The Strange Linguistic Marriage of Shakespeare and the Bible

A recent matriculation exam testing English knowledge asked students to write a short essay inviting a guest - a scientist, writer or actor - to lecture at their school. Alongside demonstrating the students' proficiency in English - or lack thereof - the results revealed that strange things happen when the language of Shakespeare meets the language of the Bible.

One student seemed not to realize that the Hebrew lesaper can mean both to tell and to cut hair, and that these are different words in English. "I want you to barber about your experience," the student wrote.

When asked to explain why anyone caught drunk driving should have his license suspended on the spot, another student wrote: "They should punish in a hard hand." It makes sense in Hebrew - but doesn't quite make the grade in English. Another student added, for good measure: "Drivers don't curfew in red light" - the Hebrew word otzer means both stop and curfew.

Another stated, "The reasons that support this law immigrant on the reasons that opponent the law" - since oleh can mean both "an immigrant" and "to surpass or outweigh."

English teachers said many of these errors could be explained by the misuse of electronic dictionaries.

"Students think an electronic dictionary will solve all their problems," said a Jerusalem-area English teacher, "but frequently, it actually causes problems because it provides a long list of options without giving context or examples."

Another teacher said she teaches her students how to use a dictionary properly. Young people need to find the appropriate translation, she said, and not use the first option that pops up.

"The problem is that not all of the students have the patience needed, and the result is embarrassing mistakes. The dictionary is a wonderful tool if you know how to use it," she said.

Teachers say these kinds of mistakes are showing up on matriculation exams at all levels, from the easiest to the most difficult. Students may use electronic dictionaries during exams only if they have learning disabilities. One in four students receives such permission.

"The weather was father-in-law," wrote one student (Cham also means "hot"). Another stated, "I was born on a seat" ("Moshav" means both seat and collective rural village).

Beyond the misplaced vocabulary is the issue of proper grammar. One student inviting an expert to speak at his school did not show great proficiency in English, but he certainly demonstrated candor: "Tell us something special or funny that happen to you during you worked," he suggested. "If quietly you don't remember nothing like this, just tell us something important or interesting for keeping the students quietly."