Tag Archives: books

Vienna, Day 1

14 Aug

When the alarm went off this morning, it was time to go back to school. The school is about 30 minutes away from where I am staying so I wanted to be there a bit earlier in case there were any delays. One of the problems of living in Switzerland is that you get used to everything running perfectly on time. So when you go somewhere else it is a bit of a shock when the train does not arrive at 12.32 exactly.

The school was easy enough to find. I bought a weekly ticket for the transport which is just over 16 EUR, which is pretty good value for money.

When the school said that we should be there early to have a speaking assessment, I thought that there would be able 6 to 10 of us lined up waiting. It turns out there was about 60 or more. It was crammed with people. After filling out a form (even though I had already done this at least twice for the school), I had an oral test to find out which level my German was. This was in addition to a 60 minute test I had already submitted online. I realised that this exercise was largely pointless because they had already divided students into groups.

As happened in Munich, I don’t think that I was put into the right group for my ability and level. I was willing to stick it out for a day and see how it went. The first hour and a half was a lesson focusing on grammar. I had already done the exercises to death but I did learn a few things and one or two things were a lot clearer. It was clear that some of the other students were less confident in their abilities. I really am not the most confident of people when it comes to my German ability but I can at least read something out loud with a certain degree of confidence. I have worked hard at this over the past months in my lessons in Switzerland.

The second one and a half hours was with a more motivated teacher and the focus was on conversation. The whole lesson was spent talking about emotions and different words to describe them. This was really useful. I have a huge list of new words to use and it was a good way to increase my vocabulary.

As I had joined for an intensive course, I then had a small break before another one and a half hours with another teacher. I thought that this hour and a half would be another lesson with a structure of what we were going to study. It turns out that it is more of a lesson to recap what we have done in the morning and we were expected to come with topics that we were not sure about. In fairness, I can do this on my own in my own time, rather than paying for it. It was nice to meet with other people and be able to practice speaking a bit but overall I didn’t really think it was worth it.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The exercises were not as challenging as I wanted or need. I have decided to go to the school and air my views and ask if I can be moved to another group. It doesn’t make sense if I don’t learn as much as I could and these two weeks are holiday time that I have taken off work. I need to make sure that my time and learning is maximised. And I love complaining in any language. Let’s see what happens.

By the time I had finished school it was already 2pm. I came home, went shopping and then made my way to the train station to pick up my boyfriend who was arriving to come and stay for a week. With him being here I definitely feel as though I am on an intensive German course. I think I have only said five sentences in English today. At this rate I might start forgetting how to speak English.

On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

sun-on-road-2413810__340

Mystery Solved!

4 Mar

After my last post, I was seriously concerned about what I have actually been doing for the last 3 months. After much brain-racking, noggin-searching and head-scratching I have finally what it is. Though I warn you to be disappointed…

The last 3 months I have been mainly reading. Not very rock and roll, is it? I have spent most of my time with my head in a book and I have loved just about every minute of it. I would class myself as an avid reader but sometimes I can find reading a bit of a chore, especially when I can’t get into the book and the characters or the plot are unbelievable or unrealistic. This year I am yet to encounter this problem. It seems that I have effortlessly got into a book, devour it in a few days and then I am ready for the next one.

For the past few years, I have been attempting to read (on average) one book a week. I have always failed. I have an app called Goodreads, in which I can record what books I have read. This means it is easy to keep a record of how many I have read and what I have read. There is nothing worse than getting 50 pages into a book and realising that you have read it before.

Last year I read 39 books in total. In 2015, I read 31 books. So far this year, I have read 11 books and I am sure that I will finish my twelfth over the weekend. This means I am on course to read (on average) one book a week in 2017.

Four of the books that I have read this year have been in German. These books are shorter than a novel than I would read in English and a couple of them were aimed at a level that is a little bit lower than my level of German but I was still able to learn a few new words that I haven’t yet encountered. I am not sure if books read in another langauge should be counted as double for the purposes of this venture.

stack-of-books-1001655__340

Reading is actually a very good way to increase your learning of a language. Even if you do not understand all of the words in the story, you can look up words that keep reocurring and reinforce some of the grammar themes that you have learnt. Some people find it easier to rote learn grammar from a sheet but I find it much more effective to see how the grammar is used in context. Once you have seen the grammar three or four times in context, it is more likely to stick in your brain.

I also think that reading texts which are a little bit too hard is good practice if ever you decide to do a language exam. It is extremely unlikely that you will know all of the words printed on the exam paper and so it is important to be able to work out the meaning of the word by instinct and interpretation. A best guess is better than having no clue at all.

I am just looking at the list of books that I have read this year. It is an eclectic mix. There is the story of an MP who accidently kills an endangered species of owl, a story about life of teenagers living in the time of the Berlin Wall and a cult, who prey on vulnerable people in order to fund other nefarious activities.

Thinking about it in these terms, the reason why I have lost track of what I have been doing lately is because I have been transported to 1980s Berlin, I have been following the unraveling of a political scandal (with a Conservative MP as the lead, surprise, surprise) and I have been trying to piece together clues to solve a criminal investigation. And the whole time I was on the train to work!

That is why I love books.

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.

Operation Full Immersion: Day 3

17 Jan

After I “de-registered” from the group lessons, I was free this morning until 12.30pm when my next private lesson would start. I could have stayed in bed for longer but I go up and decided to do some self-study. I went to find a library yesterday and I realised that they don’t open until 10am at the earliest. So I needed to find an alternative.

Going against every grain in my body, I went to a Starbucks. I thought that it would be hard to nurse a mint tea for 3 hours but it was surprisingly easy, even though by the end the tea was pretty disgusting. I would normally feel guilty about sitting there and using the Wi-Fi for free but I read an article recently that said that Starbucks don’t mind you doing that so I did this guilt-free. At almost 3 Euros for hot water and a tea bag it should be them who are feeling guilty.

I thought I would soon get bored but I was powering through grammar exercises and going over somethings which I have already learnt but needed to look over again. I feel like I achieve what I wanted to in the morning and it was a lot easier to do than it would be at home with distractions from TV and basically anything else that is actually in the flat.

I headed to the school for my lesson and we went over some topics which I was having problems within. I think people can explain things in different ways and having a different teacher made it simple to iron out some of the mistake and misunderstandings that I had. We also talked about an article that she had printed off about the EU-Parliament President. It was interesting that some of the verbs that were used in the article were normally used for professional sport so that the reader got the impression that there was a real fight happening and it was something spectacular to watch.

I was surprised that the article mentioned the three female candidates only in passing. There was no mention of names, places of origin as there were for the men. I find this a bit surprising in a country where the Chancellor is female and who, I would say, is one of the strongest leaders in the world irrespective of gender.

After the lesson, I was pretty tired and it was so cold outside that I had no desire to wander around, so I came back to where I was staying to work. I didn’t feel it was right to go back to Starbucks in case the staff recognised me.

I finished a German book I was reading. It was only 90 pages or so long Even though the cover has “Easy Reader” emblazoned on it, there were still quite a few words that I didn’t know so it was a good exercise to help me learn. The story is about a daughter whose mother is involved in a car crash. It doesn’t seem like a great story for a Tuesday afternoon but, nevertheless, it was entertaining and, like I say, I managed to learn something. Oh, and it turns out that the mother comes out of the coma and everything is ok.

In order to complete the Full Immersion, I went to a beer hall for something to eat in the evening. I know that the waiters were dying to talk to me in English but I wouldn’t let them. I got the menu in German, ordered in German, everything in German. Sometimes it pays to be stubborn.

I had heard that Munich was one of the most expensive cities in Germany but in comparison to Zurich it is still cheap. For one Mass of beer (one litre, or the equivalent of about 2 pints) it was 8 Euros 40. You pay about 9 SFr. (about 9 Euros) for less than a pint in Switzerland, so naturally I ordered a Mass with my meal. The waiter looked a littlimg_4455e bit surprised when I ordered it. He probably thought that I didn’t know what it was that I was ordering. But, oh, I definitely did. I noticed as I looked around that I was the only one in the whole place who had ordered a Mass. When in Rome…

I ordered roast pork which is a Bayern delicacy. It delicious and even thought it looks like it wasn’t a lot I did struggle to eat it all. I can’t help but thinking that the presentation reminded me a bit of a pair of tits. I am fairly sure that was unintentional. What do you think?

It has been a long day today and I feel like I have learnt a lot. Although I haven’t spoken as much German as I would have liked,  I think what I have spoken has been better. I’m ready for what tomorrow brings…

The Reader

26 Nov

Recently I finished reading my first book in German. I mean an actual proper German book, not a children’s book, a comic but actual Literature (note the capital “L”). All 204 pages of it.

What I have dubbed “The Reading Project” started because my German teacher suggested that I should choose a book to read and at the start of each lesson describe to her what happened in the part of the story that I read since the last lesson. It would be a good opportunity to increase my vocabulary and to learn passively. The only caveat was the book had to be originally written in German; no German translations of English texts were allowed (which basically means no Harry Potter).

She gave me full choice of what to read. I went into a bookshop and browsed through the books until I came to a book called Der Vorleser. The English translation is The Reader. You might remember from a few years back that Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role in the screen adaptation of this book. So, yes, in effect I was cheating a bit because I already knew the outline of the story.

2016-11-25_09-27-46

It was only after I had bought the book and I had told my teacher that I what I was reading that I realised that I might have made a terrible mistake. Firstly, after a few pages it was apparent that this book was relatively difficult. In the beginning, it felt like I was looking up every other word and progress was slow and painful.

But my second mistake was that I had forgot what the main theme of the book was. If you have seen the film (or read the book), you will know what I mean. The main premise of the book was the relationship of the 15 year-old boy and a 36 year-old woman. The relationship starts of innocent enough and then develops into a sexual relationship. This meant that I had to explain some, ahem, intimate details.

My description of what happened at a certain point in the novel went something a little bit like this (translated into English):

Me: So, he was sitting in the bath and then she came in and she was naked, and so on…

Teacher: What do you mean by “and so on”?

Me: You know, they like did things that adults do when they are alone together in bed. Oh my god this is so embarrassing…

Teacher: It might be embarrassing but it is important to know this stuff in German as well!

I guess that she did have a point but explaining this stuff would have been embarrassing for me if in was in English. To try to describe it succintly in another language, while I desparately struggled to find words and phrases, was near on impossible.

Thankfully, not all of the book was like this. The themes of the book are complex and I realised that I had forgotten most of the story and the plot twists. A really difficult part for me to understand was when the story moved to a courtroom and there was a lot of legal terms and jargon that made it difficult to understand what was going on all of the time. I am an avid reader and the main reason for me engaging in reading is for pure enjoyment and escapism. An exercise where I need to look up words in the dictionary constantly takes away some of the joy of reading for me.

All in all, I feel like this is a huge acheivement for me but that is not to say that I am 100% satisifed with my progress with the German language. Just two days ago I was ready to quit learning and just give up because I don’t feel as if I am able to remember everything that I have learnt and spending huge quantities of time and money on it in the process. But I have learnt so much since starting to learn 3 years ago and sometimes it is easy to forget that.

I am always reminded by my friend who, when I was explaining how frustrated I was with this language, said “Language learning isn’t linear”. No, it isn’t. But I think it’s about time someone changed it so that it is.

What’s in a name?

16 Nov

In case you were wondering how I came to name my blog ourgirlinzurich, it is a reworking of the title of the Graham Greene novel Our Man in Havana. It is a satirical work which pokes fun at the intelligence services, especially the British MI6. It is a very good book, if you haven’t read it. Greene also wrote famous works, such as Brighton Rock and The Quiet American, which I think were both made into films. Our Man in Havana also has a film version.

images

I guess I used this title as opposed to any other because, in a strange kind of way, I feel like my move abroad was a bit like going undercover and into the unknown and the description of the language barrier in the book, if I remember correctly, is also apt. At one time I was actually thinking about applying for a job at MI6 (or was it MI5, I can never remember the difference) but I didn’t even make the application because I didn’t make the selection criteria.

It turns out that a) I am too tall for a woman (meaning taller than average) and b) I have blue eyes (only about 10% of the population have blue eyes) and this would mean that I would be too memorable and, therefore, not suitable for tasks such as surveillance. I did want to argue that I can talk to someone for hours at a party and 5 minutes later the same person would have difficulty in picking me out in a line up but it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What I have only just found out (isn’t Google amazing?) is that Graham Greene died and is buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland. So it would seem that my reworking of his book title has somehow come full circle.

There are a surprising number of famous people who have died and are buried in Switzerland. Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn are also buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland.

On one of many of my to-do lists is to visit the grave of James Joyce, who lived and died in Zurich and is buried at Fluntern Cemetery. It is in the centre of the city and I know exactly where it is but it feels a bit weird to go and visit the grave of someone that you never met seems to be a bit morbid. But I think in some sort of strange way, if I do go and visit the grave I might be inspired to read Ulysses finally. Because this is something else that is on a to-do list somewhere…