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Nadine Stark, UK-born Olah Chadasha, teaches English at SET Group, but here she talks about her Hebrew. Read her account of how in less than two years she managed to reach a level she never thought possible.
Yes I Can (Communicate In Israeli Hebrew)!

I had the most surreal experience the other day. I was sitting in the hairdresser reading a magazine.

You’re waiting for the surreal part, aren’t you? No no no, that’s it! I was reading a magazine. Whilst having my hair done. And get this - whilst the hair stylist didn’t exactly do the greatest job, I guess he did more or less do what I asked him to, and the article was in Hebrew. And I read it. By myself. Without a dictionary. Surreal….

The article was by the editor. It was the pre Rosh Hashanah issue and she was talking about all the major events that had occurred in her life over the past year. The most major being that she had become a grandmother for the first time. It got me thinking, and sitting in that chair I began to reflect over the past year. What an enormous year it’s been for me and for my family. I can now say with conviction the words (In English and Hebrew) “I feel settled here in Israel, it feels like home”.

My biggest challenge of course has been learning the language. By no means impossible but a challenge certainly. I made the decision really early on that outside of the house I wasn’t going to speak English. I wanted to make Israel my home, and for my children’s sake and quite frankly my own. I didn’t want to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language. This minor detail in the aliyah process just wasn’t going to get the better of me!

From the early days of trying to exchange something at Home Center (a big Israeli chain) and the cashier speaking to me in English... well, I wasn’t going to fall for her practicing her English on me. I just didn’t have the time. I promptly told her that my mother tongue is Portuguese and she quickly reverted back to Hebrew, what with Portuguese not really being her forte and all. Anyway, somehow, I managed to convince her to put the full amount back on my card after she had told me that they don’t do returns. It was a two fold achievement. I had conveyed my message in Hebrew and I had stood up for myself. It was official. I was an Israeli. As I walked to my car I oh so subtly, not so as anyone would have noticed – punched the air. I had arrived. Bring-it-on!

I Can Do This!

The best thing I did as soon as I arrived in Israel was get set up on a language exchange. I was partnered up through the Open University with an Olah from Russia who had been here for seven years. Speaking half of the time in English and the other half in Hebrew, no money was exchanged; it was simply a mutual desire to learn a foreign language. I would look at her and think to myself well, here she is after just seven years in the country and now she is teaching me Hebrew! “I can do this” became my mantra. It built my confidence to the point where I took my first job here in Israel working partly in Hebrew in a Real Estate office.

The job really gave me the confidence to do basic everyday things. Answer a phone, schedule an appointment and oh how the Israelis love to chit-chat. I was learning fast. And let me tell you something. If someone sees a house they want, they’re going to be phoning you every 5 minutes to make sure you don’t so much as show it to someone else. I had the keys and trust me they were very patient with my Hebrew in return!

So I have days when I feel like I’m flying. Like I understand every word. There are days like last Thursday when I spoke barely any English. ‘English Hebrew by Subject’ has been huge for me. The combination of doing ulpan, the language exchange, working in basic Hebrew and the book has launched my Hebrew to a whole new level. Of course there are days when I make so many mistakes and I feel totally clueless but they are getting less and less all the time.

I feel very patriotic. In a way I never imagined myself to feel. I certainly wasn’t your stereotypical candidate for aliyah when I was growing up. In fact I vividly remember the very comfortable armchair I was sitting in in Los Angeles when my husband first brought up the subject of aliyah;) But I do feel an overwhelming sense of pride at leaning a language that my people have spoken for thousands of years. Language truly is the instrument which forges the connection between an individual and his people. And I certainly do feel connected.

Having said all of that I have finally worked out why the Israelis say Eeeehhhh such a lot. They’re also thinking about the grammar!


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