Education, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

The Blooper Reel

In the movie that is my life, this period in time will be filled with perfect material for the end of film outtakes. The bloopers and practical jokes that roll after the credits; that end up on disc 2 of the DVD set.

Hopefully, by the time such a movie is made I, too, will be able to laugh at the time when I was a  consistent perpatrator of the Hebrew version of “Who’s on First?”

Let me explain by example.

Here is a loose transcript of the cellphone conversation I just had with an Israeli parent of a friend of my son’s:

Me (“my” Hebrew translated into English for your convenience): Hello [parent’s name]. Speaking is Jen. The mom of Oliver.

Other Mom ( in 100 mph garbled cellphone Hebrew): Yes?

Me: You call me?

Other Mom: Yes.

Me: Yes?

Other Mom: No, I was talking to Tal blah blah blah my laundry.

Me: Um. Ok. Did you call me?

Other Mom: blah blah sent a message blah blah blah

Me: You sent me what?

Other Mom: No. I didn’t send.

Me: What you no send?

Other Mom: No, you sent me a message.

Me: Yes, yes, I send SMS with new cellphone number.

Other Mom: Oh, ok. I wanted to talk to you.

Me: Ok. About what?

Other Mom: No, no. I don’t want to speak to you. I was speaking to my son.

Me: Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.

Other Mom: (laughs and says in English). No, we will speak soon. Goodbye.


Every single day of my life in Israel is an exercise in embarassment and humility.

It sounds a lot worse than it is. Daily humiliation by no means leads to unhappiness.  I think, in fact, my willingness to speak Hebrew at all to these people is indicative of the fact that I am starting to let down my guard. However, as I continue to become more confident in speaking Hebrew to my friends, colleagues, and neighbors, I also continue to make lots and lots of mistakes. Something, generally speaking, I work hard at not doing.

Veteran immigrants to Israel, the folks who learned Hebrew 20 years ago in an ulpan, as opposed to “Jen Style” (ie. figuratively flat on her face with a dictionary in her hand) all recommend “making mistakes.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak Hebrew,” they tell me. “This is the way you will learn.”

The only problem with this advice is that most Israelis don’t have the patience for my learning curve.

When they speak to me in Hebrew (usually very fast), and I respond by saying, “What did you say?” they usually will do one of two things:

1. Tell me again, but this time in English

2. Repeat what they said the first time, just as quickly, if not more quickly, but louder

What I really need them to do is repeat it in Hebrew, but at the pace of a person who has just regained her use of speech after being in a coma for nine months.




On the other hand, when I try to speak Hebrew (and I deserve an A for effort these days), I find myself five words into my attempt and either:

a. I don’t know the word for…let’s say…”repulsive” in Hebrew and then I have to go about trying to describe what “repulsive” means using the limited Hebrew I do have. By the time I am finished with that task, I forget what was so repulsive to begin with. Or,

b. The person I am talking to looks absolutely and completely bewildered, though still hanging on to my every word hoping that by the end of my discombobulated, grammatically incorrect sentence she will be able to piece together something comprehensible from what just exited my mouth.

At the very least, thanks to a good job at a company in the hi-tech industry, I think I’ve managed to establish myself as a reasonably intelligent person…despite the fact that I walk around in fool’s clothing most days.

And considering that it must require a lot of patience for non-English speakers to interact with me, I suppose I should take it as a good sign, then, that some people continue to do so.

Hopefully, within time, we’ll understand each other, too.

9 thoughts on “The Blooper Reel”

  1. Despite the impression you may sometimes get from some locals, Hebrew really is a far less useful language than many (most?) others. Keep that (and the fact that today is the 4th of July!) in mind when you try to juggle a sentence in Hebrew!

    Hang in there, (Tisha’ari tluyah sham bifnim!)


  2. Hi Jen,

    Just discovered your Blog. Very interesting article about your way of learning to speak Hebrew — the hard way, but sure also !
    I too learned Hebrew by speaking it wherever I could after I returned to England from a 1 year post-school Program in Israel, and went back for 5 years to study, save for my personal Aliya, and …………………. encourage others to come also on Aliya (more about this soon!).
    During those 5 years back in Mother England, I returned with very little Hebrew, but with a basis of Classical Hebrew which I’d studied in Cheder — good for Grammar. I met friends and Shlichim (emissaries) from Israel ,and used every opportunity to practice and improve my Hebrew.
    By the time that I came home to Israel, 5 years later, my Hebrew flowed freely, and I never looked back !
    Now, 37 years later, I actively encourage English-speakers to come on Direct Aliya to 44 Communities in the Centre of Israel — Aliya2Binyamin.
    Ideal for those who enjoy Peace and Serenity of country living, but still need to maintain a close proximity to their work in one of the Major Cities in Israel.
    For those interested, we plan to teach Hebrew in an Ulpan for the first half year in Israel Summer 2014, We only have room for the first 10 families who commit to coming during
    July / August 2014, so please check us out on:

    Eric Wiseberg
    Aliya2Binyamin Co-ordinator
    (website updated each week — when did you last check?)
    Tel: 972-58-429-5210 or
    USA Number : 19148268883
    (receive calls from 4 am Israel Time — 6 days per week (not Shabbat).
    No other Aliya office in Israel available at this time of day!)


  3. You have a rare gift of conveying the whole spirit of language-acquisition, always bound up with emotions. I just read 20 posts here, and could comment on each. Fascinating and entertaining. That ‘broken’ telephone call is as tru-2-life as it gets.Ii suppose I’m maybe a bit more unforgiving of atrocious manners, feeling almost like an institution here after 20 years. I wish you success in making a change; it’s obvious that many things are broken, over and above the excusable language barriers.
    i’ll ‘Follow’ your blog, (I know, sounds deviant) and feel free to explore mine at your leisure/JS


    1. Thank you so much! I’m delighted you stumbled upon the blog. And YES — language acquisition is bound up with emotions. Thanks for explaining it so precisely. I look forward to checking out your blog and hope to see you back again soon!


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