Is your Conversational Hebrew Accent Important?
Some of our clients ask us whether speaking Hebrew with an “accent” is a big deal. The irony here is that it is almost impossible to encounter anyone in Israel who DOESN’T have an accent of one sort or another when they speak conversational Hebrew. Here in Beit Shemesh we have an eclectic and diverse mix of people from a variety of backgrounds. The original community was made up mainly of Morrocan Olim who formed the core of the community. Since then a large concentration of Russians, Ethiopians and more recently North Americans and Brits have joined the mix. The other day, while buying my favorite pistachios from the Shuk I witnessed a wonderful broken conversational Hebrew moment. An Ethiopian chap was asking a russian guy to help him out with an American customer. It was like the blind leading the blind! But everyone got what they wanted in the end and it was as if there was a kind of underlying unity in the fact that everyone’s Hebrew and conversational Hebrew ability was not an issue.
Ways to improve your Conversational Hebrew Accent
As we have pointed out above your conversational Hebrew accent isn’t the be all and end all. But if you want to improve your accent to sound more like an authentic sabra, there are steps you can take. Firstly you will want to start “opening up your ears” and begin trying to recognize different accents. Accents in Israel are generally not regional but rather ethnic and it is easier to tell the difference between different accents if you know what to listen out for. For example, Israeli’s whose backgrounds are middle eastern (Morrocan, Iraqui, Yemenite etc) tend to accentuate their Ayins and Chets in a more gutteral way than Israeli’s from Europe. A great way to start hearing the difference and beginning to identify various conversational Hebrew accents is to listen to call in radio talk shows. Like most call in shows every day people call in to the show and offer their opinions on the subject of the day. It is amazing how many different accents you hear in one talk show! Play a game and see if you can guess where the people you are listening to may be from.
Conversational Hebrew accent and Anglos
Just like in North America, if you were to meet someone who was ethnically mexican or asian you would naturally put them into a category in your mind and would identify them as a “foreign english speaker”. You would naturally make allowances for their slight grammatical errors and accent and would conduct the conversation more on their level. Well the same is true in Israel and remember Israel’s are used to conducting Hebrew conversations and dealing with people who have different conversational Hebrew accents. It may well be that you are “judged” as an “Americae” by your accent but this is equally true for your dress, appearance and demeanor. In other words, don’t be put off or deterred from speaking the wonderful conversational Hebrew you have learned simply because you may be uncomfortable with your accent. Sabra’s don’t take things like this in life half as seriously as we Anglo’s do, which is worth bearing in mind when speaking conversational Hebrew.
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