Still, we expect service providers in Israel to possess a minimal level of English-language skills. After all, not all residents in this country speak good Hebrew, not to mention the many tourists who arrive here.
For our report, Yedioth Ahronoth enlisted the help of instructors at the Wall Street Institute School of English. We asked them to present questions to service providers at various companies, government bodies and businesses. The replies were ranked from 1 to 10 based on the service provider's level of English.
While this is not a scientific poll, it does provide an impression about our level of spoken English. Below we present some of the conversations that left something to be desired….
- Israel Police emergency line
Jason: Hi, may I speak with an officer?
Operator: Ma??? ("What" in Hebrew)
Jason: May I speak with an officer?
Operator: What do you need?
Jason: I think I lost my wallet.
Operator: Ah? What did you lost?
Jason: My identification, my wallet.
Jason: In Rehovot. I live in Rehovot.
Operator: Where did you lost it?
Jason: I'm not sure.
Operator: You have to call to police station in Rehovot.
Jason's comment: It appears the operator was frightened by the prospect of having to speak English. She did not know what "wallet" means, and her English was garbled, but she understood that I lost my ID.
- Interior Ministry clerk, Rishon Lezion
Jason: When my passport is about to expire and I want to extend it, will it cost money?
Clerk: I not speak English.
Another clerk arrives: No.
Jason: Do I just need to bring it here and give it to you?
Clerk: No (turns to first clerk and asks in Hebrew: How do you say "extension?")
Another clerk, in Hebrew: If I knew how to say it in English, would I be working here?
Clerk, in Hebrew: The word is in the passport.
Clerk, in English: "Expending it's free"
Jason's comment: Given the kind of service they provide, their English skills must be better.
- Egged bus driver, Route 201 from Rehovot
Jason: How can I get to Tel Aviv University?
Driver, in Hebrew: Come again?
Driver, in English: Come, come.
Jason: I don't want to go now.
Driver: Ah, two seven four (Route 274)
Jason: How long does it take?
Driver: Twenty minute.
Jason: Even when it's raining, like today?
Driver: Twenty minute, 20 minute.
Jason's comment: I'm almost convinced that the driver thought that I asked how often the bus comes. I don't think he understood the question, because the trip from Rehovot to Tel Aviv University does not take 20 minutes. At the ticket office I was told that it will take an hour and a half on a day like today.
- Yes hotline, satellite TV provider
Shawn: Hi, can you speak English?
Operator, in Hebrew: Are you a new client or an existing client?
Shawn: I don't understand.
Operator, in Hebrew: What are you looking for?
Shawn: I don't speak Hebrew.
Operator put Shawn on hold and someone else came on the line and asked for his Israeli ID number, in Hebrew. When he didn't understand, she yelled: ID, ID!!
Shawn's comment: I'm speechless.
While the level of English exhibited by service providers in various other organizations and stores was less than satisfactory, we did get good service from the following:
Bezeq International phone company
012 phone company
Cellcom cell phone company
Hot, cable provider
Israel Railway information hotline
Egged bus company information hotline
Dan bus company information hotline
Department of Motor Vehicles
The following responses were received following our story:
Israel Police: Our emergency line provides services and receives thousands of calls a day while trying to respond to all the various sectors in their language.
Interior Ministry: Knowledge of English is a basic demand of every employee hired by the Population and Immigration Authority. We aim to give preference to job candidates who speak additional languages in order to improve our service. We are unfamiliar with the case in question and it may have been a one-time event. We looked into the issue and it seems that all employees at our Rishon LeZion office speak English, as required. We are convinced that the findings would have been different had the test been performed several more times.
Egged: We are happy to hear about the result of your survey at our national information center. This stems from a clear policy by the company in respect to providing information to foreign-language speakers. As to your report about the bus driver, the level of English differs among different people in line with their education, as is the case within Israeli society as a whole.
Yes: We greatly regret the description of the incident as was presented to us. It's important for us to stress that this was a one-time event that does not reflect the company's policies and procedures. We are working to ensure that such cases will not repeat and are drawing lessons from this incident.
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