Shalom, everyone! Today I want to give you some words that might come in handy for you while traveling in Israel. Language is an integral part of a culture. So, learning the language of the country you’re visiting can really enhance your experience! Most people in Israel understand English very well, but if you want to learn some basic Hebrew, here are some words and phrases that can help you start a short conversation.
Clarification: When I write “ch” it’s supposed to represent the Hebrew letter “ח” or “כ”. It’s a sound coming from within the throat. To hear it, you can enter this site, which I found very useful.
Want to learn more Hebrew? Read >> WHERE, WHEN and HOW MUCH in Hebrew.
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What languages are spoken in Israel?
The primary language spoken in Israel is Hebrew. The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, passed in 2018, states that Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel. It was a spoken language in the ancient past, and most holy scriptures were written in Hebrew. But sometime around 200 CE, it stopped being a spoken language. It was only used when reading and studying the sacred scriptures. Only hundreds of years later, in the 19th century, the Hebrew language was revived, and today, most of the Israelis speak it. Many Arabs, especially in East Jerusalem, do not speak Hebrew well.
Another spoken language in Israel is the Arabic. According to the law from 2018, it is defined as a “language with a special status.” All of the Arabs who live in Israel – about 2 million – speak Arabic, though there are different dialects. Most speak in the Palestinian Arab dialect, but some speak in a Bedouin dialect. There are also some Jews who speak Arabic, but most do not. Jewish children are taught Arabic in high school but only study the literary Arabic rather than the spoken one. So, to tell the truth – I don’t really know Arabic. Maybe only a few words.
And, of course, we also speak English in Israel. Most people will be able to understand you, and many will be able to talk to you. However, some Israelis – even young ones – still do not know how to speak English. That’s why having some basic Hebrew words in the arsenal is good.
Except for Hebrew, Arabic, and English, many people in Israel speak Russian, French, and German.
Learn greetings in Hebrew
Shalom (שלום) – We don’t really use it a lot anymore. These days we just say “Hi” or “Bye”, but in the past, people in Israel used those words to say “Hello” and “Good-Bye”. We still use it sometimes, so you’re welcome to say it, especially as a hello-greeting. “Shalom” also means “peace”. If you’re speaking to an Arab, you can say: “Ahala oo-Sa’alah” or “Marchabah” as a greeting.
Ma Kor-eh? (מה קורה) – This phrase usually comes right after the “Hi” and is actually a part of the greeting. “Ma kor-eh?” actually means “What’s up?” or, more precisely, “What’s going on (with you)?” When people say “Hi, ma kor-eh?” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to really know how you are feeling. It’s just a way to say “Hello”. But sometimes people really do ask you, “Ma kor-eh?” and want to hear an answer. If you want to ask “How are you doing/ feeling?” you can also ask “Ma shlom-cha?” It’s more formal. When you talk to a female, you need to say “Ma Slom-ech?” You can also ask “Ma nish-ma?” And yes, if you wondered, “Ma” means “What”, just so you know… In Arabic, you can ask: “Kayf halak?” (when asking a man) or “Kayf halek?” (when asking a woman).
Tov (טוב) – You can use this word to say that you’re feeling good or to say “OK”. “Tov” literally means “Good”, but you can also use it to let someone know that you got what they asked you to do and are going to do it. Add an understanding nod.
Times of the day
Bo-ker Tov (בוקר טוב) – “Bo-ker tov” means “Good morning” and is a very common greeting. In Arabic it’s “Sabach al-chayr”.
Lie-la Tov (לילה טוב) – “Lie-la tov” means “Good night” and is a common saying, too, especially when you’re leaving after meeting with someone in the evening. If you want to say “Good evening” you need to say “He-rev tov”. In Arabic “good evening” is “Masaa’ al-chayr”.
Learn manners in Hebrew
Toh-da (תודה) – “Toh-da” means “Thank you”. You can say “Tohda” when someone helps you with directions, when you get your order in a restaurant, when you get off a cab, or any other time. It’s always nice to hear! If you really want to show your gratitude, you can say “Toh-da Ra-ba!” which means “Thank you very much!” In Arabic, you can say: “shukran”.
Beh-va-ka-sha (בבקשה) – “Beh-va-ka-sha” means “please”. You won’t hear it a lot in Israel because people here usually don’t ask for things, but who knows… maybe you’ll need it. Waiters usually say it when they bring food to your table, meaning, “Here you go…”
Slicha (סליחה) – “Slicha” means “sorry” or “excuse me.” If you want to get someone’s attention, you can ask him or her “Slicha?” And if you bumped into someone, you can tell him or her “Slicha” to show you’re sorry.
Yes and no
Saying “Yes” or “No” – “Yes” is “ken” and “no” is “lo”. “Lo” also means “not”, so if you’re not feeling good, for instance, you can reply to “Ma kor-eh?” with “lo tov”.
Saying your name
If you want to introduce yourself, you can just say “Ani (your name)”. “Ani” means “I” and this is a very common way of introducing oneself. If you want to say it more officially, you can say: “Koh-rhim li (your name)”. “Koh-rhim” (קוראים) means “is called,” and “li” means “for me,” and together they mean “my name is…”
In Arabic, you can say: “Ismi (your name)”.
When you say your name, people will usually say theirs, too. But if for some reason they don’t say their names, you can ask them: “Eich koh-rhim lecha?” (when you speak to a male) or “Eich koh-rhim lach?” (when you speak to a female). “Eich” (איך) means “How”, “Lecha/ Lach” (לך) means “for you” and all the sentence together means “How are you called?”
“Name” in Hebrew is “Shem” (שם).
Where are you from?
If you want to say where you are from, you can just say: “Ani mi (your state or city)”. “Ani” means “I”, “mi” or “meh” means “from” and together they mean “I’m from…”
Here are a few names of countries in Hebrew. Maybe you’ll find yours here:
Germany/ Deutschland = Ger-man-ya (גרמניה).
Poland = Pol-in (פולין).
Britain/ England = Brit-an-ya (בריטניה) / An-Glee-ya (אנגליה).
Russia = Roo-si-ya (רוסיה).
Nederland = Holland (הולנד).
France = Tzar-fat (צרפת).
Italy = Ital-ya (איטליה).
USA = Artz-ot Ah-brit (ארצות הברית).
“I don’t understand”
What if you can’t understand what they’re saying? Say “Ani lo meh-vin” (if you’re male) or “Ani lo meh-vina” (if you’re female). That means “I don’t understand”.
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That’s all for now. If you really want to know how to say something else, you’re welcome to ask in the comments! I might add a few more posts about Hebrew in the future (more travel-related). Meanwhile, have fun learning!
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