Category Archives: TEFL

Germans are flippin’ hilarious

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.)

Anyway…

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. 

Me: What? 

Bertilda: Can you show us again? 

Me: What??

Betlinde: Yes, please show us again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Me: …

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? 

Me: Wowsers…

Behold! The coin of doom…

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! 

*flip*

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. 

Me: Gurgle…

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. 

Me: Harumph. 

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.

 

 

 

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English Club in a Pub

I spend quite a bit of time in my local bar, perhaps too much some might say. It’s owned and mainly staffed by Croatians and features a motley crew of locals, all of whom have been very friendly and welcoming to the weird Irish chick who showed up in their midst one day. In fact, it’s where I learned a lot of my German as the men there seem very keen to talk to me – probably because I lower the average age by about 20 years and wear a dress sometimes.

If you look very closely, you'll see me in the background (in a straw hat from the Euro Shop)
If you look very closely, you’ll see me in the background (in a straw hat from the Euro Shop – yeah, I’m all class)

Over the course of several months, I noticed that the “Club Room” adjacent to the main bar was empty most evenings and, over a few glasses of wine, I came up with the idea to start an “English Club”. As there are so many interesting ways for foreigners to learn German in Berlin, I thought it might be nice to give the Germans a chance to learn English in a slightly different way.

I spoke to the owner and ran the idea past him. He was all for it and, most importantly, using the room would be free of charge as I’d (hopefully) be bringing in new customers. I spent a little while mulling over the Club and how it would work and put together a poster to publicise it in the bar. I was pretty pleased with it but sent it to Manfredas anyway to get a German’s opinion.

Manfredas: NEIN! Das geht gar nicht! Germans want details. They want to know WHY they’re going somewhere and what to expect when they get there. 

Me: Sigh. 

Back to the drawing board. I added every possible detail I could think of and, this time, it got the Manfredas seal of approval. I stuck the posters up in the bar, and posted a couple of notices on local websites. Manfredas had stolen some flipchart paper for me (Germans can be quite wild…) and I set off to the bar on that first Tuesday evening at around 5.30.

The idea behind English Club is that people can come and practise and improve their English in a relaxed environment, over a couple of beers, once a week at 6pm. I’d pick a different topic every week and we would discuss it together. I stuck the flipchart paper to the back of the door, took out and lined up the 20 pens that I’d bought, prepared my materials and waited.

Two people came. Success! The topic that I’d prepared – ordering in a restaurant – proved to be woefully inadequate. Like a lot of Germans, these guys were waaaaaaaaaaaaay beyond that level. I had no idea that the people who showed up would already be so good at English. Still, we chatted away merrily for the hour and all was well with the English Club.

The next week, I had a rethink and picked some more advanced materials. A few more people showed up and we had a grand old time.

I’ve since bought a whiteboard which I use to write up new vocabulary and do corrections at the end of the hour. The next day, I email any new words and the corrections to participants, or post them on the Club Facebook page.

I’ve been doing it for a few months now and a little while ago, a journalist from Kiez Report (a video blog on the local area) said that he’d like to do an interview about the English Club with me. My desire to boost English Club’s popularity won out over the horror of seeing myself on camera and I decided to do it. After all, the journalist’s name was Patrick – what could possibly go wrong?

I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting but whatever it was, it didn’t involve tripods or professional lighting. Patrick said that he’d like to ask me the first question in German and then we could continue in English. ARGH!

Squinting into the light, I mumbled something that sounded vaguely like German, albeit with a strong Irish accent, and then we switched to English. It was actually…fun! Patrick stayed for the whole hour and interviewed one of the participants at the end who, thankfully, was very complimentary about me and my little English Club.

If you want a chuckle, you can watch the video here.

Be kind…

 

More German efficiency

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.

Me: 28.

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.

Argh, my eyes, my eyes!
Argh, my eyes, my eyes!

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.

Me: Huh.

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. 

Me: …

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? 

Han: Yup.

Me: Gulp.

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:

Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.
Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.

“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. 

Me: Christ. 

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.

20161111_1509361

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.

Me: Gulp.

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.

Me: Gulp.

Wolff: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland. 

Wolff: Coooooooooooooooool! 

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. 

Wolff: Tuesday? 

Me: Nope, sorry! 

All: Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

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.

Not really.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there.

Germans will be Germans…

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.

Just kidding Latvia, I love you really...
Just kidding Latvia, I love you really…

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. 

He's there because he wants to be. The Germans saw a documentary.
He’s there because he wants to be. The Germans saw a documentary.

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. 

Me: Probably.

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?

Heike: NO.

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?

Me: Creative.

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? 

Me: Jesus.

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.) 🙂

 

Sow you, sow me…

In German, you can add the word “Sau” (sow) to quite a lot of other words to add some porky emphasis to your point. So, for example, “saukalt” (pigging cold), “saublöd” (pigging stupid), or “saugeil” (frigging great) are all possible.

One sausage to rule them all...
Pigging delicious

In my efforts to amaze and impress my students, I like to bust out a few German expressions every now and then. This is normally met with reactions like, “AWWWWW!” and “Aww, so süß!” (Aww, how sweet!), but I persevere anyway.

So I was at a lesson, one rainy afternoon…

Me: Ugh, das ist wirklich ein Sauwetter. (Ugh, this weather is really shite.)

Gudrun: Ja. Hey, what’s “Sau” in English?

Me: Sow. 

Gudrun: Sow – Sau. Huh, maybe that’s where the English word for “sausage” comes from?

Me: Ha ha! (Hmm, I wonder…)

Sauresearch
Sauresearch

Linda-brain in overdrive is a dangerous thing and, really, something that should be prevented from happening with any sort of regularity. But, on this occasion, there was no stopping me. My brain hit the ground running – there’s a nice image for you – and, by that evening, I was ready to share my profound new theories with my unfortunate German friend. I installed myself on the sofa and prepared to make linguistic history.

Me: So, I’ve been thinking…

Long-suffering friend: Oh no.

Me: You know the English word “sausage”?

LSF: (Groan)

Me: OK, and you know the German word “Sau” and the verb “sagen” (to say)?

LSF: I’m German. 

Me: Yes, yes, but listen. What if “sausage” comes from those two German words? 

LSF: Go on…

Me: I mean, maybe, back in the day, in a village called BAD Wurstemburg or something, there was a local guy who used to sell pigs at the market? He’d have called out descriptions of the pigs and “Get your pigs, five for fifty!” or something, making him…

LSF: Yes…?

Me: The Pig Sayer! Sausager! 

LSF: Groan.

Me: Or, OR, maybe in BAD Wurstemburg, or wherever, the pigs developed kind of an attitude problem and the locals found it hard to deal with them.

LSF: (Pours another glass of wine)

Me: (Singing) Who they gonna call? THE PIG SAYER! 

LSF: (Downs said glass of wine)

Me: You know, he’d have been like Robert Redford with the horse-whispering, except in Lederhosen – and with pigs, obviously. Whenever someone had an uppity pig on their hands, they’d send for Sieghard the Sausager. 

Sieghard the Sausager
Probably not a realistic likeness of Sieghard the Sausager

Me: But “sausager” was a bit too cumbersome for native English speakers to get their poor little tongues around so they shortened it to “sausage”! Ta-dah! 

LSF: Is any of that true? 

Me: I have no idea. Let me check. 

Of course, it turned out that I was talking absolute nonsense. The word “sausage” actually comes from the old Northern French word, “saussiche”. How dull. Anyway, it’s all sausage to me. I live to drivel another day. My apologies to any Germans who make my acquaintance.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning the Lingo

As an expat living in Berlin, it’s pretty hard to avoid bumping into other foreigners living here. While I’m always interested in what brings people to a new country, I’m equally fascinated by their attitude to learning the local language.

From what I’ve seen, these can be grouped into a few categories:

  • the people who never bother, usually because “everyone speaks English”, or they don’t need it for their job so why make the effort?
  • the people who “try” but languages really aren’t their strong point…
  • the people who think they speak German because they can say, “bitte” and “danke”.
  • the people who get to a certain level and think that’s good enough.
Good enough
Good enough

Then you’ve got the people like me who, if it’s the last thing they do, will speak the language like a native, albeit, in my case anyway, with an endearing Irish accent…

I’m no expert on language learning – far from it – but I’ve got myself from zero to a level I’m reasonably happy with in the space of a year and a half. And boy, do I have a long way to go. Still, I figure I’m probably doing something at least half-right so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts will all of you poor souls in the same boat as I am. Obviously I’m using German as my focus but there’s no reason this shouldn’t work for any other language. Here goes…

  1. Pay attention. It’s not enough to be surrounded by the language every day. You’d be amazed by the number of people who seem to walk around wearing ear plugs and blinkers. You need to listen, to read, to analyse. That couple you’re eavesdropping on on the train… why did she say that sentence that way and not another way? And yes, I’m condoning eavesdropping as an acceptable language-learning aid. There’s no such thing as politeness when it comes to learning a language.
  2. Use everything as an opportunity – and I do mean everything. Take this, for example:
Snigger.
Snigger.

OK, so it’s a titter-inducing advertisement for a sex shop, but look more closely. Dildo King can teach you more than you think – and no, I don’t mean in the self-love department. OK, so sex would appear to be the same word in German – always useful to know. “Macht” comes from the verb “machen” (to make) and “schön” means beautiful. Take it further. “Macht” can also mean “power” or “might” when used as a noun, and how many expressions can you think of that have “schön” in them? What’s the comparative or superlative form? “King” probably isn’t a German word so what is “king” in German? Or “queen”? Thank you, Dildo King, for being such a fountain of educational knowledge…

3. Get input. Before you can start outputting, you need input. Listen to the radio, or just have it on in the background. If a film or TV programme is too much for you, watch a couple of ads or listen to a song. If reading a book is too challenging, read a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, an ad. But do something. If you’re learning any of the major languages, there’s an embarrassment of riches online that you can utilise.

4. Ask questions. Lots of them. Will you drive your friends mad? Probably, but you can find new friends.

Me: If “ich bin raus” means I’m out, does “ich bin rein” mean I’m in?

Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN! It’s better to say something like “Da bin ich dabei”.

Me: Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke! 

Me: If you can say “damit” (with it), can you also say “darohne” (without it)?

Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN! 

Me: Dammit. Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke! 

And so on until everyone you know has been committed.

5. Start speaking. As soon as you’ve got a few basics down, it’s time to put them to use. If you find it too embarrassing speaking to people you know, find people you don’t know. Go into a bar (my personal favourite), order a large glass of something and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Torture them for as long as they’re willing to bear and then move on to your next victim. Repeat until you can no longer form a coherent sentence in any language or your money runs out.

Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner...
Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner…

6. Find a way to learn that you enjoy. Formal language classes, group or individual, aren’t for everyone so find something that suits you. I consider myself really lucky to live in Berlin where there’s always something happening, be it German through art workshops, German through theatre games or various other German language meet-ups. A lot of these activities are run on a donation basis, which also means they’re cheaper than regular lessons. Cheap is good.

7. Have fun with it. Are you going to sound like an idiot for a long time? Yes. Should you care? Hell no. Have as much fun with the language as possible and keep trying until you succeed. I recently played “Taboo” with a group of students. “Divorce” was one of the words they had to describe. They’d got to a certain stage and the other team knew the word in German but didn’t know the English word. A lot of people would have given up at this point but not these guys.

T1: It’s kind of like “air-force” but not. Well, the second part but not the first.

T2: So, “force”…

T1: Yes! And the first part sounds like the princess who died.

T2: Di.

T1: Yes! OK, now put them together…

T2: Die-force! 

T1: JAAAAA!

Me: Well, “divorce” actually but close enough. 

Was there much merriment? Did they sound a bit silly? Did they make tenuous connections?

Yes to all of the above, but they also had a lot of fun and I don’t think they’ll ever forget that word, just as I’ll never forget that lesson.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include loads of things but you get the gist. I’m off to be confused by German TV for a couple of hours.

Schönen Abend 😉

 

 

 

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

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.

Norway, captured by the wonderful Cindi Keller
Norway, captured by the wonderful Cindi Keller

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.

Fabulous treatment of old people in Latvia
Fabulous treatment of old people in Latvia

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. 

CD:

“Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

“My name is Hayley.”

Me: (pausing the CD) What’s her name?

Dolf: Carlos? 

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?

Dolf: Nice.

Me: No, not “nice”, “fine”.

Me: Hello Dolf, how are you? 

Dolf: Nice. 

Me: (mini-sigh) Nice to meet you. 

Dolf: What?

Me: Nice to meet you. 

Dolf: I’m nice. 

Me: No, no, it’s “Nice to meet you, too”.

Dolf: What? 

Me: (turning around to write it on the board)

Dolf: Snore. 

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?

Happy older Germans on the move
Happy older Germans on the move

 

For more beautiful photos of Norway, you can visit Cindi’s site by clicking here.