Israel is a country which blends many different people, cultures and as it turns out, many different languages as well, but just how widely spoken is English there among the general population? Can a tourist visiting Israel expect to get by just English alone?
Only around 2% of Israelis speak English as a native language. However, a very high proportion of around 85% of the Israeli population still speaks English to some extent.
Therefore you should have no problems using English, especially in the tourist areas of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Almost everyone you deal with in hotels or tourism will speak it as it is a requirement for their job. Much of the general population also speaks some English – roughly 5 out of very 6 people you’ll meet according to recent statistics.
English is taught from primary school onwards right through to the age of 18, and subtitled English language films and TV shows are also very commonly shown in Israel, helping youngsters pick up the language very well. As a result most of the population who grew up in Israel can speak it to some level, many of them fluent.
Languages in Israel
Hebrew is the official language of Israel, being spoken by almost all the population, with Arabic as a semi official language with around 20% of the population being fluent. English is not an official language but is still very widely spoken, and also Russian is also surprisingly common in Israel with around 20% of the population speaking it.
Therefore you will find for example that road signs are all written in Hebrew, Arabic and English to account for this diversity in language. Menus in restaurants will also mostly have an English option. Whenever they don’t the waiter will usually speak English and be happy to help you.
You will also find most people on the street can speak English to some degree even if not fluently; enough to help you out if you are stuck or lost. Israelis are known for being very helpful and friendly regardless of the language you speak.
Some Basic Hebrew Words
With Hebrew being both the official language and also the most widely spoken one, with almost everyone in Israel fluent, having some basic Hebrew phrases can certainly help you get by despite the widespread prevalence of English.
Shop owners and other people you meet will always appreciate a few words in Hebrew. Here are some of the more common ones.
|You're welcome||Al low davah||על לא דבר|
|Good morning||Boh-ker tov||בוקר טוב|
|Good night||Lie-ler tov||לילה טוב|
|Excuse me/sorry||Slich-ha||סלח לי|
|I'm sorry||Ani mit-sta-err||אני מצטער|
|Nice to meet you||Na-eem lehakir||נעים להכיר אותך|
|Can I please have....?||Efshar beva-kasha lekabel ....?||אפשר לקבל בבקשה...?|
|How much is it?||Kama zeh oleh?||כמה זה|
|Where is the restroom?||Eh-ifo Ha-sheroo-team?||איפה השירותים?|
|How are you?||Ma neesh-ma?||מה שלומך|
Here are some other travel essentials for visiting Israel:
- Essential stats on Israel:
- Population: 9.6 million
- Time zone: EST +7 hours; GMT +2 hours.
- Currency: New shekel (ILS) ($1 = 3.41 ILS; £1= 4.04 ILS at time of writing)
- International calling code: +972 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Israeli shekel) and spend for free on your card.