I have tried to live my life in 10-year increments and would often say that ten years is long enough to do things like learn a new language but was not so long that you can feel that you can wait. So here I am at 75 years old (next month) learning a new language, Hebrew. I live most of the year in Tel Aviv. We moved here three years ago. While almost everyone speaks English here, Hebrew is the local language. Although I was taught Hebrew as a child so I could have a Bar Mitzvah, and I lived in Israel from 1974-1979, I never learned to speak Hebrew. Now I am making an effort.
Hebrew is not the first language I have tried to learn. I became fluent in Dutch when I lived in Holland and can still speak it today. Having been married to a Dutch woman at the time helped. My situation is now different, as my wife is also American and we speak English at home.
Hebrew is a fascinating language. However, it is certainly not an easy to learn. For instance, Hebrew is typically written without vowels. That makes reading difficult unless you already know the words.
In learning Hebrew, I have been reminded of the learning problems I had a child. I don’t want to describe them as learning disabilities because I had no problem learning. I just had to do it my way, which is why I could not succeed in school but ended up as an Associate Professor at the age of 29. I have no trouble reading and read very fast, but I don’t subvocalize much. That means I don’t pronounce the sound of the words in my mind when I read. I understand the meaning of the words, sometimes whole sentences and even paragraphs. I never really see the letters, which is why it has always been hard for me to spell.
I have found myself doing the same thing in Hebrew. I read words, but don’t hear the sounds silently in my mind. Not hearing the sounds turns out to be a big problem in Hebrew because the sounds and especially the unwritten vowels define the meaning of a word. So I am re-training myself, and I am succeeding. Franky, I find this unexpected. I guess the brain is still flexible, even at my age.
I have trouble spelling in English as readers of my blog have noticed, I am sure. But I am now able to spell in Hebrew. I am doing great with understanding the structure of the language, syntax, and grammar, which is not so surprising. I am doing well in reading. I am starting to speak Hebrew. The biggest problem I am having is that I can not understand what is being said back. Israeli’s speak very fast. Prepositions like “with,” “to” and “from” do not stand alone but are tacked onto the word they are modifying. So instead of saying, “I am from San Francisco” they Say “I am fromSan Francisco”. Sometimes to two words are added in the front. They would say “it is fromthehouse” instead of “from the house”.
I am taking Hebrew lessons five days a week for an hour. I get lots of homework. I am also watching various youtube channels and using an app called https://www.duolingo.com/learn, which is available for many languages. It is fun and helpful.
I think learning a language later in life may be a good way to keep the brain active.