Did your parents and grandparents converse in a secret language when discussing things they didn't want the children to understand? If your family roots are in Eastern Europe, it was likely Yiddish.
My parents and grandparents did the same to us. However, after I learned Farsi, my husband and I spoke it together when we didn't want relatives to know what we were saying. They really didn't like that at all!
I'm sorry that the younger generations "lost" Yiddish. I took a class ages ago at NYU, didn't keep up with it and have regretted it since I became involved in genealogy. If you feel that now's the time to make the language connection to your ancestors, there are year-round Yiddish classes in many places, as well as international summer programs offering intensive training.
Here are a few of the summer programs. They vary in length and price; click on them to learn more.
Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature & Culture
June 30-August 8, 2008 - NYU Manhattan Campus, New York City
Daily intensive language course, four levels, develop proficiency in speaking, reading, writing an cultural literacy. Required afternoon conversation classes and lecture series. Resources: NYU's Skirball Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies, the largest North American university program in Jewish studies. YIVO is at the nearby Center for Jewish History, with an extensive library and archives - one of the world's major collections.
Heritage Tour with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute
June 22-July 2, 2008 - Tour of Eastern Europe
A unique travel experience, to see Litvak Jewish life - its profoundly rich past, its vibrant present and its challenging future. Meet with historians, linguists and folklorists at the Institute. Travel to Riga and Kaunas, shtetls and more. The 10-day tour includes expert speakers and intimate, in-depth meetings and discussion with members of the Lithuanian and Latvian Jewish communities and prominent governmental leaders.
Vilnius Yiddish Institute: Yiddish Language & Literature
July 27-August 22, 2008 - Vilnius, Lithuania
Four levels (total beginners to advanced) plus a rich cultural program of lectures, tours and music. Includes local/international cultural experts; performances, film, musical events; performances, film and musical events; international specialists, survivors and scholars; local and Jewish history seminars; tours. The Vilnius Yiddish Institute is the preeminent Eastern European center for Yiddish scholarship, conducting continuing original research on language and culture, and year-round/summer university level instruction.
2nd Birobidzhan International Summer Yiddish Program
August 19-September 7, 2008 - Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region, Russia and Harbin Jewish Heritage Seminar
International summer program of Yiddish language and culture in Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Russian Far East, with participation of Yiddish-studies lecturers from international universities. Since 1934, it has been the only place in the world where Yiddish was the official state language. Academic scholars from the nearby Chinese city of Harbin will join the program this year. In the early 20th century, Harbin was home to a large Russian, Yiddish and English-speaking Jewish community. Visit Khabarovsk, and the final days of the program are focused on Jewish Harbin, and interested participants will have a chance to travel there.
The successful summer Yiddish program at Tel Aviv University has been cancelled for 2008 as academic classes will continue into July following a prolonged nationwide faculty strike; it will return in 2009.