Gan for English Speakers: Yes or No?


A reader wonders whether he and his wife should send their children to an English speaking gan:

We are at a point where we need to place our first son into gan (preschool) next year.  We are trying to decide whether to put him in an English-speaking gan for the first few years, and then in a Hebrew-speaking one for the remainder of his education. So far, responses to our post on our local list is leaning towards English-speaking first. But, I was wondering if you have blogged about this or if you have an opinion.

It’s about time I blogged about this! Bilingualism is wonderful, and learning two languages at a young age is supposed to increase cognitive ability.

By the way, the idea that bilingual children learn to speak later is probably a myth.

Here are the issues for me:

  1. Balance. You can’t have it both ways. Children who were exposed mostly to English, and especially those who prefer to read in English, will have better English grammar and vocabulary than children who read mostly in Hebrew. But then their Hebrew vocabulary will be smaller. In general there is a limit to the amount of vocabulary they will absorb. The strong English readers and speakers may find themselves at a disadvantage later on, especially in school. This isn’t the end of the world, of course.
    On the other hand, we have chosen Israel as our primary residence and it may not be fair to handicap them in this way. [Aside: My fourth-grader’s teacher complained that the students have poor Hebrew vocabularies. I’m sure that this is partially because they don’t read enough, but also because they write so little.]
  2. Ability. Some children become fully bilingual with little effort, while others struggle with one language or the other. Parents need to decide how much to push English according to the individual child, especially in light of my first point. Social acceptance and confidence can also be affected if the child’s Hebrew is poor.
  3. Exposure at home. When one parent is Israeli, even if both speak English at home, it will be harder to maintain English. If the father is the native speaker of English and the mother is home more, there is even more chance that the child will stop speaking English at some point. So there might be more incentive for mixed-language parents to send to an English-speaking gan.  That is why, in many English-speaking ganim, a majority of kids may not know much English.
  4. Surrounding community. If you have a lot of English-speakers in your neighborhood, your children will probably have more friends who speak English, and are more likely to have a native speakers’ level class in their school. So the gan is less of an issue.
  5. Reading vs. speaking. My children all speak English pretty well (or some dialect of Heblish), but they learned to read and write it at different rates. So far the one who was least interested in English reading still reached a fairly good level by 6th or 7th grade. But the reading and writing won’t come naturally, as a rule. You will need to teach it yourself or hire someone, unless you are okay with them having a level similar to Israelis.

Once children have learned both languages in childhood and continue to be exposed to them, they generally have enough skill to build up the language that was neglected at some point.

So, all in all, I don’t think it is the most critical decision native speakers will make as parents.

Request: People often get to this site after searching for an English-speaking gan. If you can recommend one, please post contact information in the comments.


  1. As a linguist, I vote against English speaking gan if both parents are native English speakers. Three is pretty much the critical age for gaining a good accent. Keeping a child out of a Hebrew-speaking environment until 5 (kindergarten) pretty much guarantees that they will have a foreign accent in Hebrew.

    While foreign accents aren’t all that bad overall, there’s a problem with not sounding like a native in your native language.

    I have several acquaintances who did not put their children into a Hebrew-speaking environment until age five or later, and the children sound “funny” in Hebrew, but their English is only marginally better than their counterparts who started Hebrew “gan” at three and spoke English at home.

    Moreover, making the transition to a new language at three is relatively easier. Three-year-olds have less vocabulary and talk less and “show” more than five-year-olds. They are less self-aware, so the language barrier is less painful.

    Basically, I believe it’s crucial for a child living in Israel to speak/hear Hebrew daily for several hours from age 3 at the latest in order for them to be fully comfortable in Hebrew.

    • I just wanted to make a quick response here. I moved from Israel to the US when i was 8, and i speak English with no accent and Hebrew with an accent. I know several people who made the transitions at these ages and speak the language of the country they live in with no accent.

    • I also studied linguistics and would like to comment about the accent issue. Accents in a language depend on many factors. If you are immersed in a language by living in a society where the language is spoken as a native language, and you are younger than the age of puberty,, you should not have an accent in that language.

  2. Leah, research on immigrants shows that most who arrive by 10 or 11 don’t have an accent in the new language as adults. Several of my kids weren’t in gan until 4 or 5 and are not pegged as English speakers (once in a rare while it happens). The other factors I mentioned come into play as well, especially the community.

    • I used to volunteer with Russian immigrants to the US. I can vouch for the age 9-10 as being the point where an accent can be avoided…

      If they are talking about Gan Chova, I strongly believe they should be in Hebrew by that time. I think by age 4 or 5 the switch to Hebrew should be made.

    • I heard 7 was the age when kids can learn a new language with no accent. We made it our long-term goal to make Aliyah before my oldest was in first grade, and I’m happy to say she is very comfortable speaking Hebrew after a year here and she will be entering first grade next fall.

  3. My girls were 5 and 6 when we made Aliyah. The older went into first grade, the younger went into whatever the preschool class before grade 1 is. WE didn’t have a choice of English vs Hebrew. They went where the natives went.

    They ended up repeating their years because they didn’t understand what the teacher wanted (not because they couldn’t do the work).

    Now they’re 19 and 18 and while their spelling is pretty bad, they’re fluent speakers and readers in English.

    And their Hebrew is pretty high level. The main reason they don’t read more fiction in Hebrew is because they types of books they like are translated from English and the translations are terrible.

    • Devo, from what I’ve seen most kids catch up without repeating the grade. (Obviously it depends on the individual child.) A lot of olim say the first year is pretty much a loss academically, and the goal is just to learn Hebrew and integrate socially.

  4. Our three older kids all started out hearing English spoken by their parents and Russian spoken by their nanny, from age 0-2.5 years. They learned both languages and had no problem whatsoever.
    At age 2.5,we put them in a Hebrew-speaking preschool (while continuing English at home), and within a few months they were speaking Hebrew.

    When the kids started grade school, all 3 had an American accent in Hebrew, which their peers poked fun at. Faced with this unpleasant situation, 2 out of the 3 managed to eradicate their American accent pretty quickly. (The remaining 1 out of 3 did not really care.)

    So on the whole, I’d say that age 2.5-3 is a good time to expose your kid to a new language.

    One caveat: If your kid happens to have developmental and/or speech problems, exposing them to multiple languages may be inadvisable – and by the time you figure out something is wrong, you may already have created a multi-lingual environment and have a hard time moving the child (and the whole family) over to a single language. This is what happened with our kid number 4.

  5. 1. I totally vote for Hebrew-speaking. Of course, this is completely subjective and based on my own aliyah experience. Our kids were 2.5 and 5 when we came, placed in completely Hebrew-speaking ganim, and now speak Hebrew perfectly. I think it really helped their integration to be in that environment.

    2. Again, based on my own experience, I don’t think 3 is the crucial cut-off for the accent. I know plenty of olim who came at 5, 6, 7 and speak Hebrew w/o an American accent.

    3. If both parents are English-speaking, the kid will pick up on plenty of English at home. And I don’t think their future reading or writing in English will be affected if they are in a Hebrew-speaking gan. Like you said, that will come slower or faster depending on the child, and you will need some sort of extra “maintenance,” whether a tutor or a dovrei anglit chug.

    4. Re the vocabulary – that’s an interesting point. When my 2nd grader (the former 5 y/o) came home with a stellar report card, the one thing she was told to work on academically was using a richer vocabulary.

    • I don’t think every kid can pick up the parents’ language just from the home. My daughter has a very hard time with that (we speak to her in 2 languages at home, hebrew in gan). She would rather answer in hebrew, so we force her to translate to the other languages. Many kids eventually get to a situation where they understand but cannot speak the parents’ language.

      • Sounds like you’ve created a trilingual experience. Giving children 3 languages challenges even the “average” ones and many do not grasp all three.

      • Yes, which is why many parents give up and just speak Hebrew to their kids, even though it’s not their native language. Forcing kids to do anything linguistically backfires in the long run, I’ve found. This goes for constantly correcting grammar as well. Eventually, the kids will stop speaking the language altogether because it becomes very irritating.

        We started Hebrew gan at age two. My daughters’ gannanot have always remarked about how great their vocabulary is. Their English has held steady, but having a second grader, I see how hard the English reading and writing will come, mostly because you really need to devote time to it. It’s not going to happen magically. We focused mainly on Hebrew reading and writing last year, which I’m happy we did. I’ve never had much success with English chugim. My kids have gotten bored/annoyed with them by the middle of the year. I’m going to try home tutoring and hopefully bring them both up to speed.

    • I have three Israeli-born kids, ages 14, 15 1/2, and 20. All three were in Hebrew-speaking daycare by the time they turned 1. None had any trouble acquiring language. All three speak, read, and write both languages very well, and none considers one language to be dominant over the other.

      I think it came down to two specific things that are fairly easy to do.

      1. The most important thing: Only speak English to them, whether at home or outside (unless you’re interacting with Hebrew speakers). It’s hard to speak two languages, and they’d prefer to just speak Hebrew. Don’t back down. Every Israeli-born kid I know who speaks excellent English has parents who exclusively speak to them in English. And the converse is true, too. I even have nieces and nephews who don’t speak good English because their parents speak a mix.

      2. Expose them to a lot of English. Read books, sing songs, watch videos. Make sure to use a rich vocabulary, especially once they’re a little older. The more English they’re exposed to, the more English they’ll know.

      Hope this helps.

  6. I have a very strong opinion on that.
    Hebrew, Hebrew, Hebrew. Do not handicap your kids by diminishing their hebrew in any way. If you come to leave here then Hebrew must be their most important language (note that I didn’t say first language)
    This is especially true if you live in an anglo community. I feel there is nothing sadder than a kid born in Irsael who cannot speak proper hebrew because they live in an anglo community.

    At the end of the day, for all Olim, one of the most important aspects of Aliyah is to speak Hebrew.

    Regarding accents, I have relatives who immigrated to the US after the age of 17 and speak English almost like an american. I know people who came very young and still have a funny accent in hebrew. The most important part is to have good grammar and vocabulary in any language regardless of the accent.

    I always like to compare this debate with the hispanic immigrants in the US, especially CA, FL and NY. Should they (the children) be encouraged to go to a spanish speaking school? or forced to learn english and integrate into society?

  7. Nurse Yachne says

    Amen to that, Rachel q!

    Maintaining fluent, unaccented English may be possible if you can afford to go back and forth to an English speaking country for extended periods of time, or if you can keep your kids in social isolation from their peers.

    My 5 children attended Hebrew-speking gan from the beginning, we spoke English to them at home, and provided supplementary English reading and writing programs from gan age.

    When they decided to work on their accents in English, it seemed to progress pretty well, and their written English improved if they read a lot. Two of them, so far, have a strong drive to rid themselves of “Heblish” grammar in English and have succeeded.

    They have all mentioned that they were always glad that my husband and I spoke and read Hebrew and could communicate with their teachers and their friends naturally. I’m proud of that too.

    • And my kids have all said that they will speak only Hebrew to their kids.(so far it’s “lo relevanti”)

      • Interesting. My kids now agree that they’re glad we spoke to them in English. And it upsets them that some of their cousins don’t speak English as well as they do.

  8. I pretty much agree with everything MIL wrote, and have only one thing to add:
    Excellent English skills are more important than Hebrew in most subjects in higher education.

  9. i vote for hebrew gan–all of our 5 kids went to hebrew speaking gans.we were careful to speak english at home and got them extra english lessons outside of school with a higher level english teacher.except for number 5 who has language issues—the older 4 are fluent in english–written and spoken.altho all of them complain that their hebrew is not as rich because we speak english at home–you can’t win!

  10. I have had pretty much the same experience as Gila. My 1st grade daughter inexplicably (I thought, because we only speak English at home) had an American accent when she started speaking Hebrew, but it’s much less now than it was a few months ago. Her reading/vocabulary/writing in Hebrew seems to be unaffected by her English-speaking home. Her partani teacher knows that we speak English at home but was sure that she had been born here (and therefore must have had more years of Hebrew than just gan chova).

    I don’t speak Hebrew all that well, but I do use English at a high level. We are lucky to have a good dovrei anglit program in our elementary school, and the kids are highly motivated to read/write/be read to in English (age appropriate–the 4 year old isn’t reading and writing yet). My kids even speak to each other in English, still–although with other dovrei anglit I think they lapse into Hebrew.

    Anyway, we chose to move to a more Israeli/less Anglo neighborhood–so naturally my choice is for Hebrew gan if both parents are native English speakers.

  11. Have you spoken to any graduates of English speaking schools? I think you need to ask yourself what you get out of the potential that your son will speak English well, and is it worth the possibility that his Hebrew will suffer? Whichever language you choose, you can balance it with DVDs and friends who speak the other language. Obviously the quality of the school may be a consideration. Will your son have to switch to Hebrew at an age when he may be more vulnerable? You need to consider his skills and personality.

    My understanding is that many children enter first grade knowing to read and write. Will he learn these skills in the English speaking school? Which school has a warmer atmosphere? How is your Hebrew? I’m embarrassed to say, I am always looking to my 5-yr-old to translate for me. But maybe she would have picked up Hebrew from the neighbors and DVDs without school.

  12. From the post, I think she means gan starting at age 2 not at age 5. Gan chova, for five year olds, is only in Hebrew and is required (hence “chova”). So, he will have at least a year of Hebrew before first grade.

  13. We made aliyah to Jerusalem from the States last August. Our twins were three at the beginning of the school year.

    Our girls attend an amazing private gan where the ganenet adjusts the language according to the desires of the parents. Her parents are American and her entire family is fluent in both languages. This year’s mix has been pretty balanced, with a shift towards more Hebrew as the year progresses. It has been great for our kids (who are now using tons of Hebrew vocabulary and some short phrases). Anyone in Jlem with daughter who will be 2-3 yrs old next year, feel free to contact me. Highly recommended.

  14. Clearly it’s a family decision but I don’t know if I had the option that I would have chosen an English Gan. My first child entered gan speaking minimal Hebrew and having full Russian and English vocabulary. Within a few weeks she was pretty indistinguishable from the other children. Even Israeli children who speak only Hebrew at home are learning to work out the kinks of their genders and plurals through a natural learning process. But our home system is very committed to supplementing the English and Russian we speak in the house so reading and speech maintains it’s fluency.

    I have heard from many other parents who use a two (or more) language system that eventually a child can lose interest in a weaker language or begin to only communicate in their preferred language (common if they think the home language is somehow undesirable). Reinforcing the mixed language words for the appropriate language and being consistent in the chosen in-house system helps a child flourish in as many languages as you use consistently.

    The great fear of the foreign accent in young children is something every Israeli threatens (how will they ever be a part of the Chevre?). But most studies suggest that children actually develop their accent from their peers and therefore mom’s Heebrish-y mishmash won’t act as a hindrance to your child learning to say “Resh” or being able to correctly pronounce “Maror” in the future.

    But again, we did not have any choice of an English gan but I feel strongly that I would not have chosen it for my children.

    • Sara, that’s probably true about kids picking up correct grammar/accent in the end. As a parent, though, I don’t want my lack of vocabulary/fluency to interfere with communication with my children.

    • I think there is a risk of children picking up the grammar & other mistkaes of their parents as a mother tongue, and I think that it is quite difficult to cure.

      I would rather abstain from speaking a language you do not know well enough to your children.

      I also see around me that most children from bilingual families or bilingual in family/surroundings do not learn both languages equally. In general, they tend to neglect the language that is not spoken by their surroundings (i.e. the language spoken by fewer people around them). They will not master it as well as the “surrounding” language.

      However, it will be easier for them to learn foreign languages in general and to perfect their neglected language once they are in surroundings who speak it.

      Don’t believe the fairy tales about “perfectly bilingual” children, this is quite rare…

    • We also started with a Russian/Hebrew/English speaking household when our firstborn was small. I spoke in English, he understood Russian from his grandparents, and my husband and I spoke Hebrew together. At age 3 he went to a Hebrew speaking gan, and at age 4 we were recommended to drop one of the languages because he was unable to communicate with the other children and was becoming violent. Russian was the first to go, and later English to a lesser extent.
      Because of this the other children also lost out on the languages, but girls 3 and 4 (now 15 and 12) picked up English quickly and now learn in dovrei anglit at school.

    • I would like any advice on how to best handle three languages. My 4yo goes to gan in Hebrew, I speak English and Spanish (my native tongue) to the kids, and my Israeli husband speaks only Hebrew to them, but in English with me. My Hebrew is minimal, I just finished Ulpan last month. What a mess! 🙂
      Back in Sept, the ganenet asked us to drop a language as my son was having communication issues, so Spanish has taken a dip. My son now has gotten way better in his Hebrew vocabulary, and is talking up a storm but only in Hebrew. I know he understands English and Spanish, but recently he only responds in Hebrew when I talk to him. I don’t want to completely give up on Spanish or English. I’m not asking that they’ll be able to write dissertations, I just want them to be fluent enough to speak to my parents, or get by when they visit Spanish-speaking countries. What has been your experiences with three languages?

  15. A Walker in Jerusalem says

    While I would agree that a Hebrew gan is generally best, particularly where both parents speak English, I would point out that the “full immersion” approach can be a bit draconian for a sensitive child who is starting with no Hebrew. Basically, if the child in question has no Hebrew at all, you would want the ganenet to be willing/able to communicate with them in English at the beginning of the year, if only at a basic level.

    • Right, Walker, there’s a difference between kids who grow up here and are exposed to Hebrew, even if they speak English with their parents, and new olim who just got off the plane.

  16. Sharon Feifer says

    I sent 5 children to english speaking gan between the ages of 2-3. After that they went to hebrew speaking ganim. I taught them all to read english at home. We spoke mostly english at home. 3 out of the 5 retained their english without any accent and are able to read fluently in english. 2 of them were more comfortable in hebrew and can read english but on a much lower level. They would have benefitted from additional english chugim. Their english improved and their accent disappeared when they were able to spend a few weeks one summer in America. ( It forced them to use their english and gain confidence in their ability to speak- it did not improve their reading skills) Native english speakers speaking to their children in hebrew at home is pretty much a waste of time unless you are interested in learning hebrew from your children. Their hebrew will not improve and they will mostly be correcting you.
    The best way for children to improve their language skills in any language is to hear it from intelligent native speakers and to encourage reading in both languages. If you are living in an english speaking environment- it is also a good idea to encourage your children to have israeli friends – and spend time in their homes. I have been living in Israel for over 25 years and most of my children are adults now- and despite the fact that we only spoke english at home ( even when they spoke to me in hebrew) most of them prefer reading hebrew rather than english and all of them are now completely fluent on a high level in both languages without accents in either one. The fact that I stressed a high level of english at home was and still is a big help to them in their studies in University as well as in getting a job. At the same time they are always correcting my hebrew.

  17. I am no expert (my kids are still little), but if I had the option for English gan I would absolutely take it. I spend a lot of time reading, writing and speaking in English with my preschooler. It’s very important to me she learn proper English and I’ll continue to “homeschool” my kids in that.

    Hannah – I’m glad you decided to take on this topic!! I for one am very interested in hearing how other Anglo parents are handling this (and other education-related) issues….

  18. One additional comment – I bet that in a lot of places, many Israelis would send their kids to an English gan as well… In our little community (about 500 families) I know of two for sure where at least one parent speaks to the kids in English (both parents are native Hebrew speakers).

    • US Navy Officer says

      while doing business in South Philippines, I met (native Filipino) University-professor couples who spoke to their children in English, exactly because they did not believe for a second that some sort of slight American accent on the (future adult) kid’s Bisaya would ever actually disturb their progress in life. Whereas, non-mastery of English puts you into a lower category of life if you ever end up doing business deals, or graduate school, or advanced military training, or whatever; in English).

      If English had already been elbowed aside in this wide world by Swahili or Mandarin, it would change the premises of the discussion. But not only hasn’t English been displaced in importsnce; it’s growing. I still do business trips to the Phils and see ever more and more Korean kids and Japanese kids and Taiwanese kids whose parents sent them to the Philippine English schools.

      It is not American TV and Movies that are picking up more and more and more Hebraisms; it is the other way around. It is not the Anglo olim who caused this…..

      Biblical Hebrew writing disappeared forever and got replaced by Aramaic letters. Where is a sliver of evidence that this did anything to hurt Beit Shani, or the Jews in general?

  19. Regular Anonymous says


    My DS was 6 when we came. Today he’s 17, equally comfortable in English and Hebrew, reads in either language. By the time we were here 2 years his teachers didn’t realize he came from an English speaking home until they met me.

    My Dd was 3. She has multiple LDs. Now 14, she speaks both languages fluently but has a lower than average vocabulary in both. I think she is better served by speaking both languages on a lower level than one on a higher leve. I was pleasantly surprised that when she had speech therapy at age 4-5 they did not push me to drop the English. Due to her issues I’m not able to push English reading and writing, but at least she is able to speak.

    • A Walker in Jerusalem says

      I found it interesting to hear that Regular Anonymous wasn’t pushed by speech therapists to drop the English, as I had exactly the opposite experience with one of my kids.

      I endured a great deal of criticism from speech therapists and “gan safa” ganenot over this issue.

      My gut feeling was that, in the long run, my son’s Hebrew wouldn’t be improved by keeping him monolingual (in the short- and medium-term there are, of course, vocabulary gaps, but I consider that a relatively minor issue).

      I don’t have a “control” child to show what the outcome would have been had I taken a different route, but I truly believe that my son would not be speaking a better Hebrew today had we removed English from his home environment.

      • I wonder if there is research on this topic. There are a lot of variables in this decision. Like I said above, I would want to be able to communicate with my (special-ed) child in my native language as it’s more natural for me.

        • A Walker in Jerusalem says

          Not in a position to undertake a comprehensive literature search, but here’s a link to one article on the topic, by reputable professionals and with a relevant bibliography:

          • Ms. Krieger says

            McGill University’s psychology and linguistics departments do a lot of research on bilingual language acquisition (primarily French/English, because the university is located in Quebec.) Several other Canadian Universities (mostly in Quebec and Ontario) have experts in this topic, and the Quebec educational system is a working case study in the do’s and don’ts of bilingual education.
            This is an interesting link to aphasia assessment in multi-lingual speakers:
            Just a start. You may be able to find relevant experts, and even write to them to ask questions.

            From personal experience living in Quebec, I found language acquisition to be complicated. Some of it has to do with native linguistic ability. And early exposure as a young child. But a big part of it is how the child views the language. Native english speakers who grew up in Montreal in Anglo communities that viewed the Francophone world with disdain/a sense of persecution tended to speak really bad French. Whereas English speakers who lived in Francophone areas saw French as much more useful and gained excellent/perfect fluency.

            The most competent bilingualists I met had had alternating schooling, i.e., they attended maternale (preschool) in one language, then attended primary school in the other, switched back to the initial language in secondary school, then attended CEGEP (junior college) in the other language. Those people could always speak fluently and read and write both languages well. Though they sometimes still had an accent…

  20. I apologize in advance because I know it is totally obnoxious of a non-parent, non-Israeli to share their two cents on this topic, but…

    Considering how well many Israelis speak English and how tolerant most English speakers are of accented English, can’t the children of English-speaking olim just learn English grammar and reading the same way sabras do? It seems that having a native-level fluency in Hebrew is the most important thing (and therefore, parents should jump at the opportunity to get their kids speaking Hebrew as early as possible). After all, what’s the point of making aliyah if your children and grandchildren etc are not completely integrated into Israeli society? If they don’t have native-fluency in English, so be it, you guys moved from the English-speaking world for a good reason.

    • Fern, Israelis with high levels of English speaking and writing have an advantage in the academic and business world. We want our kids to take advantage of our background to acquire and maintain a high level of English with less effort than a native Israeli. Even if Americans are tolerant, the Israeli is still breaking his teeth.

      • Oops. I was amending my comment at the same time you were responding. It seems from most of the comments above that the high level of English fluency that some of the commenters’ children have is due to the work the parents did at home, not whatever language was spoken in gan. And also the child’s unique language skills, etc.

        • Children from English speaking homes can’t learn English like Israeli children because they already speak the language- they just can’t read and write it.

          English lessons here start with basic understanding of the language. English speaking children already know how to do that. My daughter is in a pickle this year, because she obviously doesn’t belong in the Hebrew speaker’s English class, because she already speaks the language, but she hasn’t had enough chugim and tutoring to be at the level of the rest of the class- who are all reading at regular American second grade level, more or less.

    • Although, I guess if it is reasonable, as some have suggested above, to hope for full-fluency in both languages, the more the merrier. Though it seems from others’ comments that full-fluency in English was developed through the parents’ hard work at home, not necessarily due to the language spoken at school.

    • Consider that most English-speaking parents themselves have English-speaking parents, who are these children’s grandparents. It’s really sad when kids can’t communicate comfortably with their grandparents. And knowing English in this world is a huge advantage.

  21. My two oldest daughters went to a Hebrew-speaking metapelet until the age of two, when they started Hebrew-speaking ma’on and then at the age of 3 went into the Israeli gan system. My two younger daughters were in English-only day care until the age of 3, when they then also entered the Israeli gan system. It’s my older two who have the better English, and the better Hebrew. However, I do think that my younger two have weaker English because my children spoke Hebrew amongst themselves, so they had less English at home than the older two.

  22. Nurse Yachne says

    Fern–This Israeli parent basically agrees with you. Again, my experience has been that Israeli children who are mainstream-socialized and don’t spend a lot of time abroad don’t develop perfect unaccented (the use of Hebrew grammar in English is a greater problem) English until THEY THEMSELVES feel it is to their benefit.

    Parents who speak English to their children should make a special effort to read Hebrew newspapers and books,to make Israeli friends and to listen to Israeli Hebrew music. If you don’t acculturate into Israeli society, your children will grow away from you even if they speak perfect, unaccented English. They will also be ashamed of you, as you may be of yourself.

    My husband’s grandmother came to Israel with family for a few years as a girl (Petach Tikva, by the way). “I remember ‘Rak Ivrit’ [‘Only Hebrew’] was very big”, she told him.

  23. Definitely Hebrew. Why would you want your child to start first grade with a deficit in Hebrew? There are many children in our community who are born in Israel, come from English-speaking homes, go to English speaking gan and then enter first grade unable to speak Hebrew! I bucked the trend, sent my children to Hebrew-speaking gan and sent them prepared to first grade. They all speak beautiful Hebrew and beautiful, mostly grammatical English. They read in both languages (I just make sure to keep books in English aroung the house that would be interesting for them.)

  24. I have a Master’s degree in bilingual language development (which hasn’t so much helped me with my own kids, but got me some great jobs in the states), an extension to my speech pathology degree. In the states I worked with a bilingual Spanish and Yiddish population, (I speak both languages, or did at some point) but also treated many kids with other languages. Many kids are misdiagnosed as language and learning disabled because they haven’t mastered English. You really need to know how to assess these kids.

    There is a tremendous amount of debate in the literature about how to deal with kids growing up in a bilingual environment. Do you immerse them in the language of the adopted country or slowly integrate them? In the states alot of the answers fall along political lines. You know, the conservative vs. liberal thing.

    As far as putting your kid in gan here in Israel, here’s my take on it. You need to know your kid. Many kids do really well with the “sink or swim” method at the young age of two. At that age the brain really is “elastic” and they pick up the second language easily. But there are some kids, who for whatever reason struggle with the new language and for them an English-speaking environment may be better. But those kids will likely struggle with acquiring the new language whenever it is demanded of them. You also need to know your child’s personality. A shy, timid child will struggle in an all-Hebrew environment.

    Here’s another thing. As a speech therapist, I would never advise a parent to speak the language of the adopeted country to their child (unless they were 100% fluent). First of all they will be a poor language model for the child. Second of all a parent needs to be comfortable speaking to their child, whether they are being loving or disciplining etc. Finally, identity is crucial. We are proud of being here in Israel, but are also proud of where we came from. I want my children to get a sense of that from me.

    One last thing for those of you still reading (I could go on forever). I find many Anglos (mostly American) who put alot of pressure on their kids to maintain a certain level of English here in Israel. I’ve even had parents call me to treat their children for speaking “unclearly” in English, when in fact what their children had were Israeli accents. It is almost impossible to maintain the same level of language in both languages in all modalities (speaking, listening, reading, writing). Usually, something’s gotta give. If you live in Israel and came with young children, chances are they will have an accent when they speak English.

    Wow. I think I could do a whole blog on this topic. Hmmmm.

    • omg, people call you to correct their kids’ Israeli accents? Wow.

      I agree with you also about parents putting a lot of pressure on the English. We didn’t and I’m glad about that, although Avital is at the bottom of her English class. I’d rather her be successful in Torah, Hebrew and math and lagging in English than the other way around

      • One of my kids can’t say an English “R.” I decided against trying to correct it, but I can certainly understand why people would.

        • Two of my girls have problems with the English “R,” but they have no problem with the Hebrew “resh.”

        • Nurse Yachne says

          I knew a Russian physician who spent a lot of money while in Russia on a speech therapist for her son. It seems he pronounced the word “grableh” with a gargled, rather than a trilled “r” and that this was considered stereotypically Jewish. “Had I known we’d be making aliya, think of the money we could have saved! Here, he can say ‘grableh’ however he wants.”

        • The rest of the world will think it’s “sexy.” Go with it.

          And sorry to use that word in association with your beloved child. 🙂

    • Always glad to give you blogging material, Baila.

    • Ms. Krieger says

      Wow – yes – Baila completely echoes what happens in Quebec.

      You should absolutely blog about this topic, it would be fascinating to hear about it from the perspective of a speech pathologist.

    • Thank you for this very informative comment.

      This is more or less what I see around me in a bilingual context french/German: children in general are better in the language of their surroundings than in their “mother tongue”.

      I am a translator, and when I studied, many second generation Italians or spaniards could not take Italian or spanish as their mother tongue. Their level was not sufficient. They had to take German (language of the country).

      They had courses of italian/spanish culture and language all the time when they were in school (it’s financed by the italian/spanish state), but this was often not taken seriously and was not enough to bring them to mother tongue level. Just in rare exceptions, it was possible.

      Same goes for my french-speaking colleagues: most of their children growing up in a german-speaking environment refuse to speak to them in french, but they understand.

  25. Re delaying speech:
    My parents, despite being American and in Brooklyn, were determined that I speak Hebrew from a young age. So from the time I was born, they spoke to me only in Hebrew.
    When I was one, my mother realized she couldn’t communicate heart to heart in Hebrew and asked our Rav what to do, and he said to switch to English.
    It took until 18 months for me to begin to speak fluently. (I would count, “Noonie Shashi Fourlay” – I mixed up the languages at first.)
    If one parent had spoken only one language, I don’t think I would have had any problems. So unless you are planning to do what my parents did, I doubt anyone’s kids will be delayed due to being bilingual.
    As an adult, my English is of course perfect . Although I am not fluent in Hebrew, that is more due to lack of opportunity and I always found it really easy to pick up Hebrew, probably because my brain was “primed” for it.

    • Thanks, Tzipora! I don’t remember that.

    • My parents were Holocaust survivors. My mother brought me up in Yiddish and my father decided to speak to me only in Hungarian-accented Hebrew, which was very Tanachi and Bialiki in style. I didn’t really learn to speak English until I entered the American school system at the age of 4. When I first came to Israel I had a sufficient enough background in Hebrew to be able to speak and understand at almost mother-tongue level. The gift of Hebrew that my father gave me is invaluable. I look upon my speaking English with my daughters in the same manner. My oldest daughter temporarily moved to London a year and a half ago and has thanks me many times for insisting on English in the house.

    • Children I know who grow up bilingual (mother speaks only french, father speaks local language) have a strong delay in speaking and did not speak any of those languages properly, until they reached kindergarten and learned it there. Now, their local language is better, french is still very strange (and will remain strange).

  26. Malynnda Littky says

    We came to Israel with a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old. We started everyone in a Hebrew environment and now the girls are doing great in Hebrew (minus the vocabulary they would normally be learning at home). Their English is very accented, and I know we need to work on that. My son who has been home with me this year (but spent his first two years in a Hebrew maon) has very little accent, but obviously his Hebrew is very poor for his age. He will start a Hebrew gan next year. Before gan, I don’t think it matters so much.

    While speaking English well is important for adulthood, I’m not going to make school harder on them for that. You don’t want to end up with a kid that hates learning because they’re behind in the language of the country where they live.

    Plus, tuition discounts are for the Hebrew schools, and if you qualify for additional assistance as olim that’s usually through the public system also.

  27. I’m just dealing with this issue for my daughter – I’m supposed to make the decision tonight! So this post is perfectly timed. My heart is telling me to send her to Hebrew – she doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew right now, and I’m concerned that she will feel more comfortable in English throughout her life. Like you said, Hannah, having moved to Israel, I don’t think it’s fair to disadvantage her socially, academically and even professionally (if I can think that far ahead) by not making Hebrew her native tongue. Her English will BH be good, but not her primary language of self-expression.

    • I agree.
      If someone is a new immigrant, the school knows this and makes allowances accordingly, and when appropriate gives extra tutoring
      If a child is born in Israel, they are not oleh hadash, but may go to school with a deficit in Ivrit. so they are neither here not there as they are not officially a new immigrant, but they do not have a strong hebrew background.
      In the Hebrew speaking gan, they also learn a lot of concepts and things like the names of flowers and animals and more.

      also it does depend on which age group you are talking about, if 3 year olds, it is still OK to be in the English speaking enviroment, at that age many children do not even go to gan, but are at home with their English speaking mother anyway.
      However it seems to me that it is best for 5 and 6 year olds to already be in a hebrew enviroment

  28. Hello
    I find this discussion very interesting. I myself am an American currently learning Hebrew and am curious how children learn as I think this is the natural way. I am worried that people make fun of the English accent. Could you please explain. Are people encouraged not to sound American or English? I am looking forward to hearing responses. Also where do most English speakers live in Israel?

    • Hi Sophia! Adults are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning a new language, and they rarely lose their accent. The best way for adults to learn is a matter of controversy, but immersion seems to work best.
      Israelis are much more tolerant of grammatical errors and foreign accents than they used to be. On the radio, you constantly hear ads with American accents.
      English speakers live everywhere but there are concentrations in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Raanana, Modiin, Petach Tikva and many other communities.

  29. I’m very late to this thread, but glad to find it. I’d be interested to hear what the original protagonist decided to do and how it played out, as well as hearing if Baila wrote that blog post (I’d check myself, but it was quite a while ago).

    I come to this issue with strong opinions, but lesser experience. That’s my disclaimer from the start. My family experience is this: I speak only English with my young child; the rest of the world speaks Hebrew to him (starting intensely at age one when he began gan). At age three, he has just begun gan in Hebrew and Arabic, so he has added a third language. Like many of the posters below, I did initial research among my friends and colleagues, most of whom had trilingual children from English-Russian homes and then added in the Hebrew component with general schooling.

    There is no doubt that it all depends on the child in question and that the bulk of your thinking on the subject should concentrate on his/her individual needs and capacity/ability.

    My philosophy is that our children’s brains are much more flexible than we give them credit for. If they are able to smoothly transition into a dual language environment, this is ideal. With my own situation, I spend the most one-on-one time with my son of anyone in his life, so even though his English language is in the minority for time, we make it up with content density. He acquires significant language through everything we do together: the attention, vocabulary and grammar, etc. via stories, songs, and regular conversation about all he is doing (i.e. puzzles, drawings, cooking).

    And how is it that Europeans are so fluently multi-lingual?

    You may find this recent “New York Times” article of interest.

    Hannah, I always welcome posts on this topic. Thanks again.

    ~ Maya


  1. […] Gan for English Speakers: Yes or No? (Bilingualism) Share this:FacebookStumbleUponEmailSharePrintHello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress Plugin Filed Under: Interviews Tagged With: Aliyah, Ethiopians, immigration, integration […]