It is well known that one of the best ways to learn how to speak Hebrew is by visiting Israel. This is true for many countries, especially those where the primary language is the local language. In Italy, for example, very few people speak English, leaving tourists with no other option but to do their best and speak Italian, for if they don’t, they would find it very hard to get around.
In Israel, although Hebrew is the official language, many other languages are spoken, such as English, Arabic, French and Spanish. In recent years, we have been witnessing a trend of a European melting pot, which resulted in the narrowing of differences between European cities. London is very much like Milan, Amsterdam is similar to Brussels, etc. In Israel too, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year in favor of shopping and entertainment centers which are similar in nature to the ones in Europe. In these places, naturally, everybody speaks English.
The tourists, who are easily identifiable by their “unique” dress code (e.g light clothing, cameras hanging from the necks, hats, water bottles, etc), become easy prey for shrewd business people, who use their relative innocence and politeness to make them buy, buy, and buy more. For some tourists, this may not be an issue, but those who can speak Hebrew and understand cultural nuances will not only save money but also earn back their dignity. Tourists are much more than potential revenue sources – they are explorers, and they deserve to see the real Israel!
So how do you do that? Avoid touristy areas and go out to the streets! Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem is a great place to start. Here, you will not find any international brands. The whole complex was built for the locals and by the locals. It is authentic, which is why more and more tourists have been visiting it in recent years. Despite its loud and crowded nature, it is a great place to find a conversation partner, and by doing so – practicing your bargaining skills. The price of your oranges is not really the issue here, but rather, bargaining provides a good excuse to speak Hebrew with real Israelis, who absolutely love it when tourists make the effort to speak their language. It excites and amuses them, so even if they laugh at you, take it in good spirit. They do not intend to insult you, they are simply Israelis 🙂
At lunch time, walk eastwards heading to Nahalt Shiva, and ask people how to get to the “Tmol Shilshom” coffee house. It is hidden in a small alley, so forget about your GPS – you will not find it unless you ask! There, an incredible library of old and new books awaits to unravel its stories to curious readers. You can either buy books, or simply browse them while sipping your coffee. If you’re lucky, a poet might show up to read his poems, or a writer to sign her books.
Other places where you can practice speaking Hebrew are public events, where communities gather for shared interests. The Nature Museum Garden is a green lung in the heart of the German Colony, which is worth a visit regardless of your Hebrew studies. If you go there Thursday afternoon, you will get to nurture the orchards and veg plots along with children and adults of all ages, share experiences and mingle. After work, everybody sits together around the fire for a vegetarian potluck, so keep this in mind while you’re in the market, and perhaps you too will have something to contribute to the meal! Occasionally, performances by students of the nearby music school are held in the garden, so those who like Jazz will surely enjoy this added value.
In the evening, go to further explore the scene at one of the many clubs in the city center. There, like any place where rivers of alcohol flow, there is always someone looking for a chat. Try speaking Hebrew with them, see how well they understand you, and you’re guaranteed a good laugh. Having said that, always be on the lookout for slightly intoxicated locals, as the Jerusalem Syndrome doesn’t skip anyone. And if you’re wondering what the Jerusalem Syndrome exactly is, just come visit and find out for yourself!
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