Two of the couchsurfers we hosted over the last week come from Israel, and today, on the last day, I did a 40 min session with one of them. It was quite interesting in that on several occasions we thought we had something nailed down, only to much later find out that it did not mean what I thought it does. For example, when I started with “This is a red pen”, she thought that I had said “This is red colored”, which led to confusion later when saying “Do you want my red pen?”.

Then Hebrew seems to have a way of being able to say “This is a pen for me” instead of “This is my pen”; I think I’ve seen this somewhere else in a different language, but can’t remember where. So we were using “for me”/”for you” all the time when talking about my and her pen, which worked fine until I was trying to get her to say (I think it was) »No, this is not your black pen. This is my black pen«, but she always answered »Is this your black pen?« with »No, this is my black pen«. I repeatedly tried to model the sentence I wanted to her (I was trying to figure out where the “not” goes), but she insisted on her version (»No, this is my black pen«), so much that I almost considered that Hebrew had no way of saying »No, this is not your black pen« :) – Only after several minutes we found out that the problem was that the “for you” that we had used instead of “yours” made a very different sense in that context.

I think it was when I said »I have my black pen. Do you want my black pen?« that suddenly instead of the simple »li jesh et adom« mutated into something like »ani rotse et ha-et ha-adom she-lach«, which funnily enough confused her much more than it did me. This was something new and unexpected, but while I was quite calmly thinking how I could either elegantly find out what the extra “ha-et” and the “ha” in front of the “adom” meant, or to just accept that in one context some stuff is there that is not there in other context (which I actually like a lot, as it seems pretty effortless to me), she went into a frenzy to find out how to explain it to me in English (which I very often asked her not to do ;). It turned out it is a kind of article.

I again noticed that it is a very good idea to only use one version of saying something, even if it is not the best version. I have the feeling that it’s much better to start building the language brain with “good enough” pieces, to get to a level of basic fluency, where I then can easily replace those good enough pieces with something better, instead of wasting my time and concentration in the beginning by finding “the best” version, or even use different nuances when saying slightly different things. This is quite hard with some fluent fools, as they have very different ideas of how all this works than I do, and it’s sometimes hard to explain to them without leading into a long meta-session in English. So I told her, “If I tell »ani rotse et ha-et ha-adom she-lach« to a stranger with a red pen, will he give it to me? If so, and grammatically not wrong, good enough for now”.

One other interesting moment related to this came when I found that “i don’t have” is not like in English, instead “don’t have” seems to be a single word totally unrelated to “have”. Again, I enjoyed this, but she felt the strong urge to talk about it in English. This was when I explained to her that although she speaks Hebrew, and I do not, I am the teacher, and she is the Fluent Fool, which means that all of the responsibility lies with me, and she just can relax and let me do the worrying :)