RSS Feed

Duolingo Yiddish

            My Duolingo adventure started a few years ago, when I was looking for a way to learn Yiddish online. I wasn’t up to going to an in-person class, and the Yiddish for Dummies book didn’t do much for me, but I couldn’t find a good, free Yiddish app. Instead, I decided to brush up on my Hebrew and learn German on Duolingo, in the hopes that the two languages would mush together in my brain and magically become Yiddish (The Yiddish language is written in Hebrew letters, but is largely based on German, with words also borrowed from many other Eastern European languages, like Polish and Russian).

“Voof.”

Earlier this year, after I wrote a blog post on my difficulties with visual learning and “reading” pictures, someone suggested that I could try learning an ideographic language, to see if that would be a useful step for me. I’d actually spent a semester in college learning Egyptian Hieroglyphics, but since Duolingo didn’t have a course in that, I decided to try Chinese, just to see if the pictures really could help me to remember the sounds and meanings of words in a way “regular” letters could not.

            And I discovered that Chinese is really, really hard. I don’t know if it’s the unfamiliar ideograms or the wide variety of subtly different sounds in Chinese that make it so hard for me, but I kept trying.

            Not long after I started my struggles with Chinese, Duolingo started to advertise a new Yiddish program, and I was thrilled! I immediately had plans to read Sholem Aleichem in the original Yiddish and connect to my Eastern European Jewish roots and maybe even work on my Yoda impression. But every time I checked through the language options on the Duolingo app on my iPhone, Yiddish wasn’t there. Finally, I went to the Duolingo site on my computer, and there it was: Yiddish. It seemed that the Yiddish program was still in the Beta phase of development and that meant it only worked on my computer for some reason.

            I tend to do my Duolingo practice in bed, as a way to relax before going to sleep, so the idea of having to sit up at the computer to study just seemed wrong. But I did it. And I found that my Hebrew/German mishmash really had helped me, because I was able to test out of a bunch of the early lessons of Yiddish, despite the fact that letters that were silent in Hebrew were used as vowels in Yiddish, and vowels that made one sound in Hebrew made another in Yiddish (though I found out later that that may not be universal, but specific to the dialect of Yiddish taught on Duolingo).

“Oy.”

            Despite all of the differences, the lessons were addictive, and I was racking up points on my Duolingo account that I was ready to spend on Chinese lessons, except, when I went back to my iPhone app that night the system got confused and logged me out. I had to reset my password just to get back onto the app, and I realized that, for some reason, using the Beta Yiddish program on the computer made my iPhone angry, or jealous, or something, and discombobulated the whole system.

“Grr.”

            So, I’ve been staying away from the Yiddish program, mostly because I’m too lazy to sit up at the computer to study when it’s so much easier to lie down, but also because I’m too lazy to come up with yet another new password when I inevitably have to reboot the app on my phone. In the meantime I’m still practicing my German and my Hebrew, and French, and Spanish, and every once in a while I get up the nerve to try another lesson in Chinese, but only when I have a lot of points saved up so I can make a thousand mistakes and still finish a whole lesson.

            Continuing to study German has its own benefits too, beyond prepping for Yiddish, because I discovered that there are a lot of German language murder mysteries on Hoopla, the streaming service I get through my library. I was running out of English language mysteries to watch, so being able to tap into all of the shows in German has been a life saver.

My hopes are still high, though, that once I can do the Yiddish lessons on my phone, in comfort, I will progress quickly to spouting yiddishisms everywhere I go and annoying everyone I meet. I’m a patient person, if not an energetic one. I can wait.

“Me too!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

76 responses »

  1. I admire you for tackling all those fascinating languages. About your iPhone getting jealous, occasionally I complain about my phone or computer doing what they want to do, not what I want them to. My son who is an IT guy, will say, “You shouldn’t anthropomorphize your devices. They don’t like it.”

    Reply
  2. You have my utmost admiration for studying so many different languages. I think Cricket already gave you your new password: “Voof!” Danke, Cricket.

    Reply
  3. Your post reminds me that my father learned Yiddish as a child. He wasn’t Jewish but grew up around Jewish families and the kids spoke it. Good luck with your lessons.

    Reply
    • Thank you! My father was specifically NOT taught Yiddish, so his parents could talk in front of him about things he wasn’t supposed to know. It didn’t work, though. He figured out all the worst words.

      Reply
  4. I don’t know about being lazy, Rachel. You’re definitely not lazy when it comes to language learning!

    Reply
  5. Mazel tov. You have undertaken a lifetime learning experience.

    Reply
  6. This is a great idea to learn Yiddish. I tried to revive my French using Rosetta and it worked pretty well. I was doing it as my daughter had a French Canadian boyfriend. But then they broke up and I dropped my revival of my French. I hope you will keep going with the Yiddish

    Reply
  7. Running around New York exclaiming in Yiddish from time to time. That rarely happens. You’ll be one of a kind. Yeah, yeah I’m an Alterkaker.

    Reply
  8. If you are like me, I learned best from the DeFrancis series of Chinese characters. (No charts or pictures; just words). It took me until Lesson 13 for the characters to no longer he symbols but words.

    Can’t wait to learn more Yiddish in future posts! 😊

    Reply
  9. Envy here. I have no ability to learn languages. I tried to learn Hebrew from an amazing woman Rabbi. I made tapes, flash cards, lessons etc. I dropped out eventually. Oh to be able to learn Yiddish and Hebrew. A dream of mine.

    Reply
    • It’s all about finding the way that you learn best! With my students I try to cover as many learning styles as possible – music, repetition, listening, movement, whatever works and whatever they enjoy most.

      Reply
  10. I admire your effort to learn languages. It’s something I haven’t tackled at all. I often think of music as a language – something I have really worked on – and I wonder if learning music and learning languages are similar experiences. I suppose one difference is with music you have to learn a coordinated physical activity, using fingers and more of your body to make the desired sounds.

    Reply
  11. Double voof. The dogs know.

    Reply
  12. This is impressive. Despite my blogging pseudonym, I only know odd words in Yiddish and would love to be able to read some of the nineteenth century Yiddish authors I’ve read in translation in the original.

    Reply
    • I have a collection of letters in Yiddish from my great grandfather to my grandfather and I so want to read them. I also have letters that he wrote in his broken English and I want to know his voice in his original language.

      Reply
  13. I have been using Rosetta Stone to learn Polish, and it has given me a basic vocabulary and understanding of the language. I am also studying Spanish on R.S. I may try French in the fall (in anticipation of a trip to France next year). It seems to me that learning more than one language at a time reinforces the others, as each time I learn a new word in Spanish, I recall the same word in Polish. My library offers Mango, and I use it to practice conversational phrases.

    Reply
    • French and Spanish have so many cognates that once you get used to the differences in spelling and pronunciation you’ll find that you knowing one language gives you a real head start on the other.

      Reply
  14. Rachel, best wishes on developing your “Yiddishisms.” It is interesting to me how may “Yiddishisms” have crept into mainstream English. Have a great rest of your weekend. You are mensch. Keith

    Reply
    • Thank you! I made a list last year of common Yiddish words that my students might know from TV and movies and I had to edit it down to three pages. Yiddish has a way of capturing mixed feelings and grumpiness and humor, and I think a lot of different people find it very satisfying to borrow a Yiddish word to express something they’d otherwise express with a hand gesture.

      Reply
      • Rachel, great. Have you blogged about some of those words? I would love to see that. Keith

      • I can’t remember if I wrote a blog on it but a short list would be: chutzpah, dreck, glitch, klutz, maven, kvetch, meshugeh, nudnik, shlep, shlemiel, plotz, schlock, schmatta, schmutz.

      • Rachel, thanks. I think I have used with some regularity about half of those words. I was exposed to “maven” reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books being unfamiliar with it beforehand. Keith

  15. Rachel, best wishes on developing your “Yiddishisms.” It is interesting to me how may “Yiddishisms” have crept into mainstream English. Have a great rest of your weekend. You are a mensch. Keith

    Reply
  16. Cool! Keep it up! But remember there is a long way ahead of Duolingo, you can’t master a language on it!

    Reply
  17. My daughter told me about Duolingo a few weeks ago; I have yet to look at it, but will now!

    Reply
  18. Way cool! Best wishes with your studies! I’m reading your book, though only 2 chapters in because I’m a slow reader. I think it’s going to be thought-provoking and great, though!

    Reply
  19. Our ten-year-old friend Finn is now going to a Chinese language school here in South Carolina. He is apparently doing very well because his teacher told his mother he was picking it up quickly. Possibly because he learned Hebrew in the Jewish elementary school he attended through the third grade – in addition to the year he spent going to school in the Netherlands while his mother, who is Dutch, was on sabbatical. So now he speaks Dutch, Hebrew, English and Chinese. At 10 – isn’t that crazy??
    Our granddaughter Ella is enrolled in the same Jewish school to start pre-school in August. Pretty went with her parents to meet the principal last Sunday and said the school should be perfect. Multicultural kids, emphasis on inclusion for all. We want Ella to be educated well, of course, but mostly we want her to learn respect for others, kindness toward all.
    Fingers crossed.

    Reply
  20. Woowzers, you are ambitious with languages! I have given up. I think I am more an energetic person than a patient one.
    Sounds like your phone thnks someone is hacking your acount when you access Duolingo from your computer.

    Reply
  21. That’s a big – and honorable – undertaking! I remember my grandmother (seated on her pink plastic-covered sofa), spending a long time chatting in Yiddish. As I knew some German, I could understand bits and pieces of what she was saying.

    Reply
  22. Cool! Good luck with the Yiddish!

    Reply
  23. Thank you for the tip on Duolingo’s upcoming Yiddish program! That’s so exciting. I’m really glad to have found your blog and I’m excited to read your book!

    Reply
  24. Wow, that’s awesome! I wish I knew that many languages or was as patient. I taught my 2 older daughters Spanish, and had we continued they probably would’ve been fluent. But I’m not a very good teacher. I’m not very patient. I know swear words in Russian and I know French. But I don’t think knowing swear words counts.

    Reply
  25. Good luck with your multi-lingual learning adventures. I met a woman years ago who worked in the international section of a bank. She spoke English, Italian, Spanish and French fluently– and with the accents. Besides employment opportunities, it’s a cool way to get involved with conversations with other foreigners– who appreciate whenever someone, however learned, at least attempts to speak their language. Myself– I attempt some Spanish with my Mexican neighbors– despite it mostly being in present tense. At least they know what I’m trying to say.
    Art

    Reply
  26. Are you familiar with The Yiddish Book Center, in Amherst, MA? Fascinating place (about an hour and twenty minute drive for me), and the founder has a really interesting and quick-reading book. The Center would so approve of what you are doing! Here’s a link: https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/about/saving-literature

    Reply
  27. Try Learning Swahili on duolingo.

    Reply
  28. I’ve also had my spell with Duolingo in French and find while its highly motivating to learn, it does not necessarily to practical use in the real world. With both of choosing to become teachers, we both realize the role reversal of playing the student can be a daunting affair. I’d much rather teach what I already know rather than be at the mercy of the unknown.

    Reply
  29. I’m impressed with all the languages you try and, naturally, with your success. I’m glad that Cricket is picking up expressions, too. I have a Spanish student’s Spanish and enjoy word-stories in any tongue, which I might come across. I hope you’re very well these days and your charges, too.

    Reply
  30. Good for you–ambitious goal! I’ve been toying with brushing up on my Spanish but I’d need to be able to move around the house, get things done while I listen. Do you think you would be able to do that or would it be too much multi-tasking?

    Reply
  31. alexandriainlove

    I have a fascination with languages and LOVE your idea of learning a little at night before bed! I’m always poking on my phone before bed, but usually doing pretty useless stuff. I think for me, learning Russian will be a great new way for me to spend that time! Good luck with Yiddish, that also sounds very interesting!

    Reply
  32. My goodness I am impressed with your commitment to language learning. I thought I was being a bit too ambitious with Spanish and French but I am a mere tiddler compared to your accomplishments. Interestingly there was an interview in the paper the day you posted this with the older actress who is one of the stars of ‘Call My Agent’ on Netflix. It’s in French with subtitles and really helps me with my very poor French. Lilian Rovère is in her 80s and is from a family of jewish immigrants to France from Poland. She can remember yiddish at home ” I love the sound, and I love the insults, they’re a scream.” What’s her favourite? Without a second’s pause, she replies: “May your arms shrink so that you can’t scratch your arse,” and breaks into a broad grin.” More here – https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2021/may/30/i-wasnt-what-youd-call-sensible-a-walk-on-the-wild-side-with-call-my-agents-liliane-rovere. Sorry for the long comment!

    Reply
  33. How is the Yiddish learning coming along? I first went to Duolingo for Yiddish but when I didn’t see it I opted for Spanish and it just wasn’t fun because I didn’t want to learn Spanish. But thanks to you I’m going to check it out on the computer and then I can study on a tablet instead of sitting at the computer – yay! 🙂

    Reply
  34. deyn hunt muz zikh aoykh lernen eydish! er iz aza a kiut hunt.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to rachelmankowitz Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: