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Desire, Need, and Learning Hebrew

Updated: Jun 5

What's the Difference Between Want and Need? Are Our Needs Really Necessary? And How Does This Relate to Learning Hebrew as a Second Language? A Brief Psychology 101 Moment That Can Help Any Language Learner.

"I feel like I need a private tutor," "What we're learning in class right now isn't what I need," "I don't need to learn Hebrew letters – I just need to speak." These are just a few of the things we at UAB have heard from our dear students over the years. In fact, this is nothing new - these are some of the feelings that almost every second language learner, and indeed every person, experiences.

Broadening our perspective, our lives offer us similar examples. How many times have you said: I need to go to the pub tonight, I need to drink alcohol, I need to argue with someone first thing in the morning, and so on? What's common to all these examples? They aren't necessarily needs but desires. We often naturally confuse want with need.

Returning to Hebrew learning, does a person really only need to learn to speak? Certainly not. They want to learn to speak. But what they don't realize is that to speak correctly at an adequate level, they also need to know how to write and read. A person who demonstrates proficiency in speaking is necessarily someone who can also read and write at a reasonable and correct level. True, there are speakers who can communicate without reading or writing, but their language is riddled with syntactical and grammatical errors.

Similarly, when a student says they "need a private tutor," why is that? In fact, a small group is what will benefit language progress, not one-on-one lessons where the level of conversation remains the same and the student quickly hits a glass ceiling. Private lessons are good for specific corrections, like learning the future tense or preparing for a job interview.

What's the conclusion? If there is a language learning institution you trust, it's okay to express your wants, but it's important to rely on people with knowledge and experience in the field and not make declarations like "I need" when it's actually what you want. Distinguishing between want and need in language learning in particular and in life in general makes life much easier. Speaking from experience.

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