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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish
By Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Alpha Books - A Member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc.: 2000
ISBN: 0-02-863387-3

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 30, 2009

Whether you are Jewish and interested in learning the mama loshen (mother tongue) of Jews the world over, or a 'word' maven interested in learning about the plethora of words that Jews have contributed to the English vernacular, Yiddish is the language to familiarize yourself with. In the The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish, Rabbi Benjamin Blech presents a comprehensive and fun overview of the Yiddish language. Along the way he also introduces the reader to the vibrancy of Yiddish literature and culture, past and present.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish is perhaps the most comprehensive and most enjoyable introductory text to the Yiddish language that I've seen. Rabbi Blech's instruction is clear and easy to follow, and his method of instruction is very intuitive. Best of all, his writing is infused with humor and witty sayings. While studying this book will not make you an expert Yiddish speaker, it will give you a solid grounding upon which to pursue further study in the language, and it will enable you to speak and understand basic phrases, common words, even read transliterated Yiddish with ease.

Rabbi Blech provides an overview of the Yiddish language and culture. He also provides a gentle survey of Yiddish grammar that seeps in with the lessons so effortlessly that you do not notice that you are studying anything as dreary as grammar! As well, Rabbi Blech has included a host of handy and fun to complete exercises that help to reinforce your understanding of the material explained in the text. In addition, the final chapter in this book consists of a series of short tests that will allow you to test your understanding of the material studied. Answers to these test questions can be found at the end of the book. As well, he has included excerpts of Yiddish literature along with English translations. These excerpts will not only help to improve your reading and comprehension skills, but also your ability to translate and recognize unfamiliar Yiddish words, while also gaining an edifying introduction to Yiddish literature.

Many may think that Yiddish is a dead language. They are very, very wrong. Yiddish is still the primary language of most ultra-Orthodox Jews, and in the last few years there has been a tremendous revival in the interest and use of Yiddish among 'less-religious' Jews who are attracted to Yiddish because of its important cultural heritage connotations, and also because it is a vibrant and beautifully descriptive Langue that is well suited for literary and dramatic works. They also want to be able to read, listen to, or watch the vast array of books, plays, movies, newspapers, and other material that is available in Yiddish.

Yiddish is written using the Hebrew alphabet, and Rabbi Blech illustrates what these letters look like and how they sound. However, other than this introduction to Yiddish letters and sounds, the rest of the book uses Yiddish transliteration. This makes it very easy to learn how to speak Yiddish, and is quite suitable for those seeking just an introduction to Yiddish or who want to be able to speak and understand basic Yiddish. However, if you are interested in learning how to read Yiddish or pursuing your study of Yiddish in greater detail, you'll need to consult an additional text, such as: No matter what has fueled your interest in Yiddish language or culture, you'll not go wrong by reading and studying The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish. Rabbi Blech is a marvelous teacher and this book is so well organized and so engaging, that it will hold your interest and encourage you to continue with your studies even after you have finished with this book. As well, so many Yiddish words and phrases have seeped into the English vernacular that you will be surprised at just how much Yiddish you already know.

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