Posted by: baryonic | June 29, 2010

Hebrew via cereal boxes

I took Spanish in high school, and recently I’ve been teaching myself a little Japanese (written Hiragana and some common spoken phrases). Arabic and Hebrew, however, seem scary—both appear to be a series of squiggles that all look the same! Hebrew is written in about five or six different fonts, several of which (the handwriting one in particular) look nothing the same. With Hebrew, however, you 23 letters and vowels generally thrown out the window—how hard can the language be?

I’ve learned a few spoken words of Hebrew so far (slicha = excuse me/sorry; toda (raba) = thank you (very much); be’vakasha = please; le’hitra’ot = see you later; tov = good; ken = yes; lo = no; sababa = awesome; lilah = night; boker = morning; hamesh = five; nana = mint; batata = sweet potato), but thankfully most everyone speaks English (Anglit) at the grocery store, which makes getting 500 g of ground turkey reatively easy. When it comes to reading, I can recognize roughly four random sounds so far in Hebrew: alef (א), reish (ר), shin (ש), and zayin (ז; relevant in some interesting slang).

Tonight, Business Ben came in with a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, labeled in a mix of English and Hebrew. The bottom of the box looked somewhat like this:

Shrek in Hebrew

My first reaction was, “That letter that makes the sound ‘s’ has little ogre horns on it. Cute!” Second thought: “I think that next sound is an ‘r’.” Third: “That must say, ‘Shrek’!” Anna confirmed that indeed the final letter makes a “k” sound, and there you have it.

Our teaching assistants are teaching me food words in Arabic, so perhaps grocery store literacy for East Jerusalem will not be far behind. Unfortunately, MEET has an English-only policy, which means I can’t ask the students to teach me their favorite words in either Arabic or Hebrew until the summer ends. Now if only my suitemates would bring home cereal boxes labeled in Arabic!

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