Thursday, March 8, 2007

"Bet"-ting on it

Ulpan students take a placement test on the first day to help determine at which level they'll begin. I was dreading this test, as I knew that my passive knowledge of Hebrew far exceeded whatever results I could produce in a short time, and that I might end up in the wrong place because of it. There were 90 questions and I got through 50-60 of them, skipping several, and not answering all correctly. I managed to squeeze out a few basic sentences for the written portion. But it felt as if much of what I knew was locked away in a deep freezer and I knew that after a few days of thawing in the Mediterranean sun and soaking up the Hebrew around me the words would, once again, start to flow. Meanwhile, my brain was stuck, and I was unable to utter a word or to remember even basic vocabulary.

The two teachers looked at my results, looked at me, looked at each other, and told me that they thought I belonged in Class "Aleph" (level Zero) or "Aleph +" (level One). After noticing the disappointment on my face (there was no way I was going to start at Zero!), they told me I could start in Aleph +.

"What about 'Bet'?" I asked, wondering what the difference was between the Aleph + and the next level and hoping I could start there instead.

Kindly, they told me to start in the lower level and to see how it went.

I did, and it was like being in the first grade . I figured that if I were to move up a level, it had to be now.

After speaking with the director and having a private tutor for a few hours yesterday, I tried out Class "Bet" and have decided to stay. The level of Hebrew and comportment are more appropriate. There is still a large French speaking contingent but it's diluted by a Canadian, a Brit, another American, several Russian speakers and an incredibly handsome Palestinian ear, nose and throat surgeon.

The French in Class "Bet" are still French, but more subtle. The Parisian seated next to me kept asking me questions in French. By the end of the class I decided to answer her only in Hebrew, which frustrated her.

C'est dommage!

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