On the Importance of Speaking Yiddish
Rabbi Y. Oliver
There are many reasons to learn Yiddish and speak Yiddish, most notably that (for European Jews) it is the “mameh loshon,” the distinctive Jewish language that sets us apart from the gentile nations in our speech.
However, as a chossid there is an additional very important reason: to understand the Rebbe.
Sadly there are many chassidim who not only do not learn sichos from the original, but don’t even have the language skills to do so! They don’t know Yiddish.
Even if they regularly learn the sichos available in English or Hebrew:
1. A translation is not the same as the original;
2. There are many, many sichos that have not been translated into English or Hebrew;
3. They can’t understand the Rebbe speaking. We have such a wealth of inspiring audio (see here) and video recordings of the Rebbe speaking. Personally, I feel so uplifted when I hear the Rebbe speak, and boruch Hashem I can understand every word he’s saying. I see others viewing subtitles, and I feel sorry for them. The subtitles are good, but ... they just don’t do justice to the original. Not because they’re not well translated (they usually are), but because when you hear the words and the feeling in the words and understand it at the same time, the impact is far more powerful than when you hear the words and read text.
I have great difficulty imagining how one can feel a strong identity as a chossid, which means feeling an intensely deep bond with the Rebbe and with the Rebbe’s teachings and directives ... when he doesn't even understand the language that the Rebbe speaks! To realize how absurd this is, just imagine being married to someone and interacting solely through an interpreter!
I understand that some people may think that they don’t have the time or opportunity to learn Yiddish. But is that a reason not to try? Why not at least make it a goal, one word at a time? Perhaps learn a few words a day. Not advanced words, but basic words. It doesn’t take long to develop a basic vocabulary, to figure out the tenses, singular and plural, masculine and feminine. There are books can be obtained that explain these rules. After those basics are in place, the rest is much more easy. Especially since the Rebbe does’t speak a sophisticated Yiddish, and mixes in a lot of loshon kodesh.
Really, try it. It makes such a big difference. Instead of feeling that the Rebbe is speaking Chinese, you’ll feel that he’s speaking to you—and he is.
(See this book on Yiddish.)