Sunday, April 20, 2008

language acquisition

Most people I meet in Israel speak English well. However, I have noticed that once there is 4 or more people to the conversation, it can never be continued for more than a few seconds in English. For example the other night we went to a housewarming with 12 or so people, all people I have met before and spoken with in English. Everyone there has been friends with Eyal since High School and everyone had a lot to catch up on.

After the initial 'hellos', I realised I was in for a long evening, as Hebrew was the only language being spoken. After an hour or so, listening in and paying attention became exhausting. I was surprised by lonely I felt despite being surrounded by friendly people I knew. The isolation was really quite overwhelming.

It was a very good chance for me to remember what it must feel like when your language has little or no status. The isolation ( that I remember from the first few months of High School in Costa Rica) makes it hard to feel like you have a sense of identity in the context.

One of the hardest things as the evening wore on, was watching a joke form and everyone start to laugh. The problem with laughter is that even if one can't understand to not look amused makes you look grumpy!

There were a few brave souls who would risk English in front of all their peers (risk sounding silly) and made conversation with me. We were all sitting around a big circle so unless there was a devoted few to keep the English alive it quickly disappeared. Of course, everyone speaking English for my sake was also uncomfortable [what to do!]... It reminded me that to learn a new language properly means enduring many such evenings - it is much harder as an adult!

(p.s. Eyal was a constant translator where possible- but the conversation was so quick and often drew on many years of shared experiences- at some point I thought it best to just let things pass...)


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