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Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture, Volumes 1 and 2

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Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture

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Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture, Volumes 1 and 2
By Sheva Zucker
The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring: New York (1994)
Volume 1: ISBN 1-877909-66-1
Volume 2: ISBN 1-877909-75-0
Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture

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Reviewed by Herbert White - March 15, 2010

Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture is secular, cultural-based introductory text in Modern Yiddish that was published in two volumes. Volume one is a textbook for beginners, and can be easily used as a first year Yiddish textbook at the university level or in adult education classes. Volume one assumes that you have no prior knowledge of Yiddish and as such, it starts out with the basics - namely the alphabet, how the letters are pronounced, and how to write Yiddish in both print and script. If you happen to have some experience with Hebrew, you are ahead of the game as Yiddish is written using the Hebrew alphabet, with some minor variations. Volume one covers units 1-11 of the textbook. Volume two, which is geared toward intermediate or second year students, picks up where volume one leaves off and includes units 12-20. Starting with unit eight, most of the units include two interrelated lessons - one of which focuses on a conversation and one on a reading selection. Throughout, each unit is geared toward a specific theme, such a family, various Jewish Holidays, travel, the Holocaust, the Yiddish Press, Israel, the weather, and more. Supplementary reading material is found throughout the text.

Volume 1 cassettes

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The two volumes are designed to be used in tandem, and they are excellent textbooks to use in a formal classroom setting. However, what I like most about these books is that they are ideal for independent learners who are working on their own. In addition, answer keys and companion audio recordings on CD (also available on cassettes) are available for each volume. These audio recordings are essential tools for the independent learner, and a great study aid for those using these books in a formal setting. That is because these audio components are keyed to the text and they allow you to hear the dialogues, stories, grammar exercises, songs and proverbs, and other components of the text read by skilled and proficient speakers of standard Yiddish - featuring the voices of Sheva Zucker, Alexander Botwinik, and Benna Adele Kessler. As well, the audio companion set for Volume one also includes a bonus CD illustrating various Yiddish dialects, including the various dialects commonly heard in Bukovina, Bessarabia, Ukraine, Lithuania Belarus, Hungary, and Poland. These recordings not only give you an opportunity to hear the material found in the book, but they also provide you with the opportunity to practice your listening and speaking skills.

When you enroll in a college or adult level Yiddish language course, odds are you will not have a choice as to which textbook is used in the course. If your instructor has selected Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture by Sheva Zucker as your class text, you are in for an enjoyable and profitable foray into the world of Yiddish. If you are interested in learning Yiddish on your own, this is the best textbook that I've seen for self-learners. The lessons are intelligible and easy to follow, and the text includes a wide variety of reading selections that are geared toward an adult audience and which are downright fun to read. The readings include not only traditional dialogues, but also a sampling of short stories, poetry, and other writings by prominent Yiddish writers such as Sholem Aleichem, I. B. Singer, I. L. Peretz, and many others, as well as a plethora of songs and various proverbs and short sayings. This eclectic assortment of readings help to engage the students interest, while at the same time introduce you to the full breadth of Yiddish culture and literature.

Dr. Sheva Zucker grew up speaking Yiddish and was for many years a Lecturer in Yiddish and Jewish Literature at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She has taught Yiddish and lectured on Yiddish culture and literature all over the world. She currently serves as the editor-in-chief of Afn Shvel, a Yiddish language literary magazine and is the executive director of the League for Yiddish. Her years of experience, both as a Yiddish speaker and as an instructor, and her obvious love of the Yiddish language, help to make this book a treasure trove of knowledge for students. In addition, students will find that by the time they have finished working through this textbook, they have gained a firm understanding of Yiddish grammar, have acquired a substantial vocabulary, developed the ability to read and write standard, Modern Yiddish with a fair degree of accuracy, and if they were diligent about practicing their speaking and listening skills - either in the classroom or by using the accompanying audio recordings, they will be well on their way to becoming proficient speakers of Yiddish.

You need to keep in mind, however, that Zucker uses standard Yiddish in this text - by standard I mean the form of 'standardized' Yiddish being promoted by the YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research) and which is used in most academic circles. While this text will give you a functional proficiency in both written and oral Yiddish, in the real world you will encounter variations to the Yiddish you are learning in the textbook - in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and even in some of the words used for various objects. Yiddish is a dynamic language that for centuries was anything but standardized. For example, groups from different regions have tended to incorporate local words into their 'Yiddish' and many religious groups, such as the Chasidim, for which Yiddish is still used as the common vernacular, use many terms and slang that are particular to their various groups. Nonetheless, there are enough similarities between the many variations of Yiddish that are currently in use, and the modern standardized form of Yiddish that you will learn in this book, that with a little effort on your part, you should have little trouble communicating with those whose Yiddish does not adhere to the standardized form.

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By the time you finish studying this textbook, you will also find that you have gained a deep appreciation of secular Yiddish literature and culture. Best of all, from a student's viewpoint, Zucker has a knack for explaining the finer points of Yiddish grammar with panache, making what could be seen as a rather dull subject not only understandable, but enjoyable to study. In addition, the audio recordings, when combined with the two-part Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture textbook, constitutes a complete course in Modern Yiddish that is equivalent in my estimation, to a two-year or 3-4 semester introductory college level sequence in Yiddish, a course that can be effectively completed with or without a teacher. While the audio recordings serve as an excellent study aid for students studying Yiddish in a formal setting, they are essential if you are working through this textbook on your own. The recordings will not only aid you in learning to pronounce Yiddish correctly and to hone your listening skills, but they also provide you with an opportunity to practice your speaking skills as you answer the many questions posed to you by the readers.

Each unit in this book includes instruction in Yiddish grammar, including an assortment of conversations/dialogues and readings, and each includes a variety of exercises that will help you to internalize the material understudy and to test your understanding of the material. If you are working through these books on your own, you will want to get the answer key that accompanies each volume in the set. In most cases, Zucker provides more than one right answer for each question. As well, the answer key for volume one also includes an English-Yiddish Glossary for both volumes one and two, as well as a Verb Key for both volumes. If you see a picture of the answer keys, it looks like these might be old fashioned photo-copied answer keys. While they are not bound volumes, these answer keys have been expertly printed - and the text is clear, dark, and easy to read.

In Conclusion

If you are interested in learning Modern Yiddish, Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture is an ideal text from which to begin your studies. Zucker will not only provide you with a solid foundation in Yiddish grammar, but she also prepares you to tackle Yiddish texts on your own or to continue on with more advance courses in Yiddish. I highly recommend Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture, volumes 1 and 2.

A word about where to purchase Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature & Culture and its various components . While you can obtain some of the components of this 'course' from online booksellers such as, you can only obtain the complete course from two sources that I know of. You can order both volumes of the textbooks, the audio recordings, and the answer keys either directly from the author at: or from the Jewish Book Center of the Workmen's Circle.

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