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Duolingo Can Help Keep Yiddish Alive

I have been inspired by the renewed interest in the Irish language that the Duolingo course has evoked. People all over the world interested in Irish culture have had their first linguistic experience with Irish, thousands of miles from Ireland. I thought, perhaps the same thing could be done with Yiddish.

While more people speak Yiddish than Irish around the world, the language itself is losing speakers rapidly, by about a thousand speakers every year. All of my great-grandparents spoke Yiddish, two of my grandparents did, but neither of my parents do. Because I speak German already, I would appreciate the chance to learn my family's language, a language that the events of World War II all but obliterated.

For German-speakers, Yiddish is greatly intelligible. There are a lot of words and expressions, however, which originated in Hebrew and Slavic languages, and not in German. Yiddish is a language with rich history that bridges the gap between those cultures. It's time we started speaking it again.

Yiddish, like Hebrew, is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and I realize this is unprecedented for a Duolingo course. It's true that Modern Hebrew will likely be incubated before a Yiddish course, but the idea has to spread. As Irish has shown us, and as Esperanto will show us, this platform isn't just unique for it's capacity to teach languages. This website is special because it gives languages a renewed vitality and allows someone like me in Boston to start becoming fluent in Danish because I thought it sounded interesting. No expensive software will ever make money on Yiddish or Esperanto. With Yiddish and other endangered languages, Duolingo can play a major role in cultural survival.

Here is a video of Leonard Nimoy (from Star Trek, and childhood friend of my grandfather's) speaking in Yiddish, about Yiddish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QAYvI5CC5s

September 12, 2014



Find some willing contributors, and Yiddish might just have a chance. :) Among some of the factors include willing, time-sparing contributors who fit the "Duo mold", and enough support for the language.


I would love to have Yiddish on Duolingo. It's a language that I kind of feel that I was robbed of (joking) because my parents know very little Yiddish, and my grandparents were all pretty proficient/fluent, but I've never known them.

It's really cool that your grandfather was friends with Leonard Nimoy :)


Yiddish would be a wonderful addition to Duolingo!


I agree! I don't remember seeing any Yiddish speakers on Duolingo who expressed interest in making a course, though. It would be interesting to try work backwards and to spread the word about Duolingo to people in existing Yiddish preservation/revival organizations. There are several online and off, and I think they would see what a great opportunity a Duolingo course would be, and maybe be willing to help make it.


Thanks for writing this. I would love to see a Yiddish course. Yiddish was the common language of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust and I feel that learning Yiddish would be a meaningful way of connecting with that lost generation and keeping their memory alive. A Hebrew course would also be good. I am active on italki and I see that there is a need for Hebrew on duolingo.


It would actually be pretty nice. I'm studying German here, and Hebrew is one of my 2 native languages, so I can actually understand Yiddish pretty well (it's like German with a little bit of Hebrew vocab.)


I've noticed a couple interesting differences in phonology and grammar. A lot of the u and ü sounds in German are i sounds in Yiddish, like the word Yiddish itself: in German, it would be Jüdisch. Also, Yiddish is very much more like English in word order. Standard German would say something like, "ich bin in der Stadt geboren," but Yiddish, at least to my ear, would probably say something like, "ik ben geboren in de shtetl."


nobody says shtetl unless theyre from the 1900's lol, we say Shteit or shtoot :P

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I'd love to see this course. Part of why I'm doing Dutch now is to see the overwhelming similarities, but also the differences, between Dutch and German/English. I've wanted to dive into Yiddish for a long time, and this might make it possible.


I learn German and know Hebrew as a first languege, I can understand many things and Yiddish and I would really love it if an Yiddish course would be on duolingo


I speak German and I would like to learn Hebrew. Do you think Yiddish is a good transition?


Not really. Yiddish is closer to German more than to Hebrew and the Yiddish words that got into the Hebrew usually pronounce a little different


Good to know. Then I will learn Hebrew and I guess Yiddish will come quite easy to me.


Yiddish is more like German with some Hebrew words. Why do you want to learn Hebrew? Are you Jewish or that you find this specific language interesting?


I don't think I'm Jewish. I can't know for sure as they were a lot of Jewish communities in Albania during the centuries. I find Jewish very interesting indeed. Also there really good relations between Albanians and Israelis. They offered a lot of help during the Kosovo War in 1999.


I had no idea Nimoy was from a Jewish background. How surreal to see Spock reciting Hamlet in Yiddish! Great video, thanks.


This would be awesome!


For my great-grandmother Yiddish was a mother tongue, but after decades of not speaking it she gradually forgot it, and since her no one in the family speaks it anymore, save for some words, expressions, and of course songs. I am sure that the Duolingo course will help people reclaim and reconnect with a part of their identity and origins. I can only congratulate you on doing this important work and I'm staying tuned for updates. A groyse dank! ;)


BTW meanwhile I strongly recommend YiddishPop, a fun interactive flash introduction to Yiddish: yiddishpop.com


זער שיין!


There actually ARE some Yiddish TV programmes in Israel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3X2d7cjahc


Does anyone know of any progress with this? I started the German course on duo as a headstart, but would really like the Yiddish.

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