I’m moving overseas to Israel in less than three weeks to a country where I don’t speak the language. I’m lucky enough to be moving with a partner who does speak my language, and into a family and community which is largely fluent in English. But when I was there for three months last year, the immersion in Hebrew was a fascinating process that I thought I’d write a little about.
Learning a language purely by immersion, without any real formal study or teaching, gives you a chance to feel your brain working. You can feel yourself remembering words you used to forget, making strings of sounds you used to find difficult, speaking faster and better all the time. Words that used to sound like nothing more than gibberish now have meaning: you stop translating everything to English in your head and start responding intuitively, instinctually.
It’s also an exercise in patience. It’s an amazing thing to think, when you sit in a room with people speaking a language you’ve never heard, that if you do nothing more than wait and live your life and immerse yourself in the language, in twelve months you’ll actually be able to understand it, in eighteen months, to converse in it, in five years to be fluent in it.
Finally, it gives an opportunity to refute the adage that human beings are unable to comprehend the exponential function (of course, this should really say “logistic function” as very few physical quantities can actually grow exponentially). You notice yourself getting better, and getting better quickly.
I’ve always loved languages, particularly grammar and phonology, and learning Hebrew has given me the amazing opportunity to learn by simply living.