Well, Ulpan is winding down - next week we have an oral test and our written test is scheduled for the last week in July.
I can tell you that I've made great leaps in my Hebrew - more vocabulary, more understanding of grammar, familiarity with slang phrases, etc.
I can also tell you that while I feel MORE comfortable, the sense of panic just before I have to speak Hebrew still remains. I still prepare what I am going to say. I still bungle it when it comes out of my mouth.
So here's my take on learning Hebrew - don't sweat it.
You see, all of us in Ulpan have those days when no matter how well we think we've done and how much we think we've improved, we just can't do it. The words are somewhere in our brains, probably wandering around and bumping into the Spanish/French words we learned in school/college, and introducing themselves and then continuing to wander aimlessly.
The conjugation,which looks so lovely in my machberet [notebook] is a big hazy blur.
Last week I had a semi meltdown in Ulpan - there, I've said it, I admit it. Hi, my name is Susan and I CANNOT for the life of me speak Hebrew.
Here's the story - the teacher (and believe me they are wonderful and kind and understanding, this is not any fault of theirs) was teaching us how to - are you ready? - write letters. I kid you not. Teaching us how to write a letter of thanks, of complaint, of apology, etc. Complete with "put the return address here" and "this is the salutation." Hello, fourth grade!
I was getting more and more frustrated with what I felt was a waste of time - I'd much rather spend the four hours each day in Hebrew conversation than in learning how to write a letter. I finally said something and the teacher patiently explained that we do need to know the phrases to use for the various more formal letters we will write. In a way she is right - I mean in Israel, like in any country with a big bureaucracy, there is lots to complain about and one has to know how to phrase your wording.
So, yes, she was right, but no, I still don't believe that was the best use of our time. So I made a decision - the best part of Ulpan is still the best part - hearing and speaking Hebrew for 4 hours every day, getting corrected, learning new stuff. The rest, including the test, is for the birds but I'll go along with it. I mean these teachers work so hard and we love them! I'd hate to make them feel that their time is not appreciated.
So today I went to the Modiin Water Company because they sent us a letter and (I think) it asked for a copy of our papers so that they could bill us for the water. Fair enough. Sat down with the lady. Said (in Hebrew, ahem), "I received this letter - so please let me know what I need to do." She probably heard the American accent within 2 seconds, so proceeded to speak slowly and simply to me and we had a fine conversation. I even asked, at the end, if in the future I can pay via the website and she said yes. At least I think that is what I asked and I think that's what she said.
But then, true Olah moment, I walked into a nearby store and when the woman asked if she could help me and I replied in Hebrew that I was just looking, she heard the accent and proceeded to speak to me in English. What a relief! I was so happy.
Another thing I've learned is to ask for help. This is something I'm not very good at. But I have learned to ask people to speak more slowly, to ask if the word I'm using is correct, etc. Israelis love it - they truly like to help you and soften the minute you ask them to slow down. Seriously, I've never come across an Israeli who doesn't want to help me with my Hebrew.
Tomorrow we have to go to the cellphone company and complain because although we changed our plan to a cheaper one, they still billed us for the more expensive one. Fact of life, gotta deal with it. THAT should be interesting.
I am practicing how to say, "But you are ripping us off." I think if I say "reep ov" they may get it.
So, in closing, those of you planning to make aliyah and worried about your Hebrew - don't sweat it. You'll be fine.