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Colloquial Yiddish

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Colloquial Yiddish

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Colloquial Yiddish
The Complete Course for Beginners
By Lily Kahn
Routledge, (2011)
This Edition includes a Paperback Book and 2 Audio CDs
ISBN: 978-0-415-58022-9

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 7, 2012

Ideally suited for independent learners, Colloquial Yiddish: The Complete Course for Beginners offers students a comprehensive introduction to modern, standard Yiddish. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Yiddish, and as such it begins with the very basics - a brief historical overview of the Yiddish language and the Yiddish alphabet and how it is pronounced. (For those not familiar with Yiddish, it uses the Hebrew alphabet.) From this solid foundation, it quickly moves on to the meat of the text - dialogues, grammatical lessons, exercises, and practice reading both Yiddish script and print.

The course consists of a single textbook and two audio CDs. The book and CDs can be purchased together, or separately. The Audio CDs contain recordings, spoken by fluent Yiddish speakers, of all the dialogues found in the text, along with supplemental texts, exercises, and audio only materials. In addition to these audio materials, the text also contains answers to all of the exercises found in the book. The audio components, the answers to the exercises, combined with clear explanations and an incremental approach to learning Yiddish makes this course ideal for self-learners who do not have access to a Yiddish speaker or instructor. This course can also be easily adapted for use in introductory Yiddish courses at both the high school and college levels.

Colloquial Yiddish was written by Dr. Lily Kahn, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at University College London: Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where, among other things, she teaches courses in Hebrew and Yiddish. The text contains fifteen units, and as stated above, begins with the very basics of Yiddish, and using a step-by-step methodology, provides students with the skills to read and write Yiddish, to carry on basic conversations with other Yiddish speakers, and it prepares students for more advanced classes in Yiddish. In its totality, it offers students a solid grounding in the fundamentals of Standard Yiddish, and serves as a comprehensive introductory course in Yiddish that can be used in a classroom setting, as well as by independent learners.

Throughout, when used in conjunction with the audio CDs, Colloquial Yiddish provides students with ample opportunity to practice both their reading, writing, and listening skills. The dialogues in the first five units are accompanied by both transliterated and English translations of the Yiddish text. After that, no translations are provided, other than for English translations of vocabulary words. Should you need to look up a word, you'll find a glossary at the end of the book. Throughout you'll also find ample exercises to reinforce the information learned in the dialogs and grammatical lessons. Answers to all the exercises are located toward the end of the book, enabling you to also use the exercises to test your knowledge of the material studied. Most important, throughout, Kahn's explanations are clear and precise, and the dialogues use vocabularies and topics relevant to modern college students, without being offensive to religious students of Yiddish. As this book uses a stepping stone approach to the study of Yiddish, you will find that as you progress through the book, the dialogues get longer, the exercises harder, and the reading section more complex. But do not fear. If you make sure that you are throughly familiar with one section before moving onto the next, you will have not difficulty mastering the material in this book, no matter if it is on page one or page 230.

Yiddish is a very old and vibrant language that was once the lingua franca of the Jewish world. After the Holocaust, Yiddish was passed over by many in favor of Modern Hebrew, but it never disappeared. In recent years there has been a major resurgence in the study and use of Yiddish in both religious and academic environments, and by independent learners of every ilk. Like most languages, there are many different dialects of Yiddish spoken in the world today. This text uses modern, Standard Yiddish which is based on the Northeastern (Lithuanian) dialect, and is the same as that used by the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, and which is the standard form used in the academic community. Those wishing to learn a different dialect will find that once they learn the information provided in this course, they will easily be able to adapt to the dialect of their choice, once they begin to speak with those already using that dialect. After mastering the material in this course, you will find that, with some patience, you will be able to understand, and be understood, by just about any Yiddish speaker you encounter, no matter what dialect they speak.

I highly recommend Colloquial Yiddish: The Complete Course for Beginners, by Lily Kahn to anyone seeking an introductory course in modern, Standard Yiddish - especially if you are looking for a course that you can study independently. Once you get a taste for Yiddish, I'm sure that you will want to continue with your studies and with just a little searching you will discover that there are many useful textbooks available, and in more populated areas you are likely to find many opportunities to study Yiddish with a teacher - either on a tutorial basis or in a classroom setting. Most important, learning even a little Yiddish will serve as your introduction to the Yiddish speaking community - both religious and secular - and the vibrant and very lively world of Yiddish art, culture, and history.


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