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Unseens: How NOT TO learn English in Israel


If you're a native English speaker, you've probably never heard of unseens.  I sure hadn't.  But if you are coming here with school-aged kids, you’d better find out quickly, because sooner or later, you’re going to have unseens in your life, too.

The first year I was volunteering to teach English in our local public library, my first kid sat across from me and said we needed to practice unseens.

Now, at this point, I barely understood Hebrew, so I had absolutely no idea what word he was saying.

"What?" I asked.
"Ansinz."  Like it was obvious.
"What?" Me again, in full idiot mode with this fifteen-year-old boy.
"Ensigns."  Now that sounded like an English word... but nothing at all that I could connect with learning the language.

I seem to recall that he had a book with him and at some point, he decided it was easier just to SHOW me what he meant by pulling out the book.


(See?  Unseens! What’s so hard to understand about that???)

Thus, I was introduced to the word of unseens, otherwise known as, "the way most Israelis learn English."
Otherwise known as, "the reason most Israelis don't speak or understand English."

It's true: I believe that unseens MAY be the single biggest obstacle between Israeli schoolchildren, who generally spend ten years learning English, and the mastery of the English language.  The only reason I say MAY is because the biggest might be English teachers who are afraid to speak English because they don’t know it well enough.

I mention this here – I actually wasn’t sure which blog to post this to because my other blog, Adventures in Mamaland has far more education-related posts – because a lot of English speaking olim wonder how it is that kids here spend ten years ostensibly learning English, and in many parts of the country, STILL come away knowing virtually nothing and unable to carry on even a basic conversation in English.

The Israeli Ministry of Education has recently called for something like 6,000 new English teachers.  Some friends of mine, native English speakers, are actually doing a free upgrading program this year that lets olim turn almost any Bachelor’s degree into a teaching certificate.  The Ministry is emphasizing fluency in spoken English as a goal for grads, which is fantastic.

In the meantime, what they have is unseens.

So what are unseens?

In the early grades, kids learn English the way

Are you ever too old to make aliyah?


I'm no spring chicken.  Are you???

I've always been amused by the fact that we happily admit that someone's "no spring chicken," but at no point in their life does anyone admit to actually being a spring chicken.  We only use it to define what we and others are not.

But if you, like me, are no spring chicken, then aliyah is going to present you with some special challenges.

Last week, I asked readers to share their biggest aliyah questions with me.  I was surprised, amazed, touched - you choose the right word - at how many did.  And at how many different questions there are.  So much for my big idea of offering advice.  It's humbling sometimes how little I know.

A few questions that keep coming up again and again, sometimes in slightly different form, are:

How can I make aliyah at my age?  Will it be too hard?  Can I do it?  Will I be okay?

I'm not going to lie to you.  When you are no spring chicken (like me!),