How do you take your Hebrew? Heavily-accented.

Anglo self-hate. Nothing wins more comments on the Times of Israel than that.

The latest? This piece by Noga Martin: Why can’t the Anglos learn to speak?

The author made aliyah at 19 with no background in Hebrew. She managed to learn it and speak it fluently, as well as develop an Israeli accent in doing so.

That’s really wonderful. Seriously. And I agree with the point that Anglos must try harder to learn Hebrew before and while they are here. Must.

But in her article, short and to the disrespectful point, she calls out the Anglos, especially North Americans, who never develop an accent, even as they manage to become fully fluent in Hebrew. And she calls out specifically Rabbi Dov Lipman, who gave a grammatically-correct Hebrew speech at the rally this weekend, albeit with a heavy American accent. He’s been here eight years, apparently.

I WISH I had his confidence. Maybe I’d speak that well. He should be revered as an shining example of what Anglo olim should strive for. He gets a ‘kol hakavod’ from me.

In my Masters here most of my professors happened to be Anglo. (Maybe it had to do with it being a Conflict Management course? Stam, stam.)

And throughout the two years of listening to their heavily accented Hebrew lectures, I retained a sense of high respect and pride. They didn’t give a crap, or at least they didn’t show it. And the students, even if I’m sure they had their share of making fun, did acknowledge the respect for it.

Sometimes I let my mind travel back to my elementary and high school years; unlike the author, I have been engaged in a Hebrew environment, academically, since first grade. I’d estimate half my teachers were Israeli, half Americans or other. Yet most of the time, the Hebrew was fine, accented or not. I took for granted being surrounded by a second language and the  fact that the non-native Hebrew speakers were doing it, Anglo accented, full time, in class. In America.

Here’s a superficial pet peeve we may share: I do cringe when people put on the rolling R’s and can’t pass. But who cares what I think? Good for them for trying.

The point is, do not dare to discourage people actually trying to make it work. And there are plenty of Anglos who do. Like the author of the Times of Israel post. People who come when they’re 20, 45, 60. People who come from any country. As posted in the comments, we could list many many high profile Israelis with strong accents – our foreign minister, bless his crazy soul. Golda Meir, who was the freakin prime minister. Stanley Fischer, another Anglo making a difference.

Gedalyah Reback wrote a really fascinating response about the science/linguistics behind learning language and picking up accents. They are two totally two different functions.

Let’s agree to first focus on learning the language b’chlal, shall we?

UPDATE: And then tonight, when my son asked me to read him a classic Hebrew children’s story, I was filled with all this pride – maybe for the first time – as I read it to him in my horrible disgraceful American accent. So thanks for that.






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