Friday, April 06, 2007


I am back to the kindergarten of language learning in Israel. Everytime I visit Israel I am surprised to find that there are a couple of words I remember, that the fricatives are getting a little easier, that I can distinguish words. I have an ideal environment to learn. Most of the people I meet speak English fairly well ( so i am not too isolated) but much prefer to speak Hebrew, and almost always slip back to it quickly (so I have a lot of motivation). I also have a new nephew who is two years old and not all that tolerant of someone not speaking Hebrew. He is at the age where he mimics everything everyone says to him, and I feel a bit self conscious about not confusing him, but of still be able to interact.

I have tried to learn languages in two different ways: by studying them at school in a class room (a very little of Japanese, Indonesian and French); and by living in a place with the speakers of the language and trying to assimilate (Spanish, Kriol). One interesting thing is the difference in what you learn. For example in Hebrew I realised that I am learning all of the discourse particles first (aren't they meant to be the hardest....!?), mainly because of their very high frequency and rich, versatile expression. So, for example in Hebrew, I don't know how to say 'where is the bathroom', or 'my name is Sophie', but I do know how to say, shalom, manishma? achla, sababa, tov, tov me'od, yalla, mammash, kilo (sp?) etc. (hello, how are you? good, good, good, very good, mah, really, like etc etc).

I can understand a few restricted things like 'I want', 'where is', 'what is', 'more', 'thankyou' etc. But when I learnt in a classroom, I got onto patterns of grammar much quicker, and patterns of discourse much slower. It still surprises me somehow that people actually speak other languages! Eyal spends a lot of time translating (around the dinner table, on the phone, listening to music), and it is especially difficult not being able to read or accurately get a visual image of what the word looks like in my head ( I still do it in English). But it is exciting to be learning a language again and also remembering what it is like to not be a speaker of the dominant language around.

I am going to go to a colloquium now on a 'multiple grammar hypothesis'. Should be good.


Anonymous Catalin said...

Thanks for this reminder about language learning. I'm planning to go spend a few weeks in Mexico this summer to do a language course and immerse myself in the culture. It's nice to hear your analysis of what you learned in the different types of language learning situations.

Are you continuing to practice Hebrew back in SB, or only while in Israel?

12:23 pm  
Blogger Eyal said...

Perhaps I can answer that ;)

When we got back to SB this time, we went and got Stick-it pads and I put notes with the hebrew word in english pheonetics on the various furniture, cabinets, and whatever I could think of (it's an ongoing process).

The other day we went out for dinner and we wanted to gossip about the couple sitting in a near by table - they looked like they were on a first date. When Sophie learns more hebrew it would make it much easier, but for now all she could do is raise the fork and say triumphantly "Mazleg!"

7:18 am  

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