language spoken israel

A Brief Overview of the Languages Spoken in Israel

(Last Updated On: June 10, 2022)

Native Language Spoken in Israel

By the 19th century, when a traveler was heading to the Holy Land, they’d be sure to pack their guides and Bibles to let people know about its official language. What is the native language spoken in Israel? Most people would assume that Hebrew and Arabic are the most widely spoken languages, but that’s not always the case! In reality, over 30 different languages are spoken in Israel, some of which you may never have heard of!

The following gives a brief overview of the spoken language and Jewish languages in Israel in the 20th century according to language policies.

Hebrew

For its relatively small size, Israel has numerous native languages. The official native language of modern Israel is Hebrew, a Semitic language closely related to Arabic and Aramaic. The Hebrew language has a special status and is spoken by most Israelis, but English and Russian are also commonly spoken languages among Israelis due to their common use among various immigrant groups.

Modern Hebrew language is considered sacred language and national language and is based on Mishnaic (classical) Hebrew, which was used for religious purposes during ancient times. Modern Hebrew contains loanwords from several other languages including Arabic, Yiddish language, Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish), Greek and others. It is written using a modified version of the Latin alphabet known as Israeli or Ivrit script which resembles that used for Yiddish.

In addition to being an official language, it serves as an important lingua franca between speakers of different Jewish ethnolects such as Sephardi Jews who speak Ladino or Mizrahi Jews who speak Judeo-Arabic. The literary language of Israel is Modern Hebrew, which originated as a revival of biblical Hebrew. The biblical language owes its origins to the highlands of Canaan. It is also a diplomatic language and language of instruction. Moreover, it is considered a majority language because it is well-spoken in Israeli schools.

language in israel
language israel

Arabic

Today, three-quarters of Israeli Arabs speak Arabic languages as their first and everyday language. Though these are most often referred to as Modern Standard Arabic languages, these have a special status and spoke in Israeli schools and Arab schools. There are dozens and dozens of regional dialects that help differentiate Israelis from Palestinians and other Arab citizens.

Most government officials—including Netanyahu—are required to know standard Arabic for public speaking and social media posts. This fact does not apply to native Hebrew speakers, however; one must learn both languages in order to read all street signs and formal written communication with others who have an accent or no discernible language background at all.

There are a few million Arabic speakers living within Israel’s borders today, making up about 20% of its population. Also, there are many Arabic-speaking countries including central and eastern Europe.  Despite political turmoil between Jews and Arabs throughout history, efforts by many on both sides have allowed for peaceful coexistence between different religions today.

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English

Although English is not an official language, it is widely spoken throughout Israel. The English language is such a diverse and fascinating language, and it has a rich history that spans all over the world. An estimated 80% of Israelis speak some English, which is important because English is one of two languages used on Israeli road signs including food labels, and has official status.

Having a basic grasp of a foreign language, English can be helpful when navigating public transportation and finding your way around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Outside these major cities, however, you may struggle to find someone who speaks or understands even basic English but Jewish immigrants can help you with that.

What are the languages spoken in Israel?

The official language of Israel is Hebrew and Arabic.

Are Hebrew and Arabic the same?

They are different languages. However, there are many similarities but also differences. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have 22 letters and the Arabic has 28 letters.

How many languages are spoken in Israel?

Today there are 34 languages spoken, However, the official language of Israel is Hebrew and Arabic.

Yiddish

Although Yiddish is primarily used by Ashkenazi Jewish people, it has undergone standardization, and there are even efforts to use it as a Jewish lingua franca. Yiddish is primarily spoken in Israel, with smaller populations in Eastern Europe and North America.

The language was once widely used among European Jews before the Holocaust but had largely disappeared by then due to Zionism and emigration. Since then, most modern speakers are native speakers who learned Yiddish as a second language through Ashkenazi Jewish people culture or Eastern European immigrants who passed on their mother tongue after moving to Israel.

Russian

While Russian isn’t a native language to Israel, it’s spoken by about 9 percent of Israelis, mainly Russian immigrants and Jewish immigrants from Russia and former Soviet Union states speak in their daily life. However, fewer people speak and understand Russian than use it as a second language. There are three main dialects of Russian spoken by Israelis: St. Petersburg, Moscow and Odessa—Odessa is considered to be more prevalent among older generations while younger generations are more apt to speak St. Petersburg or Moscow dialects due to high school education during Communist rule.

languages in israel

Amharic

Most Israelis with roots from Ethiopia or Eritrea speak Amharic, a Semitic language. It’s also one of two official languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea. While Hebrew is commonly spoken by Ethiopian Jews, it is primarily a liturgical language used for Jewish prayer and study. As more Ethiopians immigrate to Israel and become citizens, they’re expected to choose an official language as part of their integration into Israeli society.

official language of israel

French

There are about 2,000 French speakers living in Israel. Most of them are former immigrants from France and their descendants. French speakers can be found mostly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where they serve as diplomats, reporters or business people. Israelis who have a positive attitude towards French-speaking countries also choose to learn it, so that they can study or work there one day.

In addition to these practical considerations, all Israeli universities offer courses on general linguistics and on Hebrew language instruction methods at least during BA level studies; most schools also require students to take several semesters’ worth of languages.

Spanish

One language might be dominant, but there are plenty of other languages spoken in Israel. Spanish is actually one of them; though it’s usually associated with Spain, it’s actually a pretty common language to hear around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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