Tag Archives: Teaching English

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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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.) 🙂

 

Starting with a startup

I’ve finally started my new job. The hold up was due to the fact that startups here seem to advertise a position, make someone jump through hoops to get it, and then realise that they don’t have any money to pay said someone. So, after a lot of faffing about and toing and froing, I’ve agreed to start on the money they’ve managed to scrape together, BUT with the condition that I work flexible hours to supplement this pittance salary with teaching hours. This is sensible as depending on whether or not they make any money this month, I might not have a job to go to next month.

Of course, this means that instead of just going to one place every morning and staying there for the day, I have to travel across the city to an English lesson at the crack of dawn, travel back across the city to put in the hours at the new job, and then sometimes travel all the way back across the city for an evening lesson. I actually feel guilty about the value for money I’m getting out of my monthly travel pass.

The main casualty in all of this – apart from my sleep – was poor old Dolf, who I had to ditch. This wasn’t really a bad thing though as it seemed like the man was actually learning backwards, something I wouldn’t have believed possible before.

Me: What time is it in this picture? 

Dolf: 1982. 

He also beat his cat in front of me – not a euphemism – so I wasn’t overly sorry to give him up.

It's 1982.
It’s 1982.

Aside from all of the faffing and travelling, the new job is going pretty well. My three male colleagues are charming and pretty easy on the eye but, of course, I’m too focused on work to notice…

The downside is that as the company needs money to stay afloat (and keep me in gainful employment), it’s much more sales than marketing at the moment. While pestering complete strangers on the phone all day isn’t how I want to spend the rest of my life, I’m gradually learning to throw my dignity to the wind and enjoy being a nuisance. Anyway, someone, some day, might actually think I’m doing them a favour. Hopefully that day comes sooner rather than later.

Our building is brand new and, at the moment, practically deserted. This is probably because all of the offices haven’t been rented yet, companies haven’t moved in yet, or startups have gone bust before they managed to gather together their shrapnel for the first month’s rent. We have a little office that’s just big enough for the four of us, but that could definitely do with a woman’s touch – no, not this woman.

Where are Hildeberta and Hildegard when you need them?
Where are Hildeberta and Hildegard when you need them?

As the building is almost empty, there’s never any problem calling the lift, which speaks to me in German I can understand whenever I push a button. The kitchen is a few doors from our office, but again, could do with a woman’s touch. Someone has, however, managed to find a kettle from the 60s which you have to plug out to turn off, as there is no on/off switch. This has already led to several adventures where I’ve overestimated the time it will take to boil and come back to a kitchen full of steam and water dripping down the walls.

Each company has a drawer and a cupboard to itself where you can keep your cups, spoons and other bits and pieces. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to bring a spoon so I have to rob another company’s sole spoon every time I want to make a cup of tea. When they hide it (which they sometimes do), I have to use the random knife that’s in our drawer. After rooting through most of the drawers, I’ve also discovered that nobody has brought a corkscrew which means that it probably won’t be that sort of building.

Spoonless kitchen.
Spoonless kitchen.

Apart from playing “Hunt the Spoon”, it’s also fun watching other companies move in. So far, as our neighbours, we have a company called “Electric Eyes” – probably not as exciting as it sounds – and another called “Sweet and Sticky” – hopefully not as horrible as it sounds. I’m already imagining that after I take a couple of months to get to know them and they start giving me stuff, I’ll be able to cut my sweet and sticky cake with my laser beam eyes. This may be about as realistic as me buying a pot plant for the office though…

Observations

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.

ARGH!
ARGH!

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.

20150112_203527[1]
The Notebook of “Huh?”
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.

Two showers and counting...
Two showers and counting…

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

Linda does Deutsch

One of the things I like about living in Germany, is that when people are throwing stuff out, they give you a chance to get your mitts on it first. This is definitely not stealing.

I'm a big fan
I’m a big ‘fan’

And so, one day last week, my flatmate and I were gleefully rummaging through other people’s junk, when I struck gold. Yes, it’s my ‘new’, incredibly colourful German notebook. Thank you, neighbour.

At least I'll never lose it.
At least I’ll never lose it.

Putting it carefully into my backpack, mature student-stylee, I made my way to the school for my first official lesson. I bounded into the office, paid the balance for my course, bought the book, and babbled away at the bemused receptionist.

Brunhilde: You’re very excited, aren’t you? 

Me: YES! I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks! 

Brunhilde: OK… 

I found the right classroom and tried to calm the attack of nerves that had suddenly overtaken me. Who was I kidding? German is insanely difficult to learn, and because of my advancing years, it would be even more so. This was going to be a disaster…

SOS was right
SOS was right

While we waited for the teacher, I chatted to a French girl and sized up the competition other students. I told myself I was probably smarter than them – if in doubt, be incredibly arrogant to overcompensate.

The teacher came in, and I actually knew her. Considering I only know around 10 people in Berlin, this was kind of a miracle. She also works at one of the schools I work at, and we’d been at an induction together the week before. Small world.

We got down to business – my name is…, I’m from…, I live in…, I’m an (English teacher). The class was all done through German, but to my amazement, I could actually understand everything. It seemed like the hours on Duolingo and with my ‘Learn German’ book had paid off after all. The class consisted of the French girl, an American girl, an Italian guy, an English guy, an annoyingly mouthy Croatian and his weirdly silent brother. I figured his silence was the result of years of trying to get a word in, and failing.

After around 15 minutes, the Italian raised his hand.

Luigi: I’m sorry, but is this the beginners’ class? I haven’t understood one word you’ve said, or written on the board. 

Britney: Me neither. 

Meinhilde assured them (in German) that it was indeed the beginners’ class and that the receptionist must have lied to them on the phone when she’d told them that the first classes would be taught through English.

Aside from feeling rather smug that my German was definitely not the worst in the class, I also felt really sorry for him. In addition, it gave me an insight into how my beginners must feel. Poor buggers. I’ll definitely be more patient and less assuming in future.

I spent the rest of the class translating everything for hapless Luigi, who happened to be sitting next to me. I wasn’t sure that he would come back, but on Thursday night, I was happy to see him show up again. He still didn’t know anything but at least he’s trying. We all have to start somewhere, right?

We had to do our first writing exercise in the second lesson, and when we were finished Meinhilde invited answers. I listened to three or four wrong answers each time before piping up with the correct one. It seems like I’m going to be that student. Luckily, I didn’t go there to make friends.

On my way out, excited by my perceived awesomeness, I threw my knickers in the air in triumph.

Not really, but watch this space.
Not really, but watch this space.

And now I have to go and do my homework so I can be annoyingly smug again tomorrow.

Home Swede Home

As it’s my two-week anniversary here in Berlin, I thought it might be time to reflect on what Riga does better.

Um…

Ummm…

Right, moving on.

Sunday saw me kissing Hermie goodbye Hermie kissing me goodbye, and me clanking down four flights of concrete steps with a 30-kilo suitcase. So much for Quiet Sunday. Still, I made it to Bjorn’s place (now ‘our place’) in one piece and have settled in perfectly. Just to prove the point, I bought a nice pair of slippers, because nowhere feels like home without a nice pair of slippers waiting for your tired little tootsies.

Domestic bliss
Domestic bliss

In the mornings, I wake up to birds singing and this view from my window:

2014-09-23 08.51.46
Not bad, eh?

It might just be my imagination but I’d swear even the birds sound happier in Germany. I looked out just now and there were a couple of bunnies frolicking around the yard/forest… I mean, seriously, is this place for real?

Bjorn also seems happy to have me here. In the mornings, I’m greeted with ‘Hello, Sunshine’ (which I definitely am not), and in the evenings, when I get home, ‘Hello Pretty’, which I also definitely am not. Still, I guess it beats ‘Hello Demon Bitch from Hell’ and ‘Hello Roadkill’.

He says it’s nice having me around the place, which is just as well as it seems like we’ve already synchronised our peeing habits. This was evidenced by me, half-asleep, stumbling in on him in the loo in the middle of the night. He took it well.

He also hasn’t mentioned (or hopefully slept through) me waking myself up from a dream by shouting ‘NO, NO, NO’ at the top of my voice on my first night here. I might have been dreaming about Hermann, but then surely it should have been ‘NEIN, NEIN, NEIN’?

NEIN!
NEIN!

In other news, I started teaching today – and it went well. I’ve been offered five more groups starting from mid-October. Now I just need to get the red tape show on the road so I can actually get paid for them.

My new landlady seems to be having difficulty adding my name to the lease, which is holding everything up – so much for German efficiency. I might set Hermann on her…