Question & Answer With Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Yiddish
A Simple Jew asks:
What made you desire to learn Yiddish? What practical steps did you take to go about learning the language in order to be able to attain a certain level of understanding?
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin answers:
I have always been interested in learning languages so when I spent my junior year in Oxford, I had the opportunity to have a Yiddish tutorial. I learned a little bit there as well as in my senior year in college (There are a few text books one can get). By the time I went to Eretz Yisroel I had some basic knowledge and was able to understand and communicate in a very simplistic way.
When I was in Eretz Yisroel, I took every opportunity I could to practice. When I stayed by the Koidenover Rebbe, I was able to hear it spoken in his home. We also communicated in Yiddish and his divrei Torah at the tish Friday night or Shalosh Seudos were always in Yiddish. It is a lot easier to understand Divrei Torah in Yiddish as they often incorporate the original sources in lashon hakodesh. I could get the general gist of things.
Finally, there are many meshulachim visiting from Eretz Yisroel who speak Yiddish and I have a lot of shiurim in Yiddish from Rabbi Moshe Wolfson which I listen to. He speaks fairly clear. As with any language, the best way to learn it is immersion. While I definitely would like to improve my fluency, I know enough to get by and to have access to an entire section of Yiddishkeit that would otherwise be inaccessible.
A language is a key into an entire world, it is like trying to learn but not knowing lashon hakodesh.