I must confess, after living in Israel for over eight years, I do not consider myself a fluent Hebrew speaker. Yes, I have worked in Hebrew, studied in Hebrew, and use Hebrew on a daily basis. So it’s kind of shocking that I am still not at a fluent level in this language. While I am certainly not an expert in the nuances of the Hebrew language; I am an expert at the top basic ‘must know’ phrases needed for getting around. As a tourist it’s even less of an issue; nobody will expect you to know Hebrew. However, Israeli’s always love it when you give it a try and make an effort to speak a bit in Hebrew. It’s almost guaranteed to make them smile as you awkwardly mutter a few select phrases, trying to sound polite. You’re most likely saying it wrong, but it’s cute and it makes them more open to you.
Don’t worry about mistakes though. I’ve had some embarrassing mispronunciation situations too. Getting similar sounding words confused can make you feel bad, but it’s all a part of the learning process. Don’t worry or get embarrassed, just giving it a shot says a lot and shows just how committed you are to embracing Israeli life. This article will explore the best words and phrases that you need to get around town:
Shalom, though a charged word (shah-lohm), which also means peace, is actually among the most commonly used word in Hebrew and can mean both hello and goodbye. Israelis would also use a slang word like hi, or an Arabic slang word “ahalan”.
Alright, this is your basic “cool”, “great”, “alright”. A word to use whenever you really feel like. I essentially see its’ use as similar to awesome in USA English. Want to go to grab a coffee? Sababa. Want to grab a bite? Sababa. Want to go to the beach? Sababa.
When something goes well, say tov — it’s Hebrew for “good” and has plenty of uses in everyday conversations.
Boker Tov — Good morning
Laila Tov — Good evening
Mazal Tov — Good fortune (literally) but you’ll know it as a congratulatory phrase from pop culture
YiHye Tov — It’s gonna be ‘good’ or ‘alright’
When awesome is too much, but you don’t want to turn down that awesome trip to Masada. This is a more neutral word for “let’s do this. Okay, everything’s in order.
Thanks and Thanks a lot. This is a fun word to say because it sounds like you’re a 5-year-old who’s just finished a dance recital. Ta-da!
Lest you forget you’re in the Middle East, learn slicha early in your trip. It’s Hebrew for excuse me or sorry! You’ll use it when cutting in front of people in queues, as you brush past them on the crowded Tel Aviv boulevards; climbing over other passengers when using Israeli public transportation; or when you’re shopping in the old city full of other visitors haggling over prices.
Yes & no. Just imagine you’re saying yes to Ken.
The toast/cheers when you clink beer glasses, it translates “to life!”
What’s up? Friendly way of asking friends “do you want to go to the beach and have a good time, maybe buy some wine and make up funny stories about the tourists on the beach?” Also related: Ma koreh (what’s happening?)
“Where are/Do you have a bathroom?” You’re walking around, drinking a lot of water and you need a bathroom asap, the panic sets in, you look around and don’t see anything a bathroom. The very last thing that you want is to get stuck looking for a restroom and it has the potential to lead to a disaster if the very thing that prevents you from getting to a bathroom in time is your inability to ask where the bathroom is. This phrase is a lifesaver, as there may come a time when you won’t have the time to find an Anglo. Being able to whip out “eifo sherutim? May be just what makes the difference.
That’s the currency. It’s a fun word, don’t you think? Good luck figuring out the conversion. It’s always been at an odd amount when I visited, which makes quick conversions in my head rather difficult, maybe check out downloading an XE conversion app.
Sheruts are essentially shared taxis. You’ll find them as public transport between most major cities in Israel, but also as an alternative to Tel Aviv’s confusing public transportation. They’re often easier and more convenient than the actual government public transportation—and worth the few extra shekels.
Did you enjoy this post on useful Hebrew words and phrases? Which words or expressions did you find most helpful? I hope that these phrases were able to be of some help, In my own personal experience, I found that just having a few basic words went a long way in getting around and enhancing my overall trip.
Thanks. Sababa was a new word for me. I have for years read tehillim in hebrew, which possibly has improved my pronunciation of hebrew, some even seem to think I am a native speaker… I may be able to ask something simple in hebrew “fluently” but I do not necessarily understand the answer at all and people look at me like I am a bit of an idiot. It is much safer to continue to speak english with a foreign accent which both understand.
great points…I appreciate your feedback!