Desert language school

Susan Frankel
I wanted to learn a language. So I chose to learn Hebrew. I went to Israel to study the language. In the beginning I struggled to remember words. I was worried it was because of an old injury. But my teacher said I should be patient. Another teacher told me to relax and enjoy learning. So I did and I started to have fun. I took trips to town with another student. We practised our Hebrew with people in shops and on the street. I have learned some of the language. I am pleased with myself.
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Susan Frankel on 15/02/2012
Two women in a classroom.

We worked through exercise sheets.

I decided to learn a language last year after travelling to Spain and the Middle East. Choosing to take on a language is both a challenge and an adventure. It is a great way to exercise the brain. It's also a way to meet people abroad or on home turf.

I knew it wouldn't be easy but I wanted to hang in there. I love the feel of Spanish but decided to start with Hebrew. I learned to read and write it many years ago but still couldn't string a sentence together. The real experiment was to test my learning and retention skills as a mature-aged student. I wanted to find a way to make new information stick, build a vocabulary and go forward. It was over 30 years since I sat in class and I felt I was starting from scratch.

Studying in Israel

I decided the best way to learn Hebrew was to go to Israel and stay on a kibbutz that taught the language. A kibbutz is a communal-based farm and more recently a manufacturing settlement where profits and duties are shared and all work is valued equally. The place of study is called an ulpan, which is an institute or school for intensive Hebrew study. The ulpan was at Kibbutz Mashabei Sade, an agricultural and manufacturing based kibbutz. It also taught Hebrew conversation. Staying there included bed and board and excursions. The overall cost for one to two months was reasonable. It was in the desert area and a half-hour bus ride to the nearest city.

For the first few weeks I really struggled. Our treasure of a teacher was also a tour guide. She was very experienced, creative and encouraging. I blamed my failure to progress on an old injury. She said savlanut which in Hebrew means patience. But my memory was failing to retain and retrieve information. I called it sensory overload and took some advice of another teacher. She said to just relax and enjoy. So true. Concentrated learning can be tiring for anyone. We all have such high expectations of ourselves.

Relaxing and learning

I was starting to have fun. I became friendly with a classmate, a Danish Lutheran nurse, who learned Hebrew many years ago. We took trips to town to test our new learning on sales assistants or people in the street. We talked to fascinating young and old people at the kibbutz, also known as kibbutzniks.

Back in class, learning was based on talking through exercise sheets and the practical use of grammar. We had breaks to rest up. Our trips around Israel taught us new words and new things.

To remember a new word I would write it on the one side of a post-it-note with its translation on the back. This method was good to remember different objects. I would also use a word in a sentence. I would list words with their opposite meaning. The teacher said to take a little notebook with us everywhere to jot down new words.

The mind finds its way. Things slowly fell into place and I relaxed. I also decided to not compare myself to anyone. I have picked up more of the language and I am pleased with myself. I have got the ball rolling.

It's about slowly adding the building blocks. You catch yourself remembering new words and how to use them, just like anybody else.

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