It’s all about now

“Scheiße” (shit), “genau” (exactly), and “ach so…” are probably the three things you will hear Germans say most often. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Japan I hear “ach so…” so often.

While picking up these few words was easy enough, clearly my German needs improving. I’ve been watching a bit of German TV, and although I can’t understand most of what’s going on, I’m definitely picking up a few words here and there. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is definitely beyond me though – I’m still trying to read the question, and they’ve already answered it and moved on.

While it’s true that a lot of Germans speak passable English, I don’t want to be one of those English-speaking people that just assumes everyone speaks English – you know, if you say it LOUDER and more s-l-o-w-l-y, then of course the foreigners will understand…

Passable English
Passable English

Considering I’ve only been here around six weeks, I don’t think I’m doing too badly. However, I have no past and no future in German; I can only speak in the present. While Germans say that they don’t like small talk, they are, in fact, rather chatty. So, in the supermarket, or in a restaurant, you’ll hear me saying things like “I live in Latvia four year and now I live in Berlin six week”. Still, they seem to understand – or at least they pretend that they do – even though my grammar and pronunciation are all over the shop.

So, I’ve been working away on Duolingo by myself, learning such useful expressions as “The dog has a horse” and “We are drinking the water”.

Yes, she did.
Yes, she did.

I’ve been flying through levels, earning Lingots left, right and centre. I breezed through basics, food, clothes, animals, phrases, plurals and adjectives, feeling smug that this German lark was so much easier than I’d expected – or maybe, just maybe, I was some kind of language whizz-kid and I’d never realised it before…

My confidence sufficiently boosted, I decided that, in order to really make progress, I would have to start taking proper lessons. So, I contacted a school that does evening classes and asked about the next available beginners’ course. I felt like I just had to add that I’d been studying online as well – just so they knew that I wasn’t their average hopeless beginner.

The nice lady said that as I had previous German experience, I should take a placement test. Ha, no problem – their puny German test would be no match for my awesome language skills. You’d think that by the ripe old age of 36, I’d have more sense. And more humility.

My ego deflated slightly as I was taking the test – I’d say I understood around 10% of it. Still, as it was multiple choice, I figured I had to be right at least some of the time. What would my result be? I was excited to have my genius acknowledged.

Five, yes, FIVE out of forty.
Five, yes, FIVE out of forty.

You read it correctly – 5/40. Scheiße. And they even said “Congratulations!” – though I’m not sure what for. I got a fit of the giggles when I read it, and reminded myself not to be so damn cocky in future. My German sucks. I now have that in black and white.

But it will get better – this is as much of a certainty as the smell of weed that hits you every time you walk out of the train station at Warschauer Straße. My course starts on the 4th of November and, of course, I’m secretly hoping to be the best in the class.

Let’s hope I learn German faster than I learn life lessons.

 

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102 thoughts on “It’s all about now”

    1. It’s definitely great for picking up some of the basics! And the constant repetition means you’re sort of learning conjugations without even thinking that much about it! I’m listening to Elvis’ ‘Wooden Heart’ now and trying to make out one word he’s singing 😉 I reckon Elvis’ German wasn’t that good either though 😉

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  1. errrrrr….I live Italy 8 years and I speak Italian little. Ha, ha, ha…..that is for sure how I sound when I attempt some Italian. We only speak English at home and I am always on whatsapp with my sisters or using the internet only in English…even the tv! we have sky, so I am lazy and only watch stuff in English. It is like I have created a whole little American world right here in Italy. (and that includes apple pie and chocolate chip cookies) Also…everyone wants to practice their English…so I get few chances to speak Italian. After the first year or two, it was ok…but EIGHT years?!?!?!?! I am sure your German is about as good as my Italian.

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      1. Yes – – – well for lessons I would have to do private lessons because I am at this weird stage. Too advanced for the lessons offered on a group level, and the private lessons are kinda pricey…then there is ALWAYS that issue of TIME! I am already jumping around like a maniac, adding Italian and paying for it does not interest me. I admit I am just lazy…could attempt some Italian with hubby or watch tv in Italian…but – – – YUK to hearing Russell Crowe dubbed in Italian….I mean the voices they give some of the actors are ALL WRONG…..can’t stand watching that stuff. Anyway…it pretty much comes down to being L.A.Z.Y

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        1. Ha, I’ve yet to hear an American/British actor sound good in German! For me, it adds to the entertainment though 😉 Maybe there are some language exchanges or something? Your English for their Italian? Then it’s free! 🙂

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  2. The online courses are good, but it’s no substitute for having a conversation partner in a class.

    Maybe by the end of the course you’ll know when one of the Millionaire contestants are using one of their lifelines. 🙂

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  3. Have you read David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day”? He has a few funny essays about attempting to take French classes in French. Not quite the same thing, but your wild swing from hubris to humility reminded me of it.

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    1. Ha, no I haven’t but it sounds like my sort of thing! I’ll keep an eye out for it! I have a French student now – he had to learn German first and now he’s learning English. The challenges of modern business!

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  4. Linda,

    Congrats on signing up for the course!

    While I love Duolingo, I work on it in spurts with months off at a time, so it isn’t as effective as it could be. Then the next hurdle is sticking with the courses. I’ve done two lessons recently and constantly wonder if I will be able to stick with it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

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    1. Yeah, I just signed up for 8 weeks for now – I want to make sure I like the school and the teacher before signing up for any longer. Must be horrible teaching another teacher 😉

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  5. Good luck with your new language pursuits, Linda! I’ll enjoy reading your reality, with the healthy dose of humor you add. I’m sure I’ll recognize some of my own learn-a-new-language journey; maybe I’ll be able to laugh at myself even more now. 🙂

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  6. The problem with language tests is that even if you can pass them, it doesn’t mean you can speak the language. I know. I’ve passed Spanish and French tests … and I still barely speak English 😉

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    1. Ha ha! I don’t know, your English seems pretty good to me 😉
      Yeah, I’m just happy that I can cobble together sentences right now – obviously I want to get much better but it’s a start! And Germans are helpful when it comes to the language!

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        1. It really makes such a difference! And every time I walk in or out of my building, some neighbour or other says hello. I think that happened to me twice in four years in LV 😉 Even if I held the door open for a woman with a buggy or something, she’d just walk through without even a thank you. And these are all things that cost nothing – just make life a little more pleasant!

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      1. german past times are the nightmare of my foreighn students. be prepared…… (at least our future time is quite simple, not like the Russians who have a whole bunch of different forms of future and can say “I will go to the store” in a bunch of different ways.) english future and past were always a pain for me at school…

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        1. I can understand that! People are always using present perfect where they should be using past simple as well – I’ve been to the shop yesterday. NEIN!
          Sounds like I’ve got some fun times ahead 😉

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  7. Haha, Duolingo. It’s sooo easy to get through the levels there. I still don’t understand shit in SPanish though 😉

    I always used to watch shows I already knew to help with my German – mostly ER. Admittedly I spent half my time shouting at the TV “But that’S not how he talks!!”, but having seen the episode already I knew what was going on and could concentrate on picking up new vocab.

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  8. I think it is wonderful that you’re taking German Linda. It will no doubt endear you to your English students and will help you in your teaching by allowing you to feel the other side simultaneously. I’ve had a number of teachers in adult learning situations, and all of them were taking courses simultaneously for exactly that reason. One teacher was presenting a new computer language developed for IBM AS/400 mainframe computers and when i asked him how he kept up, he replied that the only way was to work full time in programming and teach fulltime – so 40 hrs working and 40 hrs teaching perweek. Tikes! And they say teachers have it easy – not in my book they don’t.

    Your enthusiasm will carry you through Linda.

    Great post – very upbeat.

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    1. Thanks Paul! Yeah, I’m really excited about it actually. First of all, it’s just nice to start learning ANYTHING again, and second of all, German is so useful. And if I’m planning on staying here for a long time, then it’s just essential!

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  9. Haha, those are three of the most useful things to know, that’s for sure! And good on you for even signing up for a course! That’s something I’ve yet to do (laziness + weird teaching schedules are a lethal mix). I’m sure you’ll be able to score at least 10 points on that test in no time!

    ps~ I’m heatherinde on duolingo, if you want to compete against someone! 🙂

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    1. Ooh, I’ll find you later! I’m sure you’re way ahead of me though! Yeah, I managed to find an evening course, which is quite rare. A lot of them are intensive – 4 hours a day – and I just don’t have time for that. Hoping this one is good! Obviously the intensive one would be better but I just don’t have 4 hours a day for weeks on end right now!

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  10. Look at your score of 5 out of 40 on the positive side – there will be some people in the group with a score of zero….. therefore you will be better than them already!! Your competitive streak and desire to be the best will survive – you are not the worst! 🙂

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  11. I think that’s great! So this is way off topic (what’s new?) But I was driving today and got this flash of you planning your wedding, wondering if it should be in Germany or Ireland. (I know. It’s’s so completely random. But that’s why is compelling. I wasn’t thinking of anything other than getting home.) Point being, I think it’s great fire the obvious reasons. We all know you’ll excel. But you may also meet some really nice people.

    Btw, I do not have a matchmaker streak in me at all. Not my thing. And you probably don’t even want someone to come along and complicate your life. It’s just weird that’s all.

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      1. Omg!!!! I Love that! It was so weird. I was driving on a busy street and looked up at a billboard and suddenly your wedding invitation was written on it, big as you please! Lol. The fact that it was on a billboard kind of makes sense because your blog is read by so many people.

        So who is this guy? ??

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          1. Good. Keep it that way. But I’m sending you good thoughts. It’s very weird when it happens. Sometimes I just see things clearly that are random, for no apparent reason. My son pointed it out to me years ago, that they often end up happening.

            Regardless, I’m just happy you are finally in a safe environment and life is good!!! That was the roommate from hell.

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            1. Speaking of, have to go there today to pick up some mail. He’s helpfully put it on top of the mailboxes downstairs where everyone comes in and out of the building. Along with some other stuff I forgot in my haste to get out of there. Just hope it’s still there in a couple of hours. But at least it sounds like I won’t have to see him.

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                1. That sucks. But hopefully, nobody cares and will just leave it alone. Besides, they don’t know if you’re still living there or not. At least you can count on one thing, the crazy suede will go on being his own worst enemy. So add miserable add he made you, he’ll continue to bring about double that on himself. Funny thing is, I did have a slight sense of nostalgia because he did sound a bit like my ex. Lol

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                2. Me too – otherwise everything is on hold for another week while I cancel stuff and reapply for it. There’s also a photograph of me and my Irish besties that I’d hate to lose. Can’t see anyone stealing that though!

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  12. Should I continue with Duolingo? Or, stay with DW ‘warum nicht?’. That iTunes course isn’t too bad, and probably at a more adult level. Oh well, ich Fahren los. Auf weidersehen, Pet.

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  13. Oh, yeah, Duolingo has this great quality – it creates the impression that you’re the shit so well, even though in most cases the article is misplaced there. 🙂

    Personally, when I saw that the Duo course was becoming unsatisfactory, I looked into adapted texts, and one of the first things I did were the Carsten Tsara crime stories:

    https://shop.hueber.de/de/catalogsearch/result/?q=carsten+tsara

    The stories are quite nice and varied, considering the fact that they were written for A2–B1 students. Plus, these books come with the full audio recording of the entire text.

    The way I usually proceeded with these books was to re-read and listen to the pages I’d read the previous day (paying attention to the words I underscored – meaning I’d had to check them), and read 2–3, later 5–10, new pages of the story.

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      1. Do try them – they’re really enjoyable, and there is enough of character development for me to wish that the author did a bigger book in this series. 🙂

        And gobbling up 30 pages of Remarque an hour while doing some vocabulary training a year later, I think those baby steps weren’t exactly useless. 😉

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      2. Oh, I envy you, actually: with Berlin and German students/flatmates, you’ve got the whole immersion thing going, it’d be a shame not to progress at all. 🙂 The only German I hear live is from occasional conversations I hear in the street (which isn’t too rare, interestingly). Otherwise, it’s the telly, and the online course I’m taking. 🙂

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        1. Yes, it is a great opportunity! Though in the area I live in, I hear more English on the streets than German! In the first area, there was a lot of Russian 😉 Still, I’m bound to improve some language or other! 🙂

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      3. Russian is not surprising at all: after all, there are over 2 million Russian Germans in Germany – during my short stay in Frankfurt a couple of years ago, I heard some Russian in the residential neighbourhoods, and when I got lost once at a train station (no knowledge of German at all), I stumbled on a Russian-speaking family, who showed me the way. 🙂

        Do you have Germans obstinately speaking English with you even when you try to speak German? I’ve got a friend from Spain, who lives in Cologne, and whose German is good (studied it at uni), but who is desperate for spoken practice – people hear the accent and immediately switch to English. 🙂

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        1. No, I haven’t really found that – maybe a small percentage will switch. The majority will answer you in German if you speak in German. Sometimes they’ll answer you in German if you speak English 😉 It was the other way around in Latvia!

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      4. Oh, I had a weird experience like this about a week ago, when I clearly spoke to the shop attendant in Latvian – it wasn’t a conversation, I just greeted her, but she switched to English. 🙂 (I also bought something for 6 euros, but instead of ‘seši’ she said ‘six’, which sounded like ‘simts’ to me – I didn’t expect English to come up all of a sudden – and I thought ‘¡wtf, I checked the tags, it wasn’t a hundred!’).

        I’ve never thought I looked like a foreigner, and it wasn’t a very touristy place even – a shoe shop in Alfa. 🙂

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        1. Ha ha! Latvians are terrible for doing that! Every foreigner I know has just given up at this stage. Everyone goes there with the best of intentions but it’s just so frustrating!

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      5. Well, then you can imagine how weird it was for me. 🙂 I mean, my pronunciation is quite good – I can even pass for a native speaker if I don’t have to talk at length – not to mention the whole ‘living all my life here’ bit. 🙂

        Oh, and here’s a juicy bit of off-topic that I know you’ll love – I passed by an H&M today (in another desperate bid to find brown gloves) – and saw something unbelievable shown off on a mannequin there: a one-piece leopard cat suit, which also had a piece with leopard cat ears you put on your head. It really looked something out of a sex shop (in all fairness, this sort of context is where a suit like this could be remotely tolerable 😉 ).

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        1. Thanks! 🙂 Yes, I feel guilty when people have to switch to English for me – especially my flatmates! They’re German, in Germany, and they’re speaking English for my benefit. They don’t mind, of course, but it would be great to chat to them in German!

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  14. Linda the student. Ha! I kind of now imagine some smug Latvian thinking – here’s for all that sniggering she did on her Latvian English students. Anyhow, I am confident too that you’ll be a whizz in your class. And if ya don’t, then at least we all here will be looking for a good piece of laugh out loud blog pieces to come 😉 I’ll drink to that the last of my tonight’s Schofferhofer bier. Cheers

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        1. 3 hours a week – 90 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I can’t wait to get started! I think the first couple of lessons might be a bit dull as I know some basics, but I’m hoping to improve a lot before Christmas. I need some kind of structure. It will also be a good way of meeting people!

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