Israel Retrospective, 11Feb2014

Today has been a real workout for the language center of my brain! I woke up to a fairly typical day: helping Amit in the workshop, building things, being a badass, the usual. Amit speaks fluent English, but the other guys in the workshop only speak Hebrew and Arabic, so our interactions are brief and limited to what I know, which is not a lot. Today I was feeling daring however, so I said “Good morning” to the Bedouin guys in Arabic, to Amit in English, and to one of the other Jews in Hebrew. The Bedouin guys always like it when I say things in Arabic. My knowledge is very limited though, so “Good morning” and “thank you” are about all I can manage.

I felt good about starting my day in three languages. One of my major life goals is to speak five languages comfortably. I’ve always been proud of my French, even though I’m not quite fluent, mostly because I worked hard for it and not many Americans are really comfortable in another language. Of course, it’s completely useless here in Israel, and everyone I meet is at least bilingual. Amit speaks four languages, and can get by in another. Three or four languages is not uncommon. In short, I am totally outclassed.

I worked in the shop until noon, and then I switched jobs (also typical) to start doing hospitality stuff. I basically tell groups where they’re sleeping, where they’re eating, and lead them to their various activities. Theoretically I make sure they’re on time to everything – in practice it rarely works. Today I had two groups, and the first one was from… France!

If you’ve ever tried to learn a third language you probably will have experience language tangling. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for it. All it means is that sometimes, when speaking a language that’s not your mother tongue, the wrong one comes out. I noticed it in high school when I was learning sign language (I kept translating the signs to French in my head) and in college when I took a year of Arabic (when I didn’t know a word in Arabic it often came out in French).

Today I found myself thinking in English, trying to speak in French, and having it all come out in broken Hebrew. I had to actively think about which words to use when speaking French, because if I wasn’t careful some of the basics came out in Hebrew. Then I tried to switch back to Hebrew to talk to one of the people working here and it came out in French.

Learning new languages is HARD. I taught myself to read Hebrew in a day or so, and felt good about that… and then I realized that printed Hebrew and handwritten Hebrew look ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, and I have to deal with both on a daily basis. Handwritten Hebrew is quite beautiful though, so I don’t mind so much. It’s got lots of nice loops and spirals and curly bits. Still not as pretty as Arabic, but nice. Of course, just because I can read it doesn’t mean I know what I’m reading! My vocabulary is still depressingly small, though I can just squeak by with the day-to-day tasks in the village. Ah well.

On a more pleasing note however, two of the French people told me I have a good accent. HUZZAH! I may not be fluent even after ten years of school but by gum, at least I don’t sound like an American idiot. I’ll take it.

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