Tag Archives: Language

Short term memory and luck

3 Nov

One week from now (depending on when you are reading this), I will be sitting in an exam hall in Switzerland tearing my hair out while trying to pass my German exam. When I entered the exam, I made the mistake of thinking that I have all the time in the world to study for it. But time goes by so quickly that I don’t feel like I have had time to think let alone study for it between then and now.

I am all to aware that there is not so much time left and I am in that awkward place that everyone finds themselves in just before taking an exam. I feel like there is not a lot more that I can learn in the next week that will mean the difference between a pass or fail and I just want the whole thing to be over. I am sure that there is a language that has a word that describes this feeling but we don’t have an english translation for it. If anyone is aware of such a word then please get in contact with me to let me know what it is.

Perhaps it is a mistake though to have this feeling. When I took an exam about two years ago, I also found myself in this place. I was ready to give up learning until someone convinced me that I would be able to learn a lot in a week. I didn’t really believe her but carried on studying for a week. It turned out in the exam that a few of the words that I had learnt in the last fews days came up in the exam. That ended up being the difference between a pass or fail.

So now maybe I am in another place. I am in a place where I am relying heavily on my short term memory and a big, fat slice of luck landing on my desk in a week. We all need a bit of luck but a last little push to help me over the finish line is probably just as advisable.

Does it matter if I don’t pass this exam? Essentially no. I am doing it to help my chances in the job market but mainly for my own satisfaction and to prove to people that you can learn new things, even languages, when you are over the age of 30. However, I want to finally draw a line under this so that I can move on to learn more things that people advise you not to do when you are over a certain age. Plus I am not sure that I can physically prepare myself for resitting exams in January.

So please think about and pray for my short term memory in this last week of preparations. Failing that, please send me a big, fat slice of luck!img_2870

Things I’ve learnt in October

1 Nov

I have been a bit quiet of late but that’s because I’m studying like a woman possessed for my German exam that is fast approaching. Therefore, most of the things that I have learnt this month do have a strong connection to German grammar but there have also been a few things not language related.

1. Reading books in German can be fun. I love reading. If I could get paid for each book I read I would be laughing all the ways to the bank. However, reading in another language takes longer and requires looking up words to make sure you have got the meaning. Up until recently I’ve come up with so many reasons NOT to read books in German. With the exam approaching, I broke off from reading English books to try reading German ones instead. It seems I must have been choosing the wrong ones to read. The last two books I’ve read have been really funny and I’ve enjoyed them. I know what you thinking: German literature that’s funny? I am as surprised as you are!

2. I can talk in a professional setting in German. Talking about what the weather is like and what you want to eat are relatively easy but talking with potential employers is something that I have avoided thus far. I was recently thrust out of my comfort zone and had to introduce myself in professional surroundings. I don’t know how I managed it but I did. And it wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be!

3. There is not a lot about wine from the Bordeaux wine region that I don’t know. As we spent a week in the south of France, we ending up learning a lot about wine. Not just about if it tastes good or bad but the history, the production and the varieties of wine. It was great to learn more. Did you know, for instance, that the first wine bottle was opened in Bordeaux in the 1800s by an Irishman called Mitchell? Well, now you do!

4. Convincing yourself to do exercise is harder than actually doing it. As my knee is now better, I have been trying to make up for lost time. Last week I did some form of sport (either running or cycling) for six out of seven days. The first few days I did it was I dreading it and putting it off for as long as possible but a few days in and I was looking forward to getting outside in the fresh air.

5. Filing a Swiss tax return isn’t as difficult as I thought. The deadline for tax returns is the end of March but as we were travelling, we extended our deadline until the end of October. It seems like there is a lot of paperwork and things that you need to fill in and send off but all in all it’s not too complicated. I’m still glad that I only have to do it once a year.

So, that was October… and November has already started. I hope you learnt some interesting things in October too

The Problem with My Accent

22 Aug

I have never thought that my lovely Northern English accent was much cause for concern. But lately, living in Switzerland has made me more aware about accents and how I speak.

I have recently upped my German learning intensity and I have been taking classes online with native German speakers, who live in Germany. I have been more than a bit surprised that all of them (without exception) have commented on my German accent. All of them describe me as having a Swiss-German accent. This is strange because as soon as I talk to a Swiss person they will say that I have an English accent when I speak in German.

I’m not so naive to think that I have been speaking the equivalent of The Chancellor’s German but I have still be shocked about how noticeable it is that I haven’t learnt my German in Germany.

One of the teachers that I had a lesson with this week gave me the feedback that she “enjoyed my unique British-Swiss-German accent”. I’m speechless. Is British-Swiss-German even an actual thing? Or have I mistakenly started a whole new dialect all by myself?

I think I have picked up some of the vowel sounds from Swiss-German, which are quite different to standard German, because I hear these sounds all the time when I speak to people in Switzerland.

I also have problems with my vowels in English when I speak to non-native speakers. The vowel sounds that I use tend to be longer in words like ‘lunch’ and I have made a few people confused when I have said things because my accent isn’t 100% like The Queen’s. Some have even asked me how is a certain word meant to be said. To which I have replied that how I have said it IS the correct way to say it. I refuse to modify my accent – I have been working on refining it to its current state for the best part of 35 years.

Sometimes I think that a lot of the stigma related to accents is down to snobbery and nothing more. And while I have been teased about the way I say certain words in English and now in German, perhaps it’s not my accent that is the problem. Perhaps having a unique and distinct accent is something that people should be proud of instead of thinking it as a negative thing.

However, I would like to make it clear that I am officially the founder of the British-Swiss-German accent and you heard it in all of its uniqueness here first.

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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.

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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!

#40Before40

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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.