So you’ve decided to learn Hebrew. Good idea! As you might guess, we believe it’s important. We know that learning a new language is a challenge, but the benefits outweigh the difficulty of it. Yes, it can be hard to learn to learn a new language and it will probably make your brain hurt sometimes. But no, it’s not impossible and can even be fun!
A lot of things can come up when learning a new language. You notice certain things, you compare it to your native language, you get annoyed by seemingly unnecessary rules and all the exceptions that come with them, and so on. You might even worry about how your accent sounds and how long it’s going to take to become fluent, if at all. We get it. We understand. We even came up with a list of thoughts you might have when learning Hebrew. Because you’re not alone. And because sharing is caring.
Hebrew is hard.
Mmm… it’s debatable. Listen, Hebrew has its difficulties. It’s full of both rules and exceptions. But it’s both easy and hard at the same time. Let’s start with why it’s hard:
- The opposite order of words. It’s kind of like you have to flip your brain around. And it feels like Hebrew is backwards. The noun comes before the adjective. You have to think of the object first and then how you want to describe it. For example, view nice. Not nice view. It’s weird at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Trust us!
- Masculine and feminine. Every. Single. Word. is either masculine or feminine. Even the numbers! And when you use the word, you have to think about whether its male or female and then the adjective you use has to match it. It’s tiring, we know. It means you can’t be a lazy talker when speaking Hebrew.
And here’s why it’s easy:
- The root system. The great thing about Hebrew is that it is built upon root words. Once you know one word you can find all the branches of its root word. Every word has a root of three letters. And from one root you can make many words with the same general meaning. If you understand what ahava means (love), you can then understand ahoov/ahoova (lover) and ohev/ohevet (the act of loving) and also meuhav/meuhevet (in love).
- Less letters and less words. There are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and roughly 75,000-80,000 words in the Hebrew dictionary. That’s compared to 26 letters and about 171,500 words in the English language. So… there’s that.
How will I read without the vowel symbols (nekudot)?
We all had that thought at first. It seems scary at first, but don’t worry. You will start to memorize the way words sound and it will come naturally. And hey, if little children can do it, so can we!
I hate the sound of my accent!
Two words: who cares! It’s all in your head. In reality, a lot of Israelis say that they love hearing the American accent. Why? Who knows. Maybe they’re just being nice. Or maybe it’s because some Israelis wish they had that shiny American passport. And those rose-colored glasses when looking towards the West filters everything so that all things American seem sexy and cool…even the accent. Either way, don’t worry about it. The fact that you’re speaking Hebrew is what people like to hear. Really!
Oh, and if you want some science to back up the fact that you don’t sound like a native and also give you some ammo if someone makes a remark about your accent, you can tell them that you need to learn a language before the age of 10 in order to speak and sound like a native. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/at-what-age-does-our-ability-to-learn-a-new-language-like-a-native-speaker-disappear/)
I think I’ll just avoid using those hard to pronounce words.
Admittedly, it’s understandable. Some words in Hebrew are either embarrassing to try to pronounce or they make you sound super accent-y. The chet and chaf is not the most elegant sound in the Hebrew language. It can sound like you’re trying to get popcorn out of your throat. And words with more than one chet is, let’s say, phlegm-producing. Try saying “hestachsechut” (meaning: to get into an argument).
And then there’s the resh. For those of us who can’t pronounce the Israeli rrrrresh, it makes words like “barur” not so fun to say and will always remind us of our foreignness. But screw it! It’s more impressive when you use those words, even if you sound like you just arrived to Israel yesterday.
Can I just Google Translate everything from English to Hebrew?
Can I just use English words if I don’t know the Hebrew translation?
Absolutely. In most cases, people will understand you. There are tons of English words as well as “Hebrew-ized” English words that are used commonly in the Hebrew vocabulary. Israelis will use the English version of words even though there is a Hebrew word for it. For example, words like informatzia, laptop, babysitter, and cool to name a few. English words have become slang in Hebrew. So it’s kind of “cool” to throw them into the sentence. And occasionally you’ll hear someone say “eize nice”. Yup…
Have thoughts about Hebrew? Good! It means you’re thinking. And thinking means you’re learning. Keep up the good work! You’ll be speaking like a pro in no time. Even if it involves a heavy accent ????
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alva Yaffe was born in Israel but raised in Canada (Montreal and Toronto). She now lives in Tel Aviv. She made Aliyah in 2013, when she was 27 years old. Since then, she has married an Israeli, lived in over five places across the country, worked, studied, graduated with an MA in Art Therapy, and recently became a mother.