I've studied Japanese, so I'm very familiar with "you should just know to do this" type rules (counting objects in Japanese is an exercise for the brave). That said, Hebrew assumes you know the vocabulary before you know the letters. Sure, they technically have glyphs for vowels and diacritics to identify hard/soft consonants... but no one uses them in real life. You are expected to know. So, basically, if I don't recognize a word (which is true for approximately 100% of words), I'm going to have to go through every permutation of vowels and consonant types I can remember until the person I'm talking to figures it out. If I was learning to write as well, I would have to handle the fact that there are consonants pronounced *identically* to each other (as in, they are indistinguishable to native speakers) but encoded with different letters in different words.
This puts the Italians' lack of being able to understand me until I improved my accenting to shame. On the positive side, there are only 27 characters and many of them resemble capital Greek letters enough that they're free to learn :) I still can't do the 'kh' with any consistency, but it's coming along.
This is day 1. I'll likely feel better about the whole escapade on day two. :)
* Also, my advisor, who is fluent in Hebrew, offered to write me signs to take with me... which made me think of WWII orphans waiting at underground platforms with names and directions pinned to their jackets. So, basically, I'm learning beginner's Hebrew to avoid being eaten at a railway station.