Wednesday 15 March 2023

The Adventures of L-Plate Bubbe: Homework (Jews do it backwards)

So, I have come to the conclusion that these gurus and so-called lifestyle experts who recommend learning a language in old age to keep the brain active, haven't actually tried it. As soon as a new piece of vocabulary arrives, one learned earlier disappears.

In nautical terms, we are Week 5: Still At Sea.

Luckily there are only three main tenses in Yiddish: present, past, and future, although I have discovered a fourth one, which creeps over me whenever I am faced with another piece of dialogue featuring Rokhel and Dovid, the Janet and John of my Yiddish primer.

For those who have never seen Yiddish on the page, it reads right to left, which meant initially I found myself writing the English translation back to front. Don't know what part of my brain that came from.

Then there is the vexed question of the vowels. In Hebrew, which I learned from age 7, and have now forgotten entirely, the vowels are lavish, plentiful and sit under the consonants like good helpful little soldiers. In Yiddish, they lurk in unaccustomed places or are absent without leave and you are just expected to know they are there. Even though they clearly aren't. 

The rest of the class marches on. I straggle behind them, laboriously spelling out the words letter by letter in a strangled whisper and hoping that the very sociable cat that belongs to one of the younger students will make an unexpected appearance on her screen, so we can all be distracted and I can catch up, albeit briefly.

For our current homework (Yiddish: heimarbet) we have been asked  to write about our family. The rest of the class, shiny-eyed and keen, have requested complicated lists of words like 'step grandchild', 'adopted daughter', 'same-sex couple' etc. My offering consists of four short sentences:

I have a husband. 

I have a daughter. 

She has 2 children. 

My parents are dead.

time in better get will it but


  1. Oh you do make me laugh, Carol. They say it’d good for the brain bit I can see it’s even better for your sense of humour. Lovely! I’m enjoying these posts!

  2. My heimarbet has been returned. With corrections. I think I am at a minus C


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