Learning teaching, teaching learning

Since school has ended, I have had to come up with ways to keep honing my German skills.  So, I’ve developed a little regimen.  First, each day while I eat my breakfast, I read the local newspaper (Frankischer Tag). This is difficult and I probably only get the gist of each article.  Luckily there is a kids news section and that part is a little lighter. This takes an hour or two.  Then as I’ve mentioned before, I continue to utilize Duolingo, an online platform for language learning.  Then I read an article or two out of a magazine called Deutsch Perfekt.  This is great because each article is marked (easy, medium or difficult) and in each article the underlined words are clarified on the side of the page.  They are clarified in German so that helps to hone the synonym skills. The difference between what is marked as an easy article and a difficult one is pretty substantial.  I listen to the news and the weather in German each day.  The local news is a lot easier than the world news.  There is a great website called Deutsche Welle that has the news spoken slowly.  It’s still very difficult but the slow pace at least helps and even if you don’t get the gist of the news, it allows you to practice word recognition.  I spend more time with Heinz and Jola now that I don’t have school, and the yoga class helps tremendously with my comprehension. Honestly, the grammar feels like it’s disappearing pretty quickly out of my spoken German. Often I find myself re-ordering the sentences in my mind to the English structure before I can truly make sense out of them.

However, my very favorite part of my “regimen” is when I visit my Syrian friends in Bamberg.  I have mentioned them in other posts. They have a huge family and almost all of them live together.  Parents, brothers, sisters and grandma and grandkids. Everyone in the house is at a different level in their German.  Some have lived here for 15 or 20 years and are fluent German citizens. Others, like my school friend, we’ll call her Sirena, are at the same level as me.  Others know a few words. I was shocked when Sirena’s mom said Tschuss to me yesterday. But my favorites are the kids who are in school. They are great to talk to because they can only speak Arabic and German.  Their German is about as good as mine so I feel very comfortable conversing with them.  I even know more words than them, yay– an ego boost!

Anyway, the visits are fun, chaotic and delicious because around 1:30 or 2pm, we gather around a huge table and eat the Syrian Breakfast. They keep saying, “You really need to stay longer so that one day you can taste a real Syrian lunch!”

The best part comes after the lunch.  One of Sirena’s nephews is 12 or 13, we’ll call him Scott.  He is currently in the Gymnasium (pronounced with a hard G.) This is the name for the highest level of German elementary, middle and highschool education. In Germany instead of all the kids attending the same school and being divided by ability into different groups, the groups are divided between grades 4 and 6 and after that they attend different schools.  The thing with Gynmasium is that its competitive and hard.  There are no special classes in the Gymnasium for kids with German as a second language. They either sink or swim.  Although all the subjects are taught in German, the Gynmasium also requires English and encourages or requires students to learn one more foreign language, most often Latin or French (although I think some gynmasiums have started to offer Spanish).

The first or second time I came over to visit, Scott asked if I would practice English with him. “Sure!” I said, jumping at the chance.  Then he ran to get his book.  I was amazed at how hard the book was for someone just learning.  The part we worked on that day was filled with contractions and required real understanding, not just vocabulary learning.  For our first practice together, I would read the lesson in the book and then explain it to him as best I could in German.  Then we would stop for each word he didn’t know. I would clarify it in German and he would write it in his notebook, with the English and then the Arabic next to it.  When he wasn’t sure, we asked Sirena, who luckily studied English at university or his mom. I had great fun and was amazed with his motivation and tenacity.  We were surrounded by other kids running and playing and screaming and yet he was very focused.

So for our next lesson we worked on the difference between the words “When” and “if.” There’s a question you can spend a lot of time on…We probably worked on this concept on two different occasions.  Then with Sirena’s help we created a test for him to practice.  Creating the test was a little bit harder than I expected.  He did ok. After the test we said, “Ok let’s take a break. That is enough for today.”  But he didn’t want to take a break, he just really wanted to understand the rules that governed this part of the English grammar.  He just kept asking questions and didn’t want to stop learning. On my next visit, he told me that he decided to learn French now too. Never deterred, never discouraged, this kid just takes on challenge after challenge.

Yesterday I visited and Scott wasn’t there, but another little nephew, 6 years old, was there.  He must have seen the lessons with Scott and asked if I would help him with German.  At first I was nervous, but quickly I realized that 6 and 7 year olds are just the people I should be talking with!  So he brought his worksheets and we worked on identifying objects and rhyming word sounds.  Then he had to cut some pages with scissors and glue things together. Explaining the best way to use the scissors and how to remember things in German was a challenge but it was such fun for me. Its easy to be patient and talk slow because I talk slow anyway.

The funniest moment was when he started mouthing off to his mom in Arabic. Although I didn’t know what he said, it was obvious that he was being rude. So,  I said to him in German, “That is not nice, you need to be nice to your mom.” And she nodded. But then he told her in Arabic that she didn’t know what I was saying because she can’t speak German. When she repeated to him what I had said, he denied it and said, “No, you can’t understand her, that’s not what she said!”

This was my cue that he might need a break.  Watching kid’s brain’s get fatigued is one of the most interesting parts about teaching them something.  I miss teaching ballet, but I feel so lucky to have found this family where I get to have a little taste of teaching again.

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