Chris Harty is a Teach For America alumnus who taught first grade in the small town of Clinton, Louisiana. He is also a 2011 REALITY Israel Experience participant and part of the OTZMA Israel Teaching Fellows. You can follow his blog on JewishinStLouis.com.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” Blood of the soul?! That’s some pretty heavy language (excuse the pun) used to describe language. Although I’ve never thought of language in such terms I, like Holmes, believe that language is incredibly important.
“How am I going to learn the language?” This was one of the many questions racing through my head after I decided to move to Israel in August. Three months ago, I moved to Petach Tikvah to join the OTZMA’s Israel Teaching Fellows (ITF) program. As a member of this program, I am volunteering as an English teacher’s assistant at an Israeli public school, Amir Elementary School, where I help teach students (grades 1-6) how to speak, read and write in English.
In order to integrate myself into Israeli society and teach Israeli students English, I knew that I would likewise need to learn how to speak, read and write in Hebrew. So I applied for a Schusterman Family Foundation Make It Happen Micro Grant that would allow me to purchase Rosetta Stone Hebrew: Level 1 as well as a subscription to TOTALe, a Rosetta Stone program that gives members access to online language games and the ability to speak with Native Hebrew speakers online.
Rosetta Stone allows me to go through lessons at my own pace, review difficult material as often as I want and measure my progress online. Moreover, its voice recognition software helps me to practice my Hebrew speaking whenever I want so I don’t always need to have another person there to listen to me. I also admit to really enjoying Rosetta Stone’s online games and tutoring sessions as well.
So how has my Hebrew progressed since moving to Israel? I’m happy to report that it has greatly improved. When I came here my knowledge of Hebrew consisted of the ability to say shalom, toda, bevakasha, boker tov and maybe recognize half of the Hebrew alphabet.
Now, I cannot only recognize the Hebrew alphabet, but I am beginning to read street signs, Ulpan homework assignments and what teachers write on the whiteboard in class with a fluency I couldn’t have imagined having only a few months ago. Speaking wise, I can now engage in basic conversations with my housemates as well as the staff and students at my school.
The progress I’ve made regarding speaking in Hebrew has had a very positive impact on my experience in Israel. I am no longer fearful of getting lost forever when traveling around the country, because I can now competently ask for directions and confidently talk to bus/cab drivers. Even though I am supposed to speak English as much as possible at Amir, my ability to speak and understand Hebrew has helped me tremendously while I’ve been there. It has allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with many students and staff members. When they observe me trying to speak to them in Hebrew, it makes them more comfortable with me. By trying to learn and speak Hebrew, I am seen less as an “outsider” and more like someone who cares about learning the language of Israel and integrating himself into Israeli society.
As my Hebrew has improved, I have used it more in my lessons. Giving directions and praising students are two things that every teacher must do to be successful. I can currently do both of these things in Hebrew and because of this, I am able to conduct more purposeful and efficient lessons. Moreover, I don’t have to rely only stickers and smiles to positively reinforce behavior; I can just say Kol HaKavod (good job), yo’fi (nice) or Metzuyan (excellent). I have also been using my stern teacher stares less recently because I can now can say shecket (quiet), shev (sit down) and simu lev (pay attention) when I need students to do something.
Rosetta Stone has helped me perform my volunteering job better and thus helped my students learn more than they would have otherwise. For that I am very thankful. So thank you to Rosetta Stone and a big thank you to the Shusterman Foundation for their Make It Happen Micro Grant!
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