Saturday, 24 October 2009

Selecting Your Ulpan

In a previous post we mentioned the benefits of learning Hebrew. Actually, an area highlighted was on a personal side, in terms of relationships with future generations and enjoying everything Israel has to offer. In this post, we turn our attention to how to select your Ulpan.

The word Ulpan אולפן literally means studio. It comes from the word aleph or head, representing the place that you go to begin learning or improving your Hebrew.

When learning any new language, there are a number of factors that are important to keep in mind.

1) What is your level or knowledge of Hebrew at present. Do you know the Hebrew Alphabet. Do you know any phrases. Can you read, write, speak. It does not matter where you are beginning, just that you know where you are starting from.

2) What are your needs when learning Hebrew. Someone who spends his or her time learning Torah for example, will probably be able to read and translate Chumash Hebrew but modern and spoken Hebrew could be a big challenge. Someone who is a health professional, if they are going to practice their profession in Israel, will require a good level of Hebrew. Someone who will be studying at school, college, university also requires good Hebrew. Someone who will be working in sales will require a different kind of Hebrew.

3) Keep in mind that the Ulpan you select will have an impact on the kinds of vocabulary you will learn.

4) What kind of learner are you? Do you need a lot of repetition, high pressure of homework? Do you want a teacher who will take the time to mark extra work you do and give you feedback? Are you good with languages or do you need a lot of encouragement

5) For those who have a profession such as medicine, law, computers; once completing your 5 months of ulpan you have the opportunity for an additional אולפן מקצועי Professional Ulpan. Olim who are occupational therapists, physio therapists, nurses, doctors, speech therapists all benefit from a medical ulpan which lasts for 3 months. You will not necessarily be told about this, so ask your aliya counsellor. It is very well worth taking. Although you will not learn nearly enough, you will begin to gain and grasp the medical terminology, anatomy etc in Hebrew.

Many terms are a variation of English and it does take a bit of practice to read an English word written in Hebrew. So if you don't recognize a word, sound it out letter by letter. It could be the word is actually English or another language, written in Hebrew and incorporated into modern Hebrew.

With these few tips in mind, we can begin to select an Ulpan. There are ulpan programs for students, for religious Jews, for those wanting to focus on speaking, for those who want a combination. Do check out that the ulpan you are interested falls under those that the Misrad haKlita will subsidize for you. There are some programs that are private and will expect you to pay. These you can put aside for later if still needed. It is worthwhile to take an ulpan course with an ulpan that Misrad HaKlita will sponsor.

Mercaz Klita has an Ulpan program for the beginning levels. If the ulpan at the mercaz klita (absorption centre) is not suitable for you. You are permitted to change to another one. It just takes finding a more suitable one and bringing a letter from the absorption centre as to what level you are at. Speak to your aliya counselor as to what to do or you can send me a message through this blog. You do not have to get stuck in an ulpan that is not suitable for you.

Aside from the absorption centre, when deciding of other ulpan programs, the first question will be what level you are. If you need a high level, it will not help to attend an ulpan that only offers the first two levels. Likewise, if you do not yet have any Hebrew, start with basics and work your way up, don't try to enter at a level higher or lower than you are as it will only frustrate you and waste your precious time.

I would highly recommend sitting in on one or two classes or a weeks worth of classes at a few ulpanim to decide which one best suits you. This will give you the added advantage of knowing that the style of teaching, the level and the students will all be conducive to your learning as much as you can. Keep in mind the mix of countries that the other Olim are from. If the class if filled with Russian and you are the only English Speaker, you will hear a lot of Russian as the teacher translates for them. This can be confusing as you might not know whether the teacher is translating or it is something in Hebrew you need to learn. If you are good at languages you might pick up some Russian and benefit from this. If you get overwhelmed by hearing a language that is unrelated to Hebrew and your home language, try to find an ulpan where the other Olim are from countries that speak your home language.

In addition to this, there are certain teaching styles tailor made to different countries. Russian Olim need a lot more pressure and strictness. European or English Speaking countries might not enjoy this style.

For those who have selected an ulpan, I do recommend doing the homework and using your Hebrew as much as possible. In another post we will look at some tips to improve your Hebrew.

I hope this information has been useful. If you have more questions, please post to this blog or email Shoshanah directly.

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