Monday, April 19, 2010

Breaking the Language Barrier

היום עשרים יום שהם שני שבועות וששה יומים בעמר
Today is the twentieth day, making two weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שבתפארת

A day of foundation in a week of compassion

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I have started taking Hebrew Classes with Anat Wolins at her Yad Moshe Adult School for Hebrew. While I have been studying, chanting, and davening in Hebrew for over ten years, the ability to speak in Modern conversational Hebrew has eluded me. I have taken classes, tried Ulpan immersion, and bought books and some software. I just can't get it to stick.

There is a mantra in my immediate family--we're just not good with languages. No one in my family speaks a second language. My father has some Yiddish; I can pull up some elementary French I learned in High School--that's about it.

I love the Hebrew language--it speaks to me, touches a place of ancient memory. It is through that connection that I am able to chant Torah in a way that reaches out to allow those following along, enabling them to hear the poetry of the words. One reason I want to learn to speak modern Hebrew is to be able to tap into the modern Jewish connections found in the poetry of Israel's Yehudi Amichai and Zelda. I also want to tap into the scholarship and literature that is part of my Jewish heritage. I want to be a better teacher of Jewish studies--and to do that, I need to know Hebrew.

And so, I step once more into the frey :) I know I have the intelligence to learn. I have the desire to learn. I hope I have the aptitude to learn. I can already write with the Hebrew alphabet--actually, my handwriting is better in Hebrew than in English, although not by much. I can easily read with the vowels, and my years chanting Torah help my ability to read without them.* I'm even sure I can input the vocabulary into my brain. It's the grammatical system that gives me a headache. There are so many gender, number, and tense combinations that apply to so many parts of the sentence. It's hard to imagine it coming to me naturally, to be able to speak effortlessly. But I have to believe it will happen.

When I started playing the guitar this summer, I felt I would never be able to approach playing an F chord, a chord that needs a finger on each of the six strings--you do the math:) Of course, the F chord is integral to so many of the songs I want to play, and, at the time, it felt so far away. But through the months of practice I've been able to find a way to make it work, albeit imperfectly. As long as I keep practicing, I can see that I will get better. That experience, combined with Anat's teaching style and experience, gives me hope that with perseverance, I will become a Hebrew speaker.

Imagine my joy when I combine the two, playing the guitar, singing Hebrew songs with complete comprehension.

כן יהי רצון
May it be so

*Hebrew words are written without vowels--both biblical and modern Hebrew. In this way, it's similar to Sanskrit - see this post.

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