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Seeing as Hebrew is a very tiny language, just like Swedish, are Israelis in general good at English, so a tourist like myself can make it? I've noticed that if the language is not used internationally that much, and the country doesn't dub English language media, the people learn English quickly with no fuzz.

So, a related question would be, how well does English work on the West Bank since Arabic is such a massive language?

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    A while ago, I was googling about "the enemy's language" (related to this Skeptics question), and I came across articles about Palestinians being encouraged by the show "Tomorrow's Pioneers" to learn English (along with Hebrew) precisely because it's a language of "the enemy". – Andrew Grimm May 29 '15 at 11:38
  • It's possible to find counter-examples, I think the speculation about why people speak English in Sweden distracts from the actual question. – Relaxed May 29 '15 at 15:04
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    @AndrewGrimm most Arabs living in Israel (there are about 2 million of them) speak fluent Hebrew. They are Israelis, so Hebrew is not the "enemy's language". For Arabs living in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) Hebrew is often not extensively taught in schools (though basics are), but they pick it up when they deal with Israeli businesses, military personell or work in Israel proper, as many of them do. – CodyBugstein May 29 '15 at 21:08
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    Just so you are aware, many Israelis and Arabs refer to the West Bank by the names "Yehuda" or "Yahuda" (the half south of Jerusalem) and "Shomron" or "Samra" (the half north of Jerusalem). They will probably understand "West Bank" as well, but just be aware, in case they don't. – CodyBugstein May 31 '15 at 13:07
19

As an Israeli with some Israeli-Arab and Palestinian friends I've found that English is understood (even if not spoken) pretty much everywhere.

In Israel, English is taught for 10 years, and most people - especially in tourism and in the richer parts of Israel (Gush Dan - central Israel) - will be fluent English speakers.

In touristy places, people will understand English. This is true in the old city in Jerusalem and in most places tourists go to on the West Bank (also referred to by its historic name "Judea and Samaria"). In less touristy places you'll likely still get by, but not as easily. I wouldn't worry too much about it.

People will always appreciate the effort if you try to speak in Hebrew and Arabic, but you'll get by completely fine without it.

  • It's taught for 8 years AFAIK. Also, some Jewish Hebrew speakers may not appreciate you trying to speak Arabic (due to racism), and vice-versa (at least in the West Bank and Gaza; as Hebrew is spoken there mostly by the antagonistic settlers and soldiers). Just saying. Otherwise +1. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 17 at 16:05
18

English is taught in Israeli schools from primary school, and as you mentioned, foreign media is subtitled and not dubbed (except for media targeted toward children). Most people have at least basic or better knowledge of English and will be able to help a tourist. Also most public signs have an English translation, and many restaurants will have an English menu.

I can't say what is the English level among the Palestinians.

You might also have luck with other languages, 15% of the (total) Israeli population are immigrants from the former USSR, so you will probably be able to find a Russian speaking person almost anywhere. And in some cities, where the concentration of immigrants from France and South America is high, you might be able to find French and Spanish speakers. This addresses only the Jewish population of Israel, and doesn't hold true for the Israeli Arabs, or the West Bank.

5

As a Palestinian, the majority of Palestinians who can speak English fluently is high. For example, in my class you can take 10 students who can speak it fluently, and 10 students will speak English but with some mistakes either in grammar or vocabulary. The rest of them will speak and understand the basics. Maybe the reason why we Palestinians speak English fluently is that a lot of us were born in USA, or because they teach us English from the 1st grade.

  • Umm, actually, few Palestinians living in Palestine were born in the USA. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 17 at 16:10
  • I suspect many returned to the USA, but after Oslo there was a significant aliyah, so to speak, into the West Bank. Taybeh Beer was started by a man who worked for Budweiser in California. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 17 at 22:39
4

The short answer is that English will work for almost all tourist transactions in both Israel proper and the West Bank. Long distance bus drivers are required to know English, but sometimes it’s weak. Taxi drivers may pretend not to understand "Please use the meter".

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    HAAF'EL ETT HAAMONEH, BEH-VAAKAASHAA = "Turn the meter on please" (in a high-brow version though; low brow would start with TAAF'EEL instead of HAAF'EL). If you tell them "meter" they might actually not get it. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 17 at 16:09

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