There was one student in particular who felt that there was absolutely no reason to learn Hebrew, calling it a “dead language” and saying that he would never, ever use it after this class was over. I tried a lot of tactics to get through to this student, from talking about stories from the Torah to pointing out how much art and literature is written in Hebrew, and how he will never have access to those stories if he does not learn the language well.
After having many, many conversations with this student, it became apparent to me that one of the major influences in his life was family. No matter what else, he seemed very connected to his family and the traditions in his life. So then I began a different tact, asking the student some things about his family, his family history and so on. It turned out through our conversations that he had a grandfather that spoke very little English, but was fluent in German and Yiddish, and also spoke and could understand a good deal of Hebrew from learning it as a child. So I began taking special care to teach him more conversational Hebrew, to use connecting to his grandfather as a reward for learning his Hebrew lessons. I kept on reminding him to show off his new skills and language acquisition to his grandfather, asking him to tell me what stories and new things he had learned from his grandfather from their growing ability to communicate in the same language and so on. The student got more and more interested in Hebrew and eventually started becoming more engaged in the class than almost any of my other students.
What really drove home to me what an impact these conversations, and his education had had on this student was a story he told me near the very end of the year. The student had attended a Bat Mitzvah of a close relative, and the next week came back to class telling me how excited he was to finally be able to understand the Hebrew used in the ceremony. He said that it ...Show more