University of Haifa International School Student Blog
She Said What? Tongue Tied in a Bilingual State
Language, language, language…where do I begin? One of the most amazing perks to living in Israel is being able to hear so many languages in a day, especially Hebrew and Arabic. Living and learning in a pretty much bilingual area like Haifa is a curse and a blessing. Whether you take languages classes or not you inevitably start learning two new languages while living here. This task can be super daunting or relatively easy depending on what other languages that you spe
I always knew Arabic and Hebrew came from the same Semitic language family, but I never realized how close they really are. This sounds great until you are in Arabic class and start speaking Hebrew and vice versa. Yes, I have done this, as have others. It happens to everyone. I can’t tell you how many times I want to tell my Arabic teacher that “I am here” and it usually goes something like this “Ani po…uhh I mean ana hunn!”
This map shows the Semitic language family from the area. Arabic and Hebrew are two of the most spoken Semitic languages still spoken along with Amharic (which many Ethiopian Jews of Israel also speak). Many of the other Semitic languages are extinct!
When I started living here I began to see that many words are used in both languages. Some because they actually are the same word (like “tut” which means “strawberry” in both Arabic and Hebrew) while others are the same just because people speak both languages so they get adopted in (like native Hebrew speakers FREQUENTLY using the Arabic word “yallah”). Originally I thought that this was great and it would make speaking so much easier. Nope. I soon realized when I didn’t know a word in Hebrew and I used the Arabic word instead is NOT right probably 80% of the time.
For starters, though they both have uniquely different writing. Both Arabic and Hebrew are read from right to left. (Pro Tip: This makes writing translations in class super awkward then you have to write on both sides of the paper).
The fact that these languages are the same yet vastly different interested me just as much as it frustrated me on a daily basis. Which prompted me to look into the roots and structures to better understand why although they are from the same family sometimes they are seem close as sisters and other times as different as cousins.
To be or not to be? NEITHER. In Arabic and Hebrew there is no need for a conjugated form of “to be.” As a native English speaker I remember for weeks in French 101 we studied all the different conjugations of “to be.” It’s pretty awesome that in both Arabic AND Hebrew its not needed. “Ani po/ Ana hunn” literally translate to “I here” and that works. For once, the Semitic languages are a little bit easier on us English natives!
Both languages use a three letter root system to (most) of their verbs. For instance, “to write” in Arabic comes from the root K-T-B and is vowelized as “kataba.” Vowels are added and changed to signify a new verb tense as well as different pronoun forms.
These are only a few of the similarities I have noticed since being here and actively using both languages. I’ve heard many people say when they first hear Hebrew and Arabic that “OMG they sound the same” which I think is because of these similarities. As everyone living in Israel knows, this couldn’t be further from the truth! We can tell in SECONDS which language the person is speaking. Sadly, though there are similarities, there are more differences. This is why people who only speak Hebrew cannot understand Arabic and only Arabic speakers cannot understand Hebrew. As a student this means SORRY but you have to learn both.
In the end, it is super rewarding to say that not only did you live abroad, but you also picked up not ONE, but TWO languages while there. Take advantage. Get involved. Learn these beautiful and timeless languages!
One Last Thing!
Many Israelis with Arab heritage (Mizrahi Jews usually) are able to speak both and for this they are my favorite people to hang out with! I can blend my Hebrew and Arabic (usually by mistake) and they understand it all. You guys rock!
Click the link below to listen to a song by Nasreen Qadri where she blends Hebrew and Arabic seamlessly in one song…