Can We Anglos Ever Speak Hebrew Like Natives?
If you’d asked me 14 years ago, when I first made Aliyah, what my Hebrew would be like today,
I would have laughed and said “Oh, I’ll be speaking like a native by then!”. How wrong I was! Hebrew does
not just happen and, dare I suggest, unless you go and live on a kibbutz, move to somewhere in the Negev,
or of course marry an Israeli, none of us are ever going to really be speaking like the natives.
Whilst I am perfectly comfortable walking into a shop, ordering food in a cafe, going to school meetings and generally using Hebrew in my day to day life on a reasonable level, I will always be ‘The English Speaking Mum’ and at least now I provide great entertainment for my kids and their friends when they want something to laugh about. They just need to ask me to repeat a word with a ‘resh’ or ‘chet’ in it and they are in fits of giggles! Oh, little do they know…
I have made many mistakes along the way. Making Aliyah with nothing but knowledge of the Aleph Bet was the first one. Coming from the small Jewish community of Hull in England meant that Hebrew lessons were not available to me, and how I envied my classmates at Ulpan who had been to a Jewish school and learnt a great deal more than me at a younger age. Secondly, Ulpan was great and I worked hard, but it doesn’t help too much that, once you have left the class, you are surrounded by people speaking English all afternoon and evening. The temptation was always too great to revert back into my native tongue.
When I left Ulpan I landed a great job as a graphic designer at The Jerusalem Report magazine. It was a wonderful opportunity for me but, yet again, I was reading, working and speaking in English… and thus the years rolled on. I have asked for “Mezeg Avir” (weather) stickers in The Post Office rather than ‘Doar Avir’ (Airmail). I have ordered potato juice rather than apple juice in a café, and these are just a couple of examples of the mistakes that I have known about. I dare say there have been many that I was not aware of when I spoke!
Today my kids are both in school and I need to be able to help them with their homework. My eldest son is in Fourth Grade and certain subjects are already beyond me. Recently he needed help with geometry and I spent half of the time looking up what the words ‘parallel’ and ‘perpendicular’ were! This was of course before I knew about English Hebrew by Subject (which has, for instance, a Maths chapter that lists all the relevant terms in Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and so on). We got there in the end.
On a positive note, my children entering school definitely turned my Hebrew around somewhat. I needed to be able to talk to their teachers, their friends and their friends' parents who were, naturally, not necessarily English speakers and so I was somewhat thrown into speaking Hebrew and could no longer hold back in fear of making mistakes. In general, people are always very patient and do not point out every mistake I make, and we are usually able to make an arrangement without any great misunderstandings!
Having described all the pitfalls and mistakes that I have made along the way, I do want to tell you about the one thing I feel that I have got 100% right. My ‘Sabra’ children are able to jump between English and Hebrew with no problems at all, depending on whom they are speaking to. They both read well in English as well as Hebrew, and they do not mix their languages nor use words in Hebrew if they are speaking in English. We have always spoken English at home – unless they have friends over – and the boys learnt to read in English before Hebrew.
We were criticised for this. Well meaning people told us that we were now living in Israel and so we should be speaking Hebrew. Whilst the Hebrew does not just happen, we were aware that once the boys were in school, that is what they would be concentrating on, so we got their English up to a competent level before they were even really aware of another language. Now they will never have to face the difficulties I have had to face with language, either in Israel or abroad, and I am extremely proud of their abilities.
I will end with a little story. My Dad took my kids out for a walk at the port in Hull when we were last visiting England a couple of years ago. They got talking to a lady walking her dog and she told my son that he spoke very nicely and asked him which school he went to. My son, at the age of 6, was not aware that a non-Jewish person in Hull did not know what ‘Yachad’ was or meant, and proudly told her “I go to Yachad” (the name of his school). There are very few Jewish people in Hull, never mind Israelis, and I do wonder what planet that poor lady thought we had come from!
Lisa Isaacs is the creative talent behind ‘Handmade in Israel’, a home-based papercraft business stocking a large range of greetings cards in English and Hebrew for all occasions, papercut pictures, gift boxes and notebooks.
All of her work is designed and made at her home in Modi’in. To see what she is currently working on please go to her blog:
and visit her online store:
Struggle helping your kids with homework in Hebrew?
Do you find that even if your Hebrew is good, when it comes to Math, Biology, Geography, Literature and other school subjects, your Hebrew vocabulary is lacking?
Have you ever spent half an hour just trying to work out basic terms in Geometry like median, or tangent?
‘English Hebrew by Subject’ (EHBS) our new topic dictionary could save you and your kids (if they’re new in the country) a lot of time! E.g, in EHBS you can find “median” and “tangent”, and other Geometry terms all in one page, clearly and easily organised.
The same is true for many other school subjects: from Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Geography to Literature, the Humanities, Grammar, Drawing and Performing Arts.
To watch a short demonstration video clip, follow this link:
To download the contents list Click here
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