Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Israel's Immigrant Anglo Students Don't Want to Learn Hebrew. Shocker!

English speaking students at Bar Ilan University protested high prices for test translations and unfair conditions for new immigrants who don't speak Hebrew.

Are any of us surprised that English speakers feel no need at all to learn another language when the move to a new country? I'm not. Why? Well, because I see this happen every day.

English speaker moves to Israel in early to mid-twenties to reinvent his life. Tel Aviv calls to him if he's a) gay b)a flaming liberal c)an athlete d)a party animal e)a computer/buisiness/startup kinda guy.
Or Jerusalem calls to him if he's a) religious b)a flaming conservative c)a homebody d)an artist who wants to study at Bezalel art school e) a journalist/political activist.

He has high expectations of himself and has always achieved in the States/UK/Australia/South Africa so why wouldn't he succeed in Israel? And in the beginning he really enjoys himself. He enjoys meeting new people, seeing new sites, and living a freer or more meaningful life.

It's pretty easy since everyone knows at least basic English, so he can make friends and live his life without having to really speak the local language.

But then, simple things start becoming difficult. Things like finding an apartment and signing the lease, getting an Israeli license, applying to schools and then signing up for classes and dealing with any kind of bureaucracy. The websites are all in Hebrew, and so are the automated voice prompters when you call any office or organization. And when he goes to the doctor, he has trouble describing the problem because the doctor doesn't speak English- either that or he doesn't understand the diagnosis.

And soon enough he starts realizing how difficult it is to read the fine print because he has been getting by speaking English for months. Yes, he's been doing Ulpan, but how much of an extremely foreign language can you learn in half a year when you are only going to night class twice a week because you have to pay the bills and this is what you get for free from the government? Maybe you know the alef-bet, maybe you know how to have a basic conversation, but you definitely don't know how to read the newspaper.

Oh, I get it. I get why the students at Bar Ilan University are frustrated with their studies and frustrated with he fact that tests, readings and lectures are frequently in Hebrew. I get why they are complaining- it's hard to learn a language fast, and, in Israel, no one ever holds your hand. This is why new immigrants complain and why Israeli's everywhere complain because no one here makes things easy for you. If you want to get things done, you have to understand that you'll most likely have to do it the hard way. And that totally sucks.

Also, I think that Bar-Ilan should be clear from the beginning that the price of test translations is subject to change. They did mislead their students. And this is wrong.

But let me take this a little further. When it comes to academia, I believe it is important for every Israeli university student to graduate with a high English fluency level. It is essential to later success in all fields - it is essential for any kind of international communication. However, I don't believe that public universities in Israel, where English is not an official language, should be translated for free for students who don't have a high enough fluency level and I don't think it's reasonable to expect all tests/lectures/whatever to be held in English.

It is still important for academics studying at a local institution to speak the local language- especially if they are not international exchange students, but rather, new immigrants.  If the students want the administration to help them out, they should ask that Hebrew tutoring be provided for free or that they be allowed to take un-timed tests with dictionaries by their side when the tests are in Hebrew, but to have all tests translated for free sounds like an unreasonable request.

Maybe I'm being hard on them. But the way I see it, its essential for new immigrants to learn the language- to learn Hebrew. It's essential for students in Israeli Universities to be able to network with professors all over the country, or professionals in their field from different parts of the country, or whatever.  Hebrew is important in Israel and should stay that way.

Also, I took one look at the picture in the Jerusalem Post article about the protest and immediately rolled my eyes.  Their protest signs even spelled "IVRIT" (Hebrew) incorrectly. Check out the third girl from the left- her sign spells out  עבריט-  yeah, at least get your protest sign right.  It's עברית.

Plus, check out all these awesome ways to learn Hebrew:


  1. I totally agree dear!
    how was berlin??

  2. It was AMAZING! lunch next week? or are you in Amsterdam!?

  3. Hi Rayve:

    I have some fears about moving to Israel myself. I plan to attend Ulpan to ease my transition, but, I am concerned it may not be enough. How many hours of study, per week, do you suggest?


  4. Hi Bracha,

    Thanks for the comment!

    It's definitely tough to move to Israel, but it's not without its benefits too.
    I do love Israel, as you can tell from my blog, so don't let Hebrew deter you. Take the challenge and attack it head-on!

    Ulpan should certainly ease your transition,and if you have a basic foundation (ie know your aleph-bet and a few words here and there) this will also help you progress much faster.

    But, in the end, its up to you to be your own task-master. Do your best to speak as much Hebrew as you can when you can.Don't worry about making mistakes. This is the best practice you can get.

    Also, I recommend leaving about 5 hours a week to reading and writing in Hebrew. That's a little more than 30 minutes a day. This will get your reading and writing to a good fluent level.

    Oh, and lastly, make sure to reach out to Israelis- not just exPat Americans! Mingle and mix :)


Let me know what you think!