Does reading get easier with time?
I can read the Hebrew alphabet but I feel like it's a serious strain compared to the Latin alphabet or even cyrillic. Is this just because I'm a noob?
Yes, it's just 'cause you're a noob. It's not you, it's hard! There are relatively few clues, and a lot of stuff you can only really know because you speak the language... catch-22! (And yes, it makes Cyrillic look like a cakewalk.)
I really, really recommend finding exchange partners or teachers with whom you can actually speak the language. It doesn't suddenly magically become easy, but things start falling into place and it gets to the point where things make much more sense.
At the end of the day, it is probably no more difficult than how in English red and read (past tense) rhyme but red and read (present tense) don't, or how through though rough and bough don't rhyme. It's not very beginner-friendly, but it's graspable.
Above all, hang on in there, and it really isn't you ;) On the plus side, the first time you look at a Hebrew sentence and instantly know what it sounds like and what it means? Priceless.
It will get better with time and practice. I haven't learned Hebrew but I remember that it took me ages for my brain to process letters in the Arabic script. I'd try to read a simple word that I'd known how to say for a couple years already and I swear it would take me a full minute to read four letters ("kaaaa.... taaa..... aaaaa....baaaaa.... kaaaa taaaaaaaaabaaaaa.... kaataaaaaaaba... kitaab!"). I made a practice of trying to read something in Arabic script daily, even if I didn't understand the content, just to get my brain adjusted. It did get better and now I can read without too much difficulty.
That said, I oddly enough did not have the same difficulty with Chinese even as a complete beginner. I am able to visually process a Chinese character much more easily than an Arabic word, if that makes sense (although knowing the meaning of the character is another story!). I also don't have to "force" my brain to attempt to decipher Chinese characters, even though I know relatively few, whereas I almost always have to force myself to look at Arabic script and try to understand it, even though my reading level is probably B1. It's odd since Hebrew and Arabic are both phonetic, but maybe there's something about the script that makes it more difficult to distinguish letters? Anyone else have similar experiences?
Long story short... it DOES get better, you just have to keep practicing!
Disclaimer, the very few Chinese characters I recognise I learned through Japanese, and even in Japanese whether I would know how to say them is a toss up. That said...
I wonder if it's because Chinese characters are to some extent pictographic, if sometimes fairly abstractly so? Not necessarily so that you can look at it and instantly say "Ahh, this means that" but more that there's more there to hook into your imagination, whereas the Arabic and Hebrew letters are very alien to anglophone eyes without having the artistic/pictographic quality of Chinese characters? I don't know, I'm just guessing. Fascinating that you find it that way round, though.
I think for me it was that there was a lot of alien-ness and relatively little to hang on to, at least at first. ש doesn't look like a letter in any alphabet I'd previously mastered, but it also doesn't really paint a helpful picture, either. I can't say it looks kind of like sh, but neither does it look like a ship or a sheep or a shoulder... and also it can just as easily be an s sound.
I'm hoping that having more or less come to grips with the Hebrew alphabet will be a bonus the next time I try to tackle Arabic! 8-o at least I will know it's possible for my brain to process an abjad.
Like all things, it's easier with practice. Just keep up with it, and your brain'll get used to it. :)
Possibly not helpful, but I can read almost as fast as English with Roman characters, a letter substitution cipher with mostly invented symbols I created for use of myself and friends some years ago. Of course, it's still English beneath the cipher. I'm thinking if a person can do that, a native English speaker should be able to read other languages with non-Latin characters after some practice.
The Hebrew alphabet is difficult at first. But it isn't the hardest. On a scale of 1-10 it will be right there as a 5.5 with Chinese characters at a 11 and Arabic at a 9. English is a 4. But trust me, there are harder.