Year 2, Week 18: The birthday

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 462 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 298 hours
I have reviewed 5,090 individual flashcards

Tomorrow is my 49th birthday. I started this project like I start all my projects, from a fairly absurd declaration that I then try to live up to. In this case, I decided that I thought all Ashkenazi Jews should be able to speak Yiddish by the time they are 50.

This is a product of my own experiences, where, when I was younger, I would sometimes find myself in the company of older Jews who would, on occasion, spontaneously and comfortably switch into speaking Yiddish -- sometimes a word or two, sometimes a sentence, sometimes complete conversations.

I don't know how fluent they actually were. I used to play guitar, and I was pretty good at it, but I would go to guitar stores and watch others sit down and play something utterly astonishing. Sometimes these people were genuinely terrific guitarists, but sometimes they were okay guitarists like me who had a few really impressive tricks. I had a few really impressive tricks too, and am sure when I ran through them people thought I was much better than I was.

So it is with everything. It's hard to gauge competence, especially when you are comparatively incompetent. Maybe I know enough Yiddish now so that the younger me would have been impressed.

I have a year left until I am 50, and I will be curious as to my comfort with the language then. It's starting to click for me, to an extent. Words come easier to me when I want them, and I am able to construct fairly complicated thoughts out of the words I know. I increasingly understand Yiddish when I hear it spoken, or at least some of it -- enough to get the gist of a sentence. I know my grammar is poor -- I mostly built sentences as though I were speaking in English. But not entirely. I have now memorized or partially memorized may 500 phrases and proverbs, and I find myself building new sentences out of them, and those new sentences are presumably closer to how they would be said in Yiddish.

I have always had an image in mind when working on this project -- me at age 50 sitting in a deli reading a Yiddish newspaper. I'm not sure where that image came from, but I am a long way away from it. While my oral Yiddish skills are coming along apace, my literacy is probably dreadful, because I never work on that. I panic at seeing Yiddish in small print, because it's so small and there are so many Yiddish words, and so I never do any reading at all.

I must rectify this. I probably know enough Yiddish now to be able to read children's books, and most of my English acquisition came through reading; I don't know why this wouldn't also be the case with Yiddish.

I shall have to make plans to address this. I don't actually have anybody to speak Yiddish with just now, but I can always have a relationship with a book.