Are you visiting Israel or maybe you are an oleh (new immigrant)? If so, then you are most likely very familiar with the experience of speaking Hebrew with an obvious foreign accent מִבטָא. It’s like a neon label on your forehead screaming, “I’m not from here!” For those of us who are not adept at incorporating new sounds into our speech, this can make us feel bad: “Ohh, I sound terrible!” Alternatively, we can accept (and maybe even embrace) this “different” aspect of ourselves, telling ourselves something like, “It’s awesome that I’ve learned to speak a second language! Go me!”
Not quite there yet? That’s ok! There’s a surprisingly easy, and perhaps surprising, way to get closer to this place of acceptance and start feeling more comfortable with your conversational Hebrew. What’s the secret סוֹד ? Hangout and talk to little kids ילדים, like three, four or five year olds. These kids who don’t yet know how to read, write or do basic math are indeed the exact people you need to get your Hebrew rolling. With these guys as your teachers, you’ll improve your conversational Hebrew and most likely your accent too, for the following awesome reasons:
1. Little kids are non-judgemental
Speaking to a sabra צָבָּר (native born Israeli) when you have a very strong and noticeable foreign accent can sometimes be quite intimidating. Since you know you sound “different” and you know that they know that you sound “different” there may be so much performance anxiety bubbling in you that it can be difficult to even mutter a single word. It’s not like that with small kids. They may notice your accent but it’s not because they are judging you, thinking in their little heads, “Wow! Her accent is sooo terrible!” No, these innocent beings are still open minded creatures. They are simply being curious סקרן, which leads us to the second reason.
2. Little ones are curious about the present moment
Adults are busy with places to go, people to see and things to do. They barely notice what’s happening around them most of the time. They are just itching to get to the next idea, place or thing. Ever watch a preschooler go for a walk down the street רְחוֹב? In the time it would take an adult to walk one minute, the child will take his or her sweet time, stopping 13 times to admire a leaf, look at a bug, touch a bench, pick up a stick and who knows what else. This is a result of their natural curiosity, which is advantageous for you when you are learning to get comfortable with speaking Hebrew. Rather than be put off by your unfamiliar-to-their-ears accent, kids will simply be curious. These mindful little beings will notice you, stop and want to talk to you even more.
3. They are beginners themselves
Conversing with preschool age kids in Hebrew is so refreshing, simply because they are still learning as well! They make mistakes טעויות! Clearly, with so much for these kids to learn, the last thing they are thinking about are your mistakes. So speak and speak freely without worrying about what the little guys think of you.
4. They won’t answer you back in English
One of the most common gripes among people trying to learn a new language is that people respond to them in their native language. You ask, “How much does this cost?” “?כמה זה עולה” and the storekeeper responds to you in broken English rather than in Hebrew. With kids, this is much less likely to occur because Hebrew speaking kids (those not from bilingual homes) have largely not yet been exposed to a second language. Hebrew is their go-to one and only language. This is great news for you because they will answer you back in Hebrew – regardless of your accent or your mistakes.
A little kid in gan גן (preschool) may be the best Hebrew teacher you’ll ever have! The added value is that these cuties are so adorable that it will be practically impossible for you not to enjoy your lessons!
Tip: How to find young kids if you don’t have any of your own i.e. grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.? Try volunteering at a gan or community center that is frequented by little ones. Both of you will benefit!