Hebrew really is for Israel

So how is it going with keeping up Rafi’s Hebrew, not to mention my own?

Both of us find that Hebrew just doesn’t roll off our tongues like it used to. Most of the reason is that the events of the day take place in English, so it doesn’t come naturally to switch to Hebrew to discuss them. We’ve had the most success when we do an action and talk about what we’re doing in Hebrew (like running the dishwasher or getting our umbrellas). Also, Captain Underpants in Hebrew.

Here’s an excerpt from a comment I posted to the blog Becoming Sarah about raising bilingual children:

We chose a different solution for a similar problem, and like you, we don’t know how it will play out. A month ago we moved from Israel back to America. Our 4.5 year old is biliingual in Hebrew and English although his level of Hebrew expression has never been on par with his English. We actually opted for full time kindergarten in the fall (he’s a little young, but there is a pre-K cohort in the class), specifically to get him into a program with a Hebrew component, however beginner it may be. There are so few Hebrew speakers in our part of the country that I can’t marshal enough resources on my own (there are other factors too).

It may turn out to be a mistake because a full day of school will suck up all the time he has for Hebrew activities that I could do with him that actually meet his level. Or, it could be a wonderful thing because it’s a small school and they can be flexible to give him what he needs during the school day. There’s a new headmaster this year, so we’re not sure what to expect.

When you speak to Charlotte in French, does she answer you in French? My main problem is that my son learned all of his Hebrew in Israel, where his main exposure to English for a year and a half was in the home. As a result, he just can’t speak to me in Hebrew (though his English is very sophisticated with only minor word-order errors); the prior conditioning is too strong. If we are talking about a Hebrew book or song, he’ll speak to me in Hebrew, but then it’s back to English. We have a new baby on the way and maybe if I speak to the new baby in Hebrew, it will become more of a “home” language than it currently is.

When I wrote that comment, I was feeling very pessimistic–you can tell because I used the word “can’t.” Today started off a little better with Hebrew songs in the car and the aforementioned conversations about the dishwasher and umbrellas, during which Rafi actually spoke a full sentence of Hebrew to me.

Rafi is in camp until noon every day for the next two weeks. Last week he was in a full-day camp and I really didn’t have time for any activities with him, but it should be feasible now. The two things we do during the long afternoons are go to places where there will be kids to play with (which is as it should be) and chores (which are unavoidable). I am thinking about doing collaborative journaling in Hebrew with Rafi, an activity that we’ve previously done in English with success, and it has enough structure that it should work. We’re also slowly meeting Hebrew speakers in the area. There aren’t many, but they’re coming out of the woodwork. It’s up to me, though, to figure out what to “do” with them.

I’m 38 weeks pregnant and therefore trying to be forgiving toward myself for not having the mental and physical energy to do everything I want to do.


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