Israelis Speak With Many Tongues


According to data released Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Hebrew is the native tongue of only 49% of Israelis over the age of 20.

The mother tongues of the rest of the 20-plus in Israel divide between Arabic (18%), Russian (15%), Yiddish (2%), French (2%) and English (2%). Other languages account for the remaining 1.6%.

Certain segments of the population in particular find Hebrew a tough language to learn, and many speak it poorly or not at all.

Among Israel’s Arab citizens, the CBS found that 60% are proficient or very proficient in Hebrew; 17% do not read Hebrew at all and 12% do not speak it.

Of Russian immigrants, 51% possess a good or very good level of spoken Hebrew, but 26% barely speak it or do not speak it at all. Some 39% do not read Hebrew or possess poor Hebrew literacy; 48% speak only Russian at home, 6% speak only Russian at work and 38% speak only Russian with friends.

Twenty-seven percent of Israelis over the age of 20 said they found filling out forms or writing formal letters to be straining. As for Israelis over the age of 65, such tasks were reportedly exerting for 53%.

Respondents were asked to rate their own proficiency in Hebrew: 90% of the Jewish public is considered proficient in Hebrew and 70% is regarded highly proficient.