August 31, 2013 | Yiddish

Yiddish Roundup

I slacked off a bit, I admit, but I still learned many fascinating things.

In recent days, books and other resources on German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian have been pouring in. This is not by coincidence: I requested them from publishers in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, too.

In the final days of Yiddish, I cheated on it, I admit, with Italian and Portuguese. I do apologize, Yiddish—it’s just that those products looked so, well, enticing. And they came in carefully wrapped boxes, like birthday presents! With fancy packing materials that I could seriously get away with wearing to a fancy event in New York. Take a look at my new outfit, courtesy of the packing materials cradling Wiley’s German in Review!

The Latest in Winter Armwear, from Wiley

The Latest in Winter Armwear, from Wiley

Before I get distracted, let me return to Yiddish: I have now finished Basic Yiddish by Rebecca Margolis, which I enjoyed despite some flaws, and will review shortly in the reviews section of this site. In addition, I spent some more time on Colloquial Yiddish, also from Routledge, for which I will write up a review as well.

I found it very satisfying to study Yiddish, in part because it linked together languages I had studied before: German, Hebrew, and Russian/Polish. I confess I was not adept at identifying Slavic contributions to the language, but I definitely noticed Hebrew, and I was constantly aware of the German influence.

I am also very happy to know more about the language’s history and evolution. Much of what I learned about the history of Yiddish was dazzling and new to me. I strongly recommend Aaron Lansky’s Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. It is deeply moving and accessible to newcomers to Yiddish; the man knows how to tell a story.

As I mentioned previously, I have been redoing Pimsleur Hebrew lessons (from a year and a half ago) alongside the Yiddish written studies. In recent weeks I (re)got through 82 of the 90 Hebrew lessons available, and I found them many times easier than when I did them the first time around. That was very, very encouraging to me, especially as I stand at a crossroads contemplating the future of this project. I really don’t know how much of what I have learned over the past four years is dead, how much is in a coma, how much is just taking a nap, and how much is still dancing around in my brain.

My Hebrew review experience showed me that what I had learned was not at all dead. About very different languages, I honestly was not sure. So yay!

Still, studying how to speak one language while practicing writing another is not necessarily an approach I would recommend if you have practical goals to learn a language. The fact that I was redoing Hebrew Pimsleur lessons—which are entirely oral—during the same period that I was working on Yiddish entirely in written form led to some funny confusion in my brain. Not insurmountable, but noticeable!

I didn’t do anything with oral Yiddish—though I could have, and regret that I didn’t, and hope to spend more time exploring oral resources down the road.

As I have said before, this is the end of the road for new languages for me—for now.

Now, “for now” has a very flexible interpretation. It could mean a few months, or it could mean noticeably longer. I have to see what my brain is able (and happy—happiness matters!) to take.

I am curious about so many languages: Swedish, Farsi, Hungarian, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, and more. But first I want to review what has come before.

More on the new plan in the days to come!

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