Crunching The Numbers: Final Edition Plus The Dreaded B2 Exam

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This month was my final month of my Intensive German course. Since January I have been doing 5 hours of German class every day and I’ve now reached a point where I am comfortable in German. My German is nowhere near fluent and I still make lots of mistakes, but I can function pretty well in German in my daily life.

This month’s class was the worst experience I have had to date. We were assigned a teacher who normally teaches at the Goethe Institute in Amsterdam. To be blunt, she was dreadful and we ended up playing more theatre games than actually learning German. Things reached a breaking point a week before our exam. The teacher was removed and my awesome German teacher from January and March took over the class to get us ready for the exam. The final week was great but gruelling and we finished up the week fully prepared to sit our exam. Because of the problems with the teachers, I did received a final grade, but only based on my final week of work. However, I feel it was an accurate assessment, especially since it was made by a teacher that I have had for two previous months.

The grades were:

Reading: 2

Listening: 2

Structure: 3

Speaking: 3

Writing: 3

Yes, they are identical to last month’s grades. The skills I am the weakest in have not changed.

The night before my B2 exam I was feeling nervous but quietly confident. We had done a practice exam in class two days previous and the entire class passed. I felt sure I could handle the real thing. What none of us counted on was that the real thing would be way more difficult than anything we encountered in class, especially in reading comprehension, which normally is my strongest skill. The only reassuring thing is that the entire 3 classrooms of people sitting the exam all walked out feeling rather shell-shocked. No one was expecting anything as difficult as what we encountered. However, the pass mark still sits at 60%. I am not sure that I was able to achieve that. I am not going to beat myself up about that though. The only thing on the line here is my pride. I was sitting this exam mainly for myself and partly also because B2 would look better on my resume than B1. If I failed, I can always re-sit the exam.

I now have two months off from classes. Whether I go back in July will depend on whether or not I have found a job by then. The hardest part will be to keep working on my German during May and June. I have plans, but I also know that I am a chronic procrastinator. The good thing is that my German has now reached a stage where I really enjoy watching TV and movies in German (strange, but true), so at least I will keep that side of it up.



Crunching The Numbers: Month 3 of German Class

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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.

Crunching The Numbers: Month 2 of German Class

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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.

Crunching The Numbers: Month 1 of German Class

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I have just completed the first month of my Intensive German course at the Goethe Institut. I was placed in the B1.2 class (the second half of the B1 course) and even though I have already done the B1 Exam, I really needed the refresher. I had forgotten most of the grammar and to be honest, I have my doubts about how much I really learnt and understood the first time around. This time around I feel my knowledge is much more solid, even though I will probably forever struggle with Adjective Declension.

The plus about doing the Intensive German course at Goethe Institut is that at the end of every month, you receive an written assessment of all your skills with a corresponding grade. This is fantastic for knowing where your strengths lie, what you need to improve and just generally how your German is for the course level you are at. The grades are given using the German system (naturally), so it is graded from 1 – 4 and includes an n.a if you failed. Therefore 1 is very good, 2 is good, 3 is satisfactory and 4 is sufficient. Also, you can get in-between grades as well as plus and minuses. So, how did I go in my first month?

Listening: 1/2

Reading: 1

Structure: 2-

Speaking: 2/3

Writing 3+

All in all, I’m pretty happy with my results. I’m actually impressed that my listening skills are ranked as 1/2 as that used to be my weakest skill. I guess listening to news radio and watching more German TV is starting to pay off. Reading is still my strongest skill, reading books in German is paying off big time. Writing, as expected, is my weakest skill, so I will need to keep working on that. I’m not that happy that my speaking was ranked as 2/3, but then again, I did mess up my presentation by getting too nervous about it all, so it’s to be expected. Still lots of room for improvement there. I would like next month to get 2 or above for all my skills, so I guess we will see if I can pull that off.

So, how did I go with my own self-imposed rules for the month? I did all the homework that was assigned, went to more than just 2 activities in German for the month (I think I averaged about 2 activities a week) and I listened to 1-2 German podcasts a day on the way to German class. I kept English TV to just one evening a week and instead got addicted to the German series Mord mit Aussicht (Murder With A View) as well as watching 4th season Game of Thrones in German. Doing my homework doubled as learning vocab daily as we were assigned 10 words per day to learn, the words coming from what we had done in class that day. What I didn’t do was doing 30 mins extra study a day – I tried and did well for 2 weeks and then, honestly, I burnt out. 5 hours of class plus at least 1 hour of homework a day is more than my brain can handle without adding to it. I also didn’t go to Kung Fu at all and am actually debating if I want to continue learning at that school as I’m less than happy with the level of teaching there. So, all in all, I think I did pretty well with my own rules for the month.

I now get to enjoy a 5 day break before starting next month’s course. It’s a 5 day break I really need to give my brain and body a rest. Still given my addiction to Mord mit Aussicht, I’ll still be watching a good deal of German TV over these 5 days (I just love Netflix) so it won’t be a complete break from German and nor should it be. Still 5 days without any homework is going to feel like a holiday.


Back To School

So as advertised, I started my intensive German course last week and already my brain is absolutely exhausted. The course itself is not overwhelming nor too challenging, but it’s just the fact that I’m in class for 4.5 hours every day. I’m just not used to doing full-time study nor full-time study of a subject that ties my brain into knots. One day I may come to grips with German grammar but it feels like that day is a long way off. Fortunately, the folks in my class are making class enjoyable and I love that once again I’m getting to know people from such a wide spectrum of nationalities – French, Swiss, Italian, Polish, Danish, Russian and Chinese.

Also as well as German classes, the Goethe Institut run what they call cultural activities and I have been to two of them this week. The great part about the cultural activities is not only that I’m seeing new places and new things, but they are all conducted in German which is a great way to get in some German study without it feeling like study.

On Friday I went to the Haus der Photographie to see an exhibition on the Leica camera. At this exhibition they had the original photo that launched a million Che Guevara t-shirts worldwide.

Plus the iconic VJ Day kiss photo

On Saturday we headed to the next state over, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, to the city Schwerin to see its palace.

Unfortunately, we picked the worst day possible to go sightseeing when Hurricane Felix was lashing North Germany. I don’t recommend walking around outside in hurricane strength winds and torrential rain. Still the palace was fascinating and now I know it’s there and it’s only a 90 min train ride away, I plan to go back when the weather is much nicer and take my camera gear so I can get some much better and more picturesque photos.

So, how am I going with the strict rules I set myself last week?  Well I accomplished all of them but going to Kung Fu. You can blame a bad headache and a mountain of homework on that failure.  Hopefully this week I’ll do much better.


Registration Day Plus Some Rules For The Next Two Months

Technically my Intensive German course at the Goethe Institute started today, but instead of class today, we had what one might call a Registration Day, even though we’ve all technically registered and paid. It was a day where we got our new student IDs, the all important Wi-Fi password, our GI folders containing the cultural program and, oh yeah, we all had to undertake a one-on-one interview in German that together with our entrance test, that we have already done, will determine what class we will end up in.

The Einzelgespräche, as it was officially called, wasn’t too bad. It was basically a get-to-know-you conversation which is pretty much the only conversation I can have quite comfortably in German. My entrance exam mark was not so great, it seemed all that grammar knowledge has vanished from my brain, but I will probably end up in B2, which is where I want to be and even if I have to do B1 again for a month, well, I probably need the refresh. I’m not going to stress out about what class I end up in. I’m going to trust that it will be the class I need to be in.

My official Goethe Institut Folder

What I’m most excited about is the cultural program. There is something on every day that fits in to whether you have a morning or afternoon class and on the weekends there are excursions to places like Schwerin and Kiel for ridiculously low prices like €10. I’m already marking off the ones I want to go on.

Of course these next two months aren’t going to be spent just touring around Hamburg & Northern Germany. I need to work hard on my German and to help facilitate that I have come up with some rules to keep myself disciplined. They are:

1. No English language TV/movies (including CNN), except for 1 evening per week. Going to the cinema is excluded from this rule.

2. Listen to 1-2 German podcasts a day.

3. Keep on reading my German language novels daily.

4. Go to Kung Fu at least twice a week – Kung Fu is held in German (a plus!) & I need to get my butt moving whilst doing all this studying.

5. ALL homework must be completed daily. No slacking off allowed.

6. Go to at least two events held in German a month. One of these must include a Stammtisch or similar. Looking at the cultural program this will not be a problem.

7. Work on improving my vocab daily.

8. Do at least 30 mins further study daily.

Hopefully these will keep me on track and immersed in my German so I can get the most out of these next two months.

Classes officially start tomorrow but because the school will not work out the class lists until this evening, everyone needs to be there by 8:30am, which is technically before sunrise. If my class is not until the afternoon, which is likely, then I have a Hamburg city tour to look forward to in the morning. I’m not happy about having to be at school so early. I am not a morning person and these last 3 weeks of holidays has meant that my usual waking time is more around 10am than 7am. Tomorrow morning is going to be tough.



The Only Constant

The quote ‘Change is the only constant in life’ is once again ringing true for me. Today is/was my final day at the job I have have for 7 years and the job that moved my life from Australia to Germany. It’s a big change, a massive one even. From my second day in Germany I have gone to the same office every weekday, seen the same faces regularly on the U-Bahn, gotten my mandatory Coke at the same supermarket and basically had a very comforting daily routine amidst all the upheaval of learning to adapt to life in a new country. Now that is all changing.

Alas, I don’t have news of an awesome new job which prompted all this change. I left my job in part because I felt undervalued and unappreciated. Regretfully my now former company chose to show me just how little they valued me. I have learnt some really tough life lessons, especially this past week, and now move on into the world a little wiser and a lot less trusting than before.

I do, however, have a plan, such that it is. For the first two months of the upcoming year I will be a full-time German language student at the Goethe Institute in an attempt to drag my German from barely conversational to business level. It is going to be a very tough 2 months, but one I’m looking forward to. Unfortunately, evening classes were never going to be enough to get my German to the level I need it to be to find an awesome new job here. Therefore if I wanted my job situation to change, I needed to make that happen for me. It kinda feels like burning everything to the ground in order to rebuild it.

So lots of changes are happening and all without the safety net of having a steady reliable income. I’m excited and, if I’m honest, also scared about what 2015 will have in store for me.