I’ve started intensive Hebrew (Ulpan). My class meets five days a week for five hours a day for five months. Getting back into the habit of going somewhere at a regular time every day, and then coming home and doing homework, meant that I spent most of last month shifting how I structure my days. Blogging took the brunt of the displacement, but now that I am a bit more comfortable in my Hebrew learning schedule, I can slip back into blogging more regularly again (hopefully).
I have always been kind of a language class junkie. I like to study languages, and I’ve taken quite a few of them to varying degrees of fluency and for assorted lengths of time. In chronological order I’ve taken: French, more French, Irish Gaelic, German, Arabic, Swahili, more Arabic, and now Hebrew. Tragically, my Irish Gaelic and Swahili are very limited (if you are looking for a weird song about greetings in Swahili, or need to know how to ask how to say something in Irish Gaelic though, let me know. I can hook you up with that vital information), but I feel pretty good about my levels of French, German, and (Modern Standard) Arabic.
With the exception of Irish Gaelic, I have taken all of these languages in an academic, university/school setting. Irish Gaelic I took in a theater in North Hollywood (right near the really good Gelsons, obviously) at the Irish Cultural Center (RIP, Irish Cultural Center. You seemed to have vanished while I was away at college). The class consisted of 16-year-old me, two retired couples, and one random older man. The teacher was a middle aged man from Connemara, and our textbook was a slim binder with the title “Irish for Parents.” During this time in my life, I never went anywhere without my DK Eyewitness Ireland travel guide, and my Oscar Wilde doll. When I signed up for the class (and the Irish Cultural Center membership), I was feverish with visions of learning of how stumble through the consonant-heavy Gaelic words. I drove by the Irish Cultural Center every day on my route to school, and I could not wait for the class. Unfortunately, it was not a very popular class at the Center (I’m not sure if anything was?), never touched on any grammar, and met probably once a week for like a month. The other attendees talked a lot about cruises. I was devastated.
Until now, my melancholy foray into Gaelic has been my only non-academic language class.
Before I started Ulpan, I did not really realize what taking a non-academic language class meant. In Ulpan (or at least the Ulpan I’ve been attending), grammar is doled out on a stingy, need-to-know basis. I have learned a lot of vocabulary, and I think the class is good, but it has made me think a lot about how people (or maybe just how I) learn languages.
I kind of feel like I’m circling Hebrew. Before we moved here, I tried to use some Pimsleur MP3s to learn some basic Hebrew. I ended up hating it since it was all oral; there was no written component, so I could not see the words written down. At the start of Ulpan, we had a substitute teacher for a couple weeks, who had us all write words phonetically in our native languages, instead of in Hebrew. We have finally graduated to writing things in Hebrew, but I do not recognize words that I’ve only heard or seen written down in my own phonetic English interpretation. Since we circumvent the stormy waters of grammar, I tend to guess more at prepositions, and lazily conjugate verbs poorly.
Being immersed in the language has been helpful, and I think it will smooth over these rough verb endings and preposition vowels, but I do not fully understand why the class is so grammar shy. I’m only a month in, so we’ll see if we start to build some sort of grammar escape ladder out of these conversational Hebrew confines as the class goes on.
And since this was a long, kind of cranky post, here’s a picture of the wine, jars of honey, and really good whipped cream + honey pastry bit thing that they handed out as a snack one day in Ulpan. I did love getting handed free wine as a school snack: