Friday, May 28, 2010


Shalom (Hello in Hebrew)

Earlier this morning, I received the message below from a student who was in the last class I taught at ISA.

Hey Mr. Monteith,
I've been seeing a lot more racism in the past couple months, and it really angers me. To the point where I feel like I HAVE to do something. So I was wondering if you know of any movements I could get involved in or to start a local San Antonio branch of. If you did, that would be awesome! :)


My first reaction was to tackle his question on my own by doing a little on-line research and trying to recall which organizations in San Antonio dealt actively with racism. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center came to mind and I found a few articles from YES! magazine, like the one linked below.

Everyday Conversations to Heal Racism by Roberto Vargas — YES! Magazine

That didn't really feel like enough in the way of a response, so I decided to give this blog a test drive and see if I could tap into the potential of social networking as a way of helping this student.

Please post any ideas or strategies you have found regarding productively dealing with racism. Or email them to me and I'll email them to him.

Shukran (Thank you in Arabic)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strategies in Fluency

Great news!  I've had three meetings in the last three days with various Bedouin women's organizations in Be'er Sheva.  Each meeting consisted of two representatives from the organization, my supervisor Amny, and myself.  Each meeting with the three women and I lasted about an hour.
Here is a brief summary of what I gathered from each conversation:
The first meeting was in Hebrew and the next two were in Arabic.  Thanks to the miracle known as a "cognate" I'm pretty sure a telephone was being discussed during one of the conversations.  Other than that, I really just sat there clueless but attentive. (ladies, insert your gender-based jokes here) I'm sure this is some form of karma from my days as a math teacher when I droned on and on about things like quadratic formulas and the square roots of irrational numbers.

Believe it or not, some people promote this exact type of situation for learning new languages.  It is commonly referred to as "immersion". Here is my description of learning not one but two, count them two, languages through immersion:

Imagine you are thirsty.  Really thirsty. The less you know of a language the thirstier you are.  In other words, you're dying of thirst.

Imagine a rainstorm.  Not a scary, lightning and thunder filled rainstorm.  One of those fantastic rainstorms with gigantic raindrops that cools a hot summer day.  Hallelujah!  So much water for so much thirst.

Now imagine one of those little red straws that people put in coffee.  Imagine that the only way you are allowed to get water into your mouth (remember, you're dying of thirst) is to put that straw in your mouth and point it upwards hoping for a direct hit from a raindrop.  You will be fluent when, and only when, your thirst is quenched.

That, my friends, is immersion.

Thankfully, Amny is infinitely patient.  She recaps all conversations and she is confident I will be of use to these organizations.  And I continue to be ecstatic about learning.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's Hebrew for "partially hydrogenated oil"?

It's hard to be a health nut in a country where I don't speak or read the language.  Every nutrition label essentially looks like: &%^*&%*&^$^$#%$@.
I may be getting a little ahead of myself by worrying about the ingredients, considering I can't find the grocery store yet. (Don't worry mom.  There's a nearby convenience store with the basics as well as some fresh baked goods).
Getting acclimated to Be'er Sheva is going to be a slow, incredibly fun, process.  I love learning, and being in a place where I don't speak the language forces me to be constantly learning.
In one of the great films of all time, The Princess Bride, one of the characters repeatedly uses the term "Inconceivable!" which prompts one of the other characters to retort, "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."
The Israeli equivalent to "Inconceivable" is the phrase "Everyone speaks English".  I heard that phrase many times prior to coming to Israel.  I do not think it means what they think it means.  I discovered a little bookstore near the Shatil offices on my way to work today.  I wandered in hoping to find some children's books in Hebrew or, if I was really lucky, children's books in Hebrew with English translations.  I figure children's books are about the right difficulty level for me right now.  When I asked the owner of the shop if she had any such books I understood more clearly that "Everyone speaks English" really means "Everyone recognizes when you're speaking English and knows a few English words, which, when combined with pointing, smiling, and nodding, can lead you near your intended goal."  The closest she had to Hebrew-English books was Hebrew books with Russian translations.  I know my limits, so I decided not to add learning Russian to my list of things ToDo.
In the end, I walked away from the encounter with one book in Hebrew with lots of pictures, very few words, and no English (or Russian) translations.  I hope to be able to share the details of the story with you some time before I leave in 10 weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today's theme: Transportation

I have arrived in Be'er Sheva, Israel!  I did so by taking a plane from the U.S. to Tel Aviv, then a train from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva, then a taxi from from the train station to my apartment, then a bus to and from the Shatil office I'll be working out of.
Here's a list of all the new transportation words I learned in Hebrew and Arabic...
Okay, so I'm not gifted at languages.  I did learn how to say Thanks and Thank you very much, which I think is very fine start for a jetlagged first day.