By Hannah Reich Berman
Some people always seem to make the wrong choices. I am one of those people. In the high school that I attended, the study of either Greek or Latin was required. I chose Latin. Classic Latin and Greek are essential to understanding the world of literature but, beyond that, the study of Latin hasn’t been of much help to me. To this very day, I have no idea why I chose it. Latin is a dead language and it was just as dead when I was studying it in school. Had I chosen Greek instead, I might have had an opportunity to use it as I’m acquainted with a number of Greeks who speak the language. I don’t know a soul who speaks Latin! After high school, when I studied nursing, it came to my attention that some medical terminology is derived from Latin. Big deal! I could have learned what we were taught in nursing school without having a full year of Latin under my belt.
As elective languages in high school, we were given a choice of taking Spanish, French, or German. We had to pick two. I chose to take French and German. Another goof! French was wasted on me. I have never had the need to know that language, but I can think of a myriad of times when it would have benefited me to know Spanish. So last year I took a course in Spanish. Unfortunately, as a septuagenarian, my memory isn’t what it was, so the going was slow. My study of German was more successful, but that can’t be attributed to the ability of the teacher or my ability to learn. My father gets the credit there. He often spoke to my uncle Bernard, his brother, in German and I understood what they were saying. They didn’t plan it that way, and the fact that they actually didn’t want me to understand made it even more attractive to me. And, as German is closely associated with Yiddish, it was of major help to me there too. When my mom and dad didn’t want me to understand what they were saying, they spoke Yiddish and I got most of that too!
Even before high school and my study of Latin, French, and German, I was learning another language. Hebrew! Hmmm, let me rephrase here! We were taught Hebrew but I didn’t learn as well as I might have. So my Hebrew-speaking skills are far from great. I caught on to that fact years ago when I was briefly hospitalized in Israel. At the end of a bus trip from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, on the way to spend time with my dad, I tore a leg muscle as I stepped down off a bus, and from that moment on I was unable to walk a single step without severe pain. A kind passerby saw my distress and stopped. She and her husband helped me into their car and drove me to a well-known hospital in Tel Aviv–Ichilov Hospital. There were no cell phones at the time, so it wasn’t until I was in the hospital that I was able to call my dad and tell him where I was. Initially I was attended to by a nurse, and after a while I was examined by a doctor. Wanting to impress them, I spoke in Hebrew. It seemed to me that the nurse and the doctor were giving me strange looks and I worried that maybe there was a serious problem with my leg. The good news is that there wasn’t. There was a problem all right, but it was of a different nature. The doctor was a gentleman and he made no comment, but the nurse was too busy and she was impatient. Loudly, and in very clear and succinct terms she said, “Please, G’veret Berman, stop with the Hebrew and speak to us in English.” So much for my impressing anyone!
Reading and writing is another story. Like everyone else who was born and educated here, I can read and write English from left to right. And, although my Hebrew speaking skills are less than stellar, I can read and write in Hebrew, which is from right to left. I can also pretty much do the same and muddle through with Yiddish, reading and writing from right to left. And that is the sum total of my language abilities. Not terribly impressive, but that’s the way it is.
What I cannot do however, is read vertically. Possibly I can do it but I choose not to. I do not read Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, or any other Eastern Asian language when it is written from top to bottom. And I don’t enjoy doing it even when the words are in English. My preference is to read English from left to right. I don’t want to read from top to bottom. But every now and then I receive e-mails that look something like this:
Teacher . . . .
Most of us have, at one time or another, received such weird-looking e-mails. Because I hope that the people I send things to bother to read them, I attempt to read what is sent to me whether they’re horizontal or vertical. But I don’t usually succeed. Most of the time I stop reading at about line ten and never see the entire message. Some of these messages might be of a serious nature so I could be missing out on some important information. But I’ll never know because I don’t enjoy scrolling down to read. I have something in common with that nurse back at Ichilov—patience is not my strong suit. So if the text is vertical, don’t bother sending it to me. I am never going to see it. That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.