uncovering ancient Jerusalem

Speaking Hebrew

We are several weeks into the dig now and I am already well versed in the art of swinging a pick, scraping, brushing and, of course, participating in the bucket lines. Where I find more difficulty is in the area of communication. While most of the workers on the site can speak English, the Israelis all prefer to speak Hebrew in casual conversations with each other. When that happens, I listen to the flurry of conversation going back and forth and try to pick out the occasional word. With the help of Pimsleur Hebrew lessons, a course that all the Herbert W. Armstrong College dig volunteers are taking, I can understand the most basic of sentences.

Often as the Hebrew conversations continue back and forth, I stand bewildered to the side until they ask me something. This is it: the culmination of weeks of Hebrew training are about to be wielded with all the skill I can muster. I promptly stutter out, Ani lo mevin.” (I do not understand.) That is one sentence I can use on a regular basis.

I know, I know. I have a long way to go before I will be able to converse with the Jews in their native dialect, but thankfully, they are patient with me and seem to know English far better than I know Hebrew. One man on the dig told me that he came to the dig with the intention of learning better English. So the conversation is not completely stagnant. The Israelis are happy to teach me Hebrew words, and I can lend my knowledge of the English language to them.

In fact, the Jewish people are delighted to hear that the international workers are attempting to learn Hebrew. They are quick to lend a hand with the odd word or phrase that will help bridge the language gap. They will correct a misspoken word, and compliment a well-used Hebrew term with a congratulatory, “Tov me’od!” (Very good!)

Sometimes, there is a word that just cannot be communicated between the two languages, and a more creative means must be used to convey information. One such instance was when a man was trying to ask me where he could find some tin. He did not know the English word for tin, so a lengthy dialogue ensued involving a number of people, culminating in them singing a song from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” From this brief musical exchange, we were able to make a link to the tin man and from there, to tin.

So, language will continue to be something that we will work to overcome while we finish out our stay in Israel. There are a few hurdles to face—but with perseverance, even a lo kolkach tov (not so good) understanding of the language now can eventually turn into a yofi (great) mastering of Ivrit (Hebrew).

Until next time, Shalom!


  1. dbnunn says:

    I really enjoyed reading about how the problem of communication was solved by the use of a song. Mr. Malone would appreciate this too. Music is an international language.

  2. Sarah says:

    That’s great Callum! I remember talking with you and few other students about learning Hebrew. Glad to read that you’ve been keeping at it. Some people learn from the books, others from the experience, it’s so cool that you get both! 🙂

    Thanks for the article!

  3. Abby Estebat says:

    Yofi Callum! (My favorite Hebrew word I learned while in Jerusalem)

    I love language and enjoyed reading about your experiences. Toda Raba 🙂

  4. Dan says:

    Shabbat Shalom Callum, Learning Hebrew is a most Excellent goal. Such an interesting and fascinating language. I have wanted to learn hebrew for for years So you just keep doing what you are doing and then maybe you can teach the rest of us in the world today. For sure you want to be able to speak the language of the amei ha’aretz. The people of the land, in your new Home. When I was in college back in the 70’s in Pasadena, we had a hebrew professor come into our OT Survey class and talk about the the amei ha’aretz and here I am 40 years later still seeing him in my minds eye and hearing him pronounce it. Thanks for sharing
    a glimpse into your abundant living.

  5. Kurt Simmons says:

    I would think it is probably most preferred for the visitors to be able speak, or at least genuinely committed to learning, the indigenous language of the area. It reflects a certain humility and respect for the culture of the area. Great piece!

  6. susan garcia says:

    Keep on keeping on learning a new language is hard. Yet! When you understand a conversation, WOW, what an acheivment.

  7. emma says:

    Thanks for sharing this little tidbit with us and on a less grand scale, I can relate from our various international transfers overseas. Keep immersing yourself.

  8. Melissa says:

    That’s great to be be learning the local language. In all countries it is appreciated when a foreign speaker at least attempts to learn and use the local language. Elijah, inspired by the dig, has begun Hebrew lessons here in OKC. His teacher, a rabbi’s wife, says he is doing well. Maybe you all can can push each other to keep it up once you return to the campus.


  9. magdarodriguezl says:

    Ha ha this is funny… now here I am, a person whose first language is Spanish trying to say thank you for sharing this with us. It is interesting to see how a simple search for a word can end like that… more people involved in the conversation and singing! A good way to keep learning. Thanks again!

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