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Speak in Hebrew!

Today’s participant blog post comes from Jackie Schindler, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Jackie’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Rishon LeZion, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Jackie’s personal blog.

The following conversation took place in Hebrew:

Salesperson: “What do you want to order?”

Me: “A tuna sandwich”

Salesperson: “A what?”

Me: “Tuna”

Salesperson: “What is this ‘tuna?'”

I point to the sandwich in front of me, and finally they exclaim: “Ohhh tuna” (emphasis on the T)

…Please keep in mind “Tuna” is the same word in Hebrew: טונה

I wish I could say this was a one-time occurrance but this little shtick has become a daily event in my life – I speak in Hebrew, they answer in English or my personal favorite was a situation that happened at the nearby bus stop with Alex, my roommate (and my witness):

After a full conversation in Hebrew with an Israeli woman about when the bus was coming, if my Google Maps app was up to date and how much it cost to take the bus, she proceeded to ask me, “So, do you know any Hebrew?”

Dumbfounded, I answered in Hebrew, “We’ve been speaking in Hebrew for the past 10 minutes.”

The woman seemed confused like I had just made up the whole situation. I was just as confused since she either suddenly understood English or my American accent is so thick that she couldn’t differentiate that we were communicating in Hebrew. Not to mention, Alex was confused as she had just overheard our whole exchange…

Another friend, Benji, named this type of situation a “Hebrew brawl” – we speak in Hebrew, they answer in English and we keep going like this until one of us gives in or the conversation ends awkwardly in a bilingual tie.

So how can I solve this type of problem you ask?

I have come up with a few solutions:

  • I practice my Israeli accent at the expense of annoying all of my roommates (especially Alex) – I continually try to roll my “R” for a good “rash” sound (ר) or listen to Israeli music on repeat mimicking the musician’s pronounciation of the words.

  • The 12 year-old girl I tutor through Yahel at the Learning Center in the Matnas (the local JCC) has made my accent her personal mission for the year. At the end of our English sessions, she picks out Hebrew children’s books and has me read to her, laughing at my weak “lamed” (ל) or American-ized “shin” (ש). Although according to her, my accent level is that of a preschooler (based on her choice of books about teddy bears and zoo animals), she is patient with me as I grant her the same patience with her proununciation of English words. By trading positions in the learning dynamic, she is able to gain skills as the teacher and I can truly understand what it is like to be the student struggling with a new, foreign language.

  • My brother suggested I hire a speaking coach so that I can improve my accent with help from a trained professional (this option seems the most expensive).

  • I embrace my American accent and continue to speak with pride. Although this option seems toughest, I want to be authentic to myself and practice my Hebrew so I can eventually become better. This practice takes place in the Ulpan classes provided by Yahel, in the streets of Ramat Eliyahu and with my host family who primarily speak Hebrew and Amharic.

I’m still weighing the options, but I know the next time I order a tuna sandwich, I’ll just point at it so I can avoid confusion for both the salesperson and myself…

L’hitraot (see you later) –


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