“Communication is key.” We hear that over and over and over again in every context… relationships, family time, politics, etc. So what happens when communication is impossible? What do you do when you find yourself (or put yourself) in a foreign country where the language could not be more different from your native tongue? How do you communicate?
Unless you want to stick to a game of charades the entire time you’re there, you have no choice but to learn the language.
It’s not easy, especially when there are sounds that don’t exist in English, practically every word is conjugated as male or female including the numbers, and you really don’t even have much time that you can set aside to studying the language. Now add in the fact that you are expected to be able to read and translate writings from Hebrew into coherent English sentences on an hourly basis, and the frustration can make you crack. Thank G-d, today marks a huge breakthrough for me… one that will (G-d willing) alleviate much of the anxiety I’ve been having in classes so far this semester…
There are these amazing books in the Mayanot library that are called “Mayim Chai” or the “Living Water”. They are a collection of Sichas (talks) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that are translated and condensed into “easy Hebrew” so that beginners (read: children) can learn the wisdom of the Rebbe in a way that is comprehensible on their level. Well it so happens that these books are STILL too advanced for me to get through. Depressing. But on occasion, either as part of a class or with a friend, I end up working my way through one of these Sichas. It takes forever because my vocabulary and conjugation are both horrible, but the idea is that some of what I’m reading will stick and if not then at least I get the Chassidic concept being discussed.
Today one of our teachers couldn’t make it to class, so instead of our afternoon class we went to a park. We weren’t playing on the swingset (unfortunately); we were learning sichas of the Rebbe. There were three choices: an English sicha, an easy Hebrew sicha, or a normal sicha. I opted to struggle through the easy Hebrew sicha with my friend Chava (see her blog Ratzo V’Shov to the right). It was, of course, frustrating. And she, of course, did most of the translating. We finished it none-the-less and I got the general point the sicha was trying to get across. Chava had the suggestion that I go back through the sicha and write down all the words that I didn’t know so that I could study them. Great idea, Chava 🙂
Tonight we had chavrusa, which is time set aside for general study with a partner, tutoring, etc. It’s not just time to mess around; Rabbi Shemtov, the Executive Director of Mayanot, even comes to our Tuesday chavrusa time to help out. But tonight, instead of chavrusa, I decided to act on Chava’s suggestion.
I started going through the sicha word-by-word. It was painstaking. I defined every root word I didn’t already know and worked through the conjugations and tenses of the entire first 2 paragraphs of the sicha. It took forever just to do that small part, but I walked out of that classroom after an hour and 45 minutes with a HUGE smile on my face 😀 Not only did I know what the words meant, but I could read through those two paragraphs almost fluently, AND I could translate as I went… into coherent thoughts! It was an absolutely incredible feeling, so much so that when I ran into my roommate upstairs she asked what was going on because my face was “glowing.”
Needless to say, this is becoming part of my normal routine. I’ve decided that every Sunday as we start a new Parshah in the Torah, I’m going to sit down with either Chava or Chana Miriam and struggle through one of the sichas from Mayim Chai. Then I’ll spend the rest of the week working through it, increasing my vocabulary, learning how to conjugate, and becoming fluent in the page or two of the week. Then on Shabbos I’ll meet with my study partner again and go through it with them one more time, translating as I go, just to make sure that I really understand the words and concepts and conjugations.
It’s going to work, I can feel it… I promised myself before I left the states that I wouldn’t go home until I was fluent, and this is definitely going to help make sure that I’m not stuck here forever 😛
I am SO EXCITED!!! 😀