Week 29: The Slowdown
Published on Monday, July 25, 2016 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 201 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 114 hours
I have reviewed 2,702 individual flashcards
It has been a slow week of studying Yiddish for me. Like a marathoner, I seem to have hit a wall. in that creating new flashcards and studying them has started to become agonizingly hard, and so I must force myself to continue, and, even then, I don't do as much as I might.
I know what's going on -- I have bitten off more than I can chew. I really have only two areas of study right now, and both are a little too hard for me.
First, as I have mentioned, I am memorizing Yiddish proverbs, and, as of today, I have added 100 to my collection of Flashcards. This is a hard process both at the start and at the finish. First, I must create the flashcard, which means I must accurately transcribe the proverb into written Yiddish, which is rarely easy. I can't simply type a phrase like "Neither a smack nor a fart" into Google Translate, because the resulting translation is going to be terrible Yiddish. Google Translate gets genders wrong, has a hard time with verb forms, doesn't understand idioms, and is always utterly literal when translating sentence construction. So I start with Google Translate, getting a terrible translation, and then I bring that into a smartphone program called Keyman, which allows me to correct it, and sometimes I must work overtime to figure out what individual words mean, because I have been given an approximate rather than literal translations, and, well, it's just a lot of work.
Then I must memorize the god damned thing, and that can be quite laborious. I have tried to simplify this for myself by selecting short proverbs that are mostly made of words I already know and only adding five new sentences per day, but it is still much harder than simply memorizing new words.
I continue to add new words as well, and this has gotten me into trouble. I've been taking the words from a Tumblr page called Yiddish Word of the Week, and they do something very interesting: They offer not just a single word, but a selection of words that derive from it, and idioms and proverbs that make use of the words. I have been happily plugging all of them in, and, in a few senses, this is quite useful. Some of these are words that I have had trouble with, like the Yiddish word for throw, which is varfn. For whatever reason, I found it impossible to memorize, and then Yiddish Word of the Week gave me 20 words that build from varfn, and now I have no trouble remembering varfn.
However, I do have trouble remembering the other 20 words.
As a result, the amount of time I spend creating flashcards has increased, and the amount of time I spend staring uncomprehendingly at Flashcards has increased, and it's too much time. I need to make a change, or there is a risk of me burning out, which would be a pity after more than seven months of study.
Two things I need to keep in mind:
1. This is not a race. As much as I like just cramming as many Yiddish words as possible in my head in as short a time as I can manage, this may not be the best approach to studying.
2. The way I have approached this was based on programs that are designed to get somebody semi-fluent fairly quickly, so they can interact with native speakers and build their language in that way. This is not what I am doing, and so the program may not be a very good match for my goals.
Now, learning proverbs was always one of my goals, so I will continue to do so, but I think I need to slow down a bit and not try to learn them as quickly as I pursued other parts of the program. Additionally, I need to do some things that give more immediate rewards, because right now all I feel like I am doing is trying to memorize things and failing. To this end, I have started to just add new words to my vocabulary from my dictionary, mostly cognates with English, because these I can learn quite easily and, as a result, do not feel like I have a mountain of impossible to learn flashcards ahead of me.
I will continue thinking about this over the course of the week. In the meanwhile, it's probably okay to take it a little slow for a few days.
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