Joining an Ulpan (intensive Hebrew study program) is like joining a gym – you will only see results if you put the work in (and you have to sweat to see the real results!). There are various options for learning Hebrew before you make Aliyah, but you need to be willing to exercise your Hebrew “muscles” if you are going to make progress. It is a challenge to learn a language when you are not immersed in the culture – and this is something you must factor in so that you can improve your Hebrew and ability to integrate into Israel. With this knowledge, we would like to help you find ways to engage with the language.
Weekly local classes:
Some communities offer weekly Hebrew classes in shuls and local JCCs. While is a great way to have some Hebrew exercise and work on your conversational Hebrew, it has proven less effective to really improve in your ability and is highly dependent on the skill of the teacher organizing the course and the interest in the broader community to enroll. If you do pursue this option, we’d encourage you to find ways to practice your Hebrew throughout the week.
Colleges and universities usually know how to pass on knowledge. Naturally enrolling in such a language class will offer a full-on structure to learn Hebrew. Even if you are enrolling as a part-time student, being accountable for showing up to class is a great place to start in your efforts to improve. In-person classes with exams and assignments is an excellent way to raise your Hebrew and some have commented it is a superior way to move up an entire level in your mastery. Also, it is worth noting that many universities in Israel offer an immersion summer Ulpan that is a great way to extend your language skills.
Software such as Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur will only be effective if you practice (otherwise it’s a great paperweight). Many people find that paying for the software is not enough to actually make them practice and that signing up for a class, whether it be in-person or online, is the best way to make yourself accountable to show up and practice. If you are disciplined and do the lessons, people have seen that this “professional” approach can show results.
There is a growing number of choices for online Ulpans. This is a particularly good option for people who live in areas where Hebrew classes are less accessible and prefer the accountability of being in an organized setting with an instructor. Online Ulpans offer the option to meet more frequently, ensuring that you exercise those Hebrew “muscles.” If you do opt for the online Ulpan route, make sure to ask around for recommendations for a good course and instructor. Be sure to understand the Ulpan’s educational approach and where they expect you’ll be by the end of the course.
A great way to supplement your Hebrew practice between lessons is to immerse yourself in the Hebrew language. Whether it be Hebrew podcasts, (online) radio, newspapers, or TV (there are some excellent Hebrew TV shows on Netflix), hearing and reading the language is a great way to practice and familiarize yourself with it. It may be important for you to take some formal classes to learn the rules of the language and put the words you picked up from TV into practice properly. Listening to real-life language usage will help you take your learning outside the classroom. At the end of the day, any of these methods can work for you if you are committed to putting in the effort.
One final tip – DISTRACTIONS. Life is full of distractions and so is your planning for life in Israel. When you have a conflict in your schedule, for example, you have an online Ulpan class at 8:00 pm and your boss Whatsapps you at 7:50 about an urgent memo that needs editing, which one will you do? How many times can you afford to push off your classes, or prioritize them off for something else without realizing you are not growing in your Hebrew? Find a way to make your Hebrew learning a priority and you will see, regardless of the method, your Hebrew will improve – בהצלחה!