November 16, 2011 | Hebrew

Italian Emerges!

In which I speak Italian under the influence of propofol.

Today a nice doctor sent a small camera down my throat and into my stomach to take pictures of my insides. Normally I would not share this piece of information in a public forum, but I am so excited by what happened afterwards that I can’t help myself.

Learning the Basics in a New Language Is Like Reverting to Childhood

Learning the Basics in a New Language Is Like Reverting to Childhood

Before the procedure, I sat in a waiting area with a bunch of other people. One of them was a woman who had just finished her own procedure of some sort, and who apparently felt like total crap, which I did not find reassuring.

To relax, I studied Hebrew. As I have mentioned previously, studying languages has made doctors’ visits a million times more pleasant. It is very relaxing and distracting. This doctor’s office by coincidence happens to be right next door to the office of the podiatrist who is treating my foot injury. I considered popping my head in and saying hi, but decided the chances that no one would care were high.

So there I sat, waiting my turn, consulting a couple of Hebrew books and practicing my letters. Although my Hebrew focus has so far been almost entirely on Pimsleur lessons (meaning oral skills), I have started taking at least a preliminary look at the Hebrew alphabet. Above is an example of what I have been working on, from The Hebrew Primer (Behrman House).

I haven’t checked my answers in the book yet, so there may be mistakes in what I wrote next to the Hebrew letters. But it is really such a cool feeling when you first start to penetrate a radically different writing system.

Hebrew, like Arabic, reads right to left. The Behrman book is paginated in the reverse of the English system (so their front cover is our back cover), and the other one I am currently using, Teach Yourself to Read Hebrew from Simon & Anderson, which covers similar material, is paginated according to the traditional English system. This makes it a little hard for me to open the books on the right end the first go-around.

My First Hebrew Letters

My First Hebrew Letters

Anyway, back to the doctor’s office. I am not super keen on medical things, but since I know there are far, far worse things than endoscopies, I tried to remain calm. I think I succeeded. To distract me (I assume), the anaesthesiologist asked me what I had done to my foot, so the last thing I remember before going under was talking about running.

I was knocked out completely for the full thing, and the first thing I recall afterwards was being ushered back to the doctor’s desk. Two friendly young women attending to me seemed to be under the impression that I knew Italian. The reason for this perplexed me, since I had been chatting in English before the procedure and did not have any Italian books with me.

They explained that I had woken up from the procedure speaking Italian. Apparently I was talking about the marathon and how I hurt my foot.

I was floored. And ecstatic! To be comfortable enough in a language that I would come out of anaesthesia speaking it, when I could very well have spoken nonsense in my own native English? Maybe I was really getting somewhere!? (I have actually been worrying about my Italian, which is for my tastes still too primitive and fragile. Yesterday while running an errand, I practiced talking to myself in Italian—silently in my head, I mean—to make sure I hadn’t forgotten certain words.)

One of the women said she had been studying Italian with Rosetta Stone, but that she hadn’t found it useful. Still loopy from the propofol (yes, that’s what they gave me), I gushed about the virtues of Pimsleur and wrote down the name for her on a piece of paper.

At least I think I wrote “Pimsleur.” It’s possible I wrote “Pommslar” or something delirious like that instead.

This endoscopy completely made my day.

Comments (7)

Luba • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 6:50 am EST

I see that you’ve been writing Hebrew print letters. They’re hard to write and, probably, unnecessary, since everyone writes in cursive letters. I mean, you will need to be able to read print letters, or course, but why suffer writing them? I never saw anyone hand-writing print letters in Hebrew. Of course, when on the computer, people do use print letters, but when they write by hand they use cursive only.
cursive letters look like this
Here you can see the cursive script

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 12:59 pm EST

The cursive versus print issue has come up for me in other languages before—with Russian, for example. I never studied Russian cursive, focusing instead only on print. I wanted to do both, but I didn’t have time for that, so I sacrificed the cursive.

In Hebrew, I would be interested in learning cursive should time permit, but I don’t think I can skip the print version. Based on the books I have, I am thinking that’s what the schoolkids must start with? And writing out the print letters is the only way my brain will absorb them enough to read the print letters in the books I am using. I am a very visual learner, and very dependent on writing as a tool in the language-learning process.

Luba, do you think people write more cursive in Hebrew than they do in English? I have heard (and this is merely anecdotal, not based on scientific study) that with the advent of computers, more and more Americans print in English rather than writing in cursive. In fact, I THINK someone told me that her children’s school system had recently stopped teaching cursive altogether, which she regarded as a travesty.

I myself am a printing fan in English. Even though my elementary school spent many, many hours drilling handwriting skills into my classmates and me, and even though I loved learning cursive back then, nowadays in English I almost always print. I find it more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read. I think this affects my attitude towards cursive in other languages.

Honestly, I was very happy that Hebrew had both print and cursive versions. The cursive-only nature of Arabic was a challenge for me.

But I will try to learn both in Hebrew. :)

Luba • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 3:19 pm EST

Well, in Russian the situation is different. We indeed learn first print letters, and only then cursive. Though, the most hand-writing is done in cursive - it’s much faster way to write, and that’s especially important in classes, for example, we do use print letters, too. For example, I always address mail sent to Russia in print letters, so the address will be clear enough, and people a required to fill the official forms in print letters.
In Hebrew, I don’t really think anyone ever prints. Well, except for those who hand-write the Torah scrolls, and for artistically drawn placards, I guess. But otherwise everyone uses cursive. I’m not even sure people are taught to print. I haven’t been, but I came to Israel as an adult, so, probably, it doesn’t count. But I’ve been working with elementary school students last year, and I never saw them using print letters, and don’t think they knew how to print. They for sure knew how to read print letters, but they always wrote in cursive.
I think, that if writing print letters helps you remembering them you should do it, but I don’t see any other reason to learn how to print

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 3:49 pm EST

Okay, thank you, Luba!

orly • Posted on Mon, November 21, 2011 - 11:51 am EST

Have you heard of the guy, not so long ago, who fell into a coma completely straight and woke up gay? True story, he is a very happy man.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, November 21, 2011 - 4:09 pm EST

I did read about him. It would have been cool if I had woken up octilingual.

Or nonilingual.

Or decilingual.

But I will take what I can get. ;)

Sarah • Posted on Fri, March 17, 2017 - 11:23 am EST

A bit late to the game, I know, but I’m a fairly rare beast as a person who has, like you, studied both Russian and Hebrew (among other languages to various extents that use different writing systems), and honestly I *always* skip block letters in favour of cursive. Natives always write using cursive, if you want to read you need both, ideally, and one can almost always pick up the block letters easily because one finds them both in books and online.

With both languages, block print is close enough to actual print that if you know the printed forms, if in doubt you can just use those if you’re in the unusual position of being forced to use print, but IMO it’s a waste of time to dedicate oneself to learning it. Learn to read print, learn to write cursive, and you get the other one (reading cursive and writing print) more or less for free. Just my two cents ;)

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