    Picture Hebrew Flashcard App

    We are thrilled to announce that we are creating an app for the Picture Hebrew Flashcards. The app will enable us to provide affordable flashcards to anyone in the world. We will also be able to code the flashcards (100+ frequency) to match the vocabulary order of any Hebrew grammar.

    The app will not only make our flashcards more accessible but also more efficient and effective. More efficient, because we will link each entry from the 88-page English Companion PDF directly to each card. More effective, because according to dual-coding theory, our visual system codes both pictures and text as images. Currently, the physical flashcards have a picture on one side and text on the other. Without audio, this setup overwhelms the visual processing system.

    The brain only codes a picture twice when it is paired with audio. Right now, our 570 mp3 files must be stored on a computer or phone, disconnected from the physical cards. Our app will combine audio and visual input for powerful, memorable learning. Finally, users will be able to conveniently listen to a native Israeli while viewing the pictures any time, any place–with the tap of a finger.

  • Picture Hebrew Flashcards laid out on a wooden table Quizzing Students on Picture Hebrew Flashcards

    “Students can’t simply sketch pictures on the vocabulary quizzes that I give them,” one professor said to me after I suggested he assign picture flashcards in his class. He didn’t see how he could measure his students’ knowledge if they learned vocabulary from pictures. However, since adopting this method three years ago, I have had great success quizzing students on our Picture Hebrew Flashcards. 

    When I quiz students, I display the pictures and have the students write down the corresponding Hebrew form(s). I explain to students that I am intentionally quizzing them on a very high level of Hebrew knowledge. It’s one thing to see a Hebrew word and produce an English gloss. It’s another to see an English word and pronounce a corresponding Hebrew word. But it’s most impressive to be able to see a picture and describe it in writing with a Hebrew word. If students can internalize and produce all the most frequent Hebrew words, they will be all the more likely to truly read their Hebrew Bible.


    Principles for Creating the Quiz

    Like most first-year vocabulary lists, Picture Hebrew Flashcards are frequency-based. Since these words occur the most often in the Bible, they need to be in long-term memory. Students should spend as much time reviewing old cards as they do studying new cards. My comprehensive quizzes reflect this principle. Each quiz consists of ten cards: five new and five review.

    I used to give quizzes as a timed slideshow in class. Now I put them online. For each picture, I indicate whether I am looking for one or two forms. For example:


    Excursis on One or Two Forms

    Whether a student writes one or two forms for each word is determined by the card itself. Verb cards have the qatal (perfective) and yiqtol (imperfective) forms on the back. Nouns list the singular and plural forms. Adjectives list the masculine and feminine singular forms. Students write two forms for each of these words.

    Sometimes two or three synonyms appear on the same line of a card, separated by a slash.

    For flashcard 26, I indicate on the quiz that I expect just one form. A student can choose to write either ל or אל.

    Sometimes there are two different words on a card, each with two forms separated by two slashes on the same line.

    For flashcard 96, a student can choose either word but needs to write both forms of the same word. That is, either קרב//יקרב or נגשׁ//יגשׁ.

    Sometimes a card will illustrate one word and list a related word in smaller font on the back.

    For flashcard 24, I indicate that a student should write the two adjective forms, טוב//טובה, not the one verbal form. (Turns out “to be good” only occurs in the yiqtol and vayyiqtol, never in the qatal.)


    Principles for Taking the Quiz

    Hebrew was originally written as a consonant-only language, and this is the case in Israeli newspapers today. With this principle, I do not require students to add the vowel pointings (niqqud) when they write in Hebrew. For example, students can write סוּס as סוס. There is variation in the Hebrew Bible where a vowel sound may be written as a vowel letter (plene) or full vowel (defective). As long as both forms are attested for a word, a student can represent it either way. For example, the flashcard form of “enemy” is אֹיֵב, but I don’t take off any points if a student writes אויב.

    If you decide to take up class time with a quiz, here is how I decided the display time for each slide. At the beginning of the year, students get 45 seconds to write one form for a word, and 60 seconds to write two forms for a word. The quizzes get incrementally faster until it is 30 seconds for one form and 45 seconds for two forms. I never re-display a picture after the quiz is over. Perhaps they could have gotten the word right with more time, but the goal is instant recognition.


    Principles for Grading the quiz

    Especially because this way of testing vocabulary knowledge is difficult, I give partial credit for almost anything. Personally, I grade each word out of four points, so that I can take off half points or whole points.

    I take off half a point if a student doesn’t use a sofit letter, or if a student writes the plene but the plene never occurs. If a student correctly spells the word phonetically but one letter is wrong, I take off one point. Our flashcard audio features an Israeli speaker from the standard dialect with many consonant pairs that sound the same. There are at least six pairs of consonants that can trip up students.

    If a student correctly spells a word phonetically, but two or more letters are wrong, I take off two points. I also take off two points if a student correctly writes another word that has a similar picture, or if the words mean something similar. And I take off three points if the spelling is a mess, but I think they would recognize the Hebrew word if shown.


    A Final Thought

    Since these quizzes are hard, it is important to set students up for success on the first quiz. When they nail the first quiz, they can remain confident as the quizzes get harder. However, if they fail the first quiz, they may think it is impossible as the quizzes get harder.

    To end with an example, this last year I taught a college Hebrew course as well as a community-ed class. The classes used different curricula, but I assigned the Picture Hebrew Flashcards for both. The first chapter of vocab in the college textbook assigned 30 words, while for the community-ed class I assigned 5 words for the first quiz and 10 words the following week. The community-ed students consistently got better scores, and enrollment retention was better than in the college class. So, it’s best to start slow with vocabulary assignment and increase the pace gradually.

    If you teach first-year Hebrew, we invite you to adopt our Picture Hebrew Flashcards for assigning your vocabulary list. As a gift we will send you the digital flashcard images for use in making your own classroom materials.

  • Our Story

    Greek was my first love, but Hebrew is my true love. The difference is that I have been able to internalize Biblical Hebrew, but not Koine Greek. My wife, Merissa, and I launched Picture Hebrew to help others internalize the language of Scripture.

    Quest for Greek

    Driven by my initial love for Greek in college, I embarked on a rigorous 700-day reading plan to work through the New Testament. I pronounced the Greek out loud, memorized all unknown vocabulary, and reviewed all material for three days before moving on. The reward was great. I made it from Matthew to Revelation. And now, I have read the Greek New Testament 10 times with my yearly devotions.

    However, the method had its limits. I thought that by reading through the New Testament each year I could keep progressing in Greek fluency. But I hit a wall. Each year, I had to look up the same infrequent vocabulary. I could no longer progress, but merely maintain how far the reading plan had taken me. Reading would never get any easier.

    Success in Hebrew

    I started learning Hebrew in seminary and applied the same plan I had used with Greek. But after 400+ days, I was frustrated by my progress. I had hoped to reach similar results as with Greek, but I couldn’t even get that far. Not until later would I find that one main obstacle was my method of memorizing each verb as a consonantal root instead of a stem-specific word.

    Some friends told me about Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center (BLC) curriculum that uses pictures and audio. They said that learning with a living language approach would be a more efficient use of my time. I could also see that it would set me on a trajectory for much higher reading fluency with Hebrew.

    Merissa had always been interested in language, so she committed to learn communicative Hebrew alongside me. We worked through all three books in Buth’s curriculum and even had the opportunity to take a month-long ulpan with BLC, spending four hours a day speaking biblical Hebrew in class. During that time, we found that learning with visuals and acting out vocabulary helped us to understand the text. There was no need to stop after every word and translate it into English. We were reading, comprehending, and interacting in biblical Hebrew.

    Picture Hebrew Resources

    Yet there were no picture resources to help us internalize hundreds of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible. Merissa started drawing a little picture on an index card for each word that we were trying to master. When we showed our classmates her first illustrations, they were intrigued. Many of them even wanted a copy of those first rough sketches.

    Right away, we started dreaming of the picture resources we could create. Our aim early on was to do it so well that no one who came after us would be able to do it better. We tried to perfect our method by redrawing all the cards for a 2nd edition. That took four months and about 700 hours to accomplish.

    We launched a college-level community-ed Hebrew class in the fall of 2014. With that platform, we assigned the 2nd edition of the flashcards for the first two years. We also slowly developed an illustrated Jonah book, designed to teach every Hebrew word with a picture referent on the page.

    Along the way, it became clear that we needed to draw a 3rd edition of our flashcards from scratch. Merissa drew 2–3 hours every day for the next 14 months. The two of us poured in about 2,000 hours to complete the project. We were able to use a test version of the picture flashcards and Jonah book with our students. With their feedback, we made final revisions to both resources over the summer before launching in the fall of 2017.

    Vision for Picture Hebrew

    We know the value of the picture flashcards and Jonah book firsthand. After all, Merissa learned Hebrew largely by using these two illustrated resources. And I, with a better method for memorizing Hebrew words, have been able to progress much further in Hebrew fluency than I ever did with Greek. We have also seen about 100 of our first users thrive with these picture resources.

    We founded Picture Hebrew to provide more illustrated resources for the growing communicative Hebrew movement. Our Picture Hebrew Flashcards and Jonah book can also be used in any college/seminary classroom, or benefit anyone furthering their Hebrew fluency through self study.