Monday, February 16, 2009

The bilingual blues

Chances are - if you’re an English-speaker living and working here in Israel - you encounter the following scenario many times throughout the day/week:

You’re talking to a fellow “Anglo” (that’s the Heblish term for a native English-speaking Israeli) when an “Israeli” (that’s the Heblish term for a native Hebrew-speaking Israeli) joins the conversation.

At this point, etiquette demands that the conversation switch to Hebrew. (Admittedly, in certain Anglo enclaves, YMMV…)

In other words, you’re forced to speak Hebrew… to an English speaker.

Personally, I always feel like I’m acting. It’s just feels so fake. But over the years, I’ve learned to ignore the feeling and to soldier on in Hebrew.

Yet my resolution dissolves as soon as someone slips an English phrase or comment into the discussion. Inevitably, I find myself automatically reverting back to English.

Of course, as soon as I realize what I’m doing, I make a conscious effort to go back to Hebrew. However, my new resolve only lasts until the next English phrase or comment…

How do you handle these types of situations?


  1. The linguist in me finds the post amusing and so true! It is weird to speak a foreign language with someone who shares your mother tongue.

  2. Ilana-Davita - Thanks for your comment. Now that you mention it, I see that this post would apply to any foreign language (and not just to Anglos speaking Hebrew).

  3. This happens to me a lot in RBS (go on - insert anti-RBS crack here) - and occasionally when I give a shiur in shul as well and it always feels awkward.
    It happens less so at work since there aren't so many "Anglos" there. I do notice it happens to Russians at work a lot though - where a couple of them are speaking Russian to each other and then someone walks up and they all switch to Hebrew.
    I have wondered how they feel about it and if it feels weirder to them as well.
    I have noticed though that while Anglos will almost always speak English to each other if they can, Russians will occasionally speak Hebrew to each other more often even if they are alone.

  4. Hey, YT! Good to hear from you. Now you just have to update your long-defunct blog, and you'll be back in business...

    go on - insert anti-RBS crack here
    It's certainly tempting...

    Russians will occasionally speak Hebrew to each other more often even if they are alone.
    I have noticed this as well.


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