Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ulpan, take 2

ani lomedet ivrit. 

While 6 weeks (150 hours or so) of Ulpan helped me see the possibility of becoming bilingual, it certainly didn't make me that.  So, in order to make my first effort worthwhile, I have signed up for 5 more months.  This time however, I am attending Ulpan Gordon, which is walking distance from our apartment.  It is also 4 days a week instead of 5 - Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu.  However, it still goes until 1pm, which means 16 hours a week in class plus homework. 

Dan and I have made a new resolution to attempt a daily evening walk during which we practice speaking Hebrew (for my sake).  It's amazing how exhausting it is trying to get over the initial hurdle of speaking another language.  Being an introvert doesn't help with the motivation, but being stubborn does, so I think it's a wash.

Today I was reminded of both the advantages and disadvantages I have as an English speaker learning Hebrew.  On the one hand, I have never become fluent in another language, unlike many of my international classmates from Germany, Belgium, France, India, Japan, Sweden, even Canada.  I do not have the advantage of having my brain hard-wired for languages at an early age.  However, I also am not trying to learn Hebrew through a second language like they are.  For example, today, we studied the structural changes that must be made to nouns when you pair them, such as "bus station," "kitchen cabinet," and "table cloth."  These are a challenge in Hebrew because you have to modify for the gender of the noun.  And you also have to modify in plural.  It seems obvious in English that you would say "bus stations," "kitchen cabinets," and "table cloths."  You pluralize the second noun in English, but not the first.  It works the same in Hebrew  (despite the fact that in Hebrew you reverse the nouns, the same way you reverse a noun + adjective in many languages - "stations (of) bus").  The Swedish woman in class had real trouble with this concept.  She asked how you would say it when there are many tables and many cloths.  Of course, that doesn't even make sense - you would never need to say "tables cloths," but if your English isn't perfect, it's an easy mistake to make in such a context.  I have gained significant respect for those in class studying Hebrew, through English, when their primary language is something else all together. 

Learning a second language (again, as I tried once before with Spanish in high school), can make you more aware of the culture behind both.  I find it interesting that while in English we have a few contractions, like "can't," or "I'm," the entire Hebrew language omits vowels in written form, and they have contractions for phrases like bishvil-i - "for me/you/him/them,"  im-li - "with me/you/him/them," and shel-i - "of me/you/him/them," etc.  Talk about being efficient (and tricky!)

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