Ulpan courses — the Hebrew immersion regimen offered in (and now out of) Israel — are certainly as intense as they're advertised to be.
Following a year and a half of once a week prep at Ahuva Tal Hollander's New York-based Ha-Ulpan, I took a six-week intensive course at Hebrew University's Jerusalem ulpan this summer. Now, however, that I've officially immigrated here, I'm taking advantage of the five-month free ulpan to which I am entitled as a new citizen.
Given my wide range of options – all two of them – I chose Ulpan Morasha over Beit Ha'am, partially because a few respected people recommended it over the other, but mostly because the people at Morasha answered their phone and those at Beit Ha'am did not. I'm now there every morning (Sunday through Thursday), from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., which actually fits perfectly with my work schedules.
Different from my prior experience at Hebrew University's ulpan program, which focused on textbook learning, Morasha is geared more towards speaking Hebrew, and speaking fast. In fact, there are no textbooks and at all, and most of the homework assignments the teachers make up on the spot at the end of each session.
Usually, I'm partial to — and much better at — textbook learning, but I think this intensive spoken Hebrew boot-camp is actually much more what I needed at this time. I need to develop a confidence in speaking that comes so much more naturally to me in reading and writing because, after all, I can't do interviews or go into shops holding up signs with written Hebrew on them.
While completely different from each other, the two ulpan methods seem to be equally valuable depending upon what specific skills you want to hone at the moment. At Morasha, the teachers fire out English phrases and cold-call on students who must just as speedily translate these words into Hebrew. Big emphasis on repetition, repetition, repetition.
Not quite what I expected, considering I had always learned that foreign language instruction must occur entirely in that language, but I have to say that the Morasha method does really seem to be effective in getting us to converse quickly.
Meanwhile, the class I'm in has a few keynote know-it-alls who need to shout and/or mouth answers before anyone else has the chance to do so, but for the most part, everyone seems to be nice and I guess most importantly, really committed to learning the language.
Hopefully Morasha's promise of "fumbles to fluency" really does hold true, or at least, to whatever extent realistically possible.
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