Week 12: Dirty Yiddish Flipbook

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 86 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 38 hours
I have reviewed 1,129 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 70.28%
Correct young: 76.68%
Correct mature: 79.94%

I had a strange experience yesterday morning. When I woke up Yiddish words and phrases were just popping into my head. It was like my memory had just chosen to dump all of these words into another place and was cycling through them. This went on for about an hour, and it made me feel a little bit like a machine, albeit a machine that is trying to teach itself Yiddish.

I also noticed a sudden leap forward in my ability to learn words. When I started, it usually took me a little while before I could remember a new word. Now I see it once and it usually sticks for a while. This has not yet started to happen with anything else -- memorizing an entire sentence is still a lot of work for me, for example, and I still struggle to remember older words. But I feel like my brain is starting to teach itself how to learn a language.

I've experienced this before. I was a dance instructor years ago, and when I started, it would take hours of practice for me to learn new steps. Then, after a few months, I just started picking them up. I'd see a dance move and could duplicate it, and did not struggle to remember it. I've also done some theater, and, at the start, it was very hard for me to learn dialogue, and then, after a while, I just started to absorb the dialogue. Despite my having studied language quite a bit in the past, I don't recall ever having the experience of just seeing a new word and having it automatically enter my vocabulary.

We will see, though. One of the things that the Anki flashcard system does well is track what percent of words you remembered correctly, for words you are newly learning, words that you have studied for a while, and words that have been pushed to the back of the deck because you've demonstrated a comfort with (categorized as "learning," "young," and "mature" respectively.) I have added these stats to the top of the page, and, if I am genuinely learning how to learn a language, we should see the percent going up in each category.

Next week will be the end of my third month of studying Yiddish, and I will be curious to gauge my progress. I fond myself understanding a lot more of the headlines in the Yiddish Daily Forward, and I listened to an audio recording of a Sholem Aleichem story last night and was started to discover that, while I could not really follow the story, I got a sense of some of its shape -- who the characters were, where they were, how they related to each other, etc. A month ago it was all just babble.

A quick note: I have started work on one of my side quests, learning Yiddish curse words. I have plugged in about 30 words from "Talk Dirty Yiddish" by Ilene Schneider, which was an interesting process. Firstly, like a lot of American books about Yiddish, it uses Roman characters, and so it took me quite a while to figure out what the actual words were in Yiddish characters. A number of Yiddish curses come from Hebrew, such as "ben kalba," which literally means "son of a bitch." Additionally, Yiddish speakers tend to pronounce Hebrew a little idiosyncratically, so a word like "am ha'aretz," which means "people of the land" in Hebrew, becomes "amoretz" in Yiddish. So there was more than a little detective work required to create flashcards for these words.

Additionally, I wound up with a lot of words for obscene things, albeit treated a bit gingerly in Yiddish: words for women's privates include "down there" and "knish," the latter being a food. But you try to find appropriate images for the flashcard. So it is that an entire section of my Yiddish flashcard has essentially become a dirty flip book.