A Trip To Würzburg

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So, the homestay that I had so looked forward to didn’t go so well. I went to the woman’s house on the Monday and explained that I understand a lot of German, I just don’t have the confidence to reply. I said I wanted a German environment so I could learn to reply in German.

We sat and had some lunch together, where she spoke mainly in English. Then we did some studying, though she was keen on me to sit and memorise grammar. I don’t care about grammar at all – I want to absorb it, not study it. She asked me to read to her from my book, then we went for a walk where she spoke in English again.

When we got back I explained that this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t so explicit, but there was too much English and I wasn’t feeling good about my ability with her. The week was meant to boost my confidence, not make me feel worse. So I left and went back home. I felt really really crappy about it, and was pretty much close to tears because I felt like I’d failed. However, I spent the week studying hard and I even went for a day trip to Würzburg! My wonderful friend gave me a day’s homestay and it was lovely. Her mum cooked me some AMAZING food (above) and we spoke in German all day.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the day. I hope you enjoy them!

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This shows how Mary fell pregnant while remaining a virgin – God told her and then impregnated her through her ear!! How random!

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It was a lovely day. I could have spent a lot more time there. The region is known for its wine so if you happen to go there be sure to check it out!

Accents

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The other day I introduced a new co-worker to my pub quiz team. My American and German friend said that they really loved his accent; he’s a well educated British guy…well aside from the British and guy part, I said I assume he was well educated – you can tell from his accent. I was trying to explain to them that while, on the surface, it seems that Britain doesn’t have class systems anymore, you can tell a person’s upbringing, education and “class” by their accent.

Accent is a funny thing. I read a paper when I was in uni about how different accents make you feel certain ways, and so companies take advantage of this – for example, the Scottish accent will make you warm to the person and feel calm, so they put a lot of Scottish people in call centres. I had trouble in uni because of my accent – I have a typical RP, or “Queen’s English” accent, which usually tells people that you are well off and posh and stuck up. So this is how people thought of me, despite me telling people that I am normal, went to an average school and lived in some pretty rough areas when I grew up. People would take what I said and twist them to make it sound like I was looking down my nose at people, or just make rude and snide comments about my accent.

In Britain there is a north-south divide which I wasn’t even aware of until I went to uni. I’m from the south, and while people sometimes make jokes about Liverpudlians, or maybe about people from Newcastle, there’s rarely any bad mouthing of people from the north in general. The stuff I experienced at uni in Liverpool was just one part of it – when I was dating a guy from Middlesborough and I went to go stay with his family up there, his uncles and cousins had lots of stories and comments about how rude and stuck up and horrible southern people are. So when someone speaks the way I speak, all these images are brought up for a lot of people – even though I’m not like that.

On the flipside, my accent can (sadly) help me out in the working world – or at least in England. I’m not sure how true it is, but I’m told that people with RP accents are more likely to score top jobs and make good impressions in interviews. In an article I read this week, too, a brain surgeon comments that him being an East London boy is an unexpected thing, given his profession. Again, this comes down to accent – people don’t expect people with a “rough” London accent to do such a skilled job as brain surgery. Another good example is this woman from BBC News -

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Most BBC news presenters have “clean” southern accents, but she has a very strong northern accent. She’s the business woman on the show and often explains all the complicated economical news, but some people find her accent very off putting, or out of place in this job.

Even my American friend couldn’t understand when I explained all this to her, so I think maybe, in the English-speaking world at least, it’s a British thing. Are there stereotypes or prejudice placed on certain accents where you are from?

Expat Blogs

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I LOVE the blogging community and how I can enjoy pockets of awesome people who are expats, travellers, German-livers and many more.

And that’s why I’m so happy that Expats Blog have chosen to feature me in an interview this week! I just love sharing my experiences and helping others who want to follow my footsteps, so I’m so happy to be on their site!

They have a super awesome website with so much information for people who live – or are thinking of living – abroad, so go and check it out if that’s up your alley!

Making Friends Abroad – Germany

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about finding a partner in Japan, but today I’d like to write a little about how to make friends – focussing on doing so whilst in Germany.

Making friends abroad is probably one of the hardest things I have done. In Japan, I felt very lonely; it took me a long time to find people I really connected with and then once I found these people I couldn’t see them until the weekend – often every other weekend. Now in Germany, once I started to see the pangs of loneliness in myself, I knew exactly how to get myself a social circle.

I’d like to point out now that all these methods require effort, patience and a lot of guts. When looking for new friends you will find yourself being forced out of your comfort zone, into a group of people you don’t know, maybe in a language you don’t speak, with people you don’t know you’ll even like and repeating the same conversations over and over and over. “How long have you been here?” “Did you come here for work?” “Do you like it here?” If you go to a meeting and come away with one phone number of one person with whom you meet up with occasionally, you’ve been successful. If you don’t, then don’t worry. If you don’t find someone who meets your friendship requirements to a tee, then that’s ok.

In a certain sense, you need to drop your friendship standards somewhat when you’re abroad. Most of the people I’m closest to here are people I have very very little in common with. But at the end of the day, they are amazing people and I love them very much. You need to let go of the idea that you’ll find your BFF at these meetings and focus instead on finding someone who will go to the cinema with you at the drop of a hat, someone who will try out that new restaurant with you, someone who will sit and listen when your boyfriend has been a wombat yet again. This is what’s important. So, let’s jump right in to finding friends….

Once I knew I was going to be in Germany, I soon found the online forum Toytown Germany. Being a forum, it is of course full of grumpy people, people who only want to argue, people who are mean and unhelpful. However, there are also lots of really good points and pieces of information for living in Germany. (Pro tip, unless you are looking to get shouted at by the long-timers there, you should always do a search of what information you are looking for before you start a new topic of conversation).

Within this forum, you can find people new to the area who want to meet up, and also long standing groups of people who meet more regularly. I joined one women’s dinner group once and met one girl who I became very good friends with, so it was a good success for me. I also go to a few of the meetups when I have time.

A step up from this would be Couchsurfing.org. I joined it after a good friend of mine mentioned how he has made a lot of friends from that site. On the surface it’s a place where you can find somewhere to stay for free when you are traveling. But it is so much more than this – from weekly meetings to random messages from people wanting to meet up, it is a hotbed of people wanting friendship. Within a week of joining, I saw a message from a lovely French couple who wanted to invite people to their house to play boardgames. It sounded right up my street so I went along and managed to befriend not only the lovely couple but also a person I consider to be a close friend. Aside from that time, I have also been to a massive brunch meetup and a handful of Christmas market spontaneous meetups. The thing that makes Couchsurfing different is that all the members are explorers. They are people who have been places and know what it’s like to be on your own in a place away from home. The website has changed for the worst in recent weeks in an effort to make money from the site and now the helpful forums are replaced with Facebook style pages, where one has to almost call out in order to connect with people. I’ve lost the details of the people I was to meet up with in Paris, as well as those in Goa and have to repeatedly write on the pages of these places, asking if anyone will be in those areas at the same time as me. Bewelcome.com seems to be the next Couchsurfing so be sure to check that one out as well.

Though mainly a dating site, Okcupid.com is also a good place to make friends. I like to call it a social network rather than a dating site. I have made one guy friend and one girl friend from this site. It might be a little scary for some people to venture into but I do say it’s well worth at least making a profile and seeing what kind of messages come.

Speaking of social networks, Facebook is the king as usual. Try to see if there are groups for your area – for Frankfurt I am a member of the English Speaking, Neu im Frankfurt, Photography, Friday Night Drinks Club, Drinkstag, International groups and many, many more. With these groups, I can go to a meeting pretty much every single day, meeting new people. The hardest one of these is the German Stammtisch events I go to with Neu im Frankfurt.

Other websites worth a mention are My Language Exchange and Shared Talk which are primarily language exchange partner websites, but I have actually made friends through them as well.

If you have any more links to great friend making websites, please link them in the comments!

Why You Shouldn’t Speak Your Learning Language With Anyone Other Than Native Speakers

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I am giving myself the challenge of being able to have a proper conversation in German before the summer. In order to boost myself in this, I go to German Facebook meetup every week. Forcing myself to speak German with these people (or, more often than not, forcing people to suffer my German) helps me get the chance to use the language I learn whilst studying. I am ridiculously bad at German. I can barely string a sentence together. But it helps.

However, there is one guy there who is not German. He’s a very nice guy, very welcoming and friendly. But he stands in the way of my German learning, and here is why. When you are pretty good at a language, and you meet someone else also studying that language, then you feel the need to take them under your wing. When I speak with him he’ll use a range of expressions to try to stretch my learning experience. At my level, this isn’t really helpful. With a native speaker, their aim would not be to nurture you, but to have a conversation with you and to be understood by you. Helpful Non-Native’s aim is to show you just how much they know, and try to pave the path of your linguistic learning. But all it ends up doing (to me, at least) is frustrate me as it’s not natural, it’s not helping me and it’s a little off-putting since they are showing off so much I feel lost in my own abysmal level.

If you are a learner who is pretty good at the language, Helpful Non-Native turns into Competitive Non-Native. I find this happens A LOT with Japanese. When you meet someone new in Japan, people like to size you up and see where you are on the scale, to see if you are better or worse than them at Japanese. When I was at uni, I was ridiculously competitive, to the point that I turned into a not very nice person. But once I got into JET, I chilled out a bit. But I noticed the competitive streak in other people I met… they’d mention some Japanese just to test out how much I knew, or even worse, just come out and speak Japanese to me straight off. I don’t know about other languages but it is a real faux pas to speak in Japanese to non-Japanese people unless there is a good reason, ie it’s at a language event or if there’s a Japanese person who can’t speak English there.

So for someone who is learning a language, having someone who is trying to push you along, show how much they know, someone who is trying to show their superiority is not going to be helpful in your quest to learn a language – whether they mean it or not. A native speaker has no hidden agenda, and won’t throw you linguistic blue shells to try and trip you up, either. You’re not distracted by their level because they’re a native speaker and you’re not aiming to be like them any time soon, either.

Does anyone else feel this too? In other languages is there a competitive feeling when meeting a new person?

This is a “write thoughts down” kind of blog post so let’s see if we can get some kind of discussion going!

That Awkward Moment When You’re Not Fluent

Back when I was an exchange student in Japan, I went to a small gathering at a friend’s house. The people there were a few Japanese girls, my Korean friend, and myself. I’d been dating a Japanese guy for a few months, so I was pretty good at conversation (if you don’t know the correlation, you’ve never tried dating someone from a different country ;) ) but I wasn’t fluent.

When people would aim conversations at me, I was ok and could answer. But when they spoke between themselves, I was lost and just shut off. Now this isn’t me saying my friends were bad – they weren’t. I had a lovely time, and they made a Japanese name for me (which is Sayuri), and taught me how to cook some Japanese food. But I just wasn’t quite at the level where I could be a proper member of the group. One girl next to me turned to me and said “I studied in London for a year. I can see the look on your face and I know that feeling. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”

I mention this now, because I had the same feeling the other night. On Wednesday night, my German teacher put down the grammar book after half an hour, sat back and said “ok, let’s speak in German. Tell me about your week”. I spoke, in German, for the first time. Not just ordering a beer or some food, but actual conversation.

I don’t know if this is just me but I get a real rush from this. Speaking in another language… it’s just such a great feeling and I can’t describe it. So, naturally, I wanted more.

On Facebook I’m part of a number of Frankfurt groups, one of which is an all-German group. They had a meetup on Thursday, so I decided to go.

It’s one thing to click “I’ll join” on Facebook but it’s quite another to walk into a bar, see all these people you don’t know, speaking a language you don’t speak and just jump right in. I had a mini freak out inside, wondered what the hell I was doing, but then bought a massive beer and just stood at the side and looked awkward until two guys doing exactly the same started talking to me.

I did pretty well. I’m proud of myself. They didn’t realise I wasn’t German for quite a while, but that’s mainly because I answered with single words for a while until I got into the swing of it. But it was hard. I had to keep asking them to repeat stuff, and I got into the habit of repeating everything in English to make sure I had understood it before I answered. I didn’t initiate anything, because, quite frankly, I forgot how very tiring it was. But also because I felt so sorry for these two guys who got stuck with me. I wanted them to know they could escape at any point, so I kind of zoned out when they were talking to each other.

One guy left after a little while and the other sat down with me and we just spoke in English for the rest of the night. I’m pretty proud that I did such a long time in German. But it’s not a nice feeling to be a burden on someone in a conversation. I want to keep going to these meetups and trying again and again until I can speak German for real.

Language Findings…

 

Working in an international environment has many advantages, but one of the best ones for me is that you get to learn so many interesting things about different languages. Here are some of the things that I have collected from the past week or so -

In German, your fringe of your hair is called a “pony”. In British English at least, a “pony” would be thought to be a “ponytail” hairstyle.

In French, a “stamp” is a “tampon”. Snigger, snigger.

I was with an Italian colleague and his Japanese wife, who was trying to speak English. She said that her “branch hurts”. The husband scolded her – branch is Italian for arm, she should say “arm”. I told her that it’s ok, branches are the arms of trees so it’s ok.

Even in katakana, “ヒップ” (hip) means your bum as opposed to your hips in Japanese.

In German, you can call someone a “blind fish” to mean someone who can’t see stuff that’s right in front of them.

Do you have any language discoveries this week?

Language Learning – Musings

 

If you are a bilingual, polyglot or language learner you’ll know it well. One week you’ll be learning your chosen language and you’ll be like a massive sponge – there isn’t a word around that can escape your amazing linguist brain. You’ll go talk in one of your other languages and the words roll from your mouth. You feel amazing.

Then, a few weeks later you’ll be sat staring at grammar or some new vocab and it’s like trying to get an elephant through a keyhole – it’s just no getting in there. You try to have a conversation and it’s so hard going because every other word you’re having to stop and think before you can communicate.

My high achieving sister recently started 6th form, and one of her AS choices was French, with the reason being that she likes it and she’s good at it. I tried to persuade her to drop it, but she wouldn’t listen. Langauge A Levels – like learning languages in general, are bloody hard. Unlike a science, there are few right or wrong answers. Languages are also living creatures. You can’t just memorise a bunch of vocab lists and some grammar and say you know a language – if that was so, Japanese people would be famous for their great English skills!

Just think about it – it takes you 5 years at least to learn your mother tongue to any great level. And that’s when you are there in the language 24 hours a day, you have groups of teachers slowly dropping you into the language by teaching it to you bit by bit, repeating until they have a response from you.

My boyfriend is currently halfway through his intensive Goethe Institute course – which he attends three days a week for a few hours a night. Our current favourite(!!) thing to do is to sit at the table on a Sunday and do his homework together. Though very clever, he’s not really a linguist. Where I am a Jack of all trades, he is a true master of the English language. However, he’s currently beating himself up about not being better at German already. I know the feeling well.

But how can we get out of the language funk when we feel stuck? Though it’s easier said that done, one way is to study things that you are more interested in/find slightly easier to pick up for a while. For me, this is easy since I take private lessons and when I’m sick of the dative form, I can just ask to have a week studying a different area until I get my “sponge” brain back. For the boyfriend, it’s harder since he’s in a course and can’t dictate what he studies.

In that case, like I keep telling him, I suggest that, if you feel frustrated with language studying, you just give yourself a break. Don’t give up, just remember that you CANNOT learn a language in a few weeks. No matter what those books say.

If you have any tips for getting out of a language study funk, let me know! I’d like to know all the tricks of the trade!

Language Learning – Duolingo

 

Most people here are at least trying to learn German – some take full on classes, some carry phrase books. It’s always a common topic for us and has become a social thing – whether it’s arguing whether we really need to learn the genders of animals over learning how to construct sentences, or talking about how the woman on the Michel Thomas tapes is really pretty stupid and needs to have her ears cleaned.

As we were talking about German a few months ago, someone recommended the site Duolingo to me. It’s a pretty new site, and is free (yippee!) I’ll go into more detail, but its learning method is great for the way I like to learn – I like to DO, not STUDY. It has very very little grammatical explanation, you just type what you hear, or see into the other language. I’ve been told that it is very similar to the Rosetta Stone method.

The reason why this amazing site is free is that you give back – in return for language skills, you use those skills to translate the web. From Amazon reviews to blog posts, you are given articles within your ability level to translate.

 

Lessons come in small bitesize chucks on topics like animals, food, accusative, plurals… and can be completed in a few days if used for the recommended time each day. In each practice you listen and read the German and write English, and also vice versa too. You can also give the answers verbally but I have that turned off most of the time.

There are also multiple choice questions like the one above.

 

When you get a new word, it lets you know. At any point (except in the tests) you can hover over a word to be reminded of the English.

 

A downside to this site is that it sometimes has really random example sentences. I guess that’s the fun of learning languages… It also learns from its users, so sometimes it has mistakes in the corrections, too. There is a questions section in each lesson where people can bring these mistakes up.

 

So you can see I got this one wrong – and it asks if maybe I was still correct. It’s still a pretty new website, so they are open to suggestions and corrections.

 

So in return for the lessons, you are given articles like the one above. You can still hover over the words to get reminders.

With only 10 mins a day, I can really improve my German ability. It’s a really great method for learning and it has a social aspect, too as you gain points and there are leader boards and so on. I am currently the only person out of my group who is (semi…) regularly using the site but I have a long way to go before I beat two of my friends from work!

Downsides include, as I said above, that it’s not a perfect programme and that the sentences are often repetitive or completely random sometimes. But also you can’t choose what you study so right now I’m stuck trying to pass through animals to get to the next level which would probably be more useful.

You can get Duolingo in German, French and Spanish. It’s free! So try it out! And if you do join, add me as a friend – my username is Kotoko!

On Learning German

I’ve been in Germany almost a whole year now. I came here being able to say “hello” in German. That is all. I didn’t take GCSE German (though in hindsight I should have because if you took both French and German you didn’t have to take as many PE lessons…). For a while I took German lessons on Skype. They were pretty good (if anyone is interested, I can pass on the details of the teacher as she’s really good) but with the breakup and so on, since the spring I’ve not really had the energy or motivation to learn.

Finally I’m back on track and I signed up for (gasp!) real life German lessons at the same school where I study Chinese - A-Viva (which I can also highly recommend).

The thing with German is that it’s very grammar heavy. With Japanese, and even Chinese, there’s not much grammar to deal with. As long as you’ve mastered the “te-form” in Japanese and can switch between dictionary forms and “masu” forms, you’re pretty much set. Chinese is even easier still. It’s a language of building blocks.

But German… (sigh). I bought a grammar book for it and the first 10 pages were lists of rules for knowing when words are masculine, feminine or neutral. I put the book on the shelf and there it has sat for the rest of the year. It’s just not nice, or motivating to go into a language wanting to learn how to communicate and to be met with a wall of rules.

As I’m a teacher myself (my degree was half TESOL) I can now see how exactly I want to study. The ways in which I want to learn don’t suit everyone – I have friends who would eat my grammar book for breakfast – but they suit me. I like to learn languages as blocks, and learn grammar intrinsically as opposed to memorising grammar lists. It was the same with Japanese. I don’t even think I knew the “te-form” perfectly before I went to study in Japan. But when I did go, and I had Japanese around me all the time, my brain just absorbed it and I could do it all.

With German I started off with Michel Thomas (who I’ve written about before here). The method is great because there is no grammar to be learnt, just building blocks. Just 10 minutes a day and within a week you’ll be able to say things and communicate with people!

I try to explain all this to my German teacher but she still gave me a stack of printed goods to go away and memorise… (cry). I guess I have to put my back into it sooner or later. However, in her lessons it’s pretty surprising how much grammar I have picked up by not studying grammar. I told her that I’ve never studied German grammar at all, but I was able to describe picture prompt cards in the past, present and future. Look at me go. And my level is at that wonderful level where every breakthrough is a Eureka Moment and I feel such a rush.

Language learning is really really fun. And I hope that people can see that it’s not that hard – even with German. One of the most frustrating things about language learning is that we are taught at school to sit down and do boring drills and tests which take all the fun out of it. Japanese elementary students are by far the best English speakers in the whole of Japan because they can learn English in a relaxed setting, focus on communication and don’t have to worry about tests. We should learn from them. In this day and age, there are so many ways to learn languages without trying. I hope that anyone reading this who is thinking “ah, I’d like to pick up such and such language” will take my lead and leap into Language Lagoon. Because it’s awesome. Ok?