How to Improve Learning Skills

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    I spent many years learning in Yeshiva and even finished a few mesechtas with different chavrusas over the years but as I enter the workforce and have less time to learn I find that my reading skills have gone backwards and am totally dependent on a Shiur or Artscroll for learning. When I open a seder to try a new limud, I struggle with the translations. I have a very good memory. I can reference many things that I’ve learned in the past when it comes up in conversation and have solid pshat down when I’m learning with others who can help with the translation but I wish my leaning skills were better. What are some tips to get back in the game and become a better reader?


    I recommend R. Aryeh Carnel’s “siyata legamara,” known as the “little white book” in yeshivos. It has a great list of common terms which if memorized, make learning gemara a lot easier.

    Also, slow down a lot. You’re not mechuyav to do daf or amud yomi; I found with myself and my talmidim that the more times you go over the gemara, or the sefer you’re learning, the clearer it becomes both in translation and pshat.

    What might have come to you quicker in your yeshiva/kolel days might take longer now, if your mind is on other things, but be patient with yourself.

    You also need to completely clear your mind of other considerations when you approach your seder; when you were in yeshiva, most likely the only thing you had to worry about was whether or not the cook would serve one of the “bad suppers” that every yeshiva has, forcing you to order pizza if you wanted a meal that evening. I’m exaggerating, as everyone has a “pekel,”but in general, a yeshiva bochurs mind is a lot clearer than when one needs to go to work. So before you start, picture yourself in beis medrash with nothing but the blatt gemara mattering to you. Your work is done, your mortgage and car are paid, your kids and wife are asleep, your boss gave you a paid sabbatical – there’s nothing that you need to do now but this seder.

    The chofetz chaim says there’s a remez to this on the pasuk of vehayu hadvarim hae’leh – a person might think, there’s so much to learn! How can i even begin? So the pasuk says ha’eleh – only these words, this daf,this sugya, only this matters now, then the yatzer hora tells you all of your daagos, and for this, the pasuk says hayom – only today, only this seder exists,, nothing else.


    I obviously do not know you at all but I would say keep going with your chavrusa and your shiur but try to dedicate time learning a masechta on your own without using Artscroll. I say on your own as you have already mentioned that you have time constraints so learning on your own keeps things flexible. Also learning on your own will allow you to focus directly on the area that you are aiming to improve on, namely, reading / translating skill.

    You will find that if you stick to it, your skills will improve drastically over a few months.
    I mentioned not using Artscroll so that it shouldnt become a crutch but as the same time there is nothing wrong with using it to look up translations. As long as you are genuinely trying to learn from the actual text and build your skills.


    Gedol Hador

    Please don’t be offended, but you might find it helpful to learn with a Rebbe who can focus on translation with you.


    Gedol I was going to a daf Shiur in the morning with a Rebbi saying it over. I didn’t feel I was getting enough out of it because it was 45 minutes and had trouble doing chazarah. I would remember what was highlighted in the Shiur but didn’t have a great grasp on the translations.


    If gemara aramaic is an issue, I will offer a suggestion I’ve given to others over the years that has proven successful at different levels for different people. Be Maavir sedra – shnayim mikra v’echad targum. And PAY ATTENTION to the language of both passuk and Targum when you are saying the targum. That will help you develop a familiarity with the Lashon Arami used by our Chazal.

    Gedol Hador

    When I say, “learn with a Rebbe,” I don’t mean attending a shiur. A shiur won’t help you at all with translation. What I mean is learning b’chavrusa with a Rebbe. You’ll be able to read and translate the Gemoro yourself; go at your own pace; and chazer the same Gemoro as many times as you feel necessary. Eventually the translations will stick. If you do this for some time, you might only have learnt a few blatt with a couple of chazoros, but your translation skills will have improved massively, and hopefully you’ll retain them for life.


    B”H I have been a teacher for over 20 years in various Yeshivos focusing on skills improvement. What I am writing is from advice I give to students and try to apply in my teaching. I cannot be certain that my advice here is relevant to your specific case since it is unclear what skill set needs improvement. But I hope what I write can be somewhat helfpul. B”H we live in an era where many quality works have been published focusing on skills in reading. For Loshon Hamikra a refresher on dikduk is often helpful. Whereas any longtime learner will know the basics, often precise knowledge of בניניים, לשון זכר ונקבה יחיד ורבים, Subject, Verb, Object and recognizing how to detect the שורש makes the difference between “basically getting it” to “precise translation”. I highly recommend “The Guide to Lashon Hakodesh” by Nachman Marcuson, Vol. I & II. Perhaps Volume II which is more advanced will be helpful to the more seasoned students who have not mastered dikduk but know the basics and more.
    For Aramaic, besides R. Carmell’s work mentioned earlier in the comments, I recommend “Understanding the Talmud: A Systematic Guide to Talmudic Structure & Methodology” by Rabbi Feigenbaum and Rabbi Frank’s “Practical Talmudic Dictionary”. Both works focus on Gemara structures and keywords, and important skill to smoother Gemara reading. The seasoned student will know a lot, but still might be missing some important vocabulary or precision in what they do know. A search under “Gemara skills” or “Chumash skills” etc. on the internet will also bring up many useful resources. Hatzlacha Rabba!

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