Competency in the Hebrew language is the single most crucial skill you can acquire before making Aliyah. Does this mean that Aliyah is off the table if you don’t speak a word of Hebrew? No, it is fairly simple to get by day to day living in English, especially as a tourist or student. But for those making Aliyah consider this: what happens when you receive your electric bill, your army draft notice, or your lab results from your doctor all in Hebrew? How do you sign a rental contract for an apartment when you don’t understand what’s in the fine print? In some of these cases, it helps to have a friend translate; in others, it’s better to have a lawyer deal with any legal issues. Nevertheless, for all non-legal matters it is important to try to be as independent as possible. There are several ways to learn Hebrew, both before and after Aliyah:
- Find a Tutor: Learning from an Israeli tutor is an invaluable resource. If you have the basics down, start focusing on advancing your conversational Hebrew. It’s one thing to understand Hebrew when reading or hearing it. It’s quite another to speak back in Hebrew, even more so using more advanced vocabulary. Challenge yourself to start using an Israeli dialect and to have as little of an accent as possible. If you do not have access to a tutor locally, try reaching out on some of the Facebook groups. Many people run a business tutoring people online through Skype, FaceTime, and Whatsapp.
- Online Language Learning Programs: After having a tutor, the next best thing for beginners is to learn through online programs. Some examples of these are Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and HebrewPod101. I would recommend Rosetta Stone only for those just learning their letters and first few words. Duolingo and HebrewPod101 are a better choice for a long term investment, as they also teach more advanced vocabulary and sentence structures.
- Translate Israeli News Articles: Once you know Hebrew basics, you can begin to build your vocabulary by translating news articles from Hebrew to English. This process is long and often tedious, but it is effective.
- Watch Israeli Movies/TV Shows: You’ll hear Hebrew spoken more naturally in conversation, and it’ll be a challenge to keep up with the speed at which the actors are speaking! Another thing to try: listening to Israeli music.
- Take Advantage of Ulpan: Ulpan is an intensive Hebrew learning program offered to olim for free up to five months. You will be tested for your baseline, and then sorted into a class based on your proficiency. There are many different kinds of ulpanim spread throughout the country, and each one offers something a little different to stand out from the rest. It is important to do your research into which ulpan will be right for you. Some things to consider are location, hours per day/week, and the target student population.
- Talk to Israelis on the Street: even when they want to practice their English upon hearing your accent, insist on conversing in Hebrew. This will also increase your vocabulary and usage of Hebrew slang terms. Here you will learn how to speak more like a local using the common vernacular versus the grammatically proper speech taught in ulpan.