I’ve just had one of the funniest lessons I’ve had in a long time. This was in no part due to my amazing skill as an English teacher, but rather due to the Germans’ amazing lack of skill when it came to something I think most six-year-olds have probably already mastered. (Not that I know anything about six-year-olds. Or want to.)
We were doing a lesson on comparatives and superlatives – you know: good, better, the best/bad, worse, the worst (or bad, badder, the baddest if you’re German and new to the language). The book wasn’t overly inspirational on this topic, so I thought I’d spice things up a bit by bringing in a game I’d found on the internet.
The game consists of a series of squares with one adjective in each. The students roll the dice and move their marker to the correct square. Once there, they have to flip a coin – if it’s heads, they have to make a comparative sentence; if it’s tails, they make a superlative sentence. Simple, right?
Bertha: Um, I don’t think I can do that.
Me: Do what?
Bertha: Flip a coin.
Bertilda: Can you show us again?
Betlinde: Yes, please show us again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.
Slightly incredulous and wondering if they might be taking the piss (unlikely, given that they are German), I placed the coin on my forefinger, deftly flicked it with my thumb, neatly caught it and slapped it onto the back of my other hand. Triumphant, I looked around at the blank faces before me.
Bertilda: Can you do it one more time?
After another flawless demonstration, it seemed like we were ready to start. I passed the coin to Bertilda and we were off. She threw the dice, moved her marker, read out the adjective, picked up the coin and… regarded it dubiously.
Me: Go on! You can do it!
The flip was more of a flub – the coin hopped about a millimetre into the air before crash landing on the table with Bertilda snatching at it wildly.
Me: Bah hahahahaha! Oh my god! Sorry, yes, erm, heads. Make your sentence.
Sentence made, the coin worked its way around the table.
Me: Come on, Betlinde! Flip that coin!
Me: Or you can just fling it at the table. That works, too.
I can best describe what Bertha did as fist pumping the coin into the air. She bungled the catch and the coin tumbled to the floor, rolling under the table. Ensuing “flips” saw the coin land everywhere in the room except for where it should have, including other people’s laps. I looked at the open window, wondering if I should close it before the battered coin made its getaway. I thought it might be a good idea to end the game before things got to that point but I was laughing too hard to speak.
Bertilda: My turn.
By now, she had developed this method of bouncing the coin between her hands as if it was burning her. Through my blur of tears of laughter, she seemed quite proud of herself.
Bertilda: “Interesting.” Umm. This English class is more interesting than my job.
Me: Aww, thank you! Wait, I don’t know how boring your job is. Maybe that’s not really a compliment.
Bertilda: Yes, my job is very boring.
While the German gift for the coin flip was a flop, it seemed the German talent for ego-piercing directness was still alive and kicking.
In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.
At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.
Frau Sau: How did you get in?
Me: A woman had the key.
Frau Sau: Huh.
She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.
Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –
Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?
Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens.
Frau Sau: For now…
Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.
Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.
– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.
Me: Hmm. OK…
Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.
Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes?
Frau Sau: (Blank look)
Me: Or is there a book that they normally use?
Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.
Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)
Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.
Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.
Frau Sau: (Blank look)
Me: Which classroom should I use?
Frau Sau: Any of them.
Frau Sau: Can you sing?
Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)
Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday.
She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.
As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?
I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.
Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…
Han: They look awful.
Me: They can smell fear, right?
On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:
“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.
Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book?
Me: That’s the book you left out for me.
Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.
Me: I’m teaching kids.
Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children.
Me: But you said 5-year-olds.
Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding.
Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids?
Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah.
German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.
Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?
Frau Sau: No.
Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them?
Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess.
I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.
The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.
I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.
Wolff: Where are you from?
Gerlinde: Where’s that?
Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)
I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.
Heribert: Am I a man?
Wolff: I HATE YOU!!!
Heribert: Donald Trump?
5 o’clock rolled around.
Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?
Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today.
Me: Nope, sorry!
Me: Yeah, I know.
Hedde: I really like your hair…
They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.
Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…
Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.
Frau Sau: I need the key back.
Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute.
Frau Sau: How did it go?
Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games.
Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those.
So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.
I know a lot of people don’t believe me when I say this but the Germans really are very funny people. Unfortunately, most of the time when they crack me up, they’re not actually trying to be funny.
A few weeks ago, I had a lesson with a really nice group. So, I thought I’d torture them with the third conditional, my favourite conditional and the bane of every English language learner’s life. You know the one I mean – if I had stayed in Latvia, I would have gone mad – that sort of thing.
Anyway, we’d got the tedious, learn-y bit out of the way so I whipped out a fun exercise I’d found on the internet. At least I thought it would be fun. It should have gone like this: the students brainstorm reasons someone could end up homeless, for example, gambling or drinking problem, financial difficulties, etc.
Once I’d written them all up on the board, the “homeless” students would then make a chain of third conditional sentences in order to convince a wealthy-looking passer-by to give them some money, e.g. If I hadn’t started gambling, I wouldn’t have lost all my money. If I hadn’t lost all my money, my wife wouldn’t have kicked me out. If my wife hadn’t kicked me out, I wouldn’t have ended up on the street. And so on.
The only thing I hadn’t factored in was, well, Germans.
Me: OK, so I’d like you to brainstorm some reasons that someone could end up homeless, like a drinking problem or relationship troubles…
Student 1: Some of them want to be homeless.
Me: OK, but let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that they don’t want to be homeless. Something bad happened.
Student 2: But some of them really do want to be homeless.
Student 3: Yeah, they want freedom.
Me: OK, but let’s assume…
Student 4: You’re right. I saw a documentary about it.
Me: OK, but…
Student 5: And you know what I really hate? When people ask me for money. I mean, I work hard for my money. I have bills to pay. Why should I just give my money to someone on the street?
Me: I think we’re going a bit off-…
Student 6: Oh! I hate that too! I mean, I’d give someone a sandwich but I’m not giving them money.
Me: Sigh. Well, it looks like we’re out of time. Good job, everyone.
A few days later, I had a conversation class with a couple of ladies who are going to England at the end of September. For the first four days, they’re staying with an elderly English couple and they’ve hired me to make them sound normal.
Me: OK, so when you get to the house, she’ll probably put on the kettle.
Frauke: What’s a kettle?
Me: What? Oh, it’s the thing you use when you want to boil water.
Frauke: Not a water cooker?
Me: (Snigger) No, it’s a kettle. So anyway, they’re English. They will put on the kettle. Tea is a national hobby.
Heike: Ugh, black tea. Probably with milk.
Frauke: But we won’t want tea at that time of night.
Me: You’re arriving at 8pm…
Heike: We will be tired. We will want to sleep.
Me: You can’t just walk in the door and go to bed. You’ll have to talk to them for a little while. She’ll probably have made some sandwiches or bought a cake.
Heike: But I will not be hungry. I will just want to sleep. Can I say I don’t want it?
Me: Well, you could but it’s probably not the best start.
Frauke: (Huge sigh) OK, then we will eat A sandwich and have a cup of black tea. Maybe I could ask if she has fruit tea.
Me: Yeah, good luck. So, when she asks you if you want a cup of tea, what will you say?
Frauke: Oh, that would be loooooovely, thank you!
Me: Wow, yes! That’s perfect!
Frauke: Yes, in English, everything is “lovely” – lovely tea, lovely weather, lovely house, lovely, lovely, lovely…
Me: Yeah, you should probably lay off the sarcasm a bit. Are you bringing them a gift? What do they like?
Heike: The husband likes photographs. Last time, I bought him a book of black and white photography.
Me: OK, nice! What are you going to get this time?
Heike: A book of colour photography?
Heike: Well, what do people think of Germans? Maybe I can get something traditionally German?
Me: Honestly? Beer, sausage, Lederhosen.
Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!
Me: Yes, I know that but, you know, people are stupid.
Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS! WE DON’T WEAR LEDERHOSEN!
Me: OK, you can educate the English when you get there. Anyway, what will you say when you hand them the present?
Frauke: I AM VERY HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THIS GIFT. ARE YOU HAPPY?
Sometimes, I really do earn my money.
(If you haven’t checked out my new blog yet, head on over there and let me know what you think.) 🙂
On New Year’s Eve, I was out of bed by 9 for breakfast. Much as I love being a “Continental European”, I will never get on board with the continental breakfast – especially not in the depths of winter. Someone else could have the slabs of cold meat and cheese. I was having cereal, raisin toast and a lovely big pot of tea.
After that, it was back to my room to shower and psyche myself up for my first ever walk in the forest. I toyed with the idea of going full-on Latvian and wearing heels but the Germans might kick me out for that. Sensible footwear it was.
I’d seen people heading down a little lane opposite the hotel, so that was where I started. The skies were ominous but the walk was actually quite… pleasant. I’d pass the odd dog-walker every now and then and we’d exchange smiles and hellos but apart from that, it was was perfectly peaceful. And very tree-full.
After I’d been walking for a while (keeping an eye out for wolves, naturally), I stopped a likely-looking, Jack Wolfskin-clad German couple in very sensible shoes.
Me: Hello, my fellow forest nymphs. Is there a lake around here somewhere?
They gave me a rather dubious look up and down and were probably thinking, “What the hell is this Arschloch doing in a forest?”
Horst: Well, there IS a lake, but it’s around a 7km walk in that direction.
My face must have dropped slightly, as his wife chimed in.
Hilda: But there’s a river around 400 metres that way.
Me: Right, be on your way, my feisty forest faeries…
I trotted off in the direction she’d pointed in, but I think maybe the famous German sense of humour was at play here.
I decided to follow a man out walking his dog and three-year-old for a bit. I figured that if there were wolves, they’d probably go for the mutt or the toddler first. This, however, got annoying fast as (what are the chances?) it turns out they were English speakers and the daughter couldn’t get the names of the Seven Dwarfs straight. Before I started yelling, “Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and DOC!”, I needed to get my zen back. I climbed an embankment and did the unthinkable. Yes, it’s the photo the Latvians thought they’d never see…
After sending the pic to a couple of people and enjoying the virtual “thuds” as they fell off their chairs, I sauntered back to the hotel, river-less, wolf-less but happy.
I enjoyed a quick red wine nap-cap and then went back to bed for a couple of hours. Turns out trees and fresh air are exhausting… When I woke up, I decided that there was no harm in being sociable for a while and hopped on a bus into Lübeck. The bus dropped me off outside a rather suspect-looking bar – you know the kind of place that you’re not sure if you’ll come out alive but you’ll probably have some good stories if you do? In short, perfect.
As I walked through the fug of smoke, every head in the place turned to look. At this point, it’s important not to show fear so I marched to the bar and asked the 80s hair-do behind it for a glass of wine. The man next to me immediately offered me a chair, shook my hand and introduced himself. In no time at all, we were gabbing away like old friends.
I thought the guy on the other side of me could be trouble as there seemed to be some tension between him and my new buddy – I would have ended up on my back on the floor if he’d lunged for him. But then, dream boat that I am, I got a toothless smile from the tattoo-covered trouble-maker and knew that I was going to be just fine. (In these kinds of situations, it’s always good to get the scariest-looking person on side.)
A guy came around selling roses and my new buddy bought me one. An hour later, he came around again, and my new buddy bought me a second one. Two white roses also appeared from somewhere else in the bar and soon I had a veritable garden in front of me.
After the drunkest man in the world accidentally smashed a pint glass on my jeans, it was time to head back to the hotel. Germany on New Year’s Eve is characterised by the sounds of rocket launchers and ambulance sirens so, rather than wait 50 minutes for the next bus, I got a taxi. I gave the cute Cypriot driver one of the roses and he almost teared up as it was the first time a woman had ever given him a flower.
Back in the room, I poured myself a glass of wine and settled in for some (probably) classic NYE entertainment, German style.
At midnight, I watched the supremely baffling German favourite “Dinner for One” and wished myself an excellent 2016. All in all, it was the perfect day.
The next morning, I woke up full of the joys and, after another walk in the forest, fairly skipped to the bus stop. I made my way to where I thought the bus to Berlin went from with a song in my heart and feeling all kinds of goodwill towards mankind.
Me: Tra la la la la are you going to Berlin la la la?
Random stranger: Can you speak in English?
Me: Sure! Is this where the Berlin bus goes from?
Random stranger: I am not ticket.
Me: Yeah, clearly the English thing is working out great for you.
Little by little, I can feel myself becoming more German. This manifests itself in many different ways, but a few that spring to mind are:
1. I now rinse out empty jars. Some day, I might even bring them out to the correct bin.
2. I have been known to walk 2 to 3 kilometres out of my way to find an ATM machine in order to avoid paying the ridiculous charges other banks inflict upon the unsuspecting.
3. I say “kilometres” instead of “miles”.
4. I speak German more and more often.
5. I’ve had street beer, park beer and train beer. And I don’t even feel guilty about it any more.
6. I can open a beer bottle with a lighter in under 3 seconds. It took an English friend of mine two years to crack it; I did it on my first attempt. In Germany, bottle openers are for Sitzpinklers.
Anyway, the long and short of it is, I love Germany. I love Berlin. I love the people and the way of life and I want to stay here for a very long time – possibly forever. However, in order to do that, I need to find a job.
With teaching hours as scarce as Germans not wearing Jack Wolfskin, I’m currently job hunting. If I’m honest, I’d been getting tired of teaching English anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy it, and I’ve met some lovely people, but the work itself isn’t that challenging any more. It’s a handy “in” to a country where you don’t speak the language, but I never imagined myself doing it forever. The lack of work right now is just the kick up the arse I needed to start looking for something else. And, by god, am I looking.
Every day, I trawl recruitment websites, looking for marketing, advertising, and especially, writing-related jobs. And there are quite a few out there. As Berlin is start-up city, a lot of them don’t even require German, as the working language is English. Of course, as an Irish person, I’m trailing behind most Europeans on the language front. Some ads say things like “Fluent English is a must. German would be an advantage. Knowledge of Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese and Swahili also a bonus”. Umm. (Hangs head in shame and has a little cry.)
In addition, for every ten jobs, I’d say nine of them are tech-related. Technical writers, app developers, gaming enthusiasts, SEO, SAP, LINUX, SEM… half the time I can hardly understand the ads even though they’re written in English. I’m thinking of changing my name to “Linda O’Gradysaurus”.
I did, however, apply for one of these jobs – not because I thought I had a chance of getting it, but because they offered “outrageous randy benefits” and I wanted to see what those would entail. They rejected me – possibly because I pointed out in my email that “outrageous randy benefits” made them sound all kinds of dodgy.
If I had my time here over again, I would have started looking for something much sooner. The recruitment process takes an insanely long time. Most companies use sites like “Jobvite”, where you can track the progress of your application. Oddly, sitting there looking at it and clicking “refresh” doesn’t make things move any faster. Still, at least German companies are polite enough to actually contact you to let you know you’ve been rejected. This, unsurprisingly, has happened a number of times.
Still, it seems like my luck might finally be changing. Last week, I had a Skype interview and, on Monday, I’ve got an interview with another company. I would be ecstatic if I got to work for either of these companies so please, cross your fingers for me. (Or press your thumbs – it’s a German thing.)
I’ve recently started teaching a rather interesting man. He’s working in Berlin as a security guard at the moment, where, I gather he’s been living all his life. But, he has a dream, and that is to move to Norway and live and work there. In a bid to make this a reality, he’s now studying English and Norwegian and doing a computer course. Maybe there’s nothing so remarkable about that – until you learn that he’s 75 years old.
When I got an email from one of the schools that I work at telling me his story and asking me if I would take him on, my initial reaction was “Wow! 75 years old and about to embark on an amazing adventure in a new country!” I also couldn’t help comparing this to what I’d seen of people of roughly the same age in Latvia. The average life expectancy for a man there is only 68.9, so if they’re not dead already, they’re probably fast approaching the exit by 75.
Naturally, I just had to meet this guy, so we started doing lessons around a month ago. He told me that he’s going to Norway in August, “with his cat and car”. It sounds like he’s very much set on the idea.
I must admit, after meeting him, my initial reaction of admiration quickly turned to incredulity. I mean, I admired his gumption, but it was hard enough for me moving to a new country at the age of 36 – this guy was almost 40 years older than me. His English and Norwegian are both at absolute beginner level, and I would imagine his knowledge of computers to be around the same.
Other problems also quickly became apparent.
Me: OK, listen to the CD and write down the names of the people.
“Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?”
“My name is Hayley.”
Me: (pausing the CD) What’s her name?
Me: Erm, let’s try that again.
It turns out that his hearing isn’t the best, so I had to keep moving the CD player closer and closer to him until it was basically sitting in his lap. It didn’t help much.
Me: Hello Dolf, how are you?
Me: No, not “nice”, “fine”.
Me: Hello Dolf, how are you?
Me: (mini-sigh) Nice to meet you.
Me: Nice to meet you.
Dolf: I’m nice.
Me: No, no, it’s “Nice to meet you, too”.
Me: (turning around to write it on the board)
Yep, he has actually nodded off a couple of times in class. But I like to think that this is not because I’m insanely boring. No, like I said, he’s still working as a security guard so, some mornings, he’s been awake since 3am, worked 5 or 6 hours and then come to our English lesson at 10.30. (Germans, eh?) I’d probably doze off too. In fact, I’m a little tempted to just call it nap time and join in the snoozing, but that would probably be bad teaching form. Instead, I give him around 30 seconds and then start talking loudly pretending not to notice when he re-enters the land of the living.
Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to make fun of an old man. God knows, I have the ultimate respect for any adult attempting to learn a new language, let alone two. I also admire his get-up-and-go attitude but I have to wonder how realistic his plan is. At the risk of sounding defeatist, or worse, less energetic than a 75-year-old, moving countries is hard. This move to Berlin has probably been one of the most trying experiences of my life and I only have to learn one language. I also don’t have a cat to take care of; it would be one sorry cat if I did.
But maybe I’m just in a tired, old place right now so instead I’ll open it up to my lovely readers – what do you think of Dolf’s plans?
For more beautiful photos of Norway, you can visit Cindi’s site by clicking here.
Memories of Latvia came flooding back and I braced myself for the cup – or chair – that was probably going to be aimed at my head.
“I really liked it! In fact, it’s the reason I’m here tonight.”
The article was one that I’d written for Berlin Logs about a really interesting free German workshop I’d taken with an organisation called “Language Transfer”. The “here” was the second workshop, which I was eager to attend after learning more in the previous four-hour workshop than I’d done in eight weeks of standard German lessons.
As a teacher myself, there were a couple of things that I found fascinating about this approach to learning a language:
1. We didn’t take any notes – at all.
2. The guy running it doesn’t actually know that much German. He’s only been in Berlin for around three months and is just learning himself.
But how, I hear you ask, can someone who doesn’t know the language teach it? And this is the interesting part for me too.
Basically, he’s learning right alongside you. Of course, he’s checked everything he’s saying with native German speakers, and he had a few in the room to show us how ‘real’ Germans would say things, but instead of being a drawback, it turns out it’s a huge advantage.
The course I took is specifically tailored for English speakers, not necessarily native English speakers, but you’d have to have a pretty good grasp of the language to get anything out of it. This, of course, makes perfect sense as speakers of any language will have different issues with any new language. For example, Germans have different issues with English to Latvians or Russians; Spanish speakers have very different issues to Japanese speakers. How can you teach them all English in the same way?
It’s the same with German, but everything you already know is probably useful in some way, and that was what this course was all about – making connections with your existing language and creating new pathways in your brain. It might all sound a bit cultish but bear with me…
First of all, quite a few verbs are pretty much the same in English and German:
bring – bringen
pack – packen
Some other verbs will just require a bit of a tweak, so you get:
think – denken
thank – danken
wash – waschen
book – buchen
For verbs that originate from the Latin languages – usually the longer, more formal verbs, sometimes you just add ‘-ieren’ to the English verb:
reserve – reservieren
organise – organisieren
Really, after listening to around half an hour of this, I was wondering why people make such a big deal out of learning German at all.
There are a lot of other patterns that are useful to know as well. For example, the English ‘th’ often becomes a German ‘d’:
thank – danke
The English ‘t’ often becomes a German ‘s’ or ‘ss’:
what – was
water – Wasser
And so many more. Naturally, this won’t work every time, but if you’re aware of these patterns, you have enough information to at least make a stab at forming a word – then, hopefully a kindly German will have a little chuckle at your efforts and gently correct you.
Being aware of the German you’re surrounded by every day is also incredibly helpful. Mihalis, the guy who runs Language Transfer, asked the group if anyone knew the German word for ‘next’. Nobody did. Until everyone realised that they did, as they’ve seen it on every train, bus and tram they’ve taken since they arrived in Germany.
Also, I doubt there’s a soul in Berlin who hasn’t visited a ‘Spätkauf’ at some point, yet nobody had taken the time to figure out what the words actually mean – ‘Spät-kauf’ = ‘late-buy’, basically an all-night shop that’s very useful when you run out of wine at 1am.
I won’t give away too much more but in case you’re wondering where I got the title to this post from, I’ve discovered that when attempting to speak German, it’s rather useful to speak like Yoda. The word order in German sentences is quite different to English so it’s like a little puzzle every time you have to put one together.
In English, we might say, “I can’t stay here long now”. In German, you would say, “I can now not long here stay”. German sentences generally follow the order of ‘when, how, where’, enclosed in a verb sandwich, so:
verb – can
when – now
how – not long
where – here
verb – stay
But it’s given me far more of an understanding of the language than any other method I’ve tried so far. There’s an intensive course coming up at the beginning of April, and I’m definitely going to be taking it. Now, try that sentence out in your best Yoda voice…
For more information on Language Transfer, click here.
On Wednesday, I have my first observed lesson in Germany. This is obviously taken a lot more seriously than it was in Latvia. In fact, I worked for one school in Riga for two years, and wasn’t observed once.
Of course, they tell you that it’s “routine” and designed to “support the development of the teacher”, but the fact that it could just as easily be used as ammunition to fire you is always top of your mind – or maybe that’s just me. (Gives self a kick and a lecture on being positive.)
I first received notification of my observation in mid-December in the form of a rather lengthy email. And, as with most things in Germany, there is a shitload lot of paperwork to be completed – both pre- and post-observation.
Oh, and to add insult to injury, the observation is at 8am. On my birthday.
As it happens, this lesson is the last lesson with that particular group – one of my favourites – so it will mainly be a review of what they should have learned. This meant that it was time to reach for The Notebook of “Huh?”.
When I’m teaching, I generally prefer to leave error correction until the end of the lesson. Instead of interrupting students all the time (and risk them clamming up), I just jot down some of the more common mistakes they make and correct them in the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson. This means that I now have a notebook full of common mistakes Germans make in English.
Even though this particular group is elementary level, a lot of these mistakes can be found pretty much across the board. So here they are, some of the top mistakes German students of English make:
1. It’s no secret that Germans like long words. Just today I came across this “little” gem in an insurance document – Altersvorsorgeverbesserungsgesetz. Often students will ask you what something is in English. I tell them it’s not a word in English, it’s a paragraph.
It seems that our puny little English words are not complicated enough for them though, so they’ll often add an extra syllable or two to make them more German-friendly – “organisator”, “conversating”, “feministic” and “divorcement” are a few that spring to mind. Maybe it was being too feministic that led to the divorcement…
2. Unlike Latvian or Russian speakers, Germans have no problems with articles (a/an/the) in English. They have them in German – too bloody many of them in fact. However, like most non-native speakers, they still struggle with prepositions. You’ll hear things like:
“I was on a meeting” (at)
“At Sunday” (on)
“I drove at work” (to)
“I reacted on it” (to)
And so on/off/at/in/to/for/from.
3. Another one that gets most non-native speakers is those tricky conditional sentences, so I’ll try to give a few German-appropriate examples of correct usage.
Zero: If it’s a day ending in “day”, Germans drink beer.
First: If I see Karlheinz, I’ll shake his hand. (Germans love shaking hands.)
Second: If I had a poo shelf, there wouldn’t be so much splash-back.
Third: If we hadn’t eaten those sausages, we would have been very hungry.
Mixed: If I hadn’t drunk that last Glühwein, I would feel much better now.
4. Germans really like making literal translations. (Not that I can talk – hoch fünf anyone?) Hearing things like “I have not a car”, “Let’s meet us after the weekend”, “the mother of my wife”, “hand shoes” and “we see us next week” are pretty common.
I’m just waiting for the day that someone tells me they’re grinning like a honey cake horse…
5. Pronouncing every “s” like a “z” and “th” like an “s”, for example:
I sink I will zee you zoon.
Anyway, enough of Germans’ mistakes – for now. I’m off to try to scrub off Saturday night’s mistakes. Again. Yes, it seems that German clubs even stamp more efficiently than any other nation.
Or maybe she just hates all people, or life in general – it’s hard to say.
We’re at the end of the seventh week of the course. In that time, we’ve had three different teachers. The first teacher hightailed it to Düsseldorf to get away from us; we had a really nice teacher for one week who greatly helped our pronunciation and seemed genuinely interested in improving our German in general; now we have the hippy from hell. She seems more interested in picking at the holes in her leggings and playing with her “white person dreads” than she is in us.
She seems to forget that while we may not be very clever in German, we’re actually a pretty smart bunch in real life – a scientist, an economist, an engineer… Naturally, she took an instant dislike to the poor Italian, who she treats as if he has the IQ of a baked bean. I don’t think she’s realised that taking the piss out of him in German, which she does frequently, is totally wasted on him as I’m the only one who can understand her.
Thankfully, I only have two more lessons to go, as I only booked eight weeks to begin with. Frankly, I’m not overly impressed with the school, the teachers, or the organisation of the classes. As a teacher, it’s pretty easy to spot when another teacher shows up with no idea where we are in the book, or what we had for homework, and this is the impression I get here.
However, I do feel that I’ve gained something from the classes, though probably not as much as I’ve gained from my flatmates, Dietmar and total strangers. I’m kind of in love with the German language so I’m constantly experimenting with the few words I do have, believing that I’m speaking Deutsch, when in reality, I’m speaking Denglish.
Me: Hallo, schlaf-y Kopf.
Me: Sleepy head. Schlaf-y Kopf.
Hildeberta: Ha ha ha! NEIN, that does not work in German. You have to say “Schlafmütze”!
Me: Schlafmütze. Yes, I like that.
Hildeberta: Just be careful you say “Schlaf” and not “Schlaff”.
Me: What? They both sound the same. What’s the difference?
Hildeberta: “Schlaf” means sleep. “Schlaff” means “limp dick”.
Me: Right. Well, I guess that could come in handy too…
On Wednesday night, we were out as it was Hildeberta’s last night before she took off for the depths of southern Germany for Christmas.
Me: Hurrah for delicious Glühwein – hoch fünf!
Me: Hoch fünf – high five.
Hildegard: Bah haha! No German has ever said that EVER!
Me: Why not? It makes perfect sense.
Hildegard: Yeah, I guess you’re right…
“Hoch fünf” is now the running joke in our apartment. I’m hoping it will catch on in the rest of Germany too. Who’s with me?
While the girls are sweet and patient, Dietmar treats my German language-learning like German boot camp. Some evenings when I go round there, I feel like I’m being initiated into the German army, rather than relaxing with a glass of Cognac.
Dietmar: What is that in German? (Points at the fridge)
Me: I don’t know.
Dietmar: “Kühlschrank” – say it.
Dietmar: Gut. What is that in German?
Me: I don’t know. I’m tired…
Dietmar: NEIN! You will learn! Drop and give me twenty!
He then instructs me to get various things from various places in the kitchen by giving me directions in German. He ends up with the toaster, kettle, corkscrew, mobile phone, bread… before I finally hand him the glass he was actually looking for. At least I find it funny.
However, bit by bit, I can see that I’m making progress – though obviously not fast enough for Dietmar. Yesterday evening, on my way to the train station, I decided to stop off at my favourite Glühwein stand on Friedrichstraße for a quickie before going home.
I got chatting to two really nice German women on their way home from work. Their English was pretty limited, so German was really the only option we had. To my amazement, they could actually understand me, and I could understand around 80% of what they were saying. I’m pretty sure I made hundreds of mistakes over the course of what turned out to be four Glühweine, but we muddled through.
So, I’m going to keep doing what I do – entertaining the Germans in my life with my hilarious German, while trying to make my own particular brand of Irish-German a real thing.
Don’t worry – it’s not about the Germans. They’re still being utterly charming.
No, this is a language rant; one that probably won’t make me terribly popular, but well, I’m used to that so here goes.
Part of the fun of being a blogger is reading other people’s blogs, and I read quite a few of them, written by both native and non-native speakers of English. Maybe it’s because of the line of work I’m in, but it saddens maddens me to see how many of these blogs are rife with simple grammar and spelling mistakes. And yes, I’m talking to you, native English speakers.
As a newbie language learner myself, I have the utmost respect for people who write in a language that is not their mother tongue. Learning a language is bloody hard, and if I ever get to the stage where my German is that good, I’ll probably be too busy doing happy dances around Berlin to even think about blogging.
My problem is with native English speakers who consistently make simple errors – things like confusing ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, ‘they’re/their/there’, ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, and don’t even get me started on the heinous misuse of apostrophes.
Yes, it’s a busy world we live in. Yes, we’re all short of time. But if you expect other people to read what you’ve written, the least you could do is read it yourself first – and reread it – before hitting ‘publish’.
But, as I’m a kind soul really, I thought I’d mention a few of my pet peeves, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read them, reread their own writing, and save my eyes from rolling dangerously in my head.
1. It’s over there in its place on the shelf.
2. They’re over there in their house.
3. Your trousers might be loose if you lose your belt.
4. You’re the greatest. Your knowledge is second to none.
5. Then I drank my beer. It was better than any other beer I’ve ever had.
6. Bad spelling and grammar affect me greatly. The effect is a lot of eye-rolling and sighing.
And if you’ve ever written ‘should of’, ‘would of’, or ‘could of’, you should probably be put down.
Right, I think I’ve made my point. Feel free to share your pet hates in the comments below – I’m sure I’ve missed a few. And if you spot any mistakes in this post, please feel free to shoot me.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain