Lexicoblog

The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, September 19, 2014

Lumpi ist mein Hund: German for no particular purpose


I’ve just been preparing for an EAP event in Zürich on 27 September and it got me thinking about my own experiences of learning German; not altogether successfully.

My first contact with German was at secondary school where I studied it for a year around the age of 13. This was back in the days of the audio lingual method and we used a course called Vorwärts which involved watching a slideshow about an apparently typical German family, the Schaudis, and their supposed day-to-day life. We watched the slides, listened to the audio (presumably on tape) then repeated. It was successful in the sense that I can still remember many of the sentences we learnt verbatim to this day. Unfortunately, they weren’t always particularly useful - here’s a selection of the ones that stick in my mind (apologies for the spelling, as far as I remember, we only drilled them orally):

Der Hase ist tot. (The rabbit is dead.)
Hilfe, hilfe, mein Bein ist gebrochen. Hast du eine Hansaplast?
(Help, help, my leg is broken. Have you got a sticking plaster?)



After a bit of googling, I found somewhat of a cult following for the Schaudi family – Mr and Mrs Schaudi, their son Hans, his ‘friend’ Lieselotte and not forgetting Lumpi the dog - which has backed up many of my recollections of the slightly obscure language input - although not admittedly the bit about the plaster!

Some years later, when I finished university, I spent 6 months in Basel working as an au pair and thought I’d better try and learn something more useful, so I enrolled for weekly German classes at the local Micros Klubschule. I really enjoyed the classes. There was a fascinating mix of different nationalities and we had a really nice young teacher. Looking back, he did a fantastic job with such a diverse mix of complete beginners and was actually part of my inspiration for becoming a language teacher in the first place. And from what I remember of the course, I think it was mostly useful stuff, with lots of basic everyday phrases and vocabulary.

The only slight drawback was that the course taught High German (standard German, if you like, as spoken in Germany), but the language I was surrounded by in Basel was mostly Swiss German, a different dialect with a very different accent and quite a few completely different words and phrases. This was quite confusing, especially because, as a beginner, I had no feel for what was High German and what was Swiss German, so I ended up speaking a rather odd mix of the two. This didn’t matter too much while I was in Switzerland as people mostly got the gist of what I was trying to say (albeit at a very basic level). However, when, at the end of my stay, I travelled back through Germany, I got quite a different reaction. Some people just looked at me a bit puzzled and took a while to work out what I wanted, but I remember one guy in a cafe who couldn’t quite suppress a giggle. I don’t think he was being mean, but clearly my dodgy accent and odd hybrid dialect did just sound rather comical. As a result, it was many many years before I risked speaking even a few words of German in public again.

The point being that for any language learner it’s important to understand what they’re learning, why and how they can use it. In English for Academic Purposes (EAP), the purpose, as the name suggests, should be obvious, but that isn’t always the case. Over the past 10 years of working in EAP as a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer, I’ve discovered that different students, teachers and institutions can all have quite different expectations about what learning academic English should involve. And when students’ expectations don’t seem to match what they’re being taught, they easily become demotivated and disenchanted, switching off at best and at worst, being openly hostile.

In my session in Zürich, I’ll be talking about how we can deal with students’ expectations and keep them on side by making the rationale for what we do in class clearer; by explaining to students exactly what we’re doing, why and how it fits in with their own academic studies.

I’m looking forward to visiting Zürich, meeting teachers and finding out what teaching EAP in Switzerland is like. You never know, I might even be brave enough to try out a little bit of German …

If you’re in the area and would like to come along, you can find out more information and register for the event here (it’s free, you just need to sign up).

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