Sunday, June 3, 2012

Standoff at the Ulpan Corral

Well, it had to happen. 

You see, it seems in many Ulpan classes there are those who just want to learn as much useable Hebrew as they can and those who want to become Hebrew linguists and know every possible conjugation of every possible verb, why it is used, when, and what the exceptions are.

Me - useable Hebrew.

In the past week or so the teaches have begun talking about the test at the end of Ulpan, near the end of July.  They gave us a link to the past tests and suggested we practice with them.  We even distributed one test to the class and we had to take it at home and then come in to see how we did.  Let's not discuss how we did, ok? 

So slowly, as the test nears, the teachers seem focused on us doing well on the test.  I am sure it reflects well on them and the entire Israeli government if we perform well.  It means their Knesset decision to keep funding Ulpan is worthwhile, blah blah blah.

Some of us have gotten a little frustrated with the focus on the test.  Now, to be fair, if you are going to apply for a job which requires that you have taken Ulpan, you do need an Ulpan certificate.

None of us in the class is in that situation.  Not that we'd mind taking the test, mind you, but all in the name of a good laugh.  Like, "Did you see question 10?  I didn't understand the directions, let alone the sentences."  or "If you thought you felt stupid before, wait until you take the test."  That kind of good natured ribbing which makes everyone feel so accomplished.

However, there are those in the class who feel differently - they are very serious about learning the exact grammar rules and knowing when they apply, etc.  They want to know every single instance where there is an exception to the rule.  They want to know ALL the rules.

And then there are the rest of us, whose thoughts are more like this during the 4 hours of Ulpan:

  • "I wonder what I should eat during the break?"
  • "I think my nails are too long."
  • "He needs to iron his shirts."
  • "What is that climbing on the wall?"
  • "Sheesh, it's hot in here, why doesn't someone turn on the a/c?"
  • "Oh, is the teacher talking to me?  I'd better pay attention."
  • "Hah, he didn't do his homework last night. I did."
  • "I got every answer wrong on last night's homework."

You know, things like that. Mind you, we do take Ulpan seriously, but in the end most of us realize that after this basic instruction, only time will really improve our Hebrew.  Forcing words into our brain cells which are already crammed with trying to convert miles to grams or fahrenheit to meters is just not going to work..

So today we had a "discussion" about how to move forward.  To the credit of the Ulpan teachers, they are more than happy to teach us in any way we feel wlll be most useful - they are terrific.  It's the students that become the problems.

The decision was to move forward with a conscious mix of test-prep and regular stuff, like how to negotiate the grocery store and doctor's office. useful stuff.

I mean, to give an example, today we learned the words for things relating to color - like if the grass gets green in the winter and yellow in the summer.  It's a fancy shmancy way of saying "the grass was green in the winter and now it is summer and it is yellow" which is the way I would say it, and will say it forevermore.

Like I've said before, I've given up on the idea of sounding like an intelligent person for many years to come.

Test or not test, I plan to (sing it with me, everyone) sound like an idiot for years to come.


  1. Join the club. Lots of Israelis are happy to help with correcting you, though. I just muddle my way through a mixture of mostly Hebrew with anything I forget how to say in English. So far so good.

  2. I feel for you! I am just ending the ulpan alef experience. I am going to print out your blog post and share it with my classmates. Keep up the good work! :-)

    1. Channah, that's a riot that you are writing a year later! I STILL feel like an idiot, but I'm just used to feeling like an idiot....Good luck!