You can check out how I got on in my first week here.
For the first day of the week, we covered vocabulary for the topic of important buildings and institutions you would commonly find in a city. I feel the needle is slowly turning now in terms of how difficult the content is to comprehend, which is great as I am liking the challenge, even if it is early on a Monday morning (8 am, one hour difference between Berlin and Dublin).
We were introduced to a new teacher as last week’s one has been reassigned. She is really lovely and got us speaking a lot, which is practice that I am really craving. We were practicing vocabulary related to food, so I had a lot to say! I talked about how I would normally love to drink a fair amount of coffee, but can’t due to my weak kidneys and how often I produce kidney stones. She related to that as she also has poor kidneys.
During our speaking practice, I noticed that I was throwing caution to the wind, and didn’t mind if I was making mistakes. Thankfully, I wasn’t as error prone as I thought I was. I liked that our new teacher didn’t offer a model for the new words and corrected our pronunciation when it needed to be done. She also said that I was quite strong and recommended that I move levels, but I told her that before I call curtains on this level I wanted to gain enough confidence in my speaking and listening skills. Having said that, this compliment gave me a lot of assurance that I had been studying really well up until the start of the course.
Today, we did a lot of grammar concentrating on articles and three of the four cases in German; tell me again why students struggle with articles in English?
Joking aside, articles are cumbersome, and cases are cumbersome. Because nouns have a gender, you have to learn the article along with the noun or you’ll come undone when trying to express yourself whilst adhering to the different grammatical cases, as the article changes. This is the most frustrating thing about German, no doubt about it.
When it comes to learning grammar, oftentimes, teachers and theorists like to compare it to construction or making food. I see the logic in that. If you understand the grammar first time round, the brick sticks to the concrete mix and the mortar hardens quite easily thus a foundation can be established for other grammatical items to be built onto it. Other times when the grammar isn’t understood, the mortar is very wet and the brick cannot be placed. It’s after repeat viewings or visits of this particular grammatical item that you get to understand something you didn’t before. That’s how I like to look at grammar. I understand that if something doesn’t click right away, I know I will understand it, or part of it, upon a future visit.
Interestingly, when talking about that needle moving yesterday, it moved quite far today, as we looked at prepositions that normally trigger the cases. This was a bit of a cognitive overload, in my opinion. I figure that the teacher did this just to lay all the tools out in front of us as we will be picking them up to analyse and use throughout the rest of the week. I try not to use this approach as it can put a lot of strain on some learners, but as there were only two of us today, and depending on the learner in general, it can spur them on to investigate these items in their own time, thus promoting learner independence and autonomy.
The needle I described on Monday continued to turn today as we delved into more complex grammar: the Akkusativ and Dativ cases. It goes to show why teachers say it is important to learn the article with the noun. If you don’t, you will find approaching the other cases, articles, and other determiners very confusing. I try to encourage my students to do the same when it comes to word combinations. It is important that they are learnt as chunks and when they can be separated. I think this aids fluency as you are recalling the language as one unit instead of separated items. It also helps with listening.
We did a lot of speaking today which was great. We talked about our favourite food, and we did a role-play on cooking something for a friend. We worked on emergent language which I try to do a lot with my students. The teacher asked us a lot of questions using the vocabulary we had studied to scaffold our answers, then taught us new words and phrases when we couldn’t think of them in Deutsch.
This is the type of learning that I always like. As a learner, I want to experiment and play around with the language and only get help when I have come undone or I need a word or phrase. I think back to how Scott Thornbury compared a video game player to a language student. In modern video games, players are forced to do long and boring tutorials e.g. to climb up the ladder, press X (you don’t say!), when players just want to play the game. With language learning, this is strikingly similar. Learners are marched through long grammar instructions and presentations and practice is often largely marginalised until the very end.
I love the little homework projects we have been getting since the start of the course: write down your favourite place in your city, talk about things you have and don’t have in your city, your favourite recipe, and so on. This really helps me because I get to investigate the language at my own pace and leisure, and these contexts will probably be used if I were trying to make friends through Deutsch.
We had tests on Friday on singular and plural nouns, negation, and food vocabulary. Before we did that, the teacher showed us our first authentic material: the news coming out of West Germany on the horrendous flooding that occurred there over the last few days. This unraveling story was really sad to watch and I hope the people there get the aid and help they desperately need right now.
It’s nice to combine the language we are learning with a context that is developing in the present time. It makes the language we are learning more significant and urgent.
I did quite well in the tests today. It spurs me on and gives me a bit of boost that I am doing alright with the input.
Techniques and skills I can borrow from the teachers.
- After a long speaking session/role-play, repeat the exercise but in written form for homework to help focus on form, research language you couldn’t think about on the spot during the speaking, and just to harden the retention and recall of words and phrases that typically appear in this context.