It’s bad enough that a significant number of English-speaking immigrants to Israel don’t bother learning Hebrew, but tonight’s rally in favor of universal draft presented us with a stunning example of another phenomenon – the Anglo Hebrew speaker with an accent that could peel paint off walls.
Toward the end of the demonstration, an immigrant rabbi took the stage and gave an articulate, impassioned speech in perfectly acceptable Hebrew. Sadly, the power of his words was diminished by his dreadful North American accent.
As a born and bred Anglo who made aliya at age 19 – never having attended Jewish school or studied Hebrew before age 18 – I can attest to the difficulty of mastering the language, and particularly to making the transition from speaking a language that is formed largely at the front of the mouth to one that is much more guttural.
I do agree that it’s better to speak Hebrew with a twang than spend one’s life speaking English in a foreign country and half-apologizing for it. But if you’re going to go to the effort of learning the language at all, why not go whole hog (pardon the expression) and at least make an attempt to master the phonetic sounds, stresses (the END of the word), and the cadence of Hebrew?
After a certain age, a person is unlikely to acquire a second tongue and speak it without any accent, no matter how much they might try. But the problem with English-speaking olim is that so few try at all.
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