Learning Hebrew from Graffiti

Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is also more than one way to learn a language. In Israel, a man named Guy Sharett has stumbled upon a particularly creative method: translating the street art and graffiti that adorns his Tel Aviv neighborhood.

Why graffiti? In an article in the New York Times, Mr. Sharett explained his logic:

“It’s not only to teach language, it’s also to teach the culture. Someone took a line from a song we all know and changed one word; it’s very hard to understand that if you don’t have someone local to explain, ‘That’s a take on…’ ”

Roaming the city streets with Mr. Sharett, the students, mostly recent immigrants, get a hefty dose of politics along with Israeli pop culture. This helps to not only learn the language, but also to learn the ins and outs of Israeli society. The class works with Mr. Sharett to break down the linguistic rules behind the translations, so they learn the structure of the language as well.

The classes seem to work out well for most of the students. One of them, creative writing professor Marcela Sulak, told the New York Times that understanding graffiti and street signs requires

“[A] cultural knowledge that you don’t necessarily have. He teaches you the tools so you can figure it out on your own. You’re learning the Hebrew you need every single day by looking at the neighborhood.”

Another student, Xiaoyun Wu, from China, said that she liked the classes because

“You get more contextualized memory. The good thing is I can come back to review any time.”

So, the next time you’re visiting a foreign country and trying to learn the language, why not find someone local to help you learn how to read the writing on the wall? If nothing else, you’re bound to come away with better understanding of the culture, and isn’t that one of the main reasons for traveling in the first place?

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