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....