Week 43: Sick
Published on Tuesday, November 01, 2016 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 291 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 174 hours
I have reviewed 3,494 individual flashcards
I have come down with a cold, which is thoroughly unsurprising. Moving from one state to another to start a new job is extremely stressful, and, worse, I have been staying in my mother's townhouse with my dog, my girlfriend, my mother, and her boyfriend, and he has a cough severe enough that he wakes up at night to go downstairs to bark for a half hour or so.
I have been likewise coughing, and achy, and exhausted, and so took a break yesterday from plugging new vocab words into my flashcard program. It's probably for the best, as today was another day when I was swamped with sentences that I have a hard time learning, and so I could have spent an hour or more studying, and that's too much when you're feeling punk. I was foggy enough not to be able to remember words I know quite well, like the numbers. "Acht," I would say aloud, bewildered. "Acht? Acccccchhhhttt?" It means eight.
It occurs to me that I have not spent much time discussing the how-tos of my studies, probably because different things are going to work differently for everybody. As I mentioned, I based my studies on one book that argues that instead of memorizing grammar rules, you should just memorize examples of grammar rules, and your brain will do the rest of the work. This has turned out not to be true at all. There is a Yiddish word, zikh,and it's reflective particle, whatever that means. It must be important, because it shows up in sentences all the time. Ikh lern zikh Yiddish, I am studying Yiddish. Haltn zikh, to persevere. But I'm buggered if I know how to use it properly.
Here is advice I will give, because I am sure others will find it useful: Feel free to go in and change your flashcard if you're having trouble memorizing something. I had a bunch of words for genitals in my collection, but, of course, they are all actually euphemism for genitals, but I put a bunch of cartoon images of actual genitals on my flashcards. As a result, I couldn't remember a blessed thing. Is that supposed to be a schmuck or a schlong? Is that a piege or a knish?
This was solved quite easily by putting an image of the non-euphemistic use of the word: A schlong is a snake, for example, so by having both a cartoonish dong and a rattler on the flashcard, I can remember which version of the word is in play.
Also, if a word is pronounced differently than it is spelled (which especially happens with Hebrew and Aramaic loan words), I go ahead and transcribe the proper pronunciation, because there is no way I will remember it otherwise.
I have to modify my flashcards all the time, in fact. I started this project with just a word list, and it did not identify the genders of the words, and Google turned out to be spectacularly wrong on most of the words. So once I got a better dictionary, I went through and corrected the genders. As it turns out, as with English, a single Yiddish word can mean several things.
For a while I was giving each of those things their own flashcards, but it proved to be impossible to remember all possible permutations of a word when they are scattered across thousands of flashcards and show up once every few weeks. Now I just group all the meanings together on a single flashcard when they are similar: Breg, for example, means coast, shore, edge, and border, and those are all similar enough to go on one flashcard.
However, toyb means both deaf and dove, and those are different enough that they need their own flashcards, and I just have to remember that there are two very different meanings for that one word.
And sometimes I have picked an image that just does not tell me what the word or phrase is. I'll stare at in, utterly befuddled, and when I look at the words I can't remember why I picked the image to go with it. When that happens, I change the image. If I don't immediately know what the image is referencing, it is the wrong image.
As I mentioned earlier, if no image at all communicates the word I am learning, I look for an image that actually has the translation written on it. I have found I quickly ignore the English version of the word anyway and focus on the image.
I had not thought I would have to think this hard about flash cards. I guess you never learn on thing, but instead learn the thing that you want to learn, and also learn the things that you have to learn to learn the thing that you want to learn.
I would have no idea how to say that in Yiddish. There is probably a zikh in there somewhere, but where?
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