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How to Learn Yiddish

A guide to courses, tools and programs or mastering the ‘mamaloshen.’

By Sara Chava Teresa Safer at The Nosher ( with Judie Jacobson

So you want to make your bubbe (grandmother) qvell and shep naches (swell with pride) with your mastery of the mamaloshen (“mother tongue”) but you don’t know where to turn for guidance? Hang on to your shtreimel and stop kvetching (complaining)– help has arrived.

To help set you off on the Yiddisheshe Yellow Brick Road, beginning with the Jan. 12 issue, we will introduce into the pages of the Ledger a Yiddish word or phrase of the week.

Of course, one word/phrase a week is nice, but it will hardly give you the linguistic tools you’ll need to talk about, say, the ins and outs and ups and downs of the new tax bill, or the revelations revealed on last week’s episode Real Housewives of Atlanta.

For that you might one want to take advantage of one of the many classes and workshops available – some online, some in-person.


But first…

Consider your goals, as well as your resources in terms of time and money. Do you want to be able to converse with Yiddish-speaking family and friends or read family records? Or do you want to learn Yiddish as one step in reconnecting with your Jewish roots?

If you don’t necessarily want to speak the language, a book may suffice. If you care more about speaking than reading, an in-person or online course in which you can interact with others verbally will be a better bet. Cost and time are also important factors. While immersion programs can be efficient and fun, they are also the most expensive, especially when you factor in travel, room and board. Online classes can cost a few hundred dollars, but books may clock in under $50. Self-paced classes may work best for those with unpredictable schedules, while courses held at specific days and times work for those who are able to clear out blocks of time from their schedule and who need the structure in order to stay on task.

Now that that’s out of the way… here are various resources for learning Yiddish. Prices are not included as they may change from semester to semester. You may also want to inquire locally about courses offered at universities, synagogues and Jewish community centers near you. If you know of other useful resources or have feedback about any of those listed, leave a comment below or email



Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture (Sheva Zucker)

This series teaches Yiddish literacy, grammar and vocabulary in an accessible, straightforward way. It also utilizes excerpts from classic Yiddish literature to help teach the language and familiarize students with the monuments of Yiddish culture.



Workmen’s Circle – Taught via videoconference, for those at various levels of knowledge. Recordings of each seminar are e-mailed to students. Advanced courses are taught completely in Yiddish and focus on Yiddish literature and history. For serious Yiddish lovers, there is even an advanced course on understanding the nuances of Yiddish grammar. Classes are held weekly for a 10-week semester.



Columbia University (New York City) – Degree programs in Yiddish Studies. Classes include Elementary Yiddish I and II, Intermediate Yiddish I and II, Yiddish for Academic Purposes, and Reading-Yiddish Literature. A class may not be available during all semesters. Non-matriculated students may take one class per semester.

Universität Salzburg (Salzburg, Austria) – Salzburg University’s Jewish Cultural History allows students to focus on secular Jewish cultural history as opposed to having only a religious focus. Three semesters of Yiddish instruction are part of the master’s track program, and students have the chance to work with experts in Yiddish literature. While one may enter the master’s degree program, courses are open to non-matriculated students.

Workmen’s Circle (New York City) – Class options include Beginners Yiddish I, II, and III; Intermediate Yiddish I and II; Advanced Yiddish; and a selection of courses that focus on important figures in Yiddish literature, such as Sholem Aleichem, I.L. Peretz and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Classes are held once a week over a 10-week semester.

YIVO (New York City) – An array of in-person courses, from beginner to advanced, at YIVO’s Manhattan headquarters (15 West 16th St.). Courses generally meet once a week for 10 weeks, 15 West 16th Street in Manhattan.



The Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program (Tel Aviv, Israel) – A four-week immersion program held at Tel Aviv University. Students attend Yiddish courses and participate in workshops and excursions. Instruction is geared towards both native English and Hebrew speakers, and students of all nationalities are welcome to apply. Program dates for 2018 are June 28-July 25. Students earn four college credits upon completion of program. Full-time students enrolled in degree programs are eligible for a scholarship.

Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature & Culture (New York City) – Six-week summer immersion program sponsored by the YIVO Institute and Bard College. Courses range from absolute beginner to advanced and include instruction not only in reading, writing and speaking, but also in the history and culture of Yiddish. Sign up for YIVO’s newsletter to keep up to date on upcoming registration dates and deadlines. Scholarships are available; students needing housing can stay at the International House.

Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, Massachusetts) – Both a one-week winter immersion program and a seven-week summer immersion program are offered. The one-week program, YiddishSchool, is geared towards beginner, advanced beginner and intermediate learners, and is open to all age groups. The 2018 YiddishSchool program runs April 22-27. For the seven-week program students may stay in dormitory suites at Hampshire College, which is within walking distance of the Yiddish Book Center. Students can earn up to six college credits. The program is available to undergraduate and graduate students between ages 18 and 26. Tuition is free; however, housing is $1,400 (not including meals). Stipends are available to participants in the Yiddish Book Center’s internship program.

Yiddish Farm (Goshen, New York) – Two options: A two-week summer program, or shorter-term volunteering and learning opportunities. For the summer immersion program, which runs April 23-June 13, participants are expected to reside on the farm and perform work there. Students of all ages, ethnicities, and religions are welcome to participate, although the farm is shomer shabbes. English is allowed to be spoken the first week of the course, but after that, only Yiddish is allowed, regardless of proficiency level. College credits are available. Volunteering is free, but participants must pay for housing if required.



These apps are not the only ones on the App Store and Google Play, but they were recommended by individual educators. Most cost under $10; some are free.

Pocket Polyglot Yiddish – This iOS app uses digital flashcards, audio recordings of native speakers and multiple-choice quizzes. Words and phrases are grouped by topic, and learning is self-paced. Available for iOS and Android.

Radio Yiddish Pour Tous – This free app enables you to listen to Yiddish music, including klezmer. Available for iOS and Android.

uTalk Classic Learn Yiddish – Teaches essential everyday Yiddish words and phrases. Vocabulary is reinforced through quizzes, images and other tools. This app even enables you to record yourself and compare your pronunciation to that of native speakers! Available for iOS. ($7.99)

Yiddish Slang Dictionary and Quiz – This free app teaches Yiddish slang, as well as Yiddish words that you could use as slang. Available for both iOS and Android.



Yiddish Music on iTunes – Many Yiddish songs and albums are available for purchase on iTunes. A few notable works include selections by contemporary Montreal-based klezmer band Shtreiml as well as traditional songs such as “Oyfn Pripetshok.”

Teglicher Forverts – A free Yiddish-language e-mail newsletter published by the Yiddish Daily Forward. Content is about Jewish news and current global events. The website is navigable in both Yiddish and English, and a print version is also available.

Yiddish Book Center – On the Yiddish Book Center’s website, browse and read a variety of Yiddish works. The digitized collection includes classics of Yiddish literature, such as S. Ansky’s drama Der Dybbuk, as well as Yiddish translations of English-language literature, such as Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Download and print out PDFs free of charge.

YIVO – In addition to Yiddish-language courses, YIVO offers online and in-person courses in English that teach about Yiddish culture, literature and history, including Introduction to Old Yiddish (in-person), Folksong, Demons, and the Evil Eye: Folklore of Ashkenaz (online). More are in development. Sign up for its newsletter to receive updates on classes.

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