Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Post from an English Speaker learning Hebrew through Russian

After recommending Tyson’s Seburn’s post “Z is the 1st letter of their alphabet” , related to the experiences of American children studying at a school in Moscow, I heard from a number of teachers who found the video fascinating. One of them is Sharleen Harty, who has had the unique experience of learning a language she doesn’t know through another language she doesn’t know!

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

Here is what she wrote.

Sharleen Harty is a new immigrant to Israel & can be contacted at or visit her website:

How I am learning Hebrew – in 2012

by Sharleen Harty


Never before as a ‘linguist’ (I studied English, French, German and Italian at University of Cape Town; English, Afrikaans and French at school in South Africa; on-line Spanish in a USA college), have I had the opportunity to explore a language in the land in which it was born, died and then revived. Sixty-four years after Israel became an independent state, Hebrew is alive and well – with a meaning much as it had in Biblical times.

During the first five months as new olim (immigrants) in Israel, most non-Hebrew speakers attend five hours each day of intensive (and free) Hebrew exercises at Ulpan. However, my twenty fellow students in Akko were entirely Russian speakers (which is not unusual in the north apparently), and the teacher spoke very little English – so at the end of each day my output was more Russian than Hebrew.

I was confused on many levels by the daunting process of learning a new language and alphabet (Hebrew) through the context of listening to another language (Russian) that I did not know. Even the homework was largely presented in Russian and Hebrew. With the help of various (free) computer programs I was able to: observe and listen to a clearly articulated Hebrew audio track on-line (as opposed to the dominant Russian heard in class); cultivate a more authentic Israeli (and less Russian- or English-sounding) Hebrew accent using transliteration and audio playbacks; learn the Hebrew alphabet, and build a small vocabulary that I could use through the daily words posted on Facebook – visit

By Gil Epshtein
By Gil Epshtein

The best classroom, however, was definitely out and about in the sleepy, 6,000-year-old fishing village of Akko itself. I learned Hebrew words and context from each memorable encounter, much as a child learns his or her mother tongue (English for me) until it becomes ‘habitus’ or second nature. Another creative way to acquire Hebrew vocabulary was to listen to Israeli musicians (my favourite was Idan Raichel), while following the transliterated meaning and English words on-line. If only I could sing it would be an even more useful way to form and practise my Hebrew accent.

All Akko wanted to practise their English so I assisted two single Russian moms studying to be English teachers, taught oral bagrut at the local high school and was treated like a celebrity while teaching in Arab and Druze village schools. I may have stumbled on a new career as the sole, native-speaking English teacher in and around Akko. If more Anglos settled here I believe that we could easily start an English school – or at the very least teach the meaning of words and sentences through mime/charades.

I stopped the ‘Hebrew in Russian’ input after one month and several migraines of being “Lost in Translation” (a must see movie for those who are experiencing the sensation of being lost in a new language, culture and environment)*.  However, I continued to acquire knowledge as I set up a home in Akko, made friends, networked and found work in the schools. Being creative with my Hebrew language procedure allowed me the freedom to prioritize my daytime activities, and study at night if necessary. I even indulged my passion for archaeological meandering and exploration in the old Crusader-now Arab city, followed by a swim at Akko’s country club and processing Hebrew during my laps.

According to new olim have eighteen months in which to use free Ulpan lessons, so it remains an option if my anthropological hypothesis does not bear fruit within a year. If observing while participating does work, however, Arabic is next on my list…not to mention Russian.

*Two hilarious miscommunications during Ulpan: I thought I understood – to my horror – that a Russian student wanted to “drive drugs” in Israel (actually trucks) and that Israelis like to go to the store to buy “snakes” (actually snacks)

P.S. I moved to Nahariyya in 2013 and will resume my Ulpan practise there to supplement and speed up the Hebrew I imbibe daily.


Guest Post: “Going Going Gone” with Low-Literacy Learners By Clare O’Nolan

I’m pleased to introduce my first guest on this blog – Clare O’Nolan!

Clare is an ESL and ESOL teacher and teacher trainer based in London. Interested in teaching underprivileged and homeless. Spare time scuba diver and birdwatcher. Clare tweets at @Clareonolan

I was lucky enough to be able to share my excitement about the adaptibility of the disappearing text method for special needs students (I’ve been posting about my experiments with it recently!) with Clare. Although she works with an entirely different kind of population we found that the system works for her too!

So, here’s Clare’s post!

(Note: The original Going Going Gone” post is from Jason’s Renshaw’s blog.)

My class and I had great fun with this last Thursday!

I used the 5 sentences from the current ‘chapter’ of material we are using. The students (5 women, 2 men from Afghanistan, Yemen, Morocco, Somalia & Bulgaria) had read it with me and the pictures before hand. Each sentence was boarded alongside the picture (instead of the questions in Jason Renshaw’s version) and drilled with slightly exaggerated word stress. I thought remembering the rhythm might help later with the word order.

1st round: removed unstressed function words; dismay all round – replaced them on the board by eliciting from students. (More dismay – we did it!)
2nd round: removed same words again plus prepositions. (Less dismay this time.) I gave the students a copy of what was left on the board as a 1/2 page handout. They worked in pairs to restore both sets of words by writing in the gaps. We checked as a class using the board again, them reading aloud.
3rd round: removed all previous words plus verbs from the board. This  version was shown on the second 1/2 of the handout and the students filled the gaps again. They took longer but succeeded. (Proud dismay all round!)
4th round: fast worker only. On another handout provided I had taken out everything except initials for the names and the nouns in the story. She had to write back in all the missing words. (Success.)

I found it useful for little things like showing them collocations are waiting, for a bus, are going, to the zoo etc. They practised the connection between what they saw (familiar pictures), what they heard (reading aloud), and what the wrote to fill in the gaps.
I tried to avoid your problems with too much copying from the board (!) but fell into the trap of not allowing for large handwriting in the gaps. I needed to leave more space. Also whilst wanting to show how many words were missing, I confused them with dashes like this ——– (they assumed each dash was a letter) when I should have used a line _______ . I also like the way the task could be easily differentiated for the variety of abilities, even in this small class. I will definitely do it again with the next chapter of our material.