Move abroad to learn a language. We hear this advice thrown around casually as if moving abroad was as easy as taking a train trip to the neighbouring town.
Not all of us have the resources to just jump on a plane to Israel and travel just to satisfy our language learning urge.
In principle, moving abroad sounds like the best way to approach language learning.
Yet very often the costs of such adventures outweigh the benefits.
Plus let’s be honest – while the idea of learning a language can sound appealing, the prospect of spending a long time in a different country may be too much outside of our comfort zone.
Especially if the country in question is — the always slightly politically unstable — Israel.
That’s a perfectly normal thing to feel.
Don’t listen to those who tell you that without travelling abroad you can’t learn Hebrew.
This post will show you how to recreate Hebrew language immersion at home.
Feel free to pass it on to all naysayers!
Travellers are lazy learners
Let me make a bold statement.
The reason why people advocate moving to another country to learn a language is laziness. They will try to prove you otherwise.
To show how much effort it requires they will mention travel difficulties, the need for courage, and various challenges related to a cultural clash.
But trust me, in terms of language learning they are motivated by laziness.
It’s pretty obvious that in a country that speaks the language you’re learning you will have an easy time finding ways to work on the language.
Every newspaper is a reading resource, every person is speaking practice, going out onto the street is a listening challenge, and even your Netflix feed is localised.
Without putting in any work you get most of your language needs satisfied. Easy.
In contrast, recreating a parallel environment at home requires conscious planning.
You need to know what you want to focus on, dig up the relevant resources, set up time or location reminders to make sure you actually study regularly.
I can’t tell you what aspects of Hebrew to focus on, your goals are your decision. But, I can suggest resources and reminder strategies to help you turn your life into little Israel. Falafel included!
Find the Right Hebrew Resources
We had a whole post about grammatical resources so let me skip that bit here.
What you need for recreating immersion are not grammar resources, but what I call “environment-boosting” tactics.
Surround yourself with Hebrew listening material
Make it a habit to only listen to Israeli radio.
You won’t understand everything. Perhaps even nothing if you’re a beginner.
But regular listening will allow your ears to get used to the sounds and melody of Hebrew. Listening to different radio stations will also expose you to different accents, and trust me there are many!
In the long run this will make it easier for you to understand Hebrew speakers of different backgrounds.
Remember that a radio is… a radio, it’s not all about talking!
You will have your regular musical breaks too, which means that, as a bonus, you will get exposed to Israeli music.
You can find a wide selection of Israeli radio stations to stream here.
Where to start?
Reshet Aleph will give you a taste of state-approved pronunciation, Galei Zahal is a news/military radio, Kol Chai offers an insight into the religious community, and Kol HaCampus is a student station from Tel Aviv.
There are many more stations, each with a different vibe and focus. Find your favourite!
Music is a window to the culture.
In everyday speech people commonly refer to popular songs and artists.
Head to Spotify or YouTube to exploring the musical aspect of Israeli culture and listen to the work of artists like Arik Einstein, Ofra Haza, or Ehud Banai.
Your morning or evening playlists could be:
Each of these comprises more than 100 tracks so you won’t be bored.
But if you do run out, Spotify treats you to this 1k track-long playlist: Israeli Music מוזיקה ישראלית
Here I have to admit the choice for beginners isn’t very wide.
There are of course tonnes of podcasts in Hebrew, but they’re made for an Israeli audience and thus the level will be rather high.
Listening to them will still help you to familiarise yourself with the melody of Hebrew, and with time you will start picking up words and phrases. There are also a couple of learning-oriented podcasts.
But again, learning resources are covered elsewhere on the blog.
So in the podcast category I have only one but very strong recommendation: Streetwise Hebrew by Guy Sharett.
Short episodes with a lot of colloquial language and real life examples.
As a patron you get access to an extra version of each episode, recorded entirely in Hebrew.
Do the same with Hebrew reading material
Even on the basic level of understanding you can toy with the idea of reading in Hebrew.
Okay, maybe not entirely in Hebrew.
There are also several reading resources published with learners in mind.
Newspapers like Yanshuf, Bereshit or Sha’ar La’Matchil publish news in easy Hebrew in paper an online form.
The benefit of these titles is that the content is prepared for adults so rather than about “a trip to the zoo”, you will read about politics, technology, and culture.
If you know anyone travelling to Israel ask them to bring you local versions of popular magazines.
Best choice for beginners are women’s magazines as they typically use everyday language and don’t have a lot of text.
Have fun learning Hebrew
Israel produces some excellent TV and films
And who doesn’t like to watching something after a day at work?
You can of course also buy box sets.
Here I recommend Arab Labor, a comedy series about Arabs in Israel, or Hatufim the original Homeland.
There are also Israeli versions of common Anglophone programmes like Master Chef and The Office, but with finding ways to watch these you might need to be a little more creative.
For a taste of Israeli TV you can stream channels from here. A lot of them have subtitles in both Hebrew and Arabic, sometimes in English and Hebrew.
Once you learn to read that’s also a great way to practice.
Youtube in Hebrew
YT has a variety of learning channels but again this is not what we’re after in this post.
What we are seeking is entertainment – a break from the drudgery of grammar and conjugations!
For those moments where we need a brain reset in the rabbit hole of YT films, here is your Hebrew solution:
- For animation parodies check out Srutonim,
- For a more serious series about nature Cobra,
- And to be up to date with all kinds of popular trends we have GuyTV.
My personal favourite is Israeliot.
Often recorded in a combination of Hebrew and English it offers a snarky look at reality, a commentary on daily life and current popular trends.
As the name suggests it’s produced by ladies, so the topics might be tailored more towards the female audience.
A bonus tip is a channel of an Israeli stand-up comedian Daniel Koren, with funny sketches in both English and Hebrew.
Even the English ones have an educational value — it’s a perfect illustration of the Israeli accent in English!
Connect with and learn Hebrew from Israeli People
They seem to be everywhere.
A fiend wrote to me recently from Thailand saying that ⅓ of the country seems the be Israeli. Once you tune your radar to search for Israelis you won’t escape them.
One of the main elements that can be missing from your immersion environment are Israeli people.
Contact with native speakers provides lessons not just with regards to the language, but also exposes you to the Israeli mentality.
Fret not, even hanging out with Israelis can be replicated without leaving your country!
Head to MeetUp.com and search for Israeli meetups near you.
If that bears no results, check out expat sites like Internations which have forum sections devoted to bringing together people of specific nationalities.
It’s a good place to find native-speakers and learn about potential meetings to join.
If the above sounds like too much work, there are always italki community tutors who you can schedule regular casual chats with.
On top of that HelloTalk is a great way to intersperse Hebrew interactions throughout your day.
Control Your Environment to Control Your Habits
We have thrown a lot of resources at you, but what to do with them?
Even top quality materials will not magically upload Hebrew into you brain! You will have to learn to use them.
Forming new habits is hard.
We all have our daily routines, and it will require some planning and effort to incorporate Hebrew practice into them. There are two things that make this process easier.
List activities you do every day or every week and think how they can be substituted with their Hebrew-equivalents.
- If you have a habit of watching Netflix in the evening, watch a Hebrew show.
- If you like to listen to music while you work, pick a Hebrew playlist.
- Do you have favourite sites or blogs online? Read them with Flipword on.
- Turn a weekend meetup with friends into infiltrating an Israeli expat meeting.
- Do you usually go on Facebook when on the bus? Hide the FB icon on your phone and substitute it with HelloTalk.
Add Hebrew to your environment.
- Set a default morning radio station to be a Hebrew one.
- Put Hebrew posters on the walls.
- Eat Israeli food.
- Organise meetups centred around Israeli culture: eat humus and watch an Israeli film with your friends.
You may wonder how the last two points are related to learning Hebrew.
Involving your friends in your study pursuit makes you accountable to people whose opinion you care about, and gains you supporters to cheer you on along the way.
By keeping in touch with the Israeli world through food and popular culture you foster your motivation for learning the language, and rekindle your passion.
It can also serve as a prompt directing back to your more grammar-focused study sessions.
Save money by skipping the Ulpan, inject Hebrew into your environment, and build your own little Hebrew homeland.