Anyone who has traveled abroad knows how humbling it can be to try to communicate in a foreign country. It doesn’t matter your level of education, or how many other languages you speak. New languages are the great equalizer. We’re all reduced to a game of intercultural charades when forced to speak something other than our native tongue.
The primary language spoken in Israel is Hebrew. Its ancient roots, right to left orientation, and unique alphabet make it a difficult language to master without years of dedicated study and immersion, but there are a few simple phrases that are worth knowing if you plan to visit the Holy Land.
1- Hello/Goodbye: שלום
The Hebrew word shalom literally means peace. It was and is typical in Middle Eastern culture to greet one another by extending a blessing of peace. The modern Hebrew retains this tradition with the simple greeting, shalom.
2- Thanks: תודה
Todah is shorthand for “Todah Rabah,” which means “thank you very much.” It’s always nice to be able to express gratitude to someone in their own language – whether it’s your tour bus driver, your tour guide, or just a helpful local who pointed you in the right direction.
3- Excuse me: סליחה
Maybe you need to get someone’s attention, or you’re just trying to navigate the crowds of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem. Either way, this is a helpful word to know.
4- Do you speak English?: ?אתה מדבר אנגלית /?את מדברת אנגלית
Transliteration: Attah medaber Anglit? / At medaberet Anglit?
This is one of the phrases that changes depending on who you are talking to. If you are speaking to a man, you would ask the first version of the question above; if a woman, the second. Tourism is one of Israel’s main industries, so in tourist areas it’s likely that shopkeepers and restaurant owners will speak basic english. But if you ever find yourself at some of Israel’s lesser visited sites this is a helpful question to know.
5- Where is the restroom?: ?הַשֵׁירוּתִים אֵיפֹה
Transliteration: Effo ha sherutim?
Let’s face it, when nature calls you don’t want to be stuck trying to navigate through a language barrier to communicate what you need.
We hope these few phrases will be helpful during your visit to the Holy Land!