Reflections of an English speaker in Israel


Hello! This post will be a radical change from all of the other posts on my blog. 

Earlier this month marked my seven month anniversary of living in Israel so in this post I thought that I'd share my experiences of being an English speaker in Israel. Living in Israel on the whole has been overwhelmingly positive, however, my journey to be a fluent Hebrew speaker has been fraught with annoyances and frustrations that I will share in this post. 


Not wanting to get bogged down in the negative though, I will also share the ways in which I overcame these frustrations and how I didn't let them get me down.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section! Perhaps you also moved to a different country or are planning on doing so. Have you had similar experiences?

1) When I arrived here and met lots of new people, many of them would say to me:

"it's very important to learn Hebrew you know" 

"you really do want to put in the effort to learn Hebrew"

"you need to learn Hebrew before you have kids, otherwise what are you doing to do when they start school here? How are you going to help them with their homework?"

"how are you going to speak to your electricity provider?" 

Yes all of these people were just trying to give helpful advice, I know that and I appreciate it, but hearing these comments over and over again can start to get frustrating. Especially when you've only just arrived in the country and you have an endless list of things to sort out.

Answer - just smile politely and thank people for their advice. They are only trying to be helpful, they're not trying to make you feel inadequate. You'll get there - give yourself time. 

2) That feeling of seeing speaking another language as a mountain  that I will never overcome.

The answer to this is to tell myself (as one of my friends told me) that Rome wasn't built in a day. Don't set yourself massively high expectations of how fast you will learn the language. Learning a new language is not something that happens overnight. Congratulate yourself on the achievements that you have made rather than focusing on that which you don't let know. 

Learnt 3 new words yesterday? Excellent! That's 3 new words that you didn't know previously and that's 3 steps closer to learning the language. 

3) Living in an English speaking community can be a double edged sword. It's amazing to be surrounded by English speakers. It makes for an easy transition into a new country and there's nothing easier than communicating with people in your native tongue. But, (and here's the but), how can I improve my Hebrew when I am surrounded by English speakers the whole time? As this quote accurately describes it:


Sticking to my comfort zone, I've found, is not always the wisest choice.

Try to use Hebrew as much as you can in every day life. Even if you are in an English working environment, try to use Hebrew in shops and over the phone. One thing that really helped me is that we have Israeli neighbours. One day I was feeling down about not being able to communicate easily in Hebrew. I then bumped into our neighbour in a shop and told her what I was buying and what I was going to make for dinner. I didn't even speak to her that much and I made a couple of mistakes but it was a huge "pick me up." Moving outside your comfort zone isn't comfortable (obviously) but it most certainly is rewarding! It will make you feel happy with yourself and your abilities in no time!

4) That feeling of "I know that this shop assistant speaks English! Do I really want to spend a minute formulating a sentence in Hebrew when it would take me 10 seconds to ask the question in English?! Even if I try to ask the question in Hebrew - they're probably going to realise that I'm not a native speaker and reply to me in English anyway..."

This is similar to number 3. For a long time I was reluctant to ever speak Hebrew. I would do lots of reading and translating but this fear around speaking was due to the possibility that I might embarrass myself, not know what to say and make mistakes. As I said in point 3 - when it comes to speaking Hebrew - you just need the mentality (in the words of Nike) - "Just Do It."

5) Getting frustrated when Israelis try to talk to me in Hebrew, and thinking "don't you realise that I can't understand what you're saying? You're talking way too fast and I have no clue what it is that you're asking me. Why can't you just ask me in English???" Of course this is a silly thing to think and get frustrated about. I'm living in Israel, it's me that needs to be making the effort here, but it is frustrating nevertheless.

In terms of this point, I think that this is a question of how much do I (honestly) want to learn Hebrew? I know a number of people who have lived in Israel for many years who don't speak Hebrew very well. This is fine for them if they have an English speaking job and are living in an English speaking community. Perhaps this answer that I'm about to give is relevant to all of the points stated above:

If deep down you don't really have a drive to learn Hebrew then yes it is easy to get frustrated when people are talking to you in a different language and you have no idea what they mean. If however you do have this inner drive, you are committed to learning the language, and you know that it isn't an overnight process then suddenly the situation changes. It might require a deep breath and a 

?את/ה יכול/ה לדבר קצת לאט יותר בבקשה, "can you speak a little more slowly please?" but ultimately you know that you want to be able to understand what they are saying and you are going to try as hard as you can to follow them.


I hope that this post has made sense! It is a collection of different thoughts and feelings. Please share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!

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