Crunching The Numbers: Month 3 of German Class

Goethe-Institut logo

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Just like I did in January and February, I’m going to share with you how I did this month in my intensive German course at the Goethe Institut. This month I had the amazing teacher I had back in January and once again I learnt so much, especially about how much I don’t know and can not do in German. Still, tiny steps – and I feel like I did make some progress. As much as we joke around and laugh with our teacher she is strict and doesn’t let a single mistake get past her. Those of us in her January class received the most criticism as she knows and believes that we are capable of pushing ourselves and doing better. To be honest, I thrive under these conditions. I respond well to someone pushing me, although it does need to be balanced out with fun and lots of laughter which in this class it was.

So, how did I do this month?

Reading: 2

Listening: 2

Structure: 3

Writing: 3

Speaking: 3

On the surface, these grades look like the worst I’ve done so far, but given that our teacher warned us that she grades hard, I am surprised I did so well. Also her comments were really encouraging. I’m no longer accidentally slipping into English, although my native language is heavily influencing how I pronounce some words. Also, I really struggle with relative sentences where the verb needs to go on the end, because let’s face it, keeping the verb in your head whilst you simultaneously try to remember the words you want to say and then trying to remember how they all go together is like performing mental gymnastics every time you open your mouth. My brain is not as young as it once was. I believe I will get there, but the road will not easy.

Next month is my final month at the Goethe Institut (for now) and I will sit my B2 exam at the end of it. This month we did quite a lot of exam preparation which was great in showing me where my weaknesses are. I now need to work on those areas to get them up to exam standards. Here’s hoping that I can do so.

When Quitting Your Job Is A Crime

Crime Time

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I’ve now been unemployed for three months and honestly I could not be happier except that my bank balance is looking scarily low. Therefore, I applied this week for unemployment benefits and got a very unpleasant introduction to Die Agentur für Arbeit (The Agency for Work aka The Employment Agency). The people there were nice enough but it truly is German bureaucracy at its mind-numbing ‘best’. It turns out that I should have applied for unemployment benefits on the very first day that I was unemployed or up to 3 months beforehand, despite the fact I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits until 3 months after I quit my job. Therefore, I need to supply a written statement about why I applied so late. Then, there comes the matter of quitting my job. It turns out that quitting your job in Germany and not having another job to go to straight away is almost like committing a crime. I not only have to provide a written statement on the reasons why I quit my job, but also explain what I did to prevent quitting, what I did to delay quitting and explain why I quit even though my company would have fired me anyway (which they wouldn’t have) plus give the names, dates and times of the people at my company I spoke to about all of it – and I need to do all this in German. Then there comes the usual massive number of forms that you need to fill out when dealing with any public service in Germany. I find all of this so ridiculous that I have been laughing at the absurdity of it for the past 4 days.

Fortunately, things were bad enough at my previous job that I don’t lack any explanations for my reasons for quitting. I’m just worried that they won’t believe all of this stuff was actually going on. The fact that three of my former colleagues (although not from the same office as me since I was the only one there besides my boss) have handed in their resignations since I quit shows that this shit is still ongoing and probably always will until they go out of business. Words can’t describe my relief about being out of that place, even if it does mean having to deal with a mountain of paperwork and no doubt a million and one appointments with the Arbetisamt. If I actually successfully navigate this process and receive my unemployment benefits I will write a How To Guide for other foreigners in the same situation as this whole process was a complete mystery to me (and still is).  For now wish me luck in surviving it all.

Crunching The Numbers: Month 2 of German Class

Goethe-Institut logo

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Month 2 of my intensive German course is over, so how did I go this month compared to the previous one?  Unfortunately this month I was less motivated than I was in January. I felt like I learnt nothing for the first 2.5 weeks and to be honest, the teachers were not as good as my wonderful teacher in January. They didn’t make us work and we were only assigned four writing assignments for the entire month. In January we had 4 writing assignments per week. Still, I feel like I made progress. I spoke only German the vast majority of time including on breaks and whilst on cultural outings and I’m beginning to feel comfortable in the language. My presentation this month was much better than my messed up presentation in January. Still, when I’m nervous I speak way too fast and I lapse into pronouncing words that German & English have in common like culture or generation in the English way. So, much to improve before I sit my exams in April.

So, how did I actually go, grade-wise?

Listening: 1-2

Reading: 1-2

Structure: 2-3

Speaking: 2-3

Writing: 2

So, basically the same grades as I got in January except my writing improved from a 3+ to a 2. I’m not sure this was an actual improvement in my writing or just comparing my writing to others in my class. Since my teacher asked one student if she used Google Translate to write one of her assignments, I’m going to go with the fact I got a 2 because my writing was better than some of my classmates’.

Classes start again tomorrow and my teacher from January told us that she’s trying to get assigned back to our class, so I’m pressing my thumbs that she’ll be our teacher for March. If she is I know I’m going to be made to work hard, which if I’m being honest, I’m looking forward to. I need to pressure from the teacher to make me work hard instead of just coasting along.

Perhaps I Need A New Neurologist

Ritalin

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I have had a grumble about my neurologist Herr Dr F on here before, like when he rang me up to ask me to come and fix his computer or the time where he asked me what disorder he was treating me for, even though he had been my doctor for 6 months. But what happened at my appointment on Thursday morning left me really doubting his ability to treat his patients properly.

A little background here. In Germany (and in probably most Western countries), all of your medical information is kept electronically. A drug can not be prescribed to you unless it has been entered into the computer system first. In the 12 months that Herr Dr F has been dispensing my medication, the exact same medication I might add, every single instance of it is stored on his computer system. Therefore, when Herr Dr F asked me during my latest appointment what medication I was taking and what dosage I was on, I was a little concerned. I was even more concerned to see him typing it into his computer. The same computer that already contains all of this information. Now, I made a slight error when telling him the details of my medication. I told him I was taking the 50mg tablets. This was accepted with a nod and entered into the computer. However, when I got home and looked at the packet sitting on my bathroom shelf I’m actually taking the 25mg tablets. I just doubled my dosage of a prescribed medication and my doctor didn’t even notice this.

Now before you all freak out, this medication was not actually prescribed to me during this visit as I already have a decent supply of this and also, I had previously been on the 50mg tablets (about 6 years ago), so I know that nothing untoward will happen if I happened to have been given it. Still, I have to admit, that I am more than a little concerned about this. If he is asking me what meds he is prescribing me, then he is asking his other patients as well. Having spent some time in his waiting room, quite a lot of his patients are elderly and aren’t doing so good with the whole memory thing. What are they telling him and what on earth is he prescribing them? Some of their medications could cause serious problems if the dosage is changed. I feel deeply uneasy about having him as my doctor. Luckily my disorder is under really good control with my medication so basically all I’m needing him for is a signature on my prescription. Still, if ever I have a major relapse, I don’t really trust him to treat me. I actually had a small relapse over the Christmas period but he refused to believe it was possible I did because I didn’t also have a headache at the time.

To be honest I’m finding all my doctors here, except my gynaecologist, to be sub-standard. I had to tell my gastroenterologist what medication to prescribe me because he wasn’t sure and my General Practice doctor keeps wanting to refer me to a psychiatrist because I happen to have two chronic health issues and he can barely be bothered to treat me for any other issues that might crop up. It’s a damn good thing I have a degree in medical science and can do my own research into my health issues as I feel I am getting no help from the actual medical professionals. Is anybody else having the same problem with their doctors in Germany or have I just had bad luck to keep finding the crap ones?

Why #WomensLives Matter

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have noticed that I have posted links over the past 2 days with the hashtag womenslives and probably wondered what that was all about. Just a head’s up, you will be seeing much more of this hashtag both on my Twitter feed and my blog in the coming months.

It will come as no surprise to you that I feel strongly about gender equality in both the workplace and the wider world. As a woman who works in IT (ok, worked, since I’m now unemployed), I deal with sexism on a fairly regular basis as people who have never worked with me before doubt my abilities simply because I happen to possess two X chromosomes. I also experienced many times people trying to get out of working with me again simply because I was female. They always wanted to speak to ‘your manager’ or ‘someone higher up than you’ which was code for ‘I want to talk to a man’. Unfortunately for them I was the manager and there was no one higher up than me in tech support so they had to just deal with a woman telling them that their javascript code was badly written and then telling them how it should be done.

Therefore when She Knows Media and Public Radio International (PRI) asked me to be part of a ground-breaking journalism project called Across Women’s Lives, you bet I jumped at the chance. So over the coming months, I will be sharing the fantastic articles appearing on PRI as well as blogging about the various subject matters raised when I feel I have something worthwhile to add to the conversation. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read the statistic that only 24% of news stories are about women. You only need to open up a newspaper or magazine to see that when women are mentioned it is usually about what a female celebrity wore at a film premier or what her new diet and fitness regime is.

If we want gender equality, we need to fight for it on many fronts, one of them being having a more balanced coverage in our newspapers and magazines of women’s accomplishments, struggles and the reality of their daily lives. I hope that you will share the articles that move and inspire you with your friends either on social media or through your own blogs. We have a chance to change how women are represented in the media, but this will only happen if we make it happen. Otherwise The Powers That Be will be content focusing only on our bodies and not on our minds.

What Books Would You Unread?

We all have books that we would love to unread because they were so terrible, but what about books you would love to unread because reading them the first time was so thrilling and wonderful? I read the post The 20 Books You’d Unread (so you can read them again) and it got me thinking about what books I would love to read for the first time again. Here is my list of 6 books (some of them book series) that I would love to read again for the first time:

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

This book trilogy was written in 1988 but recently got a re-release due to its popularity. At its core it’s about a willful girl that runs away from an arranged marriage and joins a mercenary fighting company but it contains everything a fantasy lover loves – magic, elves, paldins and lots of fight scenes. It is the only fantasy book I’ve read that feels real mainly because of the accurate descriptions of life in a military camp and the battles themselves. I just want to experience it all for the first time again, rather than the thousandth.

The Vatta’s War Series by Elizabeth Moon

Yes, another book series by Elizabeth Moon. There’s a reason why she is one of my favourite authors. This one is a space opera – pure sci-fi but filled with everything that makes Moon’s books worth reading, including awesome fight scenes. I would just love to get the chance to meet Ky for the first time, rather than have her be like an old friend.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is one of those books that I wish was real. I so want to go and see The Night Circus with all of its magical acts and quirky performers. I would definitely be one of the red scarf wearing fans that follows the circus around the world. However, inside all the magic lies real heartache and pain and this story draws you in and never lets you leave. To experience it all for the first time again would be pure magic.

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

This series really needs no introduction. This was a series of books I could not put down. I think I read all three of them in a single weekend. To experience again that urgency to devour all the books one after the after with very little sleep and be left with a massive book hangover as thoughts swirled around inside my head for weeks on end, well, that’s why I read.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

This book is not only how all vampire books should be written but all urban fantasy books. It is the perfect mixture of real life combined with the horrific world of the undead and magic. I would love to learn all this books’ secrets for the first time and to be captivated by it all over again.

Wild Swans by Jung Chan

My copy of Wild Swans has its cover almost torn off and pages crumpled from it being read so often. The poor thing is at a point where I need to replace it. This book introduced me to the violent history of China but also the beauty and strength of its people. The women in this book are inspirational and it’s my go-to book when I need strength. I would love to meet these women all over again.

 

Of course, these are not the only books I would love to unread. I have almost an entire bookshelf of books I would love to read again for the first time. In fact, it’s only books that have captured my heart and imagination that now get a place on my bookshelf. All other books stay on my Kindle. But for books that draw me in and never let me go, I need to own a physical copy of them. I need to touch them.

What books would you unread so that you could read them for the first time?  Also, what books would you unread just because they were so terrible? On the top of my list is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I never finished it, even though it was one of my mandatory texts for my HSC, but the hours that I tried to plough my way through it I want back.

10 Tips For Improving Your German

Learning German can be difficult and frustrating, but there are many ways to not only make it easier but also incorporate learning German in your daily life so that you don’t even realise you are doing it. Here are 10 of them that I have either done or, in most cases, am still doing:

1. Read German Books: This is the most important tip I have for improving your German, which is why I have put it at number 1. If you want to expand your vocabulary, gain confidence in reading German texts or improving your grammar, reading books written in German will achieve all these goals. Start out with children’s books, especially if you are a beginner. I started reading basic chapter books designed for 6 years old, like the one below about 3 years ago.

Then slowly over the years have worked my way up to reading young adult books. Try reading books you enjoyed as a child like Paddington Bear or Harry Potter or anything written by Enid Blyton, that way you already know the story and can work on learning new vocab and gaining confidence reading German.

2. Change Your Smartphone’s Language to German: Let’s face it, you probably spend more time looking at your smartphone than you want to admit, so why not use this time for a little language practice. You are probably already an expert user of your phone so changing the language isn’t going to leave you helpless, but it will teach you some handy vocab such as the names of the days and months.

3. Listen to German Radio: Every morning I turn on the radio and listen to NDR Info as I go through my morning routine. I’ve become a particular fan of the traffic report mainly because of the weird stuff that tends to find its way onto the road in Northern Germany. Even if you are a beginner, listening to news/talk radio is a good idea as it will tune your ears into the flow of German and you get to feel that thrill when you catch a word you understand.

4. Listen to German Podcasts: Another listening exercise, but one you can do on your way to work. Travelling on public transport is not the most exciting thing on the world so why not use this time to work on your listening skills. For beginners, podcasts like Deutsch- warum nicht? are a good place to start. Intermediate learning may enjoy Grüße aus Deutschland and advance learners Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten or Alltagsdeutsch.

5. Watch German TV and Films: This is a perfect way to improve your German whilst doing something fun. I suggest watching a mixture of dubbed German TV/films and TV/films made in German. The first is a great way to watch a film or TV series you already know in German and the second is a handy way to learn slang and everyday speech. Don’t forget to turn on the German subtitles (if available) to help you understand the dialogue. If watching films or TV series is beyond your ability right now, then start with something like Sesamstraße (Sesame Street).

6. Work on Vocab Using Memrise: Memrise is an online tool where you can learn vocab using spaced repetition – which is reviewing learned words in a way that is designed to boost lodging those words in your long-term memory. You can make use of vocab lists that have already been created or you can create your own.

7. Label Everything In Your House: This is a great tip for beginners – and that is to use your house as your language classroom.  Label everything (and I mean everything) in your house in German – and don’t forget to include the article der, die or das. Use blue paper for masculine words, pink for feminine and white/yellow for neutral to help you remember which words are which. This is what my old apartment used to look like when I first starting learning German.

8. Play Games in German: For those of you with gaming consoles, you can, depending on the console and the game you are playing, change the language into German. For those of you who enjoy playing online games, you can hunt down the German language version of your favourite games or find new games in German. Since I love trivia games, I have just started playing Triviador. Yes, it’s cheesy, but that’s part of the fun. For those of you who like your games old-style, then I recommend the board game Tabu (Taboo). I played it in German class this week and it was more fun than it honestly should have been.

9. Listen to German Music: Load up some German music onto your iPod and listen to it whilst you workout, clean the house or whenever you normally listen to music. If you have no idea where to start with German music, then check out my Deutsche Musik playlist.

10. Lyrics Training: This is a great, fun way to combine listening to German music with improving your listening skills. Lyrics Training has 3 different skill levels from beginner to advance and it’s a great way to discover new music whilst working on your listening skills.

Hopefully you will find some or even all of these tips helpful. If you have any tips of your own that you have found has made a real difference to your German learning, then please let us know in the comments below.