Week 31: Maximilian Berlitz

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 214 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 121 hours
I have reviewed 2,750 individual flashcards

I continue to tale a little break from adding new material to my flashcards, but for one exception, which I shall discuss in a moment. It has been quite a relief to simply review material I already know, and the various Yiddish phrases I learned have stopped all clumping together, as they were, which meant that I had to try to remember a dozen or more long sentences all at once, and it was just impossible. Once you start getting a handle on something you are learning, the Anki flashcard program just ends up spacing it out better, and it becomes much more manageable.

I did add a half-dozen new words this week, because I am working my way through an old Berlitz Yiddish course, and every two or three weeks I move on to a new section, and so plug in the new words and phrases into my flashcards. This past week I finished a section on words related to food, the kitchen, and mealtimes, so I moved on to a section about words having to do with houses and apartments, and these were the new words I added.

I had this same Berlitz course years ago, and what Yiddish I knew before I started this project came from that. It's about an hour's worth of recordings, coupled with a booklet. The Berlitz people decided the sorts of words and phrases it would be useful for people to know, and so an English voice will say "mealtime" while a Yiddish voice will say "moltzheit." Interestingly, one of the phrases I had to learn was "the parents are heartsick from the children," which seems very Jewish.

I didn't know much about the Berlitz program, so I thought I'd read up on the subject a little. It's older than I would have expected, having been started by an impressively mustachioed Victorian gentleman named Maximilian Berlitz in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1878. As it turns out, Berlitz was Jewish, and German, and fluent in several languages, so when he moved to America he found work as a French instructor. Amusingly, according to the legend of the founding of the school, Berlitz took ill and so hired someone he had corresponded with to teach for him. As it turned out, the teacher was fluent in French but spoke no English, and yet, when Berlitz returned to the class, he found the students to be doing pretty well, having learned from the teacher simply speaking French to them and pointing at things he wanted to describe.

Inspired by this, Berlitz opened a foreign-language immersion school of his own, which then spread to other states, and eventually turned into the contemporary international company.

At some point, Berlitz started a publishing wing, releasing tourist phrase books and pocket dictionaries, and the audio recording I have was a product of this, and, more specifically, a product of Maximilian Berlitz's grandson, Charles Berlitz, who ran the department and was largely responsible for developing the audio courses. In my research, I discovered that Charles Berlitz wrote a series of books during the 70s that I would have been obsessed with as a child, because they investigated the same sort of "anomalous phenomena" that the television show "In Search of" did: Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, flying saucers, etc .In fact, I'm fairly sure I read Berlitz's book on the Bermuda Triangle when I was a boy, as it was an enormous bestseller, selling 20 million copies, and was also turned into a movie.

I can't help but regret that some of this didn't leak into his language programs. I can't be the only one who wishes that the following conversation was part of the curriculum:

Man: Vos hat ir gefinen in di Bermuda Drayek? (What did you find in the Bermuda Triangle?)
Woman: Fartsaytiker astronauts hob geboyt der piramids. (Ancient astronauts built the pyramids.)

My Yiddish may be terrible in the above sample; please forgive me. But blame Charles Berlitz. I shouldn't have to guess as to how to write such a sentence.