Instant Hebrew

You’ve seen the ads around Jerusalem, “Hebrew in a Week” or “Learn Hebrew Today,” but I’m sure you thought what I thought. “That’s not fast enough! I want to talk to Israelis immediately- hey look it’s a cloud!”

So, with a little hot water, I decided to make my own instant Ulpan course so that impatient English speakers like me can communicate with Israelis everywhere, at the store, at the bar, via text, or via text in front of the bar (that’s where I get the best cell reception).

So in one easy FREE five-minute course, I bring you everything that I have learned from living in Israel for two months and from all the actual Ulpan classes that I didn’t skip (all four of them!). Enjoy.

1. Cama ze ole?- How much is it?

You can use this phrase everywhere, it’s useful at the store, at the supermarket, and on set at “The Price is Right” but only if you are the host.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t know any of the numbers, and won’t understand when someone responds with the price in Hebrew. Just do what I do, toss the shopkeep’ a random assortment of coins and assume that it was sufficient.

Warning: I have learned that “cama ze ole” is not an appropriate salutation for a child, especially if the mother is within hearing distance and if the baby is not for sale.

2. Ani Mevinah Hakol- I Understand Everything

This is perhaps the most useful phrase. It’s good to use when you are worried that a group of people might be talking about you in Hebrew. Just wait a couple of minutes and then drop the phrase casually- the result is normally slight alarm and a what I assume are a string of compliments in Hebrew.

Since I am a little paranoid, and always assume that people are talking about me, I like to shout this phrase out regularly as I walk around outside so that all the pedestrians realize just how much I understand. The only downside is that usually when you tell people that you are fluent in a language, they start asking you questions in that language. When this happens, it is best to nod your head confidently and say, “ken” or “yes” to everything that you hear.

“What are you doing in Israel?”




“I’m gonna go now,”

“How much is it?” (Point to young child).

Works every time.

3. The winky face with the tongue sticking out-  ! ? … ; #

Now I know this is not actually a verbal phrase, but it is definitely a necessity for texting or messaging Israelis. They use it as punctuation: as an exclamation point, question mark, and especially the ellipsis. The best thing about the winky face is its ambiguity, (why is the tongue sticking out? Is the face part dog?) so you can use it in almost any situation when you are at a loss for words or punctuation.

For example: See you later, winky face. Can I borrow a couple of dollars winky face. Sorry boss, I overslept and am going to be late for work, winky face.

I like to use it in place of the semi-colon 😉 as I never use it properly.

4. Idiomatic expressions

We take idiomatic expressions for granted in the US, but in Israel nothing is more flirtatious than using them in basic conversation. When you are talking with someone that speaks English but doesn’t “know” English, use a couple of these bad boys and you will sound foreign and mysterious. There is nothing sexier than telling someone that your glass is half empty and that you just killed two birds with one stone.

“Wow that man is well hydrated,” a suitor might think, “I wonder if he throws the discus or just rocks at small animals.”

5. ¿Dónde esta el baño? — Where is the bathroom?

Okay, so I’m pretty sure that this one is in Spanish, but it still comes in handy in Israel. Due to the wonderful writing and addictive plot lines of telenovelas, a surprising number of Israelis are fluent in Spanish. Also, apparently being bilingual is a thing here—although I hope it’s just a fad.

The added bonus of using Spanish is that it helps combat the negative stereotype that all (North) Americans are too lazy and ignorant to learn Hebrew or another language. So if you use it right, this phrase not only serves your bladder, but also your country.

So congrats! You have completed my Ulpan course and can now print out your completion certificate and Harvard diploma (my next course “Forgery in Five Minutes” might be useful). You can also start speaking to Israelis immediately. If you are lucky people will respond to you.

If you are extra lucky, people will respond to you in English. Buenos Suerte!

About the Author
Nicole Levin grew up in California and now studies government at Harvard University and writes for the Harvard Crimson
Related Topics
Related Posts