So Language Immersion and Anki are pretty cool!

Okay, some growing pains getting into the blogging groove… I was going to post earlier about how impressed I am with the Language Immersion for Chrome plugin for the Google Chrome browser, but I wanted to include a screenshot, and I let that hold me up (which is a bit goofy since I take and send screenshots contsantly for work).

Language Immersion for Chrome
Language Immersion for Chrome

What’s nice about this is:

  • It’s passive – I turned it on once and now, on all of my machines with Chrome, it’s just feeding me Heebs constantly. It’ll just keep going until I turn it off. Okay, I admit, I have occasionally turned it off, but only temporarily.
  • It’s already content I’m interested in – I don’t have to go searching for a Hebrew article that may or may not be “up my alley”.
  • It’s doesn’t slow me down that much, and I find myself actually using it, even at work.
  • The cons:

  • It’s not like struggling through a whole article in Hebrew. I’m not deluding myself into thinking this is a replacement for that.
  • It’s not available on my iPhone, on which I do a lot of web browsing during my commute.
  • Still, it’s quite cool. You can download Language Immersion for Google Chrome here.

    So, what else is going on? Oh, I’ve got a Language Exchange buddy, which I’m pretty psyched about. Seems cool… from another part of the country, another culture… feels good to expand outside of my Modi’in Anglo bubble. We’ve texted a few times and spoke on Skype once, and it was promising. I did speak pretty much entirely in English, cuz I was driving and couldn’t concentrate, but it’s a start… he seems like a great guy.

    My “gingi” two year old Adin broke my keyboard, so for a couple weeks we were stuck with an English-only keyboard at my home machine. That’s been replaced and I now have a brand spankin’ new English/Hebrew/Arabic keyboard 馃檪

    Regarding vocabulary learning, in an earlier post I mentioned the flash card iPhone app Quizlet, but despite lots of Hebrew word lists, Quizlet has a major limitation: I cannot mark flash cards that give me trouble. In other words, if I try studying a list of 100 flash cards, and I find that I know 80 of them already, I cannot mark the 20 that I want to keep studying. So that sucks… in such an example I don’t want to waste time dealing with 80 words I already know!

    So I’ve discovered the flash card system that people rave about: Anki. Anki is based on “spaced repetition”, and it does just what I wanted Quizlet to do. For each flashcard, once it shows the answer I choose “Again”, “Good”, or “Easy”.

  • “Again” = the card will be repeated in about 1 minute
  • “Good” = the card will be repeated in about 10 minutes
  • “Easy” = the card will be repeated in about 4 days
  • Right now in Anki I’m working on the free flash card deck 100 Basic Hebrew Phrases from Teach Me Hebrew.

    My conundrum with Anki is that almost every version of it is free, but the official iPhone app is $25. That seems a bit unfair. Also, the web version, when accessed from my iPhone, doesn’t play audio (perhaps it plays audio via Flash?). So I’m looking at various alternatives before shelling out the cash. Check back and I’ll let you know what I find out.

    Before signing off I’ll give a shout out to my mom, Margie Sinclair, whose birthday is today (May 25). Happy Birthday Mom! Luv, Adam

    Commute Epiphany #1 – Game. Of. Thrones. – 诪砖讞拽讬 讛讻住

    I don’t know why this hadn’t dawned on me earlier. 聽 In the many great comments, people have suggested getting into Israeli sports, watching the news, etc. 聽I’ve tried that to different degrees over the years. 聽However, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get motivated.

    At some point, a couple years ago, I got REALLY into Game of Thrones. 聽I watched the first two seasons, then I couldn’t wait a whole off-season to find out what happened next, so I read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire book series on which GoT is based. 聽I’m now a full fledged GoT/ASoIaF geek. 聽I can’t get enough of reading post-episode Twitter recaps and comicbookgirl19聽commentary.

    So really, when I’m supposed to be doing other things (e.g., learning Hebrew), I’ll often find myself drifting onto Game of Thrones stuff.

    You see where I’m going, right? 聽Right?!?! 聽People in Israel like Game of Thrones too! 聽The books are available in Hebrew (I wonder about audiobooks?), there’s bound to be lots of Hebrew post-episode discussion, and it’s a topic that shy Adam could totally see himself talking about with like minded Israeli geeks. 聽I would be totally into re-reading those books in Hebrew, re-watching the shows with Hebrew subtitles (would be cool if dubbed versions were available), etc.

    I think I’m onto something here.

    Still in the excited phase, though not actually learning any Hebrew yet.

    So, it’s been an interesting few days. 聽In true Adam fashion, I’ve gotten very motivated AROUND the subject of learning Hebrew without managing to actually LEARN or USE any Hebrew 馃檪 聽It’s all mental, dude. 聽I knew that going in. 聽I justify it with the Stephen Covey metaphor of making sure my ladder is up against the right wall, lest I spend tons of effort climbing it to only find myself in the wrong place.

    Three noteworthy things:
    1. I met with a language acquisition expert last night. 聽Actually, her primary focus is teaching English to high school kids with dyslexia and other learning issues. 聽Lovely lady. 聽She uses the Raviv Method, and explained how it can be applicable to my situation. 聽The Raviv Method involves learning while involved with a specific movement – the movement was discovered by a mom and her son, after the son (who previously was told that he’d never read) went surfing in Hawaii for 6 months and found himself reading street signs and whatnot during that time, and when he returned home he eventually could read novels. 聽Last night, she taught me the basics of the movement and she drilled me in Hebrew for a few minutes during that time. 聽It’s supposed to rewire your brain. 聽Hey, I’m game for anything and this sounds worth a try. 聽I should be doing it every night for 20 minutes/night.
    2. I’ve been doing a lot of online reading about language acquisition, and I particularly enjoyed this article mostly written by Benny Lewis (“Benny the Irish Polyglot”). 聽He’s got lots of opinionated videos, reviews, and essays on his website, and his approach really resonates with me . 聽I’m going to try to grab a copy of his book, and perhaps I’ll write a review here when I finish it. 聽Seriously, read the post, it is chock full of resources and suggestions.
    3. I’ve been thinking about smartphone-based foreign language learning. 聽So far, the offerings out there aren’t all that great (for Hebrew, at least). 聽Quizlet is a cool flash-card app for which there are a lot of Hebrew vocab lists. 聽It held my attention for a few days, but wasn’t engaging enough to keep me coming back. 聽Duolingo certainly seems promising, and I enjoyed playing around with the Spanish lessons, though they don’t offer Hebrew just yet. 聽Here is a thread where I encourage you to add your support for Duolingo to add a Hebrew course. 聽All things considered, I feel that a market exists for a proactive, fun, engaging way to learn Hebrew on your smartphone. 聽So there’s a potential side project.

    Probably, being sleep deprived really hurts your ability to learn language, so I think I’ll cut this short here. 聽Thanks to everyone who provided great encouragement and feedback on Facebook!
    PS: Oh wow, I did not realize there was a queue of comments on the first post, waiting for approval! 聽I’ll try to be more timely in moderating! 聽I think I need to set something up to ensure I get email notifications when comments appear.

    Adam’s Adventures in Learning Hebrew

    I moved to Israel (made “aliyah” with my family) on August 3, 2010 with very rudimentary Hebrew. At the time of’s inception on May 10, 2014, I’ve still got very rudimentary Hebrew.

    So what’s gone wrong? And how can I right this ship? Are there people out there in the same boat? What resources are readily and inexpensively available for us? And why isn’t there more Hebrew-learning stuff provided by the Israeli government? It seems to me that there is a disconnect between the government’s goal to aid immigrant absorption and the Hebrew instruction provided (5 months of classroom “ulpan”).

    I hope to tackle these questions here, and in the process, to learn Hebrew. I aspire to be an activist of sorts, to find out who is in charge of the ulpan system, and to see if more can be offered to folks like me.

    My Background

    I grew up in Bethpage, NY, a 48 minute train ride from Manhattan. I was a successful student, but I’ve never been very good with languages. I went to public school and took Spanish, and I didn’t get particularly good grades in my Spanish classes. I think my brain just put language into a “not important because I’ll never live there” box. I did have “Hebrew School” at my Conservative shul, but I spent all of that time reading Truly Tasteless joke books in the back of class with my friends.

    When we decided to make aliyah, I started doing the Pimsleur audio series, and I completed all three levels (90 hours) on my drive to/from work in Los Angeles. By far, that was the greatest Hebrew instruction for me, to date. It had me listening (parsing-out increasingly fast questions) and answering out-loud in my car. By the end of those tapes, I felt fluent. However, the reality is that Israelis don’t limit themselves to Pimsleur Hebrew 馃檪 Too bad they didn’t make more levels!

    I’ve also got books, flashcards, computer programs, podcasts, and iPhone apps designed to teach Hebrew. I’ve tried them to different degrees, but none have been very effective for me, mostly because I have trouble concentrating. It’s all optional boring stuff. I think I need more of a sink-or-swim situation to really learn the language.

    I hoped to somehow get into an immersion environment when we arrived in Israel. I considered trying to work at a falafel stand, just to start interacting in Hebrew in a situation where I wouldn’t fall back into English. But during that time there was too much pressure to find real work, and the job hunt plus ulpan plus dealing with a whole family trying to acclimate to Israel left me with no time to pursue the Falafel Stand Plan.

    Now I live and work in an “Anglo bubble” in Modi’in Israel. My only immersion is a weekly volleyball game with real Israelis, but even there I’ll often just talk in English, though I have picked up a few v-ball terms like “higati” “nagati” (I touched it), “chiluf” (switch/rotate), and “nigmar” (game over). The official language of our synagogue is Hebrew, so all announcements, speeches, and Divrei Torah are in Hebrew even though most congregants are English speakers and almost all socialization is in English. I sometimes try to follow the rabbi’s speech in Hebrew, but it’s difficult and I’ll often be lazy and read something in English instead.

    I think the most damaging area of deficiency is interacting with our kids’ teachers at school. They pretty much universally don’t speak English (or don’t let on if they do), and I fumble through every interaction pretending to understand more than I do (which is really perhaps 10% – 20%). That’s freaking embarrassing. I feel like the classic SNL characters Chico Escuela (“Baseball’s been berry good to me!”) and the Bill Murray character in the cheeseburger sketch. Ilana (my lovely wife) fares better, but not much better, and we know we are ineffective at helping our kids academically here. That is a really bad feeling, as we both know that in the US we would be really on top of this stuff.

    I would like to be conversational. I would like to understand most people’s questions to me, and not panic. I’d like to be able to interact with my kids’ teachers most of all. I’d also like to be able to incorporate more of my personality into my life here. In English, I joke around quite a bit. In Hebrew, there are things I’d like to say here-and-there, to just be friendly with strangers, and instead I just clam-up. That’s kindof depressing.

    I aspire(d) to work through books on my commute to work in Israel, translate easy Hebrew newspapers, etc, but I haven’t been motivated enough even though in the back of my head I really do want to learn.

    So What’s My Problem?

    I don’t know, man. I’m pretty sure I’m not stupid, but in this area of my life I feel stupid. I finally got a diagnosis for ADHD, which I believe I’ve had all my life but I didn’t realize it until adulthood. I tried Ritalin, but I don’t take it regularly. I managed to survive, and often times excel, in school and grad school without that diagnosis by finding other ways to cope, often staying up very late reading/studying/getting work done after everybody else goes to sleep.

    Ulpan wasn’t the right environment for me to learn, I think. It was classroom based with about 15 people, the classic 5-5-5 plan: 5 days a week for 5 hours a day for 5 months. My teacher was dynamic and lovely. My classmates were great. For a long time, I had perfect attendance, though as I started interviewing for jobs, I started missing classes and skipping homework. I was in “aleph plus” which basically was a half-level above folks who knew no Hebrew at all. By the end, I suppose I rightfully advanced a level. Looking back on it, the thing which stands out to me that I got from ulpan was an understanding of the existence of seven “binyanim” (verb forms), and the fact that each is pronounced with its own “tune”. So now, when I see words, I have much better luck pronouncing them. That’s really my main “take away” from 5x5x5 = 125 hours of instruction.

    I had hoped to come out of ulpan “fluent”, or at least conversational. The fact is that, for me, there was not enough speaking in ulpan to achieve fluency. Again, we were 15 people in a classic classroom setting with a teacher at the front of the room, so at best we each got to speak 1/15th of the time during the times when our teacher would go person to person to drill what we had learned.

    I’m pretty sure different people learn different ways

    I hope to learn more about this topic. I have an appointment to meet with a language acquisition specialist this week, who can maybe start enlightening me. A quick Googling sez there’s three main types of learning styles:

    • Auditory – Hearing
    • Visual – Seeing/Reading
    • Kinesthetic – Touch/Hands-On

    Here are some things that I know about myself:

    • I am definitely a “hands-on” learner.
    • Classroom lectures aren’t great for me.
    • I don’t really absorb material until I write up a “cheat sheet” and drill it again and again.
    • I am very competitive – give me a challenge versus a like-individual and I will be very motivated to beat him/her.
    • I am very motivated by the threat of humiliation/embarrassment – if you tell me I have to present something in front of a crowd tomorrow, I will likely stay up all night preparing.

    What time do I have to learn?

    I have a busy life. I’ve got a full-time job and a full-time family. I also need to exercise. Those things together already don’t leave me much time.

    My best resource for self-development is my commute to work. I take public transportation to work: a 50 minute bus, then a 5 minute light-rail, then a 5 minute walk. I usually rely on my iPhone for commute-entertainment, usually reading, surfing the web, listening to podcasts, or watching videos/movies. I could also read a regular book on the bus, but if the print is too small I can get a little carsick, and it is hard to do much writing on a shaky bus.

    I also have the time after the kids get to sleep (8pm) and before I go to sleep (???). I have really bad sleep habits. I sometimes/often go to sleep really late. It’s 2am as I write this.

    • Two nights/week I play sports from 9:30pm until around midnight, and often I’ll go for a run after that, because I’m an animal.
    • The crazy late hours at the computer are often quite unproductive. Like, in the olden days, when I had a paper due or an exam in the morning, these are the hours where my heart might be racing, and I would be very productive. But these days without a clear goal/deadline, I’m more likely doing some online shopping or checking social media. Really, I need to go to sleep earlier… when I go to sleep at a decent time it improves my life in myriad ways.
    • I’m Shabbat observant, so Friday nights are out regarding electronics and writing.

    What don’t I have?

    I can’t find a decent part-time ulpan which could fit into my current schedule.

    Let the adventure begin!!!