5 Mistakes Israelis Make When Speaking English

2 min read
Efrat Chen, Director of Hebrew at Citizen Café
Efrat Chen, Director of Hebrew at Citizen Café


1. “To open the door?”

Yes, that blank stare as your Israeli friend waits for you to answer this oddly phrased question happens to the best of us. While they meant, “Shall I open the door?” In this context, “to open the door” (לפתוח את הדלת? / lifto’ach et hadelet”) means the same thing because in Hebrew, starting the sentence with an infinitive is the Israeli way of saying, “Shall I….?” Also, when they ask “to make coffee?” always answer “YES!” if you yearn for a fresh brew.

2. “How long are you here?”

When asked כמה זמן את\ה פה? / cama zman at/a po? by a local, you may respond with something like: “Hey, just because my Hebrew isn’t great doesn’t mean I’m here on Taglit!” Calm down…locals are not asking you how long you’re staying in Israel before returning home. Rather, how long HAVE you been here already.

3. “Let’s move!”

Say you’re settling the bill at a club off Rothschild Boulevard and your friend is ready to head out. They may exclaim בוא נזוז! / bo nazooz! aka “let’s move.” They aren’t suggesting you get back out there on the dance floor and show off your moves, they’re saying, “ok, let’s go.”

4. “Let’s go outside tonight”

Keeping with the Tel Aviv nightclub motif, say your roommate had convinced you to hit the town earlier that day, exclaiming during dinner, “let’s go outside tonight” (בואנצא הלילה / bo netzeh halaila). Outside? As in camping or something? No. Not physically outside…she meant to say, “let’s go out” to a bar or somewhere fun (since “outside” and “out” are the same word in Hebrew).

5. “Ouch, he stepped on my leg!”

But that was his foot? Not his leg? When Israelis use the word ‘leg’ (רגל / regel), they mean everything from the waist down: foot, knee, etc. On that note, the literal translation of “football” in Hebrew is “leg-ball” (כדורגל / caduregel).

Understanding mistakes Israelis make when speaking English can be as vital to a positive social experience in Tel Aviv as understanding what NOT to do when first moving to Israel.

So now that you have a better grasp on the structure of the Hebrew language, it’s time to sign up for Citizen Café at Mindspace to learn to speak to your Israeli friends in Hebrew and avoid the confusion altogether. More information about our courses can be found here.

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