If you've visited my classes page lately, you'll have noticed that I'm taking Hebrew this quarter.
Although it's not part of the class, I've spent some time figuring out how to set up my computer to type Hebrew. It wasn't all that difficult — you have to go to the Languages tab on the Regional and Language Options control panel, check "Install files for complex script and right-to-left languages," and then click "Details" where you can "Add" the "Hebrew" keyboard layout. You need your Windows XP installation CD. After a reboot, you'll see a new Language taskbar, and you'll be all set to type in Hebrew.
Before you reboot, though, you might want to activate some keyboard shortcuts to make switching between languages easier. You do that on "Key Settings" in the dialog box where you add keyboard layouts. Check "Switch input languages" and then choose whether you want to use CTRL + SHIFT or Left ALT + SHIFT to switch languages. If you don't do this when you first set up language support, or if you want to change this afterwards, you have to reboot for the changes to take effect (ugh @ Microsoft).
time I want
When I started I ended up with CTRL + SHIFT as the hotkey for switching languages, and I repeatedly found myself in Firefox with Hebrew turned on when I didn't want it. Finally I realized that's because CTRL + SHIFT + TAB is Firefox's shortcut for switching to the prior (next one to the left) tab, something I do all the time.
So I brought up language settings again, switched the hot key to Left ALT + SHIFT, rebooted, and was happier. But not completely happy. I don't think ALT + SHIFT is part of any other shortcut I use, but I still would find myself suddenly with Hebrew as the active keyboard layout when I hadn't intended for it to be. Not a horrible big deal. Look down at the language bar, confirm that yes, HE is showing, press Left ALT + SHIFT, see it switch to EN, backspace over stuff and start typing again.
But today, after a couple weeks of it, I figured I couldn't be the only person annoyed by it. One solution is simply to turn the hotkey off for switching languages, but that would mean having to use the mouse when I did want to type in Hebrew, not something I find acceptable (I really, really like being able to use the keyboard to do things). Luckily, after some determined Googling, I found that in fact Mike Matsnev (a student or a professor in the Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics department at Moscow State University) was so annoyed by all this that he wrote a utility that lets you set up any key to be the hotkey to toggle languages. I went one more time to language settings, turned off the hotkey, rebooted and then typed "lswitch 19", and presto, my Pause key, a key I never use for anything ever and won't accidentally hit, switches me between English and Hebrew. Beautiful!
Of course just because it's easy to switch between English and Hebrew keyboard layouts doesn't mean that it's easy to type in Hebrew. Besides the fact that I'm learning a whole new alphabet (alefbet)...
Sorry, while I'm on the subject of the Hebrew alefbet, if you're not familiar with it, you may have heard that it has only 22 letters. The English alphabet has 26 letters, you might say to yourself, how hard can it be to learn the Hebrew alefbet? Well whoever says Hebrew has only 22 letters is misleading you. First there are 5 letters that have a different form if they fall at the end of a word. Then there are 3 letters whose pronunciation changes if a dot is added to them. That makes 30 letters by my count. But these are just consonants. Modern Hebrew omits vowels. But if you're learning Hebrew, in particular Biblical Hebrew, which includes vowels, you have to learn additional "letters" or "points" (Niquid) for the vowels. There are over 16 combinations of those points for vowels. So by my count the alefbet has over 46 letters.
But that's not all. Just as some letters in English appear differently when printed as opposed to when written in cursive handwriting, so does Hebrew. To my mind (just now grappling with learning Hebrew), the differences between Hebrew printing and handwriting affect just about every letter, so that's almost double what I have to learn.
... I have to learn the Israeli keyboard layout, which is designed for the convenience of native speakers and typers of Hebrew, not for American English speakers. (For example, to type a Bet including its Dagesh dot, I have to type [with caps lock on] SHIFT-C SHIFT-=.) There are some helpful sites that have charts of how to type Hebrew, but I didn't find any that had everything. Plus I found a font for Hebrew handwriting, Shalom, which lets me prepare cheat sheets, etc., as they'd appear if I'd written them out. The deal with Shalom, however, is that it's mapped differently than the Israeli keyboard, with letters mapped to keys based on how they sound (to type a Daled in Shalom you press "d" instead of the "s" you'd press in the Israeli layout).
View the whole chart...
So I created a handy-dandy chart of my own that lists all the letters both typed and handwritten along with the English letters I have to type on my keyboard to get either print or handwriting. And the last column has the sound each letter makes. Nifty, huh?