Hebrew has a reputation as a difficult language to learn, but don’t be scared off! Sure, learning a new alphabet is intimidating, but there are so many benefits to studying this ancient language. Many Hebrew speakers around the world learn it as a second language, so you’ll be in good company as you try to make sense of reading sentences right to left with no vowels! Whether you’re looking for insight into religious texts, want to communicate better with Israelis, or just love learning languages, attending Hebrew schools is a sababa (great) choice.
Modern Hebrew is deeply intertwined with the Jewish faith, so it’s fitting that the majority of Hebrew speakers live in Israel. While many people around the globe speak the language, it’s most commonly heard throughout this Middle Eastern country of 8.5 million residents. A crossroads of culture, language, and faith, Israel hosts many opportunities to gain fluency.
If you’ve got your sights set on an immersive experience, Jerusalem is a great place to start your Hebrew language classes. The Israeli capital city is one of the oldest in the world and historical sites abound. After classes end, check out the holy site of the Western Wall or explore the busy souk in the Old City. On the weekend, take a bus to the Dead Sea and float your cares away in the buoyant saltwater.
For a more cosmopolitan feel, look into studying in Tel Aviv, the country’s financial center on the Mediterranean. You won’t get much sleep in this town known for its nightlife, but you’ll be able to practice your language skills everywhere, from the coffee shops in Florentin to the art galleries on Rothschild Boulevard. Finish the day with a sunset on the beach while wandering along the Lahat Promenade.
Another option to learn the Hebrew language Israel is Haifa, a rapidly modernizing seaport with a large student population. It is farther north and offers easy access to historic sites like Nazareth and Galilee. Learn about different faith traditions by visiting the Baha’i World Center or put your new language skills to use with a visit to the Israel National Museum of Science, Technology, and Space.
While Hebrew is primarily spoken in Israel, there are options to learn the language if you’re unable to travel there. Language classes are available in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among others. Keep in mind that it will take more time to gain fluency if you are only attending classes once or twice a week, but it can serve as a good foundation nonetheless.
Hebrew Language Classes
Not sure where to begin with your search? Lucky for you, Israelis know a little bit about teaching students their native language. They even have a word for it: ulpan. While originally used to describe schools which taught Hebrew to Israeli immigrants, the word is now commonly used for any school or institute dedicated to teaching Hebrew. Ulpanim can be found across the country and there’s certainly an option that’s perfect for you.
Intensive language programs are most often held in short sessions, such as during a winter or summer break, but they can also run the length of an academic semester. Hebrew language classes at language schools usually run from Sunday through Thursday (Shabbat, the Jewish holy day, takes place on Saturday). A Hebrew language academy offers classes at many different levels and are suitable for all students, from beginner to advanced speakers. In some cases, students can choose to add in extra classes focusing on business, technical, or industry-specific Hebrew.
Another option is to enroll at a Hebrew language course in a university program. In these summer or semester-long programs, students combine language classes with courses that focus on Israeli culture, history, and geography. These programs are often credit-bearing and students can expect to participate in language exchanges, take field trips to culturally relevant sites, and listen to guest speakers.
For those who are unable to dedicate several weeks or months to learning Hebrew, private tutoring is also an option. Most sessions involve meeting with a teacher once or twice a week and involve directed instruction related to specific goals. Tutoring is most effective when you make an effort to practice the language outside of class too, so be sure to set aside additional time each week to study.
Tips for Gaining Fluency in Hebrew
Hebrew can be tricky to master, but all the hard work will pay off if you’re persistent! After a day sitting in the classroom, it can be hard to crack open that grammar workbook and start conjugating verbs. So when you’re done, reward yourself by using your newly acquired skills at a cafe and order up a warm, sticky kanafeh or savory boureka.
While even ordering food might be difficult at first, attending Hebrew schools will improve your skills quickly. However, keep in mind that it does take time to achieve proficiency. If you make an effort to communicate only in Hebrew, you should be conversational within a couple of months. If you’re already an intermediate or advanced speaker, expect to make big gains in your comprehension and speaking ability if you practice every day while attending a Hebrew language course.
Surrounding yourself with Hebrew is the most important thing you can do to progress your skills. This means that once you leave the classroom, the lesson isn’t over yet. Go to a cafe and chat with your server, watch a local television program with your roommate, or start listening to Israeli music. Everything you can do to surround yourself with the Hebrew language will help you improve. It’s hard to avoid using your native language, but you’ll be extra thankful for your dedication when you’re laughing along to the latest episode of Eretz Nehederet.
Another trick to improve your ability to learn the Hebrew language is to understand that each word has a root. Words that are related, such as “write” and “letter,” have the same root, making it easier to guess the meaning of an unknown word. Being able to make connections between words will expand your vocabulary and enable you to pick up new phrases more quickly.
Finally, your living situation can make or break your language progression. Choosing to live with a homestay family or Israeli roommates will immeasurably improve your skills, as you’ll be forced to use your Hebrew in daily life. You’ll also learn about local customs and make connections with others, enabling you to understand different opinions and ways of life. It probably goes without saying, but be cautious about living with others who speak the same language as you. Your will may be strong now, but when it’s 11 p.m. and you’re exhausted, it’s easy to slip back into your native language.
Benefits & Challenges
Remember when you were five years old and learning to write the alphabet was really hard? Well, get used to feeling like a youngster again, because Hebrew has its own alphabet and (surprise!) two different ways of writing each letter. To make things more fun, the language is also read right to left. While this can be baffling at the beginning, some serious studying will have you reading sentences in no time.
The good news is that Hebrew grammar has very few irregularities and pronunciation is straightforward (unlike other languages that shall not be named). Once you have a handle on how things work, continuing to practice and learn new vocabulary will put you on the path to fluency in no time.
And remember, students come to Hebrew schools from around the world. You won’t be the only one at the supermarket who has screwed up verb tenses, and many Israelis know what it’s like to learn a second (or third) language. Locals will be patient with you as you perfect your pronunciation, so be sure to be patient with yourself, too! Learning a new language is hard work, and Hebrew certainly makes you work for it.
Whatever the reason you’ve chosen to study this ancient language, learning Hebrew is a great opportunity to challenge yourself, discover a new country, and maybe also eat your weight in falafel. You just might decide that learning the Hebrew language is chaval al hazman. Not sure what that means? It’s time to head to Israel and find out. Yalla!