Hebrew Language Learners Beware of Clickbait!
There’s a right way and a wrong way to learn slang. Learn it right the first time at UAB!
One of the most fascinating parts about learning a new language is discovering how it evolves in the blink of an eye through everyday speech that we call “slang”. Slang refers to a set of common words and phrases used by groups and subgroups within a society in their day-to-day interactions. Slang serves an important purpose by creating a sense of shared identity within a culture or society. But for someone learning Hebrew, how important is it to learn slang and what is the best way to do so?
Over the last few years, here at UAB we have seen a surge in Buzzfeed style articles touting shortlists of common Hebrew slang words everyone “MUST LEARN” to be considered a true local. These articles, which are written by misguided Hebrew teachers at other ulpanim, fail to communicate to readers that despite the important role slang plays as a part of every language, the nuances of common Hebrew parlance are most often too complex to be fully summed up in a list of terms. We urge our students to think critically and consider the source from which the list originated given that slang varies greatly in meaning and relevance depending on the context in which it is spoken, who is saying it, and the audience to whom it is being said.
Slang words can be used differently in various age groups and social groups. The same words may not make sense or may even be entirely inappropriate when used in different situations. Using variations across age groups as an example (one of the most common and stark differences in slang usage) imagine we were to ask a group of ulpan students to listen in on a conversation between Israeli teenagers. Using the average age of an ulpan student in Tel Aviv, we will assume these ulpan students are between 25-50 years of age and many of them will have already lived amongst Israelis for several years. When asked to decipher the conversations they overhear, many of the slang words and phrases the Israeli teens would say to one another would not make a bit of sense nor would they even matter to the ulpan students. Beyond obvious variations across age groups, there are even variations in slang usage within the same age groups, slang that makes sense only to soldiers, slang for young professionals, and even slang that varies according to educational background.
Don’t get us wrong, we love slang too! When used correctly, slang has the ability to spice up a conversation and help us connect with others around us. Of course we agree that there is utility to learning slang but at UAB we caution our students that there is a better way to learn colloquialisms used in everyday Hebrew conversation that doesn’t involve clickbait! Words like סבבה (|sababa| - “cool”), מה המצב (|Ma hamatsav| - “what’s up?”), אס”ק (|Asak| - “end of the course atmosphere”) and practically every other slang word don’t need to be taught in a class if you learn Hebrew from a qualified instructor at a reputable ulpan like UAB. That’s because we make sure our students are taught to learn the skills to pick up on any slang word (or any other word for that matter) that you hear in your everyday life. We recommend that
for anyone researching where to learn Hebrew at an ulpan in Tel Aviv, be careful to avoid tutors or ulpanim that try to make up for a lack of content in a course syllabus by emphasizing a curriculum that revolves around shortcuts and lists of “must know” words.