Week 5: Pidgin Yiddish

All right, first the stats:

I have now studied Yiddish for 37 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for 13 total hours
I have reviewed 429 vocabulary words

So I am about two-thirds of the way through the initial 625 words and almost halfway through the first thousand. I haven't mastered all of these new vocab words, of course. On review, I typically get about 75 percent of my answers right, although that's including 15 new vocabulary words that I am not likely to know. So the number of Yiddish words I comfortably know is, oh, maybe 320, doing some back-of-the-envelope math. Maybe a little more -- the words I know really well have been pushed to the back of the deck, so I see them infrequently.

It feels a bit like a jumble in my head. Random Yiddish words will pop up over the course of the day and I can't remember what they mean. I find myself fighting to remember the same half-dozen words, and forgetting what they are, day after day. Because the Anki flashcard system puts the words you have trouble with in front of you more often, Yiddish has started to feel like a language I am having trouble with, instead of a language I am learning. Perhaps I am unique in experiencing this, but, at the moment, the flashcard system gives a stronger illusion of failure than of success.

It doesn't help that I have this growing bank of words but no real way of using them. I know this is something that I just need to be patient about. In two weeks I will have completed my initial 625 words, and then I will start learning sentences. Earlier, even, because I started plugging in sentences pretty early on, and have something like 100 waiting in the deck for me to get to them, and in 15 days I will probably have added another hundred or so.

I don't know how useful it is for people to read about my progress in such a granulated form, but if you're like me, it might be worth noting that in your first month of studying using this process, you're going to feel like you're learning a lot very quickly, which is exciting, and in your second month you're going to feel like you have no idea what to do with what you're learning, which is confusing. Were I to do this again, I would probably alternate new vocabulary words with sentences from a phrase book, just so that I had a very basic ability to communicate, instead of a growing number of words I don't know how to use.

I should say, though, that sentences are starting to form in my head. I don't know that they are good Yiddish -- they probably aren't -- but they are a sort of pidgin. Additionally, my reading skills continue to develop apace -- but for new Yiddish words, which I must still sound out, I am able to read fairly quickly. And I find myself understanding a lot more. I'd say that I am able to figure out, oh, maybe 20 or 25 percent of the Jewish Forward headlines that I read, which is sometimes enough to suss out what the story is about.

I know that five weeks is a very short time, and I know it will seem even more compressed to anyone reading this, because in just five posts I have gone from speaking almost no Yiddish to knowing roughly 1/16 the total number of words used in the King James Bible (there are about 8,000 total words used there, ignoring proper nouns.) But nothing ever feels fast when you're doing it, especially projects that take months and then years, especially when you're at the start and know how much you have yet to do.

This is especially true if you are impatient, and I am impatient.