So, you want to do an Ulpan?
If you have already Googled “ulpan blog” or something similar you will have seen there’s not that much out there that goes past the PR to give some kind of insight into what to expect in Israel.
In two days I will commence the Summer Ulpan at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The darls at Australian Friends of the Hebrew University (particularly Moran — thanks Moran!) helped me out with a tidy $1000 to put towards my tuition. In exchange I’m going write a few things that will hopefully help out other prospective Hebrew learners. In 2013 I did the Jerusalem Ulpan at Hebrew University and then continued on for a year. So hopefully I can impart some of the wisdom gleaned from all that time onto others.
Classes haven’t actually started yet, so today I’m going to bring forth a few recommendations on how to prepare for This Hebrew Life both before departure and after arrival in Israel.
TALK TALK TALK
Okay so this takes a lot of chutzpah because I’m a total scaredy-cat when it comes to bangin’ out some Hebes with the locals. I’m hesitant, second-guess every word and often avoid asking for directions if I think that I won’t understand the answer (which led me yesterday to walking around the West Bank city of Ariel for ages, sweat in free flow and my bowels groaning, because I wouldn’t ask anyone the location of some public toilets).
But, go for it! If you make clear at the beginning of the conversation with the shopkeeper or whoever that you’re learning Hebrew, they will usually be kind and patient. And no matter how much you read, write or listen — speaking really is the key.
ALL I HEAR IS RADIO GAGA (IN HEBREW)
Israelis speak a lot faster than your Hebrew teacher does. Think about how you talk to your friends in your native language — and how someone who barely knows your language would cope with trying to understand you. A good way to get used to the regular speed of speech is to listen to some Israeli radio. The two main news stations in Israel are Army Radio (Galei Tzahal) and Kol Israel. Both can be accessed on smartphones through streaming apps like TuneIn. While the conversations are pretty high level (if you’re a beginner, you’re probs not going to understand a financial commentator interviewing the Bank of Israel governor about interest rates and government bonds, for example), just listening to the language still helps. You feel the music and the accent and time it will come out in your speech.
READ THE PAPERS
If you arrive in Israel a few days before the Ulpan, try and cast your eye over the Hebrew press. Most decent cafes offer at least one newspaper, and usually the full gamut, from the government-friendly (and easy to read) Israel Hayom, all the way to proudly Left-wing Ha’aretz (hard to read but nice to look at). I usually bring my phone so I can translate the words I don’t know — there’s a lot of them — using Morfix or Google Translate. It goes well with a “cafe hafuch”, the Israeli version of a latte. And if, like me, you’re into the news then you’ll learn a lot.
BRING STUFF FROM HOME
Leaving the learning of the holy language and turning to body hygiene now, I recommend that if you’re going to be studying here for a while, there are things that will be much cheaper for you if you bring them for home. I have found (I dunno, maybe I just suck at shopping) that stuff like deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes and some medications can be really expensive here. And if an Australian thinks they’re expensive then surely they are. So I stocked up on $2 supermarket toothpaste half price deodorant before I came and I know my wallet will thank me later.
Hope some of this will be helpful. I will write more once the Ulpan actually begins.