I have been blessed to have so far lived in Israel for 14 years. Yet I have met many olim who have never gotten past a basic level of Hebrew. Some of them never had the opportunity to be in an immersion environment, such as the army or University. Some of them made aliyah straight to an English speaking ghetto such as Efrat or Ramat Beit Shemesh. Or some people think that they are not very good at learning languages. However, you are probably better than you realize and its still possible to make progress even if you interact mostly with English speakers. If you devote an hour a day to practicing Hebrew you will see results. What’s more, this can all be done even if you haven’t yet made Aliyah
One of the great benefits offered to olim is a free five month Ulpan. However, not all Ulpans are the same and it doesn’t work for everybody. I stopped going to Ulpan after about two months because I couldn’t stand sitting in a classroom all morning. I didn’t stop learning Hebrew, though. Instead I met with a tutor twice a week. Spending a fraction of the amount of time with individual attention was much more beneficial for me than hours of passive classroom time. I also purchased a textbook from Ulpan Or and learned from that. Fast forward a few years and I became a fluent Hebrew speaker and taught math lessons in Hebrew.
I would still encourage everyone to try an Ulpan, but the learning experience can greatly vary based on your teacher and the style of the Ulpan. If your class involved grammar exercises and memorizing lists, than it’s no wonder it didn’t work. Does a three year old learn to talk by making flashcards and being taught about grammatical rules? Of course not! Many polyglots learn languages from personalized self-study methods that help them naturally acquire the language. It is best to find material that is of interest to you, as that makes it meaningful. Here are some of my suggestions:
Most of you have heard of this very popular website. You can use it on their website or download the app for your mobile device. Duolingo is great at making it fun to learn and gives you a daily goal to reach. They also do a good job teaching sentence patterns. However, this should not be a stand-alone tool and will not get you to a proficient level.
Once you have a basis in Hebrew, LingQ is a website for learning languages. It has news articles, songs as well as mini stories with both text and audio. Listening to the dialog of native speakers helps both your comprehension and speaking. Also, if you find something interesting on the internet, you can upload it and have a lesson created on the site. The site has a free and paid option. Note, Hebrew is currently a Beta language on the site which means resources are more limited.
To speak a language, there is absolutely no replacement for speaking with a Native speaker. Some of you may have basic conversation skills but are too embarrassed to speak Hebrew since you can’t express yourself as well or you just feel awkward. This is part of the growing pains of learning a language. Give yourself a chance. After speaking more, you will get better. A good start is to speak with someone twice a week for 30-60 minutes at a time. One way is to hire a teenager in your neighborhood. Alternatively, you can find someone online. I recommend using the website Italki. This site provides teachers and tutors to help you with speaking. Some are only in the $10/hour range. The teachers on the site are those with a certification and often teach with a structured method. However, if you are simply looking for someone to practice speaking with, one of their tutors might be just what you need. Most of them offer discounted trial lessons, so you can shop around to find out who is the best fit for you.
This is a very fun way to learn a language and an effective method of comprehensive input. A great website for learning songs in other languages is lyricstranslate.com. You can view the original lyrics, as well as translation while listening to the songs. While its ok to look at the translation if you want to know what a line mean, try to follow a song by only reading the original Hebrew lyrics. I recommend Arik Einstein, as his songs are slow and easy to follow.
Learning a language takes time, but keep at it and be patient with yourself. Perhaps one day you will be helping olim hadashim. If you have any additional methods the helped you learn Hebrew, please share them in the comments below.