Tag Archives: progress

Disappointments and small victories

11 Mar

I was so excited on Thursday because I was ready to tick off one more item off my #40Before40 list. Unfortunately, the paragliding we had scheduled to do in Iquique was cancelled because the wind was too strong.

I was disappointed but obviously in the interest of health and safety it was the best thing to do. The guy whose company it was actually explained to us the reasons why and said he really wanted to take us up there.

As a Brit, I find it a little bit strange that sports get cancelled because of weather, particularly “a bit of wind”. I’m pretty sure as a teenager that I took part in athletics competitions in hail and I definitely played hockey in 2 inches of snow.

We will try again at the next available paragliding place on our trip.

The bitter taste of disappointment was sweetened a little when we went sandboarding in the evening instead. If you know my #40Before40 list as well as I do, you will know that one item on the list is to try snowboarding.

Although they are not quite the same, it’s given me a bit of an idea about what I am up against.

I wasn’t 100% happy with the lack of instruction that we were given. Everyone else in the group had snowboarded before and I think that it would have been good to be able to have some tips of what to do.

It was quite exhausting because you had to walk up the sand dunes after every run and re-wax the bottom of the board with a candle before going down again. Obviously you don’t have to do this with a snowboard.

Also there was no aprés-ski available – no small bar at the bottom of the hill where you can get a beer or two. I will never not admit that I am more of a social winter sports person than any sort of winter sport athlete!

Still it gives me a bit of hope that I should be able to enjoy snowboarding to a small degree when I finally take the plunge and try it. That will have to be next season now as the snow will have gone by the time we get back. Only around 8 months to wait…

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.


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!

Operation Full Immersion: Day 4

18 Jan

The week seems to be running away and it is Wednesday already! I didn’t sleep that well last night because I knew that I needed to be at the language school for another private lesson for 8.30am. I was nervous that I would oversleep and I would end up missing the lesson after I had made a fuss about the group lessons being too easy. It seemed like I was waking up every half hour just to make sure that my alarm was still set and I hadn’t accidentally not heard it go off.

The private lesson today is with a different teacher than I have had for my other lessons. I met her briefly yesterday when she had introduced herself. On first impressions, she seems to be a little bit skatty with a hint of barmy. She tells me that she is a German-Russian and is wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Love Conquers Capitalism”. It’s an interesting choice.

From my school days, which seem a long, long time ago now, I know that sometimes the more eccentric the teacher, the better the lessons are. I am certainly not disappointed. The lesson is probably one of the most varied I have ever had. We seem to jump from one topic to another but I know, because she only has a limited about of time with me, that she is eager to find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie and to help me as much as possible.

She mentioned that when I speak, I speak really clearly. A mistake that a lot of people make when they are learning a new language is that they tend to mumble and hurry through the words rather than focusing on the individual words. This pleases me because for the past 6 months or so I have really been concentrating on my pronunciation. Even though people have commented that I speak like someone from Switzerland and not someone from Germany, I find this to be a great compliment. Maybe I am no longer sounding like an English person trying to say really long words, which is how I sounded until recently. She does, however, notice that I have a problem with the difference with “u” and “ü” which is something that I have been trying to improve. I think I am almost 90% of the time saying these correctly. I just have to practice a bit more.

We finish off by singing a song together in German. A German pop song. And no, it wasn’t by David Hasselhof. When songs from my childhood come on the radio, I can remember them word for word. Learning songs is probably a good way to learn a language. But I am not sure I could ever get into German pop. No matter how hard I tried.

Straight after my lesson I go to visit Schloss Nymphenburg, which is 15 minutes from the main train station. It is freezing cold and there is a school class who are ice-staking as part of their lessons on the frozen lake which is in front of the palace. The building and the grounds are impressive but it is far too cold to explore outside. I can imagine that in the summer that it is a glorious place to visit and spend time but not when the outdoor temperature is -7 degrees. IMG_4477.JPGHoused at the palace at the Natural Histroy Museum is a temporary exhibit of “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. I went to see the exhibition last year and it was amazing. The photographs in the competition were equally mind-blowing. I like taking pictures of animals and nature but I can never imagine taking photographs of this quality. I was studying the first category and was amazed. I then realised that this was a category for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for children aged 10-17. Unbelieveable!

After doing some work inside (yes, at Starbucks again), I braved the cold weather to do a free walking tour of Munich. I have been on a lot of free walking tours and have always found them to be a good way to quickly learn about the city and the culture. I was slightly disappointed that the guide was actually from Wolverhampton. He was actually a really good guide, was well informed about the history of the city and was very entertaining. As it was cold, he took us into some public buildings so that we could warm up a bit inside.

On a side note: when I went to Copenhagen with my friend Mark, we went on a walking tour. There were a lot of people and the split us into 3 groups with 3 different tour guides. We were delighted to be put into the group we were in because the other 2 guides were from the UK and Australia. Our guide looked so Danish; with blond hair, blue eyes and a huge beard. We were going to be given a tour by a genuine Danish local! It turns out he was from Belgium. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

After something quick to eat, I headed back; more because the bitter cold weather had begun to creep into my bones. I have some homework and some things to look over before my lesson tomorrow morning. It is surprising how tired I have felt this week. Obviously, I have not been as stressed and busy as I normally would be if I was working in the office but the combination of the crisp, winter air and using my brain to think hard about certain things and trying to improve my German is definitely a remedy for insomia!

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…

Operation Full Immersion: Day 2

16 Jan

So, the big day is here and I started back at school again *cough*. The stress of finding the language was eradicated after I worked out where to go last night after I arrived. I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of people that would be on the U-Bahn. It was packed! The carriage are relatively small and are certainly not as big as the trams in Zurich, for instance.

I arrived safely and on time and got to the reception. The class that I was put into had about 15 people in it, which was more than I thought there would be. For the 9am start there were about 6 of us and then throughout the morning more and more people joined. The class was ok but it was clear quite soon into the lesson that the lesson was too easy for me. I had already done the grammar and the general topics before. That isn’t to say that I learnt nothing, rather that I was expected and wanted it to be more challenging. The whole point of the exercise was that I would be able to practice at the level that I am at, or ideally a level higher so that I can learn more in a short space of time.

There was even a test on the previous chapter that the class has already done which I managed to complete with no problems. At least, I think so. There were certainly no major flaws.

I have given feedback that the group was too easy for me and I would like to be put into a more difficult group or I would like to have my money back. I was a bit reluctant to ask this because it sounds a bit big headed but I am sure that the teacher I had will also think the same. At the end of the day, it is my cold hard cash that I am spending so I want to get my money’s worth. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a more difficult group in progress. The school have kindly offered to transfer my group lessons to private lessons.

I then had a private lesson straight after the group lesson. I learnt a lot in the one and a half hours. I already sent a short list of topics that I would like to go through and need a bit of help with. It looks like my Konsekutiv- and Konzessiv- sentences are now much improved. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

Four and a half hours into the German learning and I am definitely beginning to feel more positive and confident about my ability to speak German. I haven’t spoken any English since Sunday. When I think about it, this is an incredible achievement in itself. It is not always easy to realise how much progress you have made when you are always focused in the moment and it is hard to realise the bigger picture. german-64270__340

One thing that has annoyed me slightly is that the two teachers I had today have commented on my “Swiss” accent. I know when I speak that I will never sound like a German but I had no idea that I had picked up a Swiss accent. I am not even sure what a Swiss accent sounds like. At least one of the teachers mentioned it was a very nice Swiss accent. I don’t help myself though. I keep using Swiss German words by mistake. I have said “Merci” to someone at least six times already instead of “Danke”. It’s like it is programmed into my head and I can’t get rid of it.

In answer to the question that I was asking yesterday: after four and a half (and maybe a bit more) of German, my brain has not yet imploded in on itself. I guess it means that I can try to learn a bit more and see what the flashpoint is. I am now going to have a wander around the city, eat and probably come back to watch a (German) film before bed.

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.


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.