Ikh lern zikh Yiddish איך לערן זיך ייִדיש

One of the language-related life goals I have is to learn the major Germanic languages. The complete family: English, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Yiddish, Icelandic, Faroese, Luxembourgish, Frysian and Limburgish. There are of course more regional variations, such as Swiss German for example.

I am focussing only on the bigger ones, being Dutch (my native language), English, German, Afrikaans, Danish, Luxembourgish, Icelandic (all fluent or in the learning stages).

I will (at the moment) not study Swedish and Norwegian, because I already speak Danish and I don’t want to ‘contaminate’ that. Frysian and Limburgish are also not on the list.

Which leaves me with Yiddish and Faroese. I have dabbled in Faroese for half a year, but then decided to switch to Icelandic, because of the many resources (which Faroese doesn’t have).  The moment I master that to a good extent, I will pick up Faroese again.

So. Yiddish. I don’t know what triggered it, probably someone on Twitter talking about Yiddish, but I have decided to start learning it. Just as I do with Icelandic, I will take it slowly, no goals (they don’t really work for me anyway), but just enjoy the process and see how far I get.

There finally is a teacher on italki, so I booked my first lesson, printed out chapter one of Colloquial Yiddish and bingewatched the script videos on YouTube.

Here we go!

Week 17-21: January 25-February 28, 2021

I was planning to do a full month of immersion in March. I wanted to focus on 1 language in particular for a week – alternating languages every week. I hoped this would strengthen my knowledge and kindle my motivation, which is lacking a bit in general.

The reason for that is, I think, that I made huge progress in the beginning and now am stuck at the same level. For Yiddish in particular, I know that I can progress quickly thanks to my German knowledge, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to pick up a book and do some proper studying. A strange feeling that I can’t really explain. Whenever I do pick up my book though, I make good progress and I really enjoy it!

However … When I was making this plan, I had no work (or very little), but things changed in the meantime and I am fully booked for March, so I will have to postpone this intensive month.

What did I do this week?

Italki: yesss, another italki class in week 17, after a long break. I switched teachers and I am now taking classes with Leyzer. What a great teacher! We had so much fun, I rambled on like I could speak perfect Yiddish (which I don’t by the way, far from it – but he gave me so much self-confidence). Precisely because I just said whatever, we were able to discuss many things. We tackled some grammar (e.g. I wanted to say: I would like to, so we went into depth about how you would say that in Yiddish, and from there on, a small step to the construction with would) and then went through unit 1 and a bit of unit 2 of my new book, In eynem. I spoke for about an hour, incredible!

I had another lesson in week 21. As always, I am very happy with studying with my teacher.

Colloquial Yiddish: I finally had some time to focus on Yiddish again in week 18. I reviewed and re-studied chapters 4-6 and for some reason, the words I struggled with are now firmly in my memory, yay! More review until unit 6 and I made a start with chapter 7.

Basic Yiddish, grammar and workbook: time for some Yiddish grammar! In week 17 I reviewed lessons 12-13.

Harry Potter: I listened to the complete first chapter audio of the book, my plan is to now read it and see if I understand it better. I also found the Dutch paper copy of the book, so I might keep that at hand to check whenever I have a doubt.

In eynem: whenever I have to go out, I take this book with me to read/study while waiting for my appointment. 

Week 14-16: January 4-24, 2021

I had ordered the book In Eynem in December and it arrived on Monday 11 January. Needless to tell you how happy I am with that! I feel like it is going to boost my Yiddish speaking and understanding.

What did I do this week?

YouTube: I was watching a few videos in English about the origins and the history of Yiddish, when I saw a suggested video of a class by Yiddish Book Center. It turned out to be a series of 19 short videos (footage from a summer course, I think), so I had a look at those. It was nice to follow along (although many things were already known, since I have studied the basics at this point).

Colloquial Yiddish: I feel like I made good progress in week 14. I reviewed and studied lessons 4-6 in Colloquial and for some reason the vocabulary stuck without any effort!

Harry Potter: I listened to the audio of chapter 1 during my daily walk and it helps to pick up words here and there. But not much more than 1 chapter though … It turns out to be more difficult than I thought.

In eynem: this book arrived on January 11 and I couldn’t wait to have a look at it. Ordering was very smooth, delivery was quick. The book is very nice (it was wrapped in a lot of plastic and was not damaged at all). I have gone through the first part with explanations and did the reading exercise to practice the Yiddish script. Then I had a look at the first lesson of the first unit (each unit consists of 4 lessons, tailored around a specific topic). So far, it seems like a very good method (but I have only just begun).

In week 15 I have studied 2 chapters, most of it I already know from the Colloquial Yiddish. Then I didn’t do anything for a few days (there are so many languages I have to keep up-to-date, choices must be made sometimes), so in week 16, I reviewed it again. Not a hard job though, Yiddish resembles German a lot, vocabulary is not that hard for me to remember. I also skimmed through the other units of the book and I can’t wait to progress.

Week 8-13: November 23, 2020-January 3, 2021

In week 12, I am doing a #40h7dLC, including all my languages, also Yiddish. This means I will put in some extra hours of studying. Let’s see if my level improves a bit …

There is a new italki teacher, I have booked a lesson with him in week 13. We’ll see how that goes.

What did I do this week?

Italki: in week 8 another italki class with Moshe. We discussed another song, good for reading practice and some vocabulary, not always the same old sample dialogues in the textbooks.

I have decided to not take any classes in any of my languages in December. A quick look at my stats shows me that I have taken 154 classes this year, an average of around 3 per week. I desperately need a break! Ready for a fresh start in January though.

In week 13 I had an hour booked with the second italki teacher, Leyzen, and what a good lesson that was! I actually spoke a bit in Yiddish and he also gave me a brief overview of the origins of Yiddish. Being a history nerd, this was a fine little treat for me. I liked this class so much that I immediately booked another hour for January.

**Correction: I did book 4 more lessons in December, I can’t help myself (Spanish, Icelandic, Luxembourgish and Afrikaans). I also noticed that there is a second Yiddish teacher and I have booked a lesson with him in week 13 (Dec 29) … That means 155 lessons this year, a nice – sort of round – number to finish with.

Colloquial Yiddish: I have neglected this book for a while, but picked it up again in week 8, review of lessons 2 and 3 – luckily I didn’t forget all that much.

But then again – nothing. This language learning burnout is hitting me hard.

In week 10, I re-started reviewing this book. All done (chapters 1 to 3). It was all still there, nothing forgotten, great relief. In week 11 I continued with a study session of units 4 and 5 and it seems that my love for learning languages is slowly coming back … More of this in week 13, I have now reached lesson 5.

Basic Yiddish, grammar and workbook: finally I have picked this great resource up again in week 11. I reviewed chapters 1-8 that I already learned (I still had to study a bit here) and added chapters 9-13.

In week 13, I studied/reviewed the first 15 units. This was quite intense, but it gave me so much energy!

Harry Potter: I read 1,5 pages (a bit embarrassing, I know, but it is much harder than I thought). I still struggle with some letters of the alphabet. I have the Spanish and Italian version as well, to compare and to check whether I have understood everything correctly (a good way to put in some hours for Italian and Spanish as well). I haven’t read any of the HP books before, so everything is new for me.

Week 4-7: October 26-November 22, 2020

In week 5, I have decided to focus on Icelandic for 7 days, to consolidate my knowledge and to up my level a bit (I have neglected it for a while). Therefore Yiddish has been on the backburner for a week. I did do a bit, but not at normal speed – and mostly reviewing Colloquial Yiddish. I decided on week 5, because there was no italki class scheduled (that was for week 6). You can read about my little Icelandic immersion week on my blog about Icelandic.

Also in week 5, my Yiddish copy of Harry Potter arrived. What a beautiful edition! I am also in contact with the translator of this book and he sent me the audio that goes with the first chapter. It will be so much fun to read it and at the same time listen to the audio and see how much I can understand after just 4 weeks of Yiddish. I will keep you posted here!

What did I do this week?

YouTube: I listened over and over to the song I discussed with my italki teacher.

Italki: in week 6 I had another lesson with Moshe. We had so much fun. We discussed a song together. I read the lyrics and tried to figure out what they meant. Much to my surprise I could actually understand quite a bit. It was also fun to be able to say a few basic things.

Colloquial Yiddish: I studied really hard, but not enough in week 4. I am still stuck at lesson 3 of Colloquial. Week 5 was all about immersion in Icelandic, therefore only some reviewing of the chapters I have already studied in this book. Chapters 1 and 2 reviewed and discussed during my italki class in week 6.

Basic Yiddish, grammar and workbook: I really really love this book. Short chapters, focussing on 1 grammar point. This makes it easy to progress, study and review. At the top of each page I write the verbs mentioned on the page (they are not always all listed in the vocab lists and this way I don’t miss any). I have reached lesson 9 at the end of week 4, not bad! All reviewed in week 6, because of my language learning sprint in Icelandic in week 5, no more extra studying.

Week 2-3: October 12-25, 2020

My main focus for week 2 was memorizing the script. For some reason, as I said before, it is harder than Bulgarian Cyrillic or Korean Hangeul. I found good resources online, charts with the letters, exercises online as well (thanks Yiddish Book Center!). It was a good choice to focus only on the block letters. I tried everywhere to find material to read, in the coming units of my textbook or online. I only struggle a bit with the CH and the D, they look very similar, but in most cases I can guess by reading the word. It worked really well, immersing myself through reading bilingual texts instead of trying to simply memorise the letters.

So far, I find Yiddish rather easy, because I have a good background in German already. The grammar and the vocabulary are very, very similar. The only thing I will have to work on, will be the pronunciation.

Another great thing, you all know how much I like to read and how important it is for me to incorporate reading and speaking as early as possible into my learning. So … I have ordered the Yiddish version of Harry Potter in week 3. Estimated date of arrival: somewhere in November … I will keep you all posted! It has been sent already!

What did I do these weeks?

YouTube: I watched a few grammar videos (always the same channel), as usual, just to listen to spoken Yiddish and to review a bit of the basic grammar (I usually do this when I don’t really feel like studying).

Italki: in week 3 I had another italki lesson scheduled with Moshe. In the week before our class, I let him know which units in both books I was going to study, so he could prepare. This put a bit of pressure on me, but that’s good, it made me actively study in both books. We went over the Yiddish alphabet together (and then our half hour was done, maybe I should book an hour instead). I hoped to be able to have a bit of a conversation, but we didn’t, so I asked him if we could do that next time. Hopefully I will have studied 5 units by then and I should be able to hold a short conversation. My next lesson isn’t until week 6, another three weeks.

Colloquial Yiddish: recap of unit 1, a bit much on my plate this week and still a bit under the weather after my severe cold last weekend, so I am taking it slow. I already had a look at unit 2. The good thing with Yiddish is that it resembles German a lot (grammar and vocabulary), so I don’t have to do any real studying, for example on how to conjugate verbs or on genders of nouns and on cases. It’s all more or less in my head already (except a few differences that I will have to pay attention too).

I also printed out the next few chapters and read the dialogues written in Yiddish as a reading practice. Most of the letters are now memorized. This was good practice, because I didn’t know the content of the conversations yet (contrary to the dialogues in unit 1), so I couldn’t guess while reading, it was really starting from zero. Most of my study time in week 2 was spent on learning the alfabet.

I went full speed ahead in week 3, printed out my digital copy of this book (and lost 2 days of studying because the copy center was closed, bummer). But … on Wednesday I managed to put in a lot of work, I studied (really studied this time, as in memorising vocabulary lists) units 1 and 2 (I did a lot of work in the Basic Yiddish grammar and didn’t have time enough anymore to do more, so 2 units doesn’t seem like a lot, but it really was).

By Sunday evening week 3 I have studied 3 units. Going good!

Yiddishbookcenter.org: at the beginning of week 2 of my Yiddish studies, I have focussed again on the script and I am slowly getting there. I memorized the letters and did the reading practice on this website. I was determined to know the complete block script by the end of week 2 and I did (almost)! I only struggle with the N or the CH at the end of a word (they are very similar) and D and CH in general.

Basic Yiddish, grammar and workbook: I didn’t know it but I have a copy of this book on my iPad, so I thought, why not have a look at it! So I did in week 2. I’m thinking of taking it unit by unit and focusing more on the grammar (and use Colloquial for vocabulary). We’ll see how that works out. I know from experience that I prefer to have more than 1 textbook. I spent a fair bit of my Saturday afternoon in week 2 on this book and managed to go through units 1-2-3, including the translation exercises (it wasn’t a lot, just a few sentences, but it was fun to do and it gave me a sense of achievement, to be able to this after just one and a half weeks).

It is a very pleasant book to study/work with. Short units, focusing on 1 particular grammar point. Adding a bit of vocabulary. Precisely because they are so short, I quickly add ‘just one last unit before going to bed’.

I printed out the digital copy of this book in week 3 and, as with Colloquial, lost 2 days of studying because the copy center was closed. Wednesday felt like a ‘Yiddish day’, I didn’t have a lot of work and decided to go for it. I reviewed/studied 4 units. This gave me so much energy that I continued my streak for the rest of the week and all through the weekend (I had an italki lesson on Friday and let my teacher know beforehand how many units I would have studied by then, putting a bit of pressure on myself). I finished unit 7 by Sunday evening. Very proud of myself indeed!

Week 1: October 5-11, 2020

I am very excited to finally get started with Yiddish! This language has been on my mind for a long time, but I never made any firm plans to actually start learning it. Until this week, quite unexpectedly, when I booked an italki class.

Someone compared language learning to an addiction and I agree, it’s such a great feeling to dive into an unknown language, to learn a new script (although I also cursed a bit while studying – Yiddish seems like just some random curls and stripes …). The great thing is that is very closely related to German (which I speak at a good level), so as far as vocabulary is concerned, I don’t expect too many problems.

But … without mastering the script, you can’t really get started. I googled a bit and came across this website: https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/language-literature-culture/learn-yiddish-alphabet/how-use-these-pages. Here you find exercises to help you learn the script, also with audio and printable sheets. Thumbs up! There are a lot of letters to learn, so I decided to take it slow and learn them in groups of 5-8 and only continue with more once I really master the first group. 

To be honest, after my italki lesson, I decided to only focus on the block letters. My teacher correctly pointed out that everything I will be reading at this point, will be in block letters. If need be, I can always learn the script later. This decision made my life a lot easier!

Unfortunately I got ill towards the end of the week, so the flow I was in, got disrupted a bit. I hope to pick up again next Monday.

What did I do this week?

YouTube: the first challenge with Yiddish is learning the script. The good thing is that there is a great channel (Ikh lern zikh Yiddish) that explains what sounds are combined with what letters (explained with sample words). I watched a lot of videos on this channel, randomly, whichever one got suggested to me (and not only about the script). So far the declension of the definite article is different from German, I didn’t expect that, and from Luxembourgish (which is also different from German), so that’s 3 different declensions, I hope I will be able to pick the right one in free speech …

The good thing about this channel is that the host combines the Yiddish script with the Latin alphabet, so I focus on those 2. I pause the video when the sample sentence comes up (if possible before the English transcription is visible) and try to read the Yiddish script. This kind of immersion works well for me. I don’t really like to just numbly copy letters without seeing them in word, so to speak. I also repeat the sentences out loud.

Besides the alphabet, I also watched videos on verbs, personal pronouns, regular conjugations, et cetera. I watched the same videos over and over again (there aren’t that many yet) to get my ears (and my brain) tuned to the sound of the language.

Italki: there hasn’t been a Yiddish teacher here for a long time, but finally there is one now and he seems very nice in his introduction video. I decided on a whim to book a class (I didn’t even have plans to study Yiddish at that point), but I thought, why not, even if it is only one class, just to have a taste of the language.

We sent a few messages back and forth and confirmed a class for Friday evening, October 9. He can perfectly teach me from scratch, he said, and provides material for beginners, but I still felt a bit of pressure during the week to learn at least something.

Moshe was indeed a very friendly person. He made me feel comfortable straight away. Unfortunately he didn’t have a lot of material for people like me (age and experience with language learning), so I shared my textbook with him. We agreed that I will study a few chapters and then let him know how far I have come. My main goal with these classes is to speak, so let’s see how that develops in the coming weeks.

Colloquial Yiddish: I printed out the first chapter of this book and listened to the audio over and over again. On these first pages I also added the declension tables of articles and personal pronouns. Much like I do with Icelandic, I plan on going over these tables before each study session (but luckily they are not as complicated as in Icelandic). With Yiddish it won’t be as hard, because it resembles German a lot (with Icelandic, it is basically starting from scratch, although I have a little bit of help from Danish). The pronunciation might be a bit of a challenge though, but after repeating the audio that goes with the book a hundred times, it is starting to sound a bit like Yiddish.

The second thing I focussed on with this textbook, is the Yiddish script. I learn the script separately with YouTube, but here I try to read the Yiddish dialogue and compare to the English transcription and thus sort of absorb the script naturally (works to a certain extent).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *