I am a member of a few social media groups where there are certain days of the week you can brag about your accomplishments. I am told this is common in business, but as an educator, I find this a foreign concept. A humble soul I am and to boast about one’s accomplishments seems immodest to me, IMHO. On a certain level, there is the positive reinforcement pat on the back that comes from the recognition on a job well done. On the other hand, Har Sinai was chosen as the receiving place of the Torah because of its modesty.
Now going against what I just said, I am going to share a huge accomplishment of mine because it has taken approximately 38 years in the making to arrive at this momentous occasion. I am sharing to give chizuk to my fellow readers who may also be struggling with the Hebrew language.
So, nu? What am I referring to? This past Shabbos, I read in HEBREW both sides of my kindergartner’s daf kesher (weekly summary sheet) which tells what he did and learned in school. Granted, I understood about 80% and questioned my teen periodically with words I had never encountered but this is the most I have ever read of these weekly newsletters in six years. Generally I can read with ease the “dear parents”, the name of the weekly Parsha, mazal tovs, and “good Shabbos from Morah Leah and Morah Goldie.” After that, I am out of my comfort zone and get scared off. This week however, I fought my tendency to become overwhelmed by five consecutive Hebrew words in a row. It took at least 45 minutes of mental gymnastics flipping verb endings and prefixes. Additionally, there were no dots or dashes to indicate vowels sounds in the words. Thankfully, this teacher types and doesn’t use her own writing, or even worse, Hebrew script.
Let me go back in time for a moment to my first introduction to Hebrew. I was in elementary school at the time. I went to public school during the day and after school Hebrew school three days a week from 3rd-7th grade. Prayers were memorized, so I didn’t comprehend what I was saying. Fast forward to my late 20s when I became religious and started learning Tanach. Big jump in my text-based Hebrew, but nothing in conversational Hebrew. Fast forward once again to my late 30s and my move to Israel in 2010 (Yes, I am older than I look. and no, I am not a 30-something). I studied in ulpan for one year, rarely missing a class. At the time I was living in Karmiel up North where there aren’t a lot of Anglos. It was sink or swim with the language. My children swam. I got by on a doggie paddle.
As a language teacher in the USA I taught both Spanish and ESL. My students spoke Spanish, Korean, Russian, and Chinese. Other than Spanish, I knew nothing of those languages but still taught them English. In Israel, I learned that students wanted to be taught English via Hebrew. I didn’t realize I needed high proficiency Hebrew to teach English. I have since told my students “I am your English teacher, you are all my Hebrew teachers” and it works out well. I give them vocabulary words from their book and then take home the same list and study the Hebrew. Since I teach remedial elementary students through Bagrut 5-Point students, that’s a lot of new words.
Having since moved from Karmiel to Ramat Bet Shemesh, I have more opportunity to function in English yet still plenty of Hebrew to contend with. My speaking and listening comprehension have come a long way. My grammar is still a balagan (disaster/mess), but for the most part I can be understood. My writing has much room for improvement and with nearly 99.9% inaccuracy I will write ‘aleph’ instead of ‘ayin’, ‘taf’ for ‘tet’ and ‘shin’ for ‘samech’.
Reading has been the hardest and I have mastered avoidance techniques. So I came to the conclusion that in the same way I encourage a client to take baby steps in decluttering in my Klutter Koach organizing business, I needed to encourage myself with baby steps to plow though that Daf Kesher.
This Shabbos I made the herculean effort to read what the gananet painstakingly took time and energy to write. Was it difficult? Absolutely.
So my lesson in this new language of mine called Hebrew has been one step at a time, or more specifically one letter and then one words at a time. Is this a brag? I hope not! My message is that language proficiency comes slowly and then one day when you least expect it things start to click into place.
My Pearls of Wisdom for acquiring Hebrew:
- read short children’s books
- go to ulpan
- find a Hebrew speaking friend and practice speaking with them
- don’t be afraid to make mistakes
- watch shows on YouTube such as Kofiko, a comedy show about a monkey who lives with a family, or Master Chef
The quicker we learn Hebrew, the better, but remember it is a process and not a race. I feel like I should have earned a medal for getting through that Daf Kesher, but I am only in a race with myself. I have many more years to practice these short sprints of texts before I run a marathon.