Archive for the ‘Yiddish’ Category

Using Anki in Language Classes

February 1, 2008

facebook-languages2.jpgI’m planning on starting Yiddish classes again in a few weeks. I tried that a few months ago, but it didn’t work out so well, mostly because not enough students showed up (the class started with about two people, then one, then none). Hopefully I’ll be able to get a better response this time. They’ll be on Sundays, and several people have said they’re interested. This time, I hope, the students will be more committed (and not absent) than last time. (I know some of them personally already, so there may be justification here for hope.)

Another problem with last time (in my mind) was that, well, it’s hard to learn a language, and especially absorb vocabulary, on an hour-and-a-half a week. That way, either people can’t keep up, or I can’t put in nearly as much vocabulary as I’d like. Fortunately, a potential solution has presented itself since then, namely, my dear friend Mr. Anki. Amazingly, I won’t be the first to use Anki in a Yiddish class.

There are a couple ways I can think of that Anki would improve my class. Firstly, I’d be able to introduce far more vocabulary than otherwise with the expectation that the class will actually be able to retain it. Secondly, it can provide a way for the class to partially learn the vocabulary before class so that we can concentrate in class on how to use the vocabulary and building conversational skills. Thirdly, Anki comes with an audio feature so that I can include a sound file of each vocabulary item being pronounced on the flashcard. This may obviate the need to use transliteration, which would be a great help in maintaining the connection of each word to its representation in ייִדישע אותיות (Yiddish letters).

Speaking of Anki, you may be wondering how my own Anki experiences are going. Well, I now have 2136 cards in my Russian deck, and 511 in my Yiddish deck. (These numbers aren’t as big as they seem, since Anki stores Production (English → Russian) and Recognition (Russian → English) as two different cards. Some day I’ll explain how my Yiddish deck can have an odd number of cards.) A couple weeks ago, I was getting 200+ cards a day on Russian, which was too much, so I quit adding cards for a while and now it’s down to less than 50 a day. A couple days ago I started adding again, and am now up to word 1550 in my frequency word list. (See previous posts for an explanation of all this.)

In other news on the language aquisition front, I went to a Spanish language meetup the other night where I had a 2½-hour-long conversation (in Spanish)language-proficiency-chart.jpg with a native Spanish speaker from Colombia! Given that I can do this, I guess it’s a little silly to only be giving myself one star on my language proficiency chart. I orginally wanted to up that to two when I finished Pimseur, but my progress there has been mysteriously (and happily) slowed recently, and I’ve been making up the differences with various Podcasts and other methods, so I guess it’s time to give myself two stars. Yay!

Yiddish Irrealis

January 28, 2008

איך האָב זיך ערשט אָנגעשטױסן אין אַ בלאָג פֿון אַ טאַלאַנטירטן חבֿר מײַנעם, בנימין סאַדאָק, װאָס איך האָב אים, בנימינען, הײסט עס, שױן לאַנג נישט געזען. אָבער אַ פֿאַרדראָס! ער האָט אױפֿגעהערט צו שרײַבן אינעם בלאָג העט אין 2006. ס’איז טאַקע אַ שאָד, װײַל זײַן בלאָג איז אַ סך בעסער געשריבן און אינטעראַסאַנטער װי מײַנער. דאָרטן גײט די רײד אױך אין שפּראַכן, און איר קענט לײענען די אַרכיװן אָט אָ דאָ: אױף דער װײַלע קענט איר אים בעטן ער זאָל שױן װידער נעמען שרײַבן.

Meanwhile, I wanted to talk just a little bit about irrealis in Yiddish. I won’t pretend to know much about the subject (so anyone who knows better should correct me), but basically irrealis is a special form that language can take when something you’re talking about doesn’t or may not exist, or some event didn’t or may not have happened.

Some languages mark irrealis more than others ( For instance, English doesn’t seem to mark it all that much. There’s an old English subjunctive that people use less and less:

It’s important that you not be late.

Be here is the subjunctive form. But I think you could also say:

It’s important that you’re not late.

In this case, the subjunctive has been lost. In Spanish, however, you must use the subjunctive, at least as long as you’re talking about a future event (someone let me know if I get this wrong):

Es importante que no te atrases.

A common way of marking irrealis in Yiddish is with the modal verb זאָל (zol).So in Yiddish, as in Spanish, you must here mark irrealis:

ס’איז װיכטיק, דו זאָלסט זיך נישט פֿאַרשפּעטיקן.

Another example where Yiddish and Spanish mark irrealis but English doesn’t think anything special is going on:

I’ve never seen a man that kisses dogs.

Nunca he visto a un hombre que bese perros.

 איך האָב קײן מאָל נישט געזען אַ מאַן װאָס זאָל קושן הינט.

On the other hand, if you do know this man exists, you wouldn’t use irrealis:

Yesterday I saw the man that kisses dogs.

Vi ayer al hombre que besa perros.

נעכטן האָב איך געזען דעם מאַן װאָס קושט הינט.

But Yiddish doesn’t always use זאָל where Spanish uses the subjunctive. For instance, after the word maybe (Sp. quizá(s), Yi. אפֿשר):

אפֿשר קושט ער הינט.

Quizás bese perros.

Maybe he kisses dogs.

Here’s an interesting case of Yiddish use of זאָל. Can you tell the difference between the following two sentences?

A) כ’האָב מורא, זי זאָל נישט קומען.‏

B) כ’האָב מורא, זי װעט נישט קומען.‏

For those of you not in the know, a word-for-word translation gives:

A) I’m afraid she should not come.

B) I’m afraid she will not come.

Well, have you figured it out yet? According to Yiddish II, a textbook written by Yiddish linguist Mordkhe Schaechter, these sentences translate to:

A) I’m afraid she’ll come.

B) I’m afraid she won’t come.

In other words, if you want to say that you’re afraid that something will happen you use the modal זאָל  together with the negation of the clause. Once I noticed this in Yiddish II, I realized I had long misunderstood a line in one of my favorite Yiddish songs!

כ’װאָלט איצט געלאָפֿן, אסתּרל קרױן, אָראָפּ צום טײַך זיך טרענקען
האָב איך מורא, אַז טױטערהײט זאָל איך נאָך דיר נישט בענקען

I would now run, my dear Esther, down to the river to drown myself.
But I’m afraid that in death I would long for you.

I always thought this meant “…I would not long for you”!

And in the next line, the construction is different, this time a more Englishy “I fear that you will” instead of “I have fear you should not”:

כ’װאָלט זיך געלאָזן, אסתּרל קרױן, װאָגלען אױף אַלע װעגן
האָב איך מורא אַז איבעראַל װעסטו מיר קומען אַנטקעגן

I would set off, my dear Esther, wandering about,
but I fear I would encounter you everywhere…

There might be a reason this hadn’t come to my attention earlier. A quick Google search suggests that this form (“I fear it should not”) is not used nowadays very often, at least in colloquial Hassidic Yiddish. Meanwhile, I’m almost sure none of my Yiddish-speaking friends uses this construction. But why? Is this a recent development, possibly influenced by English, or was that always the case? (In posing these questions I don’t mean to imply that these are unsolved mysteries of Yiddish linguistics. I’m sure someone knows, just not me.)

I’m also confused sometimes about whether or not to use Yiddish irrealis in certain situations. These are generally cases where I would use the subjunctive in Spanish or Portuguese, but using it in Yiddish might be overcompensating (from my subjunctive-poor English). For instance, yesterday I noticed my friend Arele (of Tmesis fame) typing a sentence of the form:

 איך גלײב נישט זי זאָל דאָס האָבן געזאָגט.

I don’t believe she said that. (Lit. I believe not she should that have said.)

I queried him on his use of the subjunctive here, and he noted that his family makes fun of him for this type of construction, then later admits he’s probably correct in using it. If his family doesn’t use this form, where’d he get it from? Other Yiddish speakers? Reading? Or has Arele, in learning to speak a fluent Spanish, also become a bit subjunctive-happy? I admit I tend to avoid such types of sentences entirely. Instead of saying

 איך מײן נישט אַז ער איז (זאָל זײַן?) אַ רײַכער.

I’ll say

איך מײן אַז ער איז נישט קײן רײַכער.

I may not be alone. A Google search for the phrase “איך מײן נישט אז” had only 3 results (!) as opposed to 690 results for “איך מײן אז”.

It’s hard to do better without a good old Yiddish corpus. Maybe someday…

Meanwhile, let me know of any thoughts, questions, or corrections you have on this topic!

Julie’s Spanish Progress and Google Ranking, Etc.

January 2, 2008

My lovely wife and I have been trying to study Spanish together for a couple months now. (She’d studied it for years in high school, but, like most high school students in most subjects, and especially language, she’s retained little of what she learned, and in any case was probably never able to hold a conversation. In fact, now after a short while of studying with me she’s able to hold a more fluent conversation in Spanish than she ever was then, though I’m sure she has yet to relearn lots of vocabulary and grammar that she once knew.) Although we’d wanted to keep abreast of each other’s progress in Pimsleur Spanish, she’s been lagging the past few weeks. This is partially due to her not sharing my psychotic drive to learn languages, and partially because I have an Ipod, which is (somewhat) conducive to listening to these lessons, while she has a Shuffle, which isn’t. (It’s difficult to go to a specific place in a lesson, and you can’t see how far along you are.) I’d switch with her, except I need the Ipod to listen to various Podcasts, which I couldn’t listen to with the Shuffle, and which also serve to slow down my Pimsleur progress.

So we came up with a new system for motivating her: every day she finishes a Spanish Pimsleur lesson, I’m not allowed to listen to a lesson the next day. For whatever reason, this system has so far worked beautifully. It drives her competitive spirit better than simply trying to outdo me by conventional means. (I think there is some game-theoretical terminology for differentiating games in which you can affect another player’s moves from ones in which you cannot, but I can’t remember what it is. Can anyone help me out here?) However, even if she listens to a lesson a day, it’ll still be a few weeks till she catches up. But no matter.

For anyone whom I’ve convinced to use Anki, note that the web site has changed servers. I’ve updated the link.

I’ve been thinking of using Anki as a mandatory part of my upcoming Yiddish class, which I’d like to start maybe in February. That is, students would have to use Anki to make sure that vocabulary that gets taught in one class gets stuck in their heads by then next class. I’m currently teaching Yiddish to kids at the Workmen’s Circle, but as they only have class one a week or so, and are not overly motivated, it’s very difficult to get anything to stick.

Factoid: Not only is Julie’s blog the first hit on Google when you search for “byuralistke” ((female) office worker), but it seems that all 529 (as of now) hits are related to her blog: she has single-handedly planted this word on the Internet! In comparison, the word “byuralist”, the masculine version of the word, gets only 3 hits. Meanwhile, ביוראַליסטקע, the same word written with Yiddish letters, still gets no hits. (Of course, with this post I will have planted ביוראַליסטקע and added to the hits of the other words — such is the observer effect of the blogosphere!)

I’ve met a new Russian language exchange buddy through Meetup. His name is Edward. We’ve met a couple times at the Yugntruf office. Unfortunately, my Russian is still not at a point where I can naturally, say, make plans over the phone in Russian. When we speak in Russian, it is more deliberate; our “default” language is (sigh) English. My Russian has definitely improved, I think, these past few weeks. I really hope I’ll be able to get to a comfortable conversational level in the next months.

My Languages rankingThat is, incidentally, my criterion for reaching three-star level on the Facebook “Languages” app. Even though it’s a just a silly Facebook trick, I take that ranking seriously as a rough way to keep track of my progress through my various languages. Here’s my current ranking:
 Once I finish Pimsleur Spanish, I’ll give myself another star there. Also, I’m looking to upgrade my German to three stars in the not-too-distant future.

Anki Overload

December 17, 2007

Due to having neglected it for several days, when I checked Anki today, I had over 400 cards waiting for me. After some concentrated effort, that’s now down to 157. Well, it’s my own fault for creating so many cards all at once. Even 400 is a small fraction of the total number of cards I’ve stuffed in there since I began a couple weeks ago. Well, I’ve since slowed to a more manageable rate. I can’t remember hundreds of words a week anyway (probably). At the beginning I wasn’t learning entirely new words, but rather trying to catch up with what I had (to some extent) already known months back when I was originally compiling the list in my little Russian notebook.

By now I’ve inputted all unknown words among the first 1213 in my Russian frequency list. In my notebook I’d gone up to a bit over 1600. So I’m still a bit aways from that. Afterwards, I’d be fine with an average rate of, say, five new words a day, at least until I reach 2500 or so in the frequency list. (Of course, I won’t have to input all those words because I’ll already know many of them.) At that point, vocabulary will probably have ceased to be my bottleneck, and I’ll be able to concentrate on other aspects of learning Russian, probably extensive conversational practice and reading. At some point I may leave off somewhat of the frequency list and just input words that seem important as I encounter them, or more likely do both this and continue to go down the list.

Of course, that’s not the end of Anki. I input not only lexical items, but also sample sentences and phrases with grammatical structures that I want to know. This is different from vocabulary and would probably continue in parallel.

Meanwhile, incidentally, I’ve begun an Anki Yiddish, inputting various idioms, phrases, and vocabulary. I feel like I’ve hit a plateau in my Yiddish as well, and I hope this will be of assistance.

נאָך מיטאַפּס

July 23, 2007

געפּראַװעט האָב איך דעם פֿאַרגאַנגענעם שבת אין מענהעטן מיט אַ צאָל ייִדישיסטן, מײַנע גוטע־פֿרײַנט לײזער, מנחם־יענקל, און חנה־רבֿקה בתוכם. פֿרײַטיק־צו־נאַכטס האָב איך געגעסן בײַ לײזערן אין זײַן מאַמעס דירה, און זיך אַרײַנגעכאַפּט האָט יואלי (נו, װי אַזױ שרײַבט מען?), אַ װױלער בחור פֿון קרית־יואל. מיר האָבן אַדורכגעשמועסט און אַדורכשפּאַצירט דעם אָפּער־איסט־סײַד. ס’איז געװען, װי געװענטלעך, אַ מחיה זיך צו באַקענען און אַ שמועס צו כאַפּן מיט אַ יונגן געבױרנעם ייִדיש רעדער. אפֿשר צוליב דעם װאָס ער איז אַ סאַטמאַרער (?) איז זײַן ייִדיש דװקא נישט אַזױ דורכגעװײקט מיט אַנגליציזמען.

אַ פּאָר באַמערקונגען װעגן זײַן שפּראַך:

ער רעדט אַרױס  דאָס װאָרט “ברוקלין” נישט \BROOK-lin\ נאָר \broo-CLEAN\.
ער איז נישט געװען אַזױ אױסגעהאַלטן מיט זײַן אַרױסרעד. אָפֿט מאָל האָט ער אַרױסגערעדט אַ װאָרט אַזױ װי ער האָט ערשט געהערט װי מיר רעדן עס אַרױס, װאָס דאַכט זיך מאָדנע פֿאַר אַ געבױרענער רעדער מיט נישט געבױרענע רעדערס. ער האָט אױך אָנגעהױבן צו ניצן דאָס װאָרט “בילעט” שטאָטס “טיקעט” נאָך דעם װי ער האָט געהערט װי מיר ניצן עס. קען עס גאָמאָלט זײַן אַז ער שאַצט אָפּ אונדזער שפּראַך אײדער זײַן אײגענע?

שבת בײַ טאָג האָבן לײזער און איך געגעסן מיטיק בײַ מנחם־יענקלען, װאָס האָט אונדז געקאָכן אַ הײסן אַ געשמאַקן טשאָלנט, לכּובֿד שבת! איך האָב זיך באַקענט מיט אַ פּאָר פֿון די ייִדיש־פּראָגראַמניקעס, װי אַרנאָ, אַ פּראַנצױז. מיר זענען שפּעטער געגאַנגען אין פּאַרק שפּילן פֿוסבאָל באָרװעסערהײט. גײ פֿאַרשטײ פֿאַר װאָס מיר האָבן געדאַרפֿט שפּילן אָן שיך! מע האָט מיר געזאָגט אַז ס’איז כּדי מע זאָל נישט װי טון אײנער דעם אַנדערן די פֿיס, אָבער ס’איז שװער זיך אױסצומאָלן אַז דאָס װאָלט מער װײ געטון װי שפּילן אָן שיך.

זונטיק בין איך געגאַנגען אױף צװײ “מיטאַפּ” גרופּעס. די ערשטע איז געװען אַ ייִדיש־שפּראַכיקע, אָנגעפֿירט דורך דער קעז־באַלעבאָסטע, עליזאַבעט (נעכטן האָבן מיר איר אַ ייִדישן נאָמען געגעבן שבֿע). פּערעלע איז בײַגעװען, און מנחם־יענקל איז אױך געקומען. דאָס קען נישט זײַן זײער אינטערעסאַנט, צו לײענען װאָס איך האָב נעכטן געטון? אפֿשר װען איך װאָלט געגבן עפּעס אַ קאָמענטאַר, אָבער דאָס אױך נישט! עס איז צו װוּנדערן אױב איר לײענט נאָך!

נאָך דעם ייִדיש מיטאַפּ בין איך געגאַנגען אױף אַ רוסיש־ייִדיש “ירושה” מיטאַפּ. דער אָנפֿירער, אַן ערנסטער, װיל שאַפֿן אַן אינטעלעקטועלע סבֿיבֿה אַזאַ, װי מע קען עפּעס “אױפֿטון” מיטן ייִדיש־רוסישן אידענטיטעט. גײ װײס װאָס ער איז אױסן! און אַלע דאָרטן האָבן בעסער געקענט רעדן רוסיש װי איך, אָבער מע האָט גערעדט ענגליש. אַ קלאָג! דער אָנפֿירער איז אָבער יאָ אַ סימפּאַטישער און מיר זענען נאָכן טרעפֿעניש געגאַנגען עסן פּיצע צוזאַמען (װאָס איך װעל פֿון איצטערט אָן פּרוּװן אַרױסרעדן “צאַם” װײַל אַזױ נײגן זיך די חסידים, און דאָס איז עפּעס װאָס איז געװאָקסן אין אונדזער מיסט!), און ער מיט זײַן באַקאַנטע האָבן געפּרוּװט רעדן רוסיש מיט מיר, אָבער ס’איז נאָך געװען שװער. די פּראָבלעם איז נישט אַנדערש װי מײַן שװעריקײטן מיט דער שפּראַך. נו, עס װעט זיך פֿאַרבעסערן. איצט האָף איך אַז איך האָב אײַך אַלע געהאָלפֿן אײַנשלאָפֿן. אַ גוטן!

??איז װי־זשע איז געװען דער מיטאַפּ

July 19, 2007

נו, ס’איז געװען נישקשהדיק. איך האָב נישט גערעדט אַזױ פֿיל רוסיש װי איך האָב געװאָלט, אָבער נו, מילא. איך האָב געקוקט אױף די אַנדערע בלאָגס. אזױ פּראָפֿעסיאָנעל! אַני־הקטן קען נישט קאָנקורירן מיט אַזאַ בריהשאַפֿט. נאָר װאָס זאָל מען טון? אַ ברירה האָט מען? דער רבונו־של־עולם הײסט שרײַבן–מוז מען דאָך אַװדאי שרײַבן!

Daria para lhes dizer o que eu estou lendo agora? “Histórias de Robôs”, um livrinho editado por Isaac Asimov. (Originalmente, claro, em inglês, mas traduzido em português.) Eu decidi que eu finalmente posso ler português fora de casa, quer dizer, sem que eu sempre tenha que ter um dicionário na mão. Só que sublinho as palavaras que eu não sei e procuro depois num dicionário.

אוקיי, בסדר, מספיק כבר! הגיע הזמן ללכת לישון… לילה טוב לכולם!

Statement of Purpose

July 18, 2007

Fine, for now I’ll consider this a place to document my language learning. How’s that for a compromise?

Я сейчас поиду на русскую “митап” группу. That’s right. I will indiscriminately and unmercifully switch in and out of whatever languages I feel like. It comes with the proverbial territory, I’m afraid. Furthermore, since I am in the process of learning these languages, there may well be mistakes.  That also comes with the territory. I urge, nay, implore, nay, beg any native speakers out there to correct what I write. (Who are these native speakers of other languages reading my blog? Are they any more than pure fantasy on the part of the author? If so, do they not still have some validity, if only as whimsical conceits created to indulge his ego with their attentiveness?)

צו פֿיל ענגליש!