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Yiddish Duolingo: A love-hate relationship?

The long awaited day is here! Yiddish is finally out on Duolingo. Nu, right after Finnish, but it's here.


Many of my students are now in the midst of playing, some for the very first time, the popular language-learning app, and my inbox has been flooded with responses. Well, it's a mixed bag...


"But what’s with the accent? Are there options?"
"Oh man the accents are not great. All their "u"s sound like "ee". Blum sounds like blim."
"I will certainly use it, but I am taking their quiz right now to figure out my level and some of their pronunciation is incorrect. I don’t think that matters terrifically much, but it was noticeable."

The main snag is the pronunciation. Duolingo decided to go Hasidic (Hungarian Yiddish), while adopting standardized Yiddish grammar and spelling, associated with the YIVO. A sensible decision since most native speakers of Yiddish are Hasidic, but a strange combination indeed.


Even so, other students are overjoyed. Hershele, an advanced beginner, writes:


"I love it! It’s what I have been waiting for! I already started mayn Duolingo Yiddish kurs mit a groys shmeykhl" [I started my course with a big smile]

Hershele in the midst of playing Yiddish Duolingo

Based on these first impressions, I think people are either gonna hate or love Yiddish Duolingo, but I don't think they will stop using it altogether. It'll be a love-hate relationship...


As for me, I love it! I think it's a great resource and free to boot! What's more, it's another sign that Yiddish is alive and well, and users will surely feel encouraged to take Yiddish classes in the future!


 

For a deeper review of Yiddish Duolingo, read Jordan Kutzik's article in the Forward.


To download the app, click here.















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I have been using Duolingo Yiddish every day (I'm on a 32-day streak!), and I like its ease of use and how it helps implant new vocabulary and grammar in my aging (and aged) brain. I listen to the pronunciation and then repeat sentences in the modern, academic mode I've been taught. I think their decision to go with a "living" pronunciation was the result of those who were developing the program. For new students of the language and those who've been studying for a number of years, it's a distraction. I may be wrong, but my impression is that Haredi Yiddish speakers have zero interest in conversing with me in Yiddish. Nor with anyone else who isn't already a…


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Marcio Zalc
Marcio Zalc
Apr 12, 2021

I loved it. Yes, there are many details that will be corrected soon. I enthusiastically adopted the Duolingo standard (YIVO grammar and Hassidic pronunciation). It has been very hard to change because I was used with the YIVO pronunciation but it is worth for me. I grew up listening Yiddish and the Yivo standard never sounded natural. Any way, we should concentrate in studying and making the number of Yiddish speakers grow around the world and not which way should be imposed as the standard pronunciation.

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There has been plenty written online already about the fact they went with a Hassidic/Hungarian Yiddish dialect, a real living dialect. Also they have clearly released the course in *beta* mode. Have you done any other course in beta mode or did thousands of other users come before you and did the collaborative work of improving the course? There's nothing unprofessional about it. It's intentionally part of the process of releasing a course. If you don't want to be part of the public beta testing stage then don't be, but you can't compare a beta release to a finished course.

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Reb Noyekh
Reb Noyekh
Apr 09, 2021
Replying to

I noticed. I’m not sure if everyone gets notified. I do.

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Chana Siegel
Chana Siegel
Apr 07, 2021

I have been using Duo for several years. It has successfully rebooted my college German and helped me to make a start in Ukrainian. It's very good for spelling and vocabulary practice, and it can help "break the ice" on getting you to start opening your mouth to start speaking, which is a big hurdle for most of us. (Repetition, repetition, repetition. You can't practice enough.)

I have been following their Scottish Gaelic course, and it has boosted the popularity of that language tremendously.

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Reb Noyekh
Reb Noyekh
Apr 07, 2021
Replying to

I look forward to seeing further developments too!

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I started Yiddish Dualingo. the accent is indeed terrible and some of the words they don’t even bother to pronounce, just skipping them like they not even there. I’m doing it do improve my grammar and enlarge my vocabulary. 5-10 minutes a day practice. To get serious I’m reading Shalom Aleichem and he can also make me laugh.


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Replying to

To me it sounded unprofessional; unlike other languages offered in Dualingo and I study a few...

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