[ool-pahn, ool-pahn]
An ulpan is an institute or school for the intensive study of Hebrew. Ulpan (אולפן, plural ulpanim - אולפנים) is a Hebrew word meaning basically studio or teaching, instruction.

The ulpan is designed to teach adult immigrants to Israel the basic language skills of conversation, writing and comprehension. Most ulpanim also provide instruction in the fundamentals of Israeli culture, history, and geography. The primary purpose of the ulpan is to help new citizens to be integrated as quickly and as easily as possible into the social, cultural and economic life of their new country.

History of the ulpan

The concept of the ulpan was initiated soon after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The new country was faced with a massive influx of new immigrants, refugees from war-torn Europe, oppressed and disadvantaged communities from Africa and the Middle East, and others from all parts of the world. Although all were recognized as Jewish, their language and culture varied widely. Attendance at an ulpan and learning the Hebrew language served as a common bond that helped to develop a shared identity and sense of statehood.

The modern ulpan

The institution of the ulpan continues to serve immigrants today. There are numerous private facilities but the majority are run by the Jewish Agency, municipalities, kibbutzim, and the universities. Ulpanim are offered for free to new olim to Israel. Many are equipped with modern audio-visual teaching aids. Since the establishment of the first ulpan in Jerusalem in 1949, more than 1.3 million new immigrants have graduated from ulpanim.

In recognition of its innovative culture-based approach to language teaching, the ulpan framework has been adopted by other nations attempting to revive their own declining or lost languages. Countries such as Wales, Azerbaijan, Brittany, Catalonia and New Zealand have all modeled their language instruction on the ulpan, and Wales has even retained the name ulpan for one of its language courses for beginners, using the Welsh spelling "Wlpan". A Scottish version called Ùlpan has been in development for Scots Gaelic since 2007.

Kibbutz ulpan

A number of kibbutzim across Israel also offer Ulpan courses. The course typically lasts 5 months and the Ulpanist will usually work part-time on the kibbutz (either 4 hours a day or 8 hours every other day, depending on the kibbutz) in addition to his studies. This is a particularly attractive option for younger immigrants or tourists.

The online ulpan

In recent years the technology has introduced the needs for an up-to-date ulpan, those needs have been filled up by a few private companies such as Ulpanet, there are different methods of Hebrew E-learning such as synchronized and unsynchronized.

Crisis in the ulpan system

The teaching of Hebrew in Israel is in a crisis. A government study has shown that even after five months of intensive Hebrew study at ulpan, sixty percent of new immigrants over the age of thirty cannot read, write or speak Hebrew at a minimum level. The situation amongst the Russian immigrant population is even more dire with seventy percent of immigrants not being able to understand the Hebrew television news.

As a result of this study, the Knesset has set up an inter-ministerial committee to study the situation and make recommendations to improve and change the ulpan system. Several alternative teaching systems are being considered for use in the ulpan framework. Amongst them is a system of accelerated learning for Hebrew.


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