I haven’t started to lose my English yet, which I understand happens temporarily as Hebrew starts to take over the neurons and synapses, but my 20 hours a week of Hebrew instruction has started to infiltrate my brain a bit.
Working in pairs to fill in the blanks with conjugated-on-the-spot vocabulary verbs, a daily occurrence, was driving my seatmate a little batty. “Kate, I can’t do this! How are you doing this?”*
“I’m an editor. I’m a grammar head. The patterns make sense to me. Hitpa’el is the easiest binyan to recognize because the taf remains all the time; mem in the present, heh in the past, the usual prefixes in the future.”
“I am never going to get this!” she wailed.
By this time our teacher had passed by and joined the conversation. “It’s not the same for everyone. What works for Kate might not work the same for you. She is an editor, and you’re a designer. You will learn differently. That’s why we talk about grammar but also read the Sha’ar Lamathil and also have people stand up and speak.”**
“You will figure it out,” I said. “The problem with ulpan is that I walk out of here with a false sense of confidence. Things make sense here. Dahlia [our instructor] speaks slowly, in ivrit kala [easy Hebrew], and mistakes get corrected right away. Then I get into the car and listen to the news and can’t understand anything.
“Although,” I mused, “now I can understand the traffic reports, mostly. When we first got here I only understood the weather.”
We laughed, because understanding the weather here isn’t terribly difficult once you know the words for “hot,” “temperatures will rise,” “clear,” and “partly cloudy.”
“Here’s how I know that it’s sinking in,” I said. “I know when things sound wrong.”
I turned to our teacher. “I don’t know how you could do this, but if you spoke incorrectly, I think we’d all catch it. We might not be able to correct you, but we’d know something wasn’t right.” She agreed.
So. This is progress. When I speak incorrectly (to the kids’ teachers, to cashiers, at the post office), I know the second I’ve spoken that I’ve messed up. I cannot correct myself in time, and half the time I don’t know exactly where I’ve gone wrong, but the groundwork…it feels like it’s there. And I have four more months to build.
* Add South African accent.
**Add Hebrew accent.