Tag Archives: language

Student Teachers

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Someday this will be in German!

 

 

All teachers should be students.

It could be learning Chinese or basket weaving or handstand push-ups; it doesn’t matter, as long as you are acquiring information that has never before popped your neurons.

As teachers, we can forget things such as that deer-in-the-headlights reaction when your name is called or the maddening frustration of failure.

As students, particularly as students of a foreign language, we magically go from educated to illiterate when the bell chimes 08:00.

We make a thousand little mistakes that pelt us like freezing rain. It is hard and humbling; and it is perhaps the best lesson a teacher can learn: the art of failure.

Slowly, too slowly it seems, this gelatinous mass of information begins to take shape. Soon, we find ourselves making new errors, and so the learning continues.

As a teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than to see a student use knowledge you helped him acquire. To watch a student go from stuttering to eloquent in a matter of weeks or months, is perhaps one of the reasons many teachers love their profession and put up with the unpaid hours of work that go into it.

Students, quite often, are too steeped in their studies to be objective about their own learning. As students, we tend to see only our failures and not our triumphs. We look to the next area we can improve, rather than looking back to where we began.

Being a student has helped me to be a better teacher because I know exactly how my student feels when he uses the wrong preposition or gets hung up on finding the ‘perfect’ word, which he suddenly can’t remember.

Likewise, the best coaches are the ones who also train. Maybe they have years of knowledge and experience, but unless a coach is also in the trenches, respect is a little difficult for me to muster.

When I lived in the country, the village hunter would drive his little car along the dirt road, his dog running alongside. This was also the hunter who recommended I bite my dog’s ear, to get him to submit. These are not the teaching methods that inspire me.

I am not learning advanced chemistry or particle science here–it’s only German. I think millions of people probably speak it, and in time, I will too.

But as long as I’m a teacher, I want to be learning too. I never want to forget what it’s like to be illiterate or to be the person doing push-ups against the wall (yes…that’s what I did 2 years ago).

I feel like the universe is smiling at me when I make the same mistakes in  German that my students make in English. It’s amusing and frustrating, but it gives me a new way of understanding how I can help my students achieve their goals.

And now, my time is up.

I have to go to school!

 

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Immersion by Party: In Which I Speak Terrible German, Sing the Beatles and Try Schnaps

 

 

*This is a random stock photo: no lederhosen were present at the actual party!

An innocuous slip of paper in my mailbox began it all. The American translation was this:

  • We’re having a party, so don’t complain if it’s too loud, because we just warned you.
  • We will be grilling, so don’t turn us in to the police if you see the smoke–it’s legal.
  • Bring meat. Lots of meat.
  • Preferably wrapped in bacon.
  • Bring a salad.
  • Preferably wrapped in meat.
  • We will have more drinks available than the Geträngtmarkt.
  • RSVP two days ago.

I’d like to say my RSVP was late because I was busy working. I WAS busy, but the truth is that the invitation sat on my fireplace mantle for several days. I would read it whenever I passed by.

A party.

Not on my street, but in my neighborhood.

With Germans (well…yeah…I live in Germany, this makes sense).

I don’t know any of them.

I sound like a 3 year-old when I speak German. (Yes, me like wine red, please?)

Then I told my kids a story at dinner one night: it was my first day of high school. I was painfully shy. I decided to reinvent myself. So, I introduced myself to the first person I saw during the lunch-break. The poor soul happened to be Mavis, who remains one of my very best friends to this day.

As soon as I told that story, I knew I had to go to the party. I mean, if I was forcing encouraging my kids, who’ve had very little exposure to public school AT ALL, to go to GERMAN school, then I could certainly wrap some veggies in meat and saunter down the block to meet the neighbors.

Besides, I could always leave after a couple of hours.

I filled out the RSVP, wrote a nice card and paid my youngest five bucks to deliver it.

The invitation said to arrive after 18:00. I was there by 19:30.

I wasn’t the first one there, nor was I the last, as people slowly trickled in throughout the night.

You can imagine how awkward it was at first–I’m terrible at small talk, in any language. But the hostess was gracious and got me oriented, while some of the neighbors invited me to sit with them.

There seems to be a set of standard questions, probably issued by the Ausländerbehörde, for Germans to ask before getting to know anyone from the US.

After it’s established where I live (they want to know EXACTLY the house and number and then they tell me the history of my house), the conversation then goes like this: 

“Do you know other Americans in our town?”

“No,” I reply.

“We have a large community of Americans here. We have an American family renting our duplex.”

“Oh…okay…”

“I’ll give you their number.”

“Uhh….”

“Where do you shop?”

“I like PennyMarkt.”

“Don’t you shop at the PX?”

“Not really.”

“Not at Katterbach?”

“No. I go to    [INSERT ANY GERMAN STORE HERE]   .

“Oh.”

Having lived in this area for a while, where the US families come and go like migrating birds, I can understand why Germans would want to connect Americans to each other, and not necessarily to themselves. It’s hard to say goodbye. And while three years SEEMS like a long time if you have a baby or you’re in prison, it’s slips by before you know it when you have a good friend. And it’s been said that if you make friends with a German, then you have a friend for life.

But once they find out that:

A) I have a job with a German company

B) My kids will go to German school

C) I want to live here forever

D) I NEED to become fluent in German

…the conversation changes.

Within an hour, I was asked to use ‘du.’

I listened.

A lot.

But I also spoke some. It was easiest during one-on-one conversation.

“What do you like to cook?”

“I like to grill chicken.”

“Do you bake?”

“No my daughter likes to bake.”

etc.

But sitting at a beer table with several very fränkische people was like the UltraMarathon of my linguistic abilities.

Occasionally, someone would slip up and speak ENGLISH, upon which, someone else would say, “Don’t speak English–she needs to learn German!”

I took that as a compliment.

The night went on. More food was eaten, coffee and cake were served, the stars came out and more wine was poured.

I spoke more.

I EVEN had a conversation about CrossFit! Trying to explain why it is NOT ‘bodybuilding.’ I talked about my training and my marathons and they wanted to know exactly how many kilometers I run daily/weekly/monthly and whether I belonged to a running ‘club’ or not.

Then the schnapps came out, and we were inexplicably singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ and other songs in English (with lyrics provided by someone’s smart phone).

I did learn a few valuable lessons:

  1. The things that take courage are often the most rewarding experiences
  2. ASK questions if you don’t know something (like, which Metzgerei is best)
  3. Friendships are an investment–what you put in is what you will get out, but use caution because not every scheme is solid
  4. A glass of wine improves your German
  5. Schnapps does NOT

The day after the party, I went to retrieve my salad bowl, which I’d forgotten in my late-night exit. (I ended up staying at the party MUCH longer than anticipated). The hostess said it had been brave of me to come to the party, and that we should get together more often.

I can hardly explain how good I feel about the whole thing. How much better life is, because I did something that was hard. How great it feels when you have friends.

How a simple piece of paper shaped the course of my life.

Someday, I’ll laugh with my friends about how weird I sounded all those years ago.

Someday, I’ll have a barbecue for my neighbors.

And I’ll invite the Americans renting my duplex.