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Speaking the Language

Israel - Speaking the Language

Israel has two official languages – Hebrew and Arabic. The most commonly used second language is English and other languages that are used regularly include Russian, French, Italian, Romanian and Yiddish although as there are immigrants from many countries this is just a small example of the languages spoken. Both Arabic and Hebrew are written right to left.

Hebrew was widely spoken in biblical times and then became a lost language for centuries, used only for prayer, until its revival towards the end of the 19th century. It is now widely used in business, schools, universities, government and legal business. It is compulsory to learn Hebrew in Arabic schools. Arabic is used mainly within the Arabic communities. It became one of the official languages of the country in 2006 and children in Hebrew schools will take lessons in Arabic.

English as a language began to lose its importance in Israel when the country obtained independence from Britain, although it is still used in business, particularly in international matters. English is not permitted in any official government business. However, most people in the country will have a good working and conversational knowledge of English, making it relatively easy for English speakers to get by in Israel.

As expats travel around the country they will notice that nearly every street and road sign appears in both Hebrew and Arabic, with the vast majority also having an English translation. There are English language books, newspapers and magazines and it is possible to receive English language television and radio stations.

It would not be necessary to learn either of the two official languages, although a few basic phrases may come in useful. Those moving to Israel for work may find that their employer will offer or arrange language training in whichever language would be used on a daily basis, but there are schools which offer language courses if this is not the case. Language schools will offer a range of courses, from short intensive courses to evening courses which can take several months to complete.

Both Hebrew and Arabic use a different script to western languages and this may cause some problems for westerners when learning either language, but those who only ever need them for conversation can take lessons which focus on the speaking of the languages rather than the writing. As the languages are also written right to left, many may find that hard to get used to, as to westerners, this is ‘back to front’.

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