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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Never Miss Ulpan

I've always liked languages. Languages, people, the migration of people and the evolutions of their cultures, cross-cultural borrowing, symbolism, religious beliefs--I find the human tapestry endlessly fascinating. If I had an unlimited life span, I would devote a lot more time to learning languages, I always thought....

Ulpan is language school. Intensive language school. It starts out deceptively slowly and simply, learning basic words and taking a week to cover the introductory chapter. We're at the mid-term now, and we're covering a chapter every 6 hours (the day is four hours long in the summer--six hours long during the fall semester).

The rule to live by in law school was never get more than a day behind. If you had to stay up until 4 am to catch up, then that was what you had to do. The amount of material covered in law school was so dense, so intensive, so overwhelming, that the law student who got behind was doomed.

Ulpan is somewhat like that. Fortunately, its only one subject and not six, but encompassed within that one subject are worlds of grammar and vocabulary that my aging brain is struggling to master. It's not that it is overwhelmingly difficult--it's just the sheer volume of the information feels like a mental avalanche. We learned a dozen verbs in the last week--which wouldn't be tough except that they all sound very much alike to this un-Israeli brain of mine, they are spelled in a fashion that is remarkably similar in the first syllable, and they are jaw-breakers to pronounce. My brain bridles at the idea that it must differentiate between these words, know how to spell them, how to pronounce them, what they mean and by the way, say them both in the present and past tenses.


Never miss a day of ulpan at this stage. I missed two and I am paying dearly for it. It was not good to absent myself the day we started the past tense, and I am playing catch up like mad. I'll get there--after all, I once thought Shepardizing was the hardest thing I would ever do in the practice of law, only to discover it became second nature in short order (those of you initiates to the practice have it easy these days--we didn't have Westlaw and computerized cite checking back when I learned my trade--and I don't for one minute regret the ease granted us by computers--thank Heaven for Westlaw!).

My classmates hail from all over. This being summer, many of them are tourists or students heading for Fall Semester at the universities. Some, like one of my Arab schoolmates, are learning Hebrew because Arabic and Greek aren't much help in getting an engineering job with the Municipality; others are studying because they are engaged to Israelis and want to live in Israel with their spouses and speak the language their children will be raised in; others, including myself, are olim; many are Christians from Europe who wish to learn Hebrew to aid their own Biblical studies but also genuinely like Israel and want to communicate in the modern descendant of the Holy Tongue.

Everyone, being fluent in at least two (more often three to five) languages, has a 'default' language--the language one collapses into when Hebrew flees the brain. Oftentimes, it isn't one's mother tongue: for example, I couldn't force out the Hebrew word in a sentence last week but German tripped to the tongue from the collegiate German classes embedded in the depths of my grey cells; my classmate from Germany is also fluent in Italian, and when we were discussing comparative states of exhaustion last week, she blithely coined "ayefissima" to let me know just how tired she was....('ayef' meaning 'tired').

We're hoping to initiate an English-free zone in the household once the Boy starts ulpan--as one educator pointed out, it does no good to learn Hebrew in class and then go home and speak English. We're going to try, and I'm sure the frustration level will increase inside the home, but in the long run, I think it will help us all. Especially me, the least fluent of the household....


Blogger Emah S said...

Hey there.............so are you doing the ulpan at Milah??? Do you know if they have less intensive programs there, like for 3 days a week? A friend of my in-laws recommended it there, and I'm still not signed up anywhere (bad girl, I know). I was sort of waiting for the kids to get out of my hair. Can you email me and tell me about milah? you're not getting subsidy there from misrad haklita, right? thanks for any info,

susie s.enteen@gmail.com

Friday, August 25, 2006 at 3:07:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

It's great--I love the teachers; the summer course is 4 days/week and I think that is true of the fall semester also--9:00 to 12:30 is our schedule at the moment. There is a nonintensive course but it's in the evenings which doesn't work for me because of my son.

There is a cost but Milah discounts for new olim and if offers a variety of other services for new olim: faxing, translation, and a volunteer panel of experts (like lawyers) to help out olim.

I'l probably switch to Beit Mitchell in the Fall (assuming there is room) because it IS free to new olim and it has non-intensive in the morning. I would like to be able to stay in intensive classes but I'm finding that the demands of kid-school, driver's licenses, medical appointments, etc. either don't get done, or get done at the expense of ulpan. The smarter thing for the next year, I think, is for me to switch to non-intensive while I sort out the rest of the demands of my life.

Friday, August 25, 2006 at 5:27:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger Jill said...

I applaud the initiative, determination, and eagerness to integrate to your surroundings, and facing some of the challenges learning & thinking in another language create. Implementing conversational Hebrew in the household sounds intensive, but overall worthwhile, keep up the good work.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 at 12:40:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Thanks, hon--I have a feeling that I'm the one who needs all the practice....in time, in time....((-:

Sunday, August 27, 2006 at 11:18:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger AbbaGav said...

Not falling a day behind is good advice. Unfortunately, I fell about 10 years behind almost immediately and it's going to be very difficult to catch up now. (Especially since I'm not actually in ulpan). Your focus on ulpan is well-placed. Get the Hebrew right.

But if you have a spare moment left after verb practice, you've been tagged with the book meme at my site, so, your mission should you choose to accept it...

Monday, August 28, 2006 at 9:24:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger Lady-Light said...

Aliyah06, shalom u'vrakhah!! Thank you for commenting on my site. I have an opinion on what the 'educator' told you about your son: firstly, how old is he? If he is in elementary school, he will learn Ivrit not only in ulpan but from his peers. If he is high school it will be more difficult, but again, he will be surrounded by Hebrew speakers and will pick up the language. Many Americans, however, continue to speak English to their kids at home,as well as have them continue to read books and write in English (to pen-pals, with emails,etc.)to keep up their English; because they are now in a Hebrew-speaking country, surrounded by Hebrew on the radio and TV as well, they will stop being fluent in English if you don't keep it up. This is what happened to my eldest years ago when we made (our first!)Aliyah. She went from gan chovah through third grade only speaking Ivrit while she was there (she didn't want to seem like an outsider, as she was bi-lingual when we got there, and very peer conscious!). I couldn't bring myself to change what I had done since before she was born and switch to English so I continued speaking to her in Ivrit. She didn't read much of anything in English, 'cause her father never read to her(he did speak to her in English, though). By the time we left four years later, she could barely read any English, and it was a bit harder for her because she was 9 years old. So, depending on the age of your son, you can continue to speak to him in English and have him read, read, read, or constantly read to him. You, yourself will learn Ivrit by studying diligently what you learn in ulpan, and forcing yourself to speak Ivrit 'on the street', even if Israelis try to switch to English, as they will be wont to do the minute they hear your accent! Hatzlachah Rabah!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 5:52:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Thanks for the feedback, Ladylight--he's 16 but he's also special ed, so we have the inherent interest and some background in speaking Hebrew from grade school and tutoring, but also the issues that come with special ed kids in that he learns a little more slowly due to vision impairments and ADD. We'll hope for the best and support him as much as we can. On the 'up' side, he loves being here, being Israeli, and being Jewish--not a whiney, unhappy teen upset about his parents making aliyah, not at all!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 5:46:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger Yael K said...

LOL, wait until you hit the future tense. It is the most horrible thing ever invented and whoever did so must have had the idea of keeping this language a dead language! That is a fantastic idea of speaking hebrew at home though and will certainly make you learn a whole lot faster. I'd be super thrilled if I could find someone to speak hebrew with for just like half an hour a day.

Where are you guys located? We really need to have a big olim blogger bash so we can all get to know one another!

P.S. Am on the meme!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 7:52:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Great idea--an olim bloggers party that is all-inclusive would be a LOT of fun!

We're renting a 3-room apt on the Talpiot/Baka border in Jerusalem. It's convenient to the Teen Ulpan and the special ed high school, so we're set for this year.

Thanks for taking the challenge--I'm looking forward to seeing you Lit list!

and oy! if I'm struggling with past tense, the 'future' doesn't look promising (groan, sorry folks, couldn't resist...)


Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 9:55:00 PM GMT+3  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Friday, January 8, 2010 at 7:45:00 PM GMT+2  

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