As the founder of Citizen Cafe Hebrew school, it might seem odd for me to call it out — but looking from a rational perspective, the truth is that you don’t NEED Hebrew when living in Tel Aviv.
So many internationals spend endless hours everyday in classrooms trying to cram and absorb loads of Hebrew grammar and vocabulary, but when facing real life scenarios, find themselves using English.
Reason 1: Most Israelis, especially the younger generation, speak great English, or at least good enough to help you in the shop, take your coffee order, replace your dish if you’re not happy with it and flirt on a first date. Not only do many have English down, they actually prefer to switch to English when they see the amount of effort an international is putting in to speak Hebrew. The truth is — they love practicing and using English. This is one of the main frustrations we hear from students as their efforts in using Hebrew are often shut down every time they try.
Reason 2: Getting what’s truly needed proves to be more effective when speaking English. Let’s face it, it’s complicated, tiring or not efficient when you try communicating with Israelis in broken Hebrew. Dealing with Israelis can be quite challenging, and internationals have learned the hard way that English gives them more confidence, helps maintain determination and keeps things feeling somewhat under control.
So then, why even bother trying to learn Hebrew?
Here is the real truth-
If you think you NEED to learn Hebrew to survive, don’t waste your time. You don’t even need Hebrew to land a great job.
Truthfully, speaking Hebrew in daily life is for those who want to connect and feel a part of the Israeli community and culture.
For some, connecting means being able to talk to their partner and their family in Hebrew at dinner. For others, it may be the desire to connect to the locals at the table next to them or just being able to follow the news or a meeting at the office.
Connecting to locals in everyday life is not about grammar. It’s about feeling a part of something that makes you feel like Israel your home.
When you are motivated, really motivated to get that, you become more open to learn and more importantly to pick up the nuances that bridge cultural gaps. This brings humor to life and even let’s you be who you are and see Israelis for who they are.
But to be there, you can’t be in the mode of “have to” or “should”– that’s when your brain shuts down. It’s simply too stressed to remember and it doesn’t absorb.
Effective learning and absorbing a language happens when your motivation to learn is in a completely different state of mind.
“Learning is not work, it must be exciting”, said the renowned teacher Michel Thomas, known to have taught Woody Allen French over a weekend.
The magic behind picking up Hebrew fast, remembering words without thinking, daring to speak despite the fear, only happens when you have a real reason to learn, something real you will gain from it.
My recommendation – find that goal. Feel it. Let it be your motivation for your ears to never stop listening and your mouth to never stop trying.
Language is one of the most powerful and accessible tools you have from a cultural perspective. If you use it wisely, you can create a new home wherever you want. Why not try to change your mindset, let go of goals of speaking perfectly, and instead use it as a means to jump into an exciting culture?
Founder of Citizen Café TLV