Tag Archives: school

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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Sleep time

18 Oct

This week BBC published an article about a school in Hampton, who have given alarm clocks to students, so that they don’t have to use the alarm clock on their phones. The school argues that this is a distraction to pupils while they are trying to get to sleep and during the night. I can’t work out if the article has a bit of a unimpressed tone; a “why do they have to interfere with everything?” sort of tone.

I would personally love it, if someone took my phone off me at night. It is completely distracting and I have noticed over the past few months that I am sleeping less and less. Not because I am going to bed later and later, but because I go to bed and use my phone.

First I check Twitter, then Facebook, then Twitter again, because in the 5 minutes that I have been checking Facebook, I have probably missed something of vital importance and my life will never be the same if I don’t catch up. The cycle continues with other apps until I look at the clock and realise it is already 11pm.

Of course, I do have an alarm clock. I bought it a few months ago because I had already noticed that my sleep pattern was gradually getting worse and worse. The thing is that the beeping noise is irritating first thing in the morning (which, incidentally, I know is the point) but I can set my iPhone so that I am woken up by a Take That song.

What would you rather wake you up a noise that completely grates on you or Gary Barlow’s voice? Ok, I know some of you are thinking there is no difference, but there definitely is. A massive difference, in fact. Don’t get me started on how amazing Take That sing live!

The question got be thinking about how much we think that technology has improved our lives, but no matter how much we think our lives have improved, there is always a negative lurching in the background.

As a child, I would often listen to music on my Walkman in bed before sleeping. After four songs, the battery was flat, so it had no impact on sleep. Now I can listen to songs for as long as I can stay awake, by having the phone on charge the whole time.

Maybe my New Year’s Resolution for next year should be to ban the phone from the bedroom and focus on sleep quality. If I do, can someone let’s me know what’s been happening on Twitter while I’ve been sleeping?

You can read the full article that I read here.

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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.

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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.

Vienna: Day 2 and 3

16 Aug

Day 2 in Vienna turned out to be a little unexpected. It turns out it is a public holiday here which meant I didn’t have to go into school. The holiday is to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holiday that is not celebrated in England not in Zurich (because it is not a catholic canton) but is in other parts of Switzerland.

As the weather was nice we went to the city and had a wander around. The city is different to what I expected. Firstly, there are so many tourists that it is hard to look at things or walk around without finding yourself inadvertently appearing in someone’s holiday snap. Secondly, the architecture is amazing. I am not sure if all of the buildings are original but they are magificent to look at.

The weather was around 32 degrees which was a bit hot for me so it was important that I kept drinking something. After a look around the city centre, we took the underground to Prater. I had never heard of Prater before but it is a large fun fair just outside of the city. Considering it was a public holiday it wasn’t overcrowded and it was nice to have a wander around and see what rides they had.

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Later we went to Donauinsel which is an “island” on the Danube. It was really cool there were lots of wide-open spaces for running, walking, roller skating and biking as well as places to bathe along the river and places to have a drink and something to eat. It still amazes me that countries have these facilities – it would never work in England. Ok, perhaps it would for one day when the weather is nice. The rest of the time it would be deserted and the deck chairs would have found legs and moved off to someone’s back garden.

In the afternoon, we came back to the apartment to go some work. I started to read a German book. I chose this booked because the chapters are no so long so you can just dip in and out of the book. Also, the story is made up of smaller stories belonging to different characters so you find out bits of information as you go along. I was surprised that I didn’t have to look up so many words and a lot of the book I was able to read without much difficulty.

We realised that Schönbrunn Castle is only about a mile and a half away so in the evening we jogged there and back. I say jogged but I was almost crawling at the end. It was a bit deceptive because at the start it was downhill but back it was uphill. I am used to running on completely flat surfaces, although I know that running uphill will get you a lot fitted than running on the flat. The run actually took it out of me. I haven’t run for around 10 days and I could still feel that I wasn’t 100% fit after my illness before I came to Vienna. But I managed it. Onwards and upwards!

Today (Wednesday) I was back in school and I was ready to complain. I explained that I wasn’t happy with the level that I had been placed at and I wanted to go into another group. I was just told that I would need to take the test that I had already taken again and see if I did better. I didn’t want to do this because I have a certificate that demostrates that I have already completed this level and at a high standard. Plus there is nothing from stopped them from not remarking the test and staying at the same class that I was in. At this point in the day I was thinking about asking to change to private lessons but I knew that this would mean a lot fewer lessons and would mean that I end up not interacting and speaking with many people throughout the day. This is definitely not the point of taking a holiday to come here and improve my German.

I went to the lessons while I was thinking about what to do. In the second lesson, the teacher ask me how I was finding the group. So I told her. I actually learnt a lot in her lessons (she takes the conversation group) so we learn a lot of new words and can speak a bit freer. I told her I had already spoken about my misgivings and she said that she could give me additional tasks to do while in her lessons. Thank goodness someone else has recognised that I shouldn’t really be in this group! She also asked what specifically I wanted to work on and she will bring me some things to do that I can do additionally.

For the moment I have decided to stay doing what I am doing and I can do the additional things as well. If I drop out of the course and take private lessons instead I will just isolate myself and not interact. I have been a bit unlucky with this happening to me for the second time. Luckily, my boyfriend is here to help me a bit outside of school. For this I don’t have to pay anything… at least I hope not!

In the afternoon we had a nice traditional Viennese lunch of Knödelsuppe (dumpling soup), Knödel und Eier (meat dumplings and egg) and a Viennese beer.

We also went to find Hundertwasser Haus. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a very famous Austria artist who died in 2000. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of him. I was introduced to him when my German teacher in Switzerland gave me a copy of one of his pictures and asked me to describe it as part of an exercise. I really like his work. The Hundertwasser Haus is a house that he designed in a unique style. The outside is very colourful and I was surprise by how many people were there. The strange thing is that the house is actually inhabited by real people so you can’t go inside. It must be strange to live there and have so many tourists outside looking in. His art is in the nearby Kunst Haus Wien. By then it was getting late so it wasn’t worth paying to go inside. I will do it another day before I go home.

And just like that the day is almost over. Time for a bit of homework, a bit of relaxing. Then it is already Thursday.

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.

Bratislava, Slovakia

13 Aug

After arriving safely in Vienna, Austria, I took the bus to Bratislava. The journey is only about an hour and I arrived at my final destination at around 8 in the evening. My hotel was a short walk from the bus station which I was happy about. I wasn’t happy 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and a huge storm hit. The rain was coming down sideways. I had to take cover under a tree until it eased off a bit.

The hotel was lovely and in a really quiet part of town. I was especially pleased to see that I had paid online a lot less (almost half price) of what I would have paid for the room if I had gone directly to the hotel. This isn’t always the case when you book through a third party but this time it worked in my favour.

On Saturday I went out early because I wanted to go on a Free Walking Tour. This one was a tour of the Old Town and the Castle. The tour was well-attended and the tour guide was a local. It was a very interesting and a good way to see the city for the first time.

I was surprised that there was no entrance fee to get into the castle. When I was in Prague I had to pay an entrance fee to get to the castle and when we were in Edinburgh it was about 25 pounds each for entrance to the castle and so we decided not to do it. I think that Bratislava might be missing a trick here.

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The view from the castle was impressive. It was possible to see not only the whole of the city but also neighbouring Hungary and Austria. This is a strange concept for someone who grew up on an island to get their head around. It was interesting to learn about the history of Slovakia and how it used to be a very important place during the time of Royal Hungary. It was the place where Kings and Queens received their coronations.

I was surprised to hear that nicest parts of the city were pulled down during the communist era as more importance was placed on the beauty of Prague, Czech Republic which was then unified with Slovakia. Bratislava was thought of as more of the industrial part of the country so some horrible buildings were erected and some beautiful ones destroyed.

I find it fascinating that countries that are so near to us were ruled by communism for so long and during our lifetime. I have never been able to get my head around why people subscribed to it as an ideology when it is so clear that not all people are the same. The guide explained that there are a lot of older people who say that life was better under communist rule. I can understand that going from full employment, not having to pay for health and education and not needing to save from retirement would have its plus sides. I can imagine how these people feel with no savings to fall back on and not being able to make a living after communism fell.

In the afternoon there was a Communism Tour which I was interested in going on but in the end I decided not to do it. I think 2.5 hours about communism would be a bit too much. Instead I went on another free tour which talked more about the history of the city, the politics and the future of the country. It was good to be able to learn something about a place that I had not been to before and knew so little about.

On the whole the city was really charming and beautiful so I can’t imagine how nice it used to be. By the afternoon the city was full with tourists and hen and stag dos, which is not so nice. Luckily, by then I had seen the city in its best light.

One of the best things about Slovakia has to be the food. I was recommended to try the traditional Slovak potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese. I was a bit sceptical and the dish didn’t look so appetising but it tasted really good. They also had a creamy garlic soup which comes in a hollowed out bread cob. You eat the soup and then you eat the bowl. This was also delicious and it saved on the washing up! Saving the planet: one garlic soup at a time!

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On Sunday it was time to pack up and make my way back to Vienna on the bus, after wandering around the city for one last time in the morning.

I had to wait until 4pm to get into the apartment that I had booked. I wandered around the city centre for a while but it wasn’t so comfortable with my backpack. There were so many tourists though. It was hard to look at anything without getting in the way of someone photo. I have plenty of time to explore so I wasn’t so bothered. I will go back when there are less people.

I made it to the apartment. It is quite a way from the centre but it is quiet but well connected to the centre. The apartment is a studio and has cooking and washing facilities so it means I can save a bit of money on food and eating.

Sunday was perhaps not the best day to arrive. Like Switzerland, there are no shops open in Austria on a Sunday. I was desparate to find some milk somewhere because I hadn’t had a brew in ages. I walked to a train station that is about 15 minutes away. I finally found the “supermarket”. It was a tiny little thing in the corner of the station and it was so busy that there was a guard at the entrance to the shop limiting the number of people who were in there at one time! I got my milk and got the hell out as soon as I could. It was like living in the Communist era again!

Back home and with my tea, I am gearing myself up for going back to school tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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