Students in class
Students in class Israel news photo: Flash 90

Researchers at Haifa University have discovered that non-native speakers of Hebrew understand the language best when it is spoken in their own accent. A study showed that among non-native speakers, accented Hebrew matching the listener's own was more easily understood than Hebrew spoken with no accent.

The study was conducted among 60 participants aged 18-26. Participants were split into three groups: native Hebrew speakers, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and Israeli Arabs who began learning Hebrew only in elementary school.

Researchers played Hebrew sentences for the participants to see how quickly participants would successfully identify the words being played. Sentences were pronounced with Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian accents.

The native speakers of Russian and Arabic were able to more quickly identify the words spoken with a Russian or Arabic accent respectively. Native speakers of Hebrew were able to identify the words equally quickly regardless of accent.

The two scientists behind the study, Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim and Dr. Mark Leikin, believe their research may change the way society views language instruction. Currently, many believe that those learning a language should be taught by a native speaker, in order to learn the correct accent. However, the scientists say, further research may prove that method to be less effective than the teaching of language by an instructor with an accent similar to that of his or her pupils.