Ulpan Adventures, Vol. II

A couple of weeks ago, I chronicled my first day of Ulpan. It’s been three weeks now, 3-4 days each week, and it’s going great. I truly felt my Hebrew getting significantly better after only a week and a half of learning new words. One day, I was flipping pages in one of the national papers, Yediot Achronot, and found two new words I had learned in one headline, a cause for major celebration.

Remember that Far Side cartoon? What you say to your dog: “Oh Ginger, that was a bad thing. You’re a bad, bad dog, Ginger.” What a dog hears: “Blah Ginger, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah, Ginger.” That’s kind of how I experience Hebrew. I was at my friend Rani’s last week while he was deep in a conversation with a friend of his. I completely zoned out, lost in a web of fast-spoken Hebrew words when suddenly, I was awoken from my linguistic slumber by a familiar phrase from Ulpan, m’chaneh m’shutaf. I immediately started screaming “COMMON DENOMINATOR! COMMON DENOMINATOR!“, quite possibly the first time outside of MIT that those words have ever been exclaimed with such glee. To recognize a familiar word…aside from the birth of a newborn, does anything else bring about such a sense of pride? And furthermore, does anything else make you look like such a dork?

In any event, I’ve learned that while the classes are nice, it’s (becoming proficient, that is) all about the practice, specifically doing the homework and speaking outside of class. I need to practice more; it’s hard to dedicate time (l’hakdeesh z’man).

So what have I learned?

  • It’s true-the Jewish people really do want peace. As the propaganda says, we educate our young (and future Hebrew speakers) for it. On a recent worksheet, one of the sentences to be translated stated “We hope there will be peace”; we had to conjugate the verb. I wonder what the language proficiency tests of some our neighbors look like?

1. I want to _____ the Jews.
a) kill
b) killed
c) would have killed
d) Allah Akbar!

  • A lot of women come to Israel because of their Israeli boyfriends. And not all of them Jewish. Ok, so maybe not a lot but at least four in my class who I’ve met so far. One from Canada (not an MOT), another from Vermont (nope), one from Japan who is married to one (take a wild guess), and one from South Africa (card-carrying member!) What is it about Israeli men? And why in the world would you come to this country if you weren’t Jewish? Do you WATCH the news? IT’S A WAR ZONE!!! (If you believe that last sentence, please find yourself a new blog to follow.) I have had one conversation with the nice Japanese woman. A few minutes into our talk, I prefaced the next question with “this is a really silly question” in Hebrew before asking if she had seen “The Karate Kid.” Maybe it’s better that she didn’t know what I was talking about…
  • That singing “Hatikva” is somewhere between often and always a spine-tingling experience (as so recently explained here). One day last week, a woman from the Ulpan (let’s call her “the music lady”) joined our class for a few minutes, presumably for the first of many times, to teach us a song with her guitar. She sang “Hatikva” and taught us the words, although I imagine most of us knew them. To look around the room at a room of immigrants, all gathered together for the same reasons, learning the language together…if that doesn’t give you chills, what does? (How about biting teeth-first into a popsicle? That usually does it for me. Ugh, I just got chills. Ok, this ALWAYS gives me chills. Is there a more incredible five minute segment in cinematic history? If you can’t take five minutes out of your busy day to watch it…well…I just don’t know if we can continue this relationship. Lastly, several years ago, I was flipping channels and came across “The Karate Kid” on Telemundo. Mr. Miyagi in Spanish. Now THAT’S funny……now what the hell was I talking about?)
If he taught class, we’d speak Hebrew fluently in a month.
(Plus, we’d know how to paint the fence. “Up…down…breathe in…breathe out.”)
  • Hebrew is a language of few words. It’s funny how every English word has 57 synonyms. Just a few for the word “angry”: mad, furious, irritated, incensed, outraged, sulky, ill-tempered, fuming…I think I’ll stop here. Hebrew’s pretty simple-its modern form has only been around for about as long as the automobile. My teacher Dafna is always directing the class in single words. “OK!” “Kadima!” (forward!, or let’s continue) “Tov!” (good) “Naaaaa-chon!” (right) I love Dafna. Starting last week, we have a different teacher on Thursdays. Unlike Dafna, she did not talk to us in the “you’re a four-year old” tone of voice. I was very upset by this.

Sticking with the language observations. Israelis are known to be direct (not rude). Did their directness cause the language to develop as it did, with people speaking in a short, direct manner? Or is it simply the absence of words that causes them to get to the point quickly? It’s the old camel and the egg argument. My co-worker Lymore in New York used to get mad at me when I’d say something to her in Hebrew in a single word, like “ZU-zee” (move), accusing me of being rude. That’s how Israelis talk though. They don’t say “excuse me, kind sir, would you be so kind as to move a little bit out the way so I could possibly maneuver my way around you if it’s not inconvenient, please?” They say “move”. It sounds weird for Americans but, hey, when you’re busy fighting wars, who has time for small talk?

  • I’ve also learned that, Jesus Christ (or as my co-worker says, Shema Yisrael!), the immigrants in this country smoke a LOT. We need a new unit of measurement for the amount of time it takes for those people to light up during break time. I don’t even know what else to say here.

Only 7 hours till class begins. Time to go to sleep.

No Comments

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.