Tag Archives: geek

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.

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340

Finally it’s over…

10 Jul

On Saturday it was time to put the books away and just go for it. Too late to look at any more vocabulary lists or verb tables now – it was D-Day (Deutsch-Day). 

I was disappointed that the weather was completely glorious and that I would be spending the whole day cooped up in an exam room, wracking my brain to remember how to spell things while the weather outside was like this…


Not in the least bit fair, eh?

I arrived early at the exam centre and it was easy to find from the train station. I noticed one of the other candidates must be 60, if she was a day. I’m not sure that I will be still doing language exams at that age. If I am, you have permission to slap me in the face as hard as you can.

The first part of the exam was reading which is by far my favourite part of the exam. Partly because I enjoy reading and I have tried to develop the habit of reading German as much as possible over the past few months. So I find it a little bit easier than the other parts. The section was nothing that I hadn’t expected which was a nice surprise. Although there were some tricky parts, overall it went well. 

Next up was listening. Again it’s not a section that I particularly loathe but it was a bit tricky. When I had answered the questions, I realised on the multiple choice question that I had few too few Cs for me to have got 100% but maybe I’m reading too much into it!

Next up was the writing. Again a part that I find relatively straight forward. I had to write about fairy tales. I couldn’t think of any names of fairly tales in German so I just said I was a fan of the Brothers Grimm stories which, I hope, will not count against me. If it doesn’t, I am happy with my creativity of getting out of a potentially sticky situation.

So then I had a lovely 4 hour break before my speaking part began. I met a friend and we sat by the lake in the sun for a few hours. This was great because it really took my mind off the rest of the exam. I really hate the speaking test. I feel so self-conscious and it’s very obvious if you mess this part up. It’s not just the examiners that you are speaking with but also a fellow candidate. It’s potentially really embarrassing if you forget what to say or get a bit tongue tied.

I had to talk about the topic of reducing the voting age to 16. I managed to talk about Brexit and how this sort of issue impacts more young people in the long term. I finished by saying the issues are too complex for people so young to comprehend and that there must be other ways for them to be engaged in political thinkings. Then I had to discuss with the other candidate about three pictures on the topic “Your Friend – the animal”. These parts of the exam are always daft. The topics are sometimes really vague and it’s difficult to know what to say. Luckily I had had plenty of practice with the other half, so it ended up not being so bad.

Would you believe the moment I finished the exam and stepped out of the exam centre that the heavens opened? Typical, just typical! Even so I managed to go out and have a few drinks to celebrate.

I just had a 4 week wait now until I get my result. I will hopefully be able to share some good news with you soon….

The Art of Escapism

4 Jul

In the past week I have attempted no fewer than 3 escape rooms. If you don’t know what an escape room is, then where have you been hiding? An escape room is a live adventure game which involves between 2 and 6 people being “locked” into a room and a series of puzzles need to be solved in order for the group to escape within a 60 minute time limit. I have put locked in quotation marks because there is always a way to get out quickly from the room if there is an emergency of any sort.

I began on Tuesday with a Prison Break escape room. This was a bit risky from the start because I didn’t know the people that I was meeting. I had come across this activity on the internet platform MeetUp. (This is basically a forum, where people can set up groups and activities so that anyone who is interested is free to join). If you know me, you will know that I really don’t have the patience for people making stupid suggestion and there were more than a few. The beauty of these games is that no specialist knowledge required. Everything that you need to escape the room is in the room. You have to solve puzzles and riddles. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze game which was on UK TV in the 1990s, but instead of an individual having to work alone to solve riddles, there is a team working together.

Part of the problem with playing this game was that we were 6 people. I think this is far too many people. It’s a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-Indians type of situation. People are looking at riddles that have already been solved and you have the same discussions with different people about the same thing which is time consuming and means that not everyone is up to speed on with the actual progress of the game. I felt like I did contribute the most – I unlocked a safe by using a code in braille within 2 minutes and I am still feeling a little bit smug about it.

The second game I did was with two good friends of mine and the room was called Steps. I am not sure why it was called Steps. The only logical reason I can think of is that you have to logically work through the steps of the puzzle to get the key and get out. But surely isn’t that the aim of all the games. I was a little bit disappointed that there were no references to the hugely popular pop group Steps in the room. Having said that, I am not sure that their influence has yet made it to Switzerland. Probably for the best.

I enjoyed playing this game because, as the game unfolded, it was clear that our individual strengths were all slightly different. By that I mean that what was instantly clear to one person was not to the others so it meant that we were able to make our way quickly through the puzzles without too much of a hold up.

This was the first escape room that I have ever escape without any help at all. Basically, if you get stuck on a certain puzzle, you can call or walkie-talkie a member of staff and ask them for help. As the game last only an hour and you have no idea how many puzzle there are ahead of you, being able to take a clue can be a huge help. This time we didn’t need it! And we escaped in 47 minutes! It wasn’t a record by a long shot. The record for this room was 28 minutes. I have no idea how people manage to do it so quickly because I thought we were fast. However, I think it was the beer that we had before doing the game that gave us some fluid thinking and creativity.

On Sunday I played my last game of 3 for the week. A colleague of mine has a slight Sherlock Holmes obsession (the BBC TV series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle books) and when I mentioned that there was a Sherlock room, her face lit up like it was Christmas. So I agreed to join her and her husband. The premise of the game was that Sherlock had gone missing and John Watson needs you help to find out where he is.

Using the clues in the room you have to book Watson a flight to the right location, date and time so that he can go and help Sherlock. This was the most hi-tech room I have ever played. We had to make QR code (though I am still not 100% sure what they are) and soundwaves to uncover a message. There was even a printer in the room so that we could use an iPad to print off the ticket for Watson.

The problem with this room was that it was hard. I mean hard as in only 10% of groups make it out in under an hour. We were up against it. We did take a few clues and some of the tasks really were difficult but we managed it! I was so happy – what a team! The best part was that we got out of the room and went to the reception. We stood there for a few minutes because the employees were busy with other customers. When one of the customers noticed us stood there, he looked like he had seen a ghost. I guess that he had already judged that we would not be part of the 10% who make it out. I am know considering applying to MI5 but I am not sure successfully escaping a room will be counted as necessary work experience.

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A slight sense of impending doom 

28 Jun

Slowly, but surely, I am starting to feel a sense of dread; a terrifying sense that I have brought something upon myself and now I have to pay for it. I’m talking about my German exam which I will be taking in less than 11 days.

It seems like a strange comparison but it feels a bit like booking a holiday, quite far in advance, and all of a sudden it’s here and you think “Oh, that’s come round quickly!” 

Of course, this is all my fault because I signed up for the exam free willingly. The one reason I wanted to do it was to prove to myself that I am learning and getting better and that my time and money has not been a complete waste.

I’m always nervous before exams, even though I am normally more prepared than the person marking the paper. My worst fear on language exams is the spoken part. On all the other parts (writing, reading, listening) if you don’t know the answer, you can come back to it later or have a guess and no one can see the utter confusion etched on your face. 

Speaking is another matter. With speaking you have to answer immediately and the other person knows if you are making it up or you are not feeling great about what you are saying, just from looking at you. Unfortunately for me, this is how spoken language works. 

In my last exam, I was paired with a man from Spain and his accent was so thick that I really struggled to understand what he was saying. If this happens this time, I am just going to say that I don’t understand and can they repeat it because I can’t handle the stress of guessing what has been said. Thinking about it, maybe it will help me score brownie points from the examiners because they might not be able to understand them either!

From now until the exam, my life is a boring, never-ending cycle of listening to German, reading German, learning German working and practicing test German exams. My brain feeling like it is cooking.

I sound very conscientious but it’s not the whole truth. In actual fact, I have begun to find different activities to occupy myself with and ultimately help me to procrastinate! The bathrooms have never been so clean, the garden is looking very trim and tidy and my jars in the kitchen which keep flour, sugar, rice etc have all been neatly rearranged and filled to an optimal level. It could well be that the house is in a lot better state than my “German” mind by the time of the exam.

In positive news, I have started to write emails in German at work (sometimes of very technical topics) and everyone I sent them to has been very complimentary about my German grammar and language skills. 

Now if the exam could just contain a question about writing an email to a colleague about hedge funds, that would be just great!

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.

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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.