When I learned Spanish a few years ago, it came pretty easily. There are so many cognates and the rules of grammar are similarish to English, so even if I didn’t know the exact meaning of the word, I could usually guess the rough meaning of a sentence using context clues. While I never became truly fluent, I could get around and read Harry Potter and read the news and stuff like that after about a year of self study.
Hebrew is a totally different animal. Learning the initial letter system was fun because it was sort of like decoding a cipher, except once you learn the symbols and can say the words, you still don’t understand a goddamn thing you’re reading. There are letters with sounds we don’t make in English and half the challenge of understanding what people say is actually picking the words out of the rapid flow of guttural spillage. It also doesn’t help that it’s hard to tell whether an Israeli is yelling or just talking – it’s usually the latter, but because Israelis speak so enthusiastically, you might be forgiven for wondering why these crazy people are always fighting with each other.
The words are all made from three or four-letter roots – called “shoreshim” – and once you know one root, you can learn a lot of words that stem from that root. I’d give you an example but I can’t even remember enough to think of one off the top of my head. Because I haven’t officially made aliyah, I can’t get the oleh benefits like attending an ulpan so I haven’t had any formal instruction. Duolingo and asking Udi to repeat certain phrases ad nauseum will have to do. This means that things are crawling along and after a year of living here, my Hebrew is still mamash lo tov. That means it’s embarrassingly bad.
Thankfully, Israelis are incredibly friendly and anytime I’m lost, I just look around and say, “Ani lo medberet ivrit PLEASE HELP” and I have always gotten what I need. This is true whether it’s a grocery store, a doctor’s office, or a gas station. They’re also not allergic to botnim (peanuts) like Americans are, so if there was ever a reason to appreciate Israelis, there it is. Guess I’ll keep studying on Duolingo while I make peanut butter cookies for Udi’s shavuot work party tomorrow.