Lesson #272: Common Issues for Hebrew Speakers studying English (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Lesson in which we look at some passages from Anthony Trollope’s wonderful short novel, Nina Balatka (more on it in Part 1) as well as several challenging points for Hebrew speakers learning English.

📝 #6 ‘CONGRATULATIONS’ (vs ‘good luck’) for ‘mazaltov’ מזל טוב

Perhaps one of the most famous Hebrew expressions of all is מזל טוב -‘mazaltov’.

מזל טוב should always be translated as ‘congratulations’ and not ‘good luck’ because, even though it literally translates as that, ‘good luck’ as an expression in English actually means something different.

✍️ In English, we use ‘good luck’ when we are wishing luck to someone who is going to begin a difficult task or travel, etc. In other words, it is a way of wishing them the courage and ability they need to face the task.

‘Luck’ has a sense of random chance and uncertainty, and that is why we use it for wishing someone well in their future efforts because, in reality, we don’t know what the end result will be.

Remember: ‘good luck’ is just the shorthand version of a longer sentence, ‘I wish you good luck!’

✍️ On the other hand, when someone has a baby, gets married, passes an exam, or has any other good experience, we say ‘congratulations!’ to them. The event/action/fact has already happened; it does not have a sense of future uncertainty in the way that ‘luck’ does. For this reason, we are fully rejoicing with them and only need one word in English, ‘Congratulations!’

📝 #7 ‘RELEVANT’, ‘SUITABLE’, ‘ASSOCIATED’, ‘VALID’, ‘AVAILABLE’ – רלוונטי 

📘 ‘The law of the Christian kingdom in which he lived allowed such marriages, and Anton, if he executed the contract which would make the marriage valid, would in truth be the girl’s husband.’

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka (emphasis mine)

📘 ‘… the man asked her why she did not go to her rich aunt, instead of selling a trinket which must be so valuable.’

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka (emphasis mine)

In Hebrew the word רלוונטי  is very popular and tends to be used to cover the meanings of several different words in English:

  • ‘Available’
  • ‘Suitable’
  • ‘Relevant’
  • ‘Valid’
  • ‘Valuable’

👉 One of the most common ways it is used is to describe the availability of something: ‘Is the house still available for rent?’

To recap, the word ‘available’ means that something is ready to be used / made use of.

✍️ That said, ‘available’ is not a synonym for ‘relevant’ in English. ‘Relevant’ tends to mean something has a purpose, connection, or association with something else.

For example, if I say that ‘I want to study abroad, and I am looking for someone to give me relevant advice’, it means that I want someone to give me advice that is associated with or suited to my situation or plans. 👉 For this reason, we sometimes use ‘suitable’ and ‘relevant’ interchangeably as their meanings are quite close.

✍️ Another way that ‘relevant’ is used in English is to indicate that something is still valid or important for a purpose. For example, ‘Even though Shakespeare’s plays are not written in modern English, their ideas, themes, and stories are still relevant for us today.’

📝 #8 ASKING QUESTIONS cf. DEFINITE INTENT STATEMENTS

As mentioned in some previous Lessons on ‘common mistakes’, I wrote that

✍️ Questions in English rely on word order, rather than voice intonation, to communicate their purpose (see point #15 in Lesson #270, where I give a more comprehensive explanation).

So instead of saying,

⚠️ ‘You will study this Lesson?’ (incorrect, but still understandable)

We prefer to say,

✔️ ‘Will you study this Lesson?’

It is important to grasp this correctly because English speakers look for the meaning of a sentence in its word order (generally VERB – SUBJECT – OBJECT / COMPLEMENT) and not in how a person’s voice intonation changes.

📘 ‘Would there be no measuring of her sins against her sorrows, and no account taken of the simplicity of her life?’

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka

📘 ‘Would she not give even her soul for her love, if, for her love’s sake, her soul should be required from her?’

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka

📝 #9 FORGETTING TO USE ‘DO’ IN SENTENCES

📘 “What do you know of my marriage, or when it will be?”

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka (emphasis mine)

⚠️ Nearly all students of English forget to use ‘do’ in English statements or questions that require it. It is a very common mistake!

So a question like, ‘How many children you have?’ is incorrect. ❌

The correct form is, ‘How many children do you have?’ ✔️

And a statement like, ‘I not want to go to the cinema’ is also incorrect. ❌

The correct form would be, ‘I do not / don’t want to go to the cinema.’ ✔️

Notice how ‘do’ appears in the following sentence from Nina Balatka:

📘 ‘”What do you mean by that, Souchey?” said the girl, sharply.’

– Anthony Trollope, Nina Balatka (emphasis mine)

👉 I have written a whole Lesson on this also because it is such an essential verb form in English with many uses – far too many to be summarised here. Please check it out for yourself – I promise it will be helpful!

📝 #10 FLEXIBLE SYLLABLE-STRESS PATTERNS IN ENGLISH

This last point is more generic.

✍️ Remember that the syllable-stress in English is quite flexible. Hebrew speakers, and Spanish speakers too, usually stress the last or penultimate syllable in the words, but this isn’t always the case with English words – so pay attention to how they are pronounced by native speakers!

I trust these points have been helpful. And beyond the grammar, I also hope these lines from Nina Balatka have given you a taste for the heartfelt, noble language of the book. Perhaps you will read it for yourself someday? 🧐

I certainly hope to write more on it in a future Lesson. So stay tuned!