Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Hebrew - Do I Need To Learn It?

When moving to a new country, it is always advisable to learn the language of the country. Israel is no different. Even though there are Jews here from all over and therefore many languages spoken, there is a national language and it is beneficial to learn Hebrew.

Can you get away without doing so. Yes, but with repercussions, here are two examples:

1) Some years ago I was working with a little girl in South Africa who had come from Israel for medical treatment. Many of her relatives had also come to offer support, amongst them were her two grannies. One of the grannies was a native Israeli, the other was South African and had made Aliya with her husband and children, when her children were teenagers. This granny managed to create a life for herself in Israel even without Hebrew. But, here was a powerful eye opener.

Her son had married an Israeli and Hebrew was the main language spoken in their house. Their children spoke almost only Hebrew and now came a problem. The granny had a language barrier with her own grandchild. She could read stories to her grandchild in English, but her grandchild wanted to hear Hebrew and granny did not manage to read in Hebrew. She could chat to her grandchild in English, thus providing another language for her, but her grandchild answered in Hebrew and granny sometimes needed a translator.

2) When I had been in Israel for about 18 months, I happened to be on a tiyul to certain Kivrei Tzaddikim and the woman sitting next to me had been in Israel for 26 or more years. She too had made Aliya from an English speaking country and had been too busy to do her ulpan. So in all the years she has been here, she just managed without Hebrew.

At a certain stage along the tiyul, the tour guide tapped on the microphone and made some comments about the area we were driving past. He did this in Hebrew and it was a joy to understand what he had said. Looking out the window at what he was describing, my thoughts were interrupted by a tap on my arm. It was my neighbour, the lady who had been here for 26 or more years. "Did you understand him? You look like you understood. Can you please translate for me?"

Being able to converse, read and write in Hebrew is very useful for banking, post office, shopping, talking to Bezek, setting up your internet, Iria, finding good work and more. The truth is, with many of these you can find an option to get around Hebrew. For me, one of the more crucial needs for knowing the language of the country is to feel completely at home. I can think of nothing worse than a language barrier with ones own grandchild, or wanting to understand a tour guide and having to ask someone who has been in Israel for a fraction of the time you have, to please translate.

On a different note, it is a wonderful feeling to take a course related to your profession in Hebrew. Or to walk down the road and have someone ask directions in Hebrew, understand and be able to rely correctly. These kinds of experiences help one to feel as though you belong, while also opening up more opportunities for you.

Misrad HaKlita does cover the cost of Ulpan for 5 months. In addition for those with a medical profession there is a medical Ulpan. I would highly recommend doing these. If you struggle with working out timing of how to fit in your Ulpan with all the things to do in the first few months, do discuss this with your Aliya counselor or you can contact Shoshanah Shear, Occupational Therapist for a consultation to work out how to pace your Aliya, including learning some planning and time management skills.

For those wanting to begin right now, learning a word a day, a sentence a day, join up with Ulpan La Inyan and you can receive an email daily with a word a day. It is fun and very beneficial to get to know new words and build up your vocabulary. They also have classes, you can find out about on their website.

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