WUJS How to Learn Hebrew without really Trying!
By current WUJS participant, Garrett Krivicich
I’m sorry if that title led you on. Get use to it though because that’s all people seem to do in this world. Lead you on. It’s pretty funny actually. No, actually, it’s horrible.
Well, that’s not the point of this post. The point of my story today is to talk about my experience learning Hebrew. Yes, I’ve lived in Israel for a month now, and I’ve made a commitment to myself to become conversational in Hebrew by July. Now when I say conversational, I don’t mean full on philosophical debates with professors at Tel Aviv University. I just want to be able to do some basic things, like order food, and talk to cab drivers, and come up with neat pick up lines that win over everyone’s hearts. The pick up lines will be the easiest for me because I’m already so suave.
So I am determined. I am on a mission, and I cannot be stopped. And let me tell you something, it’s a very frustrating journey to embark on. This isn’t like learning Spanish. I use to live an hour away from Miami, so I heard Spanish all the time. Ask me how many times I heard people speaking Hebrew throughout my life. I don’t know, on Birthright for ten days? This is all so new to me. So picking up on the words, and the accent has been a struggle. Another part of the struggle was that I missed the first week of my Hebrew classes, or my Ulpan. So not only did I just jump in; I jumped in a week behind with no experience. And I’ll tell you something, it was overwhelming.
Ironically though, jumping in is the best advice I can give to someone trying to learn a new language. You need to just go for it. You need to be overwhelmed and put on the spot. If you’re not, then you don’t grow. When you’re forced to understand and respond in a language you barely understand, your mind works differently. And eventually, you start picking things up. It’s a process, but it happens.
And when you finally start catching on, you need to just speak it. When you remember a word, use it. I don’t know many, but anytime I can use a Hebrew word or phrase instead of English, I do it. And eventually, it all starts coming together. It’s kind of creepy actually. But also rewarding.
A fun strategy that I have used to pick up on the new vocabulary is making stories out of words. Let me give you an example. The word excellent, in Hebrew, is mitzuyan. Well, that’s what it sounds like using english letters, but you get the point. I wanted to retain this word, but simply saying it 25 times was not helping me out much. So I decided to see what it reminded me of. I broke the word into three parts: mitt, zoo, and yan. Now, obviously, zoos are just excellent, so my story had to take place in one. Then, I thought of Mitt Romney, who is not excellent, but hey, it works.
I imagine myself walking through the excellent zoo and looking at all the animals. It’s a bright sunny day filled with cotton candy and happiness. Then, suddenly, I come across a very gloomy exhibit. Inside the cage, is an animal that goes by only one name: the Mitt Romney. And the Mitt Romney is literally just sitting in the middle, doing nothing exciting. 47% of me wants to walk away, but I decide to stay and watch. And as I do, I can’t help myself from yawning. Yan sounds like yawn, right?
So I put Mitt, the zoo, and yawning together, and there’s my word, mitzuyan. And you might ask, do I have to think about Mitt Romney every time I want to use the word excellent? Thankfully, no. Now, it just comes naturally. But that story helped my brain retain it. And the more you make stories, the easier they become to make. The more imagery and comedy you use, the easier the vocabulary is to remember. And it’s pretty entertaining to do it this way too. Just ask me my story for how I remember the word for paper towels. Due to explicitly, I will save that story for another time.
If you want to learn a new language, you need to have a passion for it. You can’t learn it because you need the credits to graduate. You can’t learn it because it will make you more marketable for a brand new job. Those are all secondary, and while you can pick things up with that motivation, you will never fully grasp it. The reason that I am picking up on Hebrew so fast is because I have a passion to communicate. That passion can take you a long way.
Have passion, have fun, and don’t make it like a class. You are not learning a language. You are becoming one with a new way of life. This is not like studying calculus. This is building a foundation to communicate with a whole new array of people. Think of it like this, and suddenly, the task does not seem as daunting anymore.