Tag Archives: language learning

40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Mar

For this challenge, I need to read 40 novels in German.

I haven’t put that much effort into this challenge yet, which is partly due to the fact that I still have to look up quite a lot of words when I am reading in German. I have, however, managed to read two more novels in German this year.

Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) by Antione De Saint-Exupery

This is a very well-known children’s book across Europe but I don’t think that I have even seen in the UK. The story is about pilot who, while trying to fix his plane in the desert meets a small prince who is travelling to Earth from an asteroid. The prince describes different worlds that he has explored.

Although this is a children’s book, it is very philosophical in nature and criticises the social nature of the world. I managed to learn a lot of words while reading it. I could see myself re-reading this book again in the future. It is only short and it would also be a good way to make sure that I have remembered the vocabulary that I have learnt.

Die Frau mit dem Hund (The Woman with the Dog) by Birigt Vanderbeke

This was a longer, and definitely, more adult book. When the book began, I knew that normal life was not being described. The first character in the book, Jules, has to go to the supermarket to buy goods with points and, from the descriptions, the whole place is very clean and regulated. When she gets home, there is a young girl called Pola with a dog sat outside her apartment. She panicks because dogs are not allowed in District 7 and she quickly ushers her into her apartment so that the caretaker or someone else doesn’t see her with the stranger.

After giving her food, she discovers that she is pregnant and she says that she needs to get to another district when women have babies. She is so scared about the authorities finding the pregnant woman with her dog in her flat without ID that she tells her that she has to leave. Meanwhile, the neighbour, Timon, has smelt the smell from the dog and this reminds him of the time when he was growing up before the districts were formed. He finds the woman the next day and takes her in. Timon and Pola, with the help of some people she knew before she ended up in District 7, build her a place to live in the attic. Pola ends up giving birth to the baby in the attic one night, even though Timon has tried to get her ID and a safe passage into the birthing district.

At the end of the book, I really wanted to know more about the circumstances of these districts because nothing is 100% explained to the reader. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader, which is no bad thing, but so many things are left unsaid that it is a bit frustrating to know exactly what happened for the living and working condition of the population to end up like this. The book could also lend itself to further books, where the reader sees exactly what happens to Pola and her baby girl, who she, for some reason, calls Michael.

40 Before 40: Challenge #1

17 Jan

My first challenge for my #40Before40 is to pass the C2 Goethe German exam. On the European Framework of Languages this is the highest level and means that you are almost on the same level and understanding as a native speaker.

One of the reasons I moved to Switzerland was to learn a language. A lot of people I know, and I mean mainly British expats, don’t bother to learn the local languages. It is possible to survive working here in an international company where the preferred language is English. However, I feel it is a bit of a shame not to try to learn it because, I believe, your experience will be much better for it.

That is not to say that it is easy. I came here not knowing a word of German and now I still don’t think I know any of it some days. It requires a huge investment of time, brain power and perseverance. So, I have worked doggedly for the best part of four years and slowly but surely I am getting there.

I have now finished my C1 course. So that means I am one more level away from completing this challenge. If you have every been stuck on a level in Candy Crush, you will know that “just completing one more level” is not as easy as it sounds. I will begin the C2 level when I am back from my travels in March.

To become even a little bit closer to being considered as a native speaker, I know that I have to improve quite a bit. Mistakes are not looked upon kindly in the exam. Also I know that I need to work on managing my stress levels in the build up to the exam because it is pretty unbearable how stress I manage to get myself. I dare say it is worse for people who know me.

I am under no illusions that this could be hard to achieve but I am going to give it my best shot and see what happens. I have got this far so that has to mean something.

One thing that I found equally laughable and endearing is that a colleague of mine confessed that I have inspired her to take her German exams as well. I never thought that I would inspired anyone to do anything, let alone take German exams. From the sound of it, she is doing more work and preparation than I have for the last four years.

But as a former boss of mine once said: You only need to be one mark above the pass mark. Everything else is wasted effort.


40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Nov

Reading is one of my passions in life. I could easily sit and read for the whole day if I had the time and there were no interruptions. A great way to learn another language is to read. It is surprising how much you can learn passively.

However, as it is not always easy to read in another language, this can take the fun out of one of my favourite past times. Sometimes it feels like you are taking more time looking up words than you are actually reading the text. Despite this, I decide that my Challenge #27 would be to Read 40 novels in German.

So far, this is what I have read:

1. Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink (The Reader)

I read this book as part of my German lessons earlier this year. I wrote about this at the time on my blog. If you didn’t see it the first time, the link is here.

2. Happy Birthday Türke! by Jakob Arjourni (Happy Birthday Turk!)

This is the story of a private detective of Turkish heritage born in Germany, who is asked to investigate the death of a man, after the police have shown their disinterest to use resources to solve the murder of a “foreigner”. The story begins on the birthday of the detective, hence the title “Happy Birthday, Turk!”

The story also explores issues, such as racial stereotypes and the tensions that exist between people who are seen as foreigners and those who consider themselves to be natives. The books ends with the detective not only discovering the truth but also uncovering a corrupt system.

Thanks to this book I now know more words for prostitute in German than I do in English. I have no idea when I will use these words though.

3. Ein Tag mit Herrn Jules by Diane Broeckhoven (A Day with Mr Jules)

This was am interesting book about a woman whose husband passes away in his armchair in the morning. She doesn’t want to accept this and carries on her day as usual. What throws a spanner in the works is when the autistic child who lives in the same building comes over. He regularly comes over to plays chess with the man who has passed away.

Being autistic, he doesn’t like changes to his routine and the wife has to let him in to play chess with her husband. The boy realises quickly that his normal chess player has passed away but he spends the day with the wife anyway. By the end of the book, the wife has come to terms with her loss and admits that she needs to contact the relevant people, including her son and daughter, to deal with the death of her husband.

4. Ein paar Leute suchen das Glück und lachen sich tot by Sibyelle Berg (A few people search for happiness and laugh themselves to death)

This was an interesting book. I mainly chose the book because the author lives in Zurich. The story has short chapters which focus on individual chapters, by the end of the book several of the individual stories have intertwined.

The book explores themes such as love, loss, the complexity of relationships and, to a certain extent, the meaning of modern life.

By the end I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I had quite a few unanswered questions. In terms of my language learning, I did learn a lot of new words, especially colloquial terms that are perhaps not easy to pick up by formal German lessons.

Four down, 36 to go…

40 Before 40: Part I

8 Sep

I was slightly surprised by the attention that my #40Before40 list generated, both on and offline.

I feel a lot more encouraged from the beginning and I am feeling optimistic about the whole challenge. But then I have a deadline of 5 years, so it feels like time is limitless. I know that time will quickly come around and before I know it I will be panicking about finishing certain items. I am aiming to avoid this, if at all possible.

I thought it would be a good idea to run through quickly the items on the list to understate the reasons why they are on the list. As I mentioned in my earlier post, some of these may not seem so difficult but I have my own reasons for having them on the list.

So here is a quick explanation of the first 20 challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – this one is relatively straight forward. I live in a German speaking country and I don’t currently speak/write German fluently. C2 is the highest level of the European Framework of Reference for Languages. This means you are on par with a native speaker: almost no errors in writing or speaking. Could be tricky. I start C1 level lessons in two weeks which is one level below the highest level.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – I didn’t even know that there were this many countries in Europe but there are actually 51. So far, I have visited 25 of them. The rule is that I don’t have to revisit the countries that I have been to before. I would love to do this but my employer would not be so happy.
  3. Go paragliding – this is one of the easier ones on the list. I just have to book in and go, right? I have been meaning to do this for literally years. It’s on the list so I have to do it now.
  4. Enter a photography competition – I am a keen photographer, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I am any good. I would like to improve a few of my photography skills and then enter a competition. There are lots of competitions. I am sure that one of my photos will be worthy of an entry.
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral – by far the most morbid item on the list but something that I have been meaning to do for a while. Hopefully planning my own funeral will take the stress out of arranging it for those who are left behind.
  6. (Re)Learn the flute – at school I was a decent flautist. I gave up my hobby of music to play hockey. I recently bought a flute and some music. I thought it would be easy to return to playing. It turns out that the sheet music now looks like Japanese to me. This will take some dedication.
  7. Go alcohol free for a year – I have, at times, voluntarily gone alcohol free. In the past I have gone without alcohol for 3 months before a half marathon and felt great about it and not really missed drinking. Let’s see if I can last a whole year without it…
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – as with Number 2, I don’t have to re-watch any of the films that I have already seen. From the list of films, I have noticed that there are some films on there that I haven’t even heard of before. It should be interesting!
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – this could have been on my list to do before 21 and 30. One of the reason why I have been blogging is to get into the habit of writing. I have at least one book desperately waiting to get out of me. It needs to get written.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – since writing the original list I have added 10 miles because I realised that I have an official race time for 10 miles when I ran in Liverpool in 2016. My times are not great and they are beatable. I feel that if I don’t do this challenge in the next few years that I will never beat my times. I decided to not limit myself to one race distance because recently I have had some knee problems and I don’t want to put too much stress on myself to beat the time and make my injury worse in the process.
  11. Read the Bible from cover to cover – as a theology graduate, I probably should have done this already. I haven’t. In the beginning, there will be a lot of “begatting”. I will need to power through to the end.
  12. Go to the Opera – another of the more easy ones. Book the tickets and go! Yes, I have been saying that for years. I think I will need to read up about the opera before I go so that I know what is going on. I don’t know any Italian. When I was at the Mozart concert at the Opera House in Vienna, I enjoyed the opera singers more than I thought I would.
  13. See the Northern Lights – this has also been on my list of things to do for years. I really can’t wait to see them but I will need some luck with the weather as they are not always visible.
  14. Go vegan for 3 months –  Why, oh why, did I put this on the list? I’m already regretting and dreading it. What on earth do vegans eat? The aim of this is to focus my attention on what I eat. I am a bad eater, in that I just eat whatever and don’t think about the nutrional value of food. I hope that this will help to correct this bad behaviour of mine.
  15. Have something that I have written published – related to Number 9, although I am almost positive that it will not be the outcome of Number 9 that is published.
  16. Save money for a rainy day – I am getting on a bit so it is time to think a bit about the future and money. The main motivation behind this is the thought of retiring early but maybe I am too late for that.
  17. Write a diary for a year – I did write a diary on and off as a teenager, which was mainly along the lines of “Oh my god, I hate her!” I’m hoping this will be slightly more mature and will be a lovely keepsake of a year of my life.
  18. Hot Air Balloon ride – again, I have wanted to do this for ages and ages. Let’s get it done!
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – an Ultra race in layman’s terms is a race that is longer than a marathon, normally 50km or more. At the moment, I am thinking about a walk, like London to Brighton, or something similar. But I am yet to decide which exact race and when.
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself – I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, New Year, Easter and definitely not of birthday party. It’s not that I am scared about getting old; it just that it takes a lot of organising and people don’t come when they have said that they will etc.. I don’t think I have had a birthday party with invitations and music for the whole of my adult life. I didn’t have anything for my 21st or 30th. This is my (possibly) vain attempt to be more socialable and more optimistic about people turning up. And, if people don’t turn up, I will listen to music and eat the whole of the birthday cake by myself.

I will post in a few days the rest of the challenges and my reasons for having them on the list!



Vienna: Day 12 and Reflections

26 Aug

On Friday not only was it time for school to finish, but it was also time to fly home. I went to the lessons in the morning and because it was also one of the teacher’s last days, she had brought in some cake for the class. If it wasn’t for this teacher, I don’t think that I would have stayed at the school and I possibly would have asked for my money back. Her lessons were fun and I have learnt a lot of words and phrases which will be useful in the future. I think that she could sense my frustration and so she said that if I wanted to doing some writing or exercises that I could give it to her and she would happily look at it. Of course, I took her up on this offer as I wanted to get my money’s worth!

When it was time to leave, I must admit that I felt sad to be leaving. The group that I had been in school with for the past two weeks was full of characters. I am not sure how else to put it. It was interesting to be with people with different experiences and nationalities. In a lot of respects I am jealous of those who are still there and will continue with the learning next week and in the weeks beyond. This is due to a few reasons. Mainly because I would prefer not to go to work on Monday. Also Vienna is a really nice place to be and there are about a hundred different things that I would have liked to do or see while I was there.

I am hugely jealous that other people have the luxury of time to devote to learning the language. One of the reasons to go away for two weeks was because it is hard to study while working full-time. After 8 or more hours at work, who wants to sit down and conjugate verbs for the rest of the evening, instead of doing something more interesting or fun.


Although I don’t think that I have made the progress that I was hoping for, my German has improved. I feel more confident about speaking especially. I was thinking earlier that I don’t think I have spoken more than 100 words in English for the whole time that I was there. That is an achievement in itself. Because there were only German, Austria and Swiss TV channels, I was forced to watch TV in German. Of course, I have German channels at home but I also have the huge temptation of BBC and ITV, which are easier to watch after a day at work.

I have been able to consolidate on some topics that I wasn’t sure of and this may help me save time in the longer term. As I have mentioned in a previous post, it is difficult to be able to benchmark myself when I take lessons alone, so it was good to see how I shape up against my peers. I am know considering whether to ditch the private lessons that I have been taking in Switzerland and take some group lessons instead, as this will give me more speaking practice and may help to give me more confidence in general.

Here is a short list of some surprising things that I have found out while I was in Vienna:

  • I speak German with a Swiss accent.
  • It is completely acceptable to have cake for lunch in Austria and no-one will judge you for it.
  • Austrian food is more than just Bratwurst.
  • Vienna is one of the most arcitecutrially beautiful cities I have ever visited, and I have visited a few.
  • Customer service is a concept that the Austrians are yet to embrace.
  • I actually like going for a run in the afternoon/evening, so long as the pace isn’t too fast.
  • Being a student is more tiring than it is having a full-time job.
  • I know more of Mozart’s work than I thought I did.
  • There are more famous Austrians in the world than just Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Overall an interesting experience and I was able to experience another city in the world at a more leisurely pace than I normally do.


Vienna: Days 10 and 11

25 Aug

On Wednesday morning I was back in the school. Although it has only been less than 2 weeks that I have been in Vienna, I have definitely got into a routine that works well. I normally leave at 8.10am and take the underground for about 12 stops and then I walk for 10 minutes to school. At the beginning this was a lot longer. Somehow I managed to take a longer route but on the way back I noticed that I could make a few shortcuts.

In the conversation class we were talking about the preconceptions or clichés that exist for different countries. Everyone in the class is from a different country so it makes it really interesting when we have discussions about how things are different in our homelands. The different nationalities are: English, Swiss (from the Italian part), Slovakian, Russian, Czech, Italian, Iranian, Ukrainian, Polish and Japanese. I am not sure if you could get a more diverse group of people if you tried. Some of the other students are staying in Vienna for a longer time, some are here while looking for jobs and others don’t really know what they are doing!

In the intensive course there were only two of us because none of the other people turned up for the class. We did a funny exercise where we start to write a story. I had to write a thriller and the other person wrote a love story. After we had started the story we had to swap and finish the other person’s story. I was quite surprised at how good my writing was. The language wasn’t very sophisticated but it made sense. I think it was better some of my writing in English to be honest!

In the afternoon I was treated to more “excellent” Austria customer service. This time at the hairdresser. The hairdressers here are a fraction of the price that they are in Switzerland and also cheaper than at home. I was left waiting for more than 20 minutes. I was about to leave when they came over to wash my hair. They then put some intensive conditioning treatment on my hair and left me with my head in the backwash for about 15 minutes. It is bad enough having your head in these backwash sinks for the time it takes them to wash your head but after 15 minutes I was in agony. Again I was ready to walk out with wet hair. There was no apology or embarrassment. I think that this is just normal customer service here.

In the evening I had bought a ticket to a Mozart concert at the Vienna Opera House. I got a 50% discount with the language school so I managed to get a seat 8 rows from the stage for 25 Euros. It was a really good view of what was going on on the stage. The concert was a series of excepts of Mozart’s works. There was an orchestra and two opera singers. The conductor was a bit of a smug bastard but I guess that he was playing the part of Mozart well.

The concert was only for 2 hours but I could have stayed there all night. At the beginning it was a bit like being at a pop concert when the band play songs from their new album that you don’t really know and all you want them to do is to play the greatest hits. It is incredible that some of these songs were written in the 1700s and they are still loved all over the world today.

After school on Thursday I decided to have an art afternoon. I went to Schloss Belvedere and saw an exhibition of Gustav Klimt, who I didn’t realise was Austria until I arrived here. The exhibition was called Klimt and the Erotic Encounters. Some of the art wasn’t too far from being pornographic. Shocked would be a good word to describe my reaction. There was an exhibition in Kunsthalle, Zurich which had a part of Japanese erotic art. These paintings were in a sealed off rooms and there was a person on the door who was checking that only over 18s were admitted. Maybe Austrians are more liberal in this respect.

Later I went to visit the Hundertwasser Museum. The museum is home to the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was one of the most, if not the most, significant Austrian artists of the 20th century. I only came across his work when one of my German teachers gave me some of his pictures to use in an exercise to improve my ability to make descriptions. The museum is full of his work and it is interesting to see some of the projects that he worked on during his life. There was also a photography exhibition of a Canadian photographer called Edward Burtynsky on the subject of water. The photos show how the effect of humankind is affecting water sources. He uses drones as well as standard cameras to make impressive landscape pictures.

In the evening I went for a quick run and then packed. Tomorrow is the last day of school and I fly back to Switzerland and my own bed.

Vienna: Days 8 and 9

24 Aug

It was back to school on Monday. The weeks started a little better than last week because some of the grammar topics were topics that I wanted to revisit. The problem was that some of the explanations were not so clear. I think in the end it makes sense and I have a bit more practice.

In the afternoon it was time for my boyfriend to fly home. After he had left for the airport I decided to go for a run. It is infinitely easier to run with someone else. It doesn’t feel as lonely and you have someone to set your pace against.

When I run alone I have an internal monologue in my head going round and round to convince me to keep going no matter how bad I am feeling. I managed 10.7km according to my app. In actual fact the app didn’t start properly so I ran more than that. I was glad that I noticed after 400 meters and not after I had been running for 20 minutes. It happened to me a few weeks ago that I thought I had started the app but I hadn’t and when I came to the end and pressed what I thought was stop, the timing of the run started. Completely frustrating!

On Tuesday it was school again in the morning. In the first week the time seemed to drag a bit but now it was passing by at a pace. I have got used to lessons on my own so it’s interesting to have other students to speak to. Having private lessons had its advantages but it’s hard to benchmark yourself against your peers when you only talk to native speakers. At least this week has shown my that my speaking is not as bad as I thought. In this respect my confidence has received a boost at least.

After school I visited Berggasse 19 which is where Sigmund Freund lived and spent most of his professional career trying to understand the human psyche. The leaflet I had picked up from the tourist information must have been out of date because the entrance fee was 2 Euros less expensive than I ended up paying.

Although it was interesting to see the actual consulting room where he conducted his work, I was a little disappointed overall. I expected there to be more information about his theories and his work but it was more of a closer look at his family and working life. It was still interesting but I am not sure I would have made the effort to go if I had know his theories weren’t discussed.

A little later I visited ‘Time Travel Vienna’, mainly because I got a discount with the language school. The activity is described as a 5D experience through time from the Jurassic Era to present day Vienna. The activity was more aimed at children and we boarded a time machine.

The actual exhibition was very well done and there was a lot of information about Vienna from the Habsburgs to Music and Dance. I was pleasantly surprised as to how good it was.

Then it was time for home and to watch a film before going to bed to get some rest before the next school day.