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Learning Hebrew by speaking around a table in a co-working space and not progressing? Here's why

Spoiler alert - speaking alone will not help you learn a new language.

Recently, all kinds of Hebrew courses have popped up offering new immigrants to Israel a quick fix: “This is how you will succeed in learning a language without reading and writing if you just speak.” It’s a nice idea, but you’ll likely not advance at the pace you hoped. Here’s why.

Let’s start with a story, as usual. Recently, a new immigrant from South America joined us, after learning at a Jewish day school. He was enrapt by marketing from one of those aforementioned Ulpanim that offers a magic bullet: Come learn Hebrew without writing or reading, rather learn by speaking around a table. The same student, who already knows several languages, was drawn to the place. However, after three courses and 90 hours of learning, he found that he wasn’t getting anywhere. The main reason? There’s no magic solution.

For a person learning a new language that they weren’t exposed to after the age of 2 (the formal cutoff for being a native speaker), reading and writing is the place to begin. Most of us have a photographic memory - we are able to see a written sentence, word or expression, and are able to integrate it in our vocabulary. Therefore, when someone older than 18 learns a new language, as well as high school students, they need to see a written text, exercises, and more that will help them learn the new language.

Learning without written exercises can be confusing. This is because of several reasons - including lack of structure, lack of accuracy, inconsistency, and limited exposure to the new language.

What’s the problem here in Israel? Since the establishment of the state, public Ulpanim, and unfortunately many private Ulpanim today, emphasized just writing and reading using boring, outdated textbooks. For example, take one of the popular textbooks that you’ve surely encountered - Hebrew From Scratch (עברית מן ההתחלה), that contains exercises such as conversations to the information bureau, outdated Hebrew names and old expressions that aren’t used in daily life. This led to many students feeling frustrated at the offered methods, and many of them were drawn to the other extreme - a Hebrew course that only focuses on speaking. However, there is also a middle road.

Speaking can be emphasized, however a comprehensive language learning experience should include texts and exercises to support speaking. At UAB for example, from class A1 (א1), we learn simple conversations, sentences, as well as writing that will help instill confidence in those who are taking their first steps in a new language.

We suggest that those who really want to learn a new language in general, but specifically Hebrew, to choose a course that offers both - speaking properly supported by writing and reading. Only then, with the synergy between the three aforementioned elements, will you break the glass ceiling of learning a new language and really excel in the language. We guarantee it - feel free to ask graduates who have already done our courses.

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