Sunday, January 30, 2011

After Ulpan

Me, sitting my ulpan classroom during a break. (Photo Credit: Leah)

Assuming I live through tomorrow, I will have achieved one of my most important goals as a new immigrant to Israel.  Almost every weekday (Sunday-Thursday) for the past five months, I left my house by 7 AM, took two buses, spent approximately 5 hours thinking, speaking and writing in Hebrew and then took two buses home.  Then I took a nap.

Tomorrow is my last day of the official 5-5-5 ulpan for new immigrants - five hours a day, five days a week for five months.

It was exhilarating and exhausting.

Over the five months, I have studied with students from more than a dozen different countries, including -
D from Chile (Photo Credit: Leah)
G from Ethiopia (Photo Credit: Leah)
B from the UK  (Photo Credit: Leah)
S from Italy (Photo Credit: Leah)


M from Uzbekistan (Photo Credit: Leah)
T from Brooklyn (Photo Credit: Leah)










I did my homework nearly every night, but I skipped class a small fraction of the time (did I mention it was exhausting?) and I didn't study quite as much as I could have. Every time I skipped class, my kids gave me a hard time for being a poor role model.

Still, I gained more than I could have anticipated.

I gained intellectual humility, realizing that 10 year-old Israeli children will probably always know more Hebrew than I will.

I learned the Hebrew keyboard (more-or-less).

I learned how to conjugate verbs in four tenses.

I was moved by the intelligence of Hebrew, which is based on 3-letter root words that connect words with related meanings.

I gained a renewed appreciation for adult students who, having mastered at least one other language, are willing to start over in another.

I gained the willingness to open my mouth and try to approximate what I mean using the Hebrew words I have in my linguistic quiver.

I gained a deep, deep appreciation for Renana, my ulpan teacher, who speaks slowly and repeats herself over and over without ever getting frustrated.

The very gifted Renana.

I gained limited kind of mastery over the Egged bus system and overcame the anxiety associated with negotiating the buses alone.

I started speaking Hebrew occasionally in my dreams.  Sadly, I cannot speak any more fluently in my dream life than I can in my real life.

I learned the value of Google Translate and Hebrew Verb Tables.

Lots of pluses and a few minuses.

I think we spent too much time on writing exercises, although it's possible that my Hebrew handwriting got a tad less childish looking.  On the first day, as she looked over my shoulder at something I was writing, I told Renana, "I write like a child."  She replied encouragingly, "You write like a new immigrant."  In Hebrew, of course.

I would have wanted to spend more time speaking, but at times there were 25 or more students in class, so giving everyone a chance to speak was not that viable.  But I seized every possible opportunity to speak in class, to ask and answer questions and to tell my little stories.

I still make lots of mistakes in my verb tenses, but I forge ahead anyway, approximating my intended message as best as I can.  Sometimes, when I know I am going to be dealing with a non-English speaker, I look up key vocabulary and rehearse what I need to say in advance.

Tomorrow, after the official 5-5-5 ulpan is over, I have an appointment at a private (and expensive) ulpan to see if an intensive 1-on-1 will help me gain more confidence and be able to use the skills I have been working on for the past five months.

In all, it's amazing that the State of Israel provides this benefit to new citizens completely free of charge.  They even paid for my first textbook.  Even though it wasn't quite enough, or quite the right kind of instruction for me to feel totally confident as a new Hebrew speaker, it was an amazing gift to be able to spend these first months this way.

I am very grateful for the opportunity.

4 comments:

Moriah said...

Kol hakavod! You're an inspiration to us who, G-d willing will soon be following after you...

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

כל הכבוד לך

;-)

את באמת מעודדת ומדרבנת

westbankmama said...

Give yourself a break. It takes a long time to learn a second language as an adult. Put on the radio every day to a Hebrew station and slowly your comprehension will improve.

Devorah Designs! said...

It really helps me to hear how you felt and that you had the same fears that I have now. thanks for sharing. I just discovered your blog. It's needed!