How’s your Hebrew?
Well, mine isn’t. Mine’s still at the kindergarten-baby level.
Every Shabbos, I challenge myself to plow through the free Hebrew newspaper (my husband sticks with the Jerusalem Post in English).
Before you ask, I don’t know or care what the ideological slant of the paper is. Being politically dumb, I can barely figure this out with newspapers in English, let alone in a foreign language.
I also – in case you care - allow myself to skip the Sports section, just as I would in English. To make up for it, I double up on the “Trivia,” torturing my husband with such translated doozies as, “who captains Manchester United?” “who discovered Australia?” “which actor was in… something something Cats?” (Samuel L. Jackson, in case you’re wondering) and “who… somethinged the… something?”
But it turns out Hebrew is not entirely foreign. The article above is a pretty typical example (if only I had taken a better picture and you could actually see it). In the first paragraph alone, the writer has used the following “Hebrew” words:
- ריסטארט / restart
- אנרגיה / energia (energy)
- טריגר / trigger
- דיאטה / dieta (diet)
These English / Latinate intrusions probably make it harder to learn Hebrew if your first language is something like Amharic, but for me, if I can make the word out, it’s a nice familiar “twinkle” in the middle of a tough paragraph.
That said, it’s all well and good when the English words you’re bringing into the language are nouns,like the ones above. But sometimes, they magically turn into verbs, which can be a bit of a nightmare.
My favourite example EVER is this headline:
The verb here is:
- להתקמבק / le’hitkambak = le-heet-“comeback” (to make a comeback)
Once you’ve brought the word into Hebrew, you have to go about conjugating it…
אני מתקמבקת, אתה מתקמבק, את מבקמבקת… הם מתקמבקים, הן מתקמבקות
and so on, through three tenses and two genders.
Luckily, my friends and family probably aren’t planning all that many comebacks in the near future. But we don’t get off so easily when it comes to words like לטייג / le’tayeg, meaning to tag someone, like on facebook, which we do all the time.
However, reading is one thing; speaking these words out loud is another thing altogether. Being an English-speaker, I have a hard time pronouncing words that come from English.
I can’t bring myself to pronounce things the “right” way. Like in a branch of an American children’s store a couple of weeks ago where the salesperson asked me what size I wanted. They had S-XL. I tried, really I did, but only managed to pronounce “extra large” the regular way – not with the correct Hebrew inflection: “extrrrrra larrrrrge.”
When our ulpan teacher gave us her recipe for cheesecake at Shavuot, I couldn’t help laughing (inside! quietly!) every time she said, אינסטנט פודינג וניל/ eeeenstant pooodeeeeeng vaneeeel, which means, predictably enough, “vanilla instant pudding,” a very popular dessert ingredient here.
I read somewhere, before we came, about another olah’s pet peeves, pronunciation-wise, which were “snooker” (pronounced with the “ooo” to rhyme with “you too”) and “bowling” (pronounced like “bowelling”). Those ones don’t bug me so much, maybe because I’m not encountering them every single day.
My favourite non-Hebrew word from this particular article is:
- פנצ’ר / puncher
This one took me the longest time to figure out. Not that I didn’t have a lot of chances to decipher it: lots of auto shops around here have signs reading, פנצ’ריה / puncheria. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.
And then, one day, it came to me: it’s the word “puncture,” without the /k/ sound. As in, “You gots a puncher, in yer tire.” A very common problem, as it turns out.
At least now you’ve been warned. If your bike tire has a puncher and you skip the dieta, while scarfing down too much eeeeenstant pooodeeeeng vaneeeeel, your chances to le’hitkamback are very very low. Indeed, you may find yourself, someday, begging the store clerk for something in an “extrrrrraa laarrrrrrge.”
So happy I could help you learn a little Hebrew!