Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lost in Translation

Of all the challenges that I have faced in my life in Israel –and even my life in general – the one that has been the hardest, and the longest lasting, has been trying to learn a second language.
I came to Israel knowing some Hebrew, after spending twelve very expensive years in a private Hebrew school in the 'old country'. I could read and write, knew how to say glida and Shabbat Shalom. But I couldn’t actually speak it. In the early days, my throat would get dry, my tongue would twist up, and my lips would freeze. And that was just listening to someone.
I somehow persevered and today, though I sound like I just stepped off the boat, I can make myself understood.
My kids, however, are a whole other story.
My children were all born in Israel. They are completely bilingual; they speak equally proficiently in two languages. Unfortunately those two languages are not Hebrew or English.
They all speak Englew and Hebrish.

Seriously, they can’t go more than six words in any one language.

Most conversations go something like this:

“Today, at school, I went up the madreigot, to the sifriyah. The morah l’mada’im stopped me and told me to go to class. It wasn’t fairrrrr, because it was hafsaka then.”

I’ve stopped hearing it the mishmash long ago, and probably am just as guilty of this particular infraction as they are. But I can, if I concentrate hard, speak a complete sentence in one language.  “You drive to the first tzomet – I mean traffic light – and turn right at the mishtara – I mean police station. Then carry on straight till you see the makolet – I mean grocery store…..”

And then there’s the problem of getting slightly confused. One of my kids – I don’t remember which one – informed me one day that s/he needed to bring some ‘sookar’ to school. As I went to the kitchen to get the requested sugar, I noticed my sister, who was visiting from the ‘old country’ laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked, “They’re making challah in school tomorrow”. “No, it’s that she asked for sookar in the middle of such lovely English,” answered the aunt. I thought that was a bit unfair. Sookar is almost English. I looked at the child, who was about five at the time, and asked him/her “How do you say sookar in English?” S/he thought a minute or two, flashed a grin and said “Flour!!”

Sometimes, I forget they are not actually English speakers. The most unexpected words will throw them off. The other day, my son saw me sucking at my finger. “What happened to you?” “It’s nothing,” I said, “Just a hangnail.”
He looked at me blankly. “Your nail was hanged? From what?”

Of course, many words are simply untranslatable. ‘What a fadicha’ is much stronger and clearer than ‘what an embarrassment’. An embarrassment is when you spill your tea. A fadicha is when your mother brings your forgotten lunch to school. And talks to you. In English. In front of your friends. (This is actually several fadichot...)

The best thing about my kids being bilingual is that I can ask them what words mean. They think it’s hysterical. I’ll be reading the paper and ask “what does ee ziyut mean?” They start laughing and say “It means he didn’t make his bed.” No, no, he didn’t finish everything on his plate!” “NO! It means he didn’t hang up his laundry!” Eventually, I’ll get the dictionary (or Google translate – my new best friend) to tell me it means ‘disobedience”.

I’ve seen some people get upset over my kids Hebrish/Englew. “Send them abroad for a summer and then speak properly” I’ve been told more than once. Or “you should correct them every time they speak a Hebrew word! If I did that, I’d be speaking more than them.

In fact, I enjoy listening to my kids speak their own unique language. It reminds me daily, that though the transition of language has not gone exactly smoothly for me, they have been blessed by not having any transitions, any barriers, or even any accents; and that I have been blessed by having five amazing bilingual Sabra children.

No fadicha there.
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