“What’s the Point of the Book? I Came Here to Speak!”
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
If You Really Want to Speak Like a Local, Read and Write Like a Local
An interesting story from the Vietnam war goes like this. The US Army needed to teach locals the English language as quickly as possible. Hence they brought English teachers from America and the idea was just to teach spoken English without books, grammar and basically no writing at all. The locals quickly were able to have a basic conversation in English. However, most of them couldn't get beyond that. Just the basic level. The reason was that the spoken part wasn't supported by reading or writing.
One of the most common complaints we get from students at UAB is “Why do we have to learn how to read and write if the only thing we care about is speaking?” A question related to that is “Why do we put SOOO much time and effort into making our own books? Can't someone just learn how to speak Hebrew without them?” Well the answer is simply, no! In order to speak a new language properly, students need to work on all 3 elements: speaking, reading and writing. Obviously you can emphasize one, but all 3 are crucial to mastering a second language.
One of our former students at UAB has been living in Israel for over 25 years. She had been learning for a while in one of those courses taught in a shared office space, just sitting around the table and speaking Hebrew. No texts. No grammar exercises. Nothing. For a non-native speaker, it sounded like she spoke Hebrew fluently, but any native Israeli could hear the huge mistakes she was making. Mixing male and female, using the wrong form of the verb, not being able to use connecting words properly, etc. In addition she couldn’t even write simple questions on Whatsapp and requested an English menu every time she went to one of the local cafes.
And she’s not alone. Many immigrants who pick up the language from the street will make common mistakes, saying חלונות סגורות (|khalonot s’gurot| - “closed windows” in the feminine) instead of חלונות סגורים (|khalonot s’gurim| - “closed windows” in the masculine); היה לי בעיה (|hayah li b’ayah| - “I had a problem” in the masculine) instead of הייתה לי בעיה (|hayitah li b’ayah| - “I had a problem” in the feminine); Using the wrong form of the verb, for instance אני תלמדי (|ani tilmadi| - “I will learn” in the second person female) instead of אני אלמד (|ani elamed| - “I will learn” in the first person) ,etc.
And here’s an interesting fact you should definitely check out: If you notice Israelis, those who speak English fluently are usually those who are able to express themselves fluently (or at least at a high-level) in writing too, and put time and effort into their English classes when they were in school. The problem in many ulpanim (and traditional ulpan books) is that they focus only on reading and writing. The same problem occurs when focusing only on speaking. We believe that there’s a middle way and one can utilize reading and writing in order to excel at speaking.
Lastly, have you tried paying your Arnona (city tax) or ordering movie tickets in Hebrew? It’s almost impossible without knowing how to read.