Do I need Hebrew in Israel?

Filed in Hebrew, Trip-planning by on 30/12/2012 0 Comments
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Hebrew Everywhere (Photo: FontFont, CC BY 2.0)

Hebrew Everywhere (Photo: FontFont, CC BY 2.0)

Hebrew in Israel – What if I don’t speak it?

It’s definitely a question that comes to mind for many non-Hebrew speakers – how will I function in Israel? Well, you can try and cram in an online course, get some books from the library or practice on an unsuspecting friend. But, if you feel it’s a little late in life for a second language, don’t worry. Over 3.5 million people visited Israel this year, and you can rest assured that the majority are not Hebrew speakers. This should be enough to inspire confidence that the language barrier is definitely not insurmountable.

Most Israelis speak some English. In fact, probably more than you think which is important to remember before having a “private conversation” that is understood by everyone around you. English is a required subject in Israeli schools and Israelis love to practice their English.

Traffic Signs

Traffic signs are in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Shops and restaurants usually have their signs in English as well as Hebrew. In more touristy areas there is an expectation that customers will be English speakers. Menus in many restaurants are usually also available in English and many waiter/waitresses are happy to try out their English with you.

Hebrew Sign (Photo: Naama, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hebrew Sign (Photo: Naama, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Slight Complication – English UK or US

While today the emphasis in Israeli schools is learning US English, the presence of the British in Israel for many years resulted in Israelis often use British words rather than American ones. So, you may hear both Hebrew AND English words you don’t know.  Here is a fun list of English words you may come across:

  • What Americans refer to as the hood of a car Brits call a bonnet!
  • What Americans call a trailer Brits call a caravan!
  • What Americans call a parking lot Brits call a car park.
  • Gas or gasoline is called petrol by those sporting the Queen’s English, but Israelis call it benzine!
  • You probably already know the classic one – French fries for Yanks, chips for Brits! Israelis also call French fries chips so if you are in a restaurant ask for chips!
  • Conversely what Yanks call potato chips Brits call crisps!

Navigating Restrooms, WC or the Sherutim

Hebrew in Israel – let’s get to the practical stuff. It is very common in Israel to see WC written for bathrooms referred to as sherutim in Hebrew. In Hebrew the men’s room is called sherutim shel geverim and the ladies’ room is called sherutim shel nashim. However, you will not always see the word men’s or ladies written in English but hopefully a picture of a man or a woman on the specific door (universal signage!)  Many, but not all have bathrooms for wheelchair access. Watch out however for places that have the same bathroom for both men and women.

A fairly new phenomenon in Israel is the requirement to pay to access the washroom, mainly in bus stations. In these cases a person that you might mistake for a beggar sits by the door and you have to pay as you enter – usually a shekel.

Insider Tip: In the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, it is highly recommended that you use the third floor washroom where you will find a real life person, (no turn style like on the other floors) and the ability to get change if you don’t happen to have the required shekel. This is a must if you have a large suitcase or baby carriage with you. Fortunately, in restaurants, hotels, museums, department stores, shopping malls, theaters and public buildings, you do not have to pay to access the washroom.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many English words are the same in Hebrew such as Internet, museum, ketchup, cinema, tofu, taxi, jeep, and jeans but my all time favorite is “total loss”.  However, the accent may be on a different part of the word making it sound very different.

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