Week 34: Books of Proverbs
Published on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 231 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 130 hours
I have reviewed 2,838 individual flashcards
I have taught myself, to some extent, 129 Yiddish proverbs, and my goal just now is 150. Let me provide some context: By "taught myself," I mean, "barely know." These proverbs come up in my flashcards, I never remember how to say them in Yiddish, I have to re-memorize them every time, and then they go back into the flashcards to pop up again in a few days, at which point the process starts anew.
That being said, when I started this, the process for memorizing proverbs was brutally hard. I just pounded them into my head by route repetition, and felt myself forget them the moment I correctly identified the Yiddish. Now, the proverbs come sort of easily, and I often find myself remembering a substantial amount of an already-learned proverb, if not the whole thing. And there are some proverbs that have finally wedged themselves into my unconscious and I can pull them out whenever I want. I can tell you how to say "Everybody comes to America except God," (Ale forn kayn America khutz Gat,) I can tell you how to say "He should drink so much castor oil," (Azoi fil retzenoil zol er oistrinken), I can tell you how to say "On money stands the world" (oifgelt shteyt di velt.) So the proverbs are coming, bit by bit.
I think there are a few reasons it's getting simpler. The first is because I am trying to learn less proverbs all at once. I was learning something like five per day, and now I do two per day. The second is that I try to be judicious in the proverbs I choose, picking shorter ones that use a lot of words I already know. Both make it easier for me to learn new proverbs.
But I have also found that older, longer proverbs are coming easier, and I think it is because my brain is just figuring out Yiddish proverbs. They no longer seem like a mass of Yiddish, but discrete units of meaning that are individually easy to memorize, and easy to link together into sentences. I've also started to learn the form of proverbs, and there are a few, but they are recognizable patterns of language, so now I can just plug a new proverb into a pattern I already know.
I should say that one of the reasons I decided to teach myself proverbs was because so much of what I had learned consisted of individual words, and I felt like I needed to learn those words in context, in a sentence, to see how they fit together. I don't know that proverbs are ideal for this -- I suspect Yiddish is not generally spoken in epigrams that speak in vast generalities (If one should find oneself in a distant place ...). But I do not think the proverbs are unhelpful either, in that they force me to memorize some of the fundamental ways Yiddish grammar is used, from the ways words are modified based on gender, plural, tense, etc., to the way certain bits of language are used that help shape a sentence.
But more than anything, I taught myself proverbs because I wanted to know a bunch of Yiddish proverbs. And, ultimately, that must be the main motivation for my learning anything. As I have mentioned before, at this moment I don't know if there will ever be a moment when I actually have use for spoken Yiddish, or how often those moments might happen, so my relationship with Yiddish must mostly concern itself with whatever gives me pleasure this moment, and I will enjoy on my own, even if I never have any real use for it.
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