A Bonn Weekend
German word/phrase of the week: aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen - to make a mountain out of a mole hill (literally, to make an elephant out of a mosquito)
Another exciting, fun-filled blog entry awaits you, filled with anecdotes from the life of an Oldenburger, trips to historical German cities and the trials and tribulations of a Language Assistant in a German school. How you contain your excitement, and indeed yourselves, during what follows is frankly not my problem and none of my concern. In any case, I suggest you sit down before the adventure continues…
When your intrepid blog-writer last left you, I had just finished telling you about the first ever rugby match for the Oldenburg Cheetahs. The following day was a German National Holiday, celebrating Re-unification, although I always have Mondays off, so my day was not particularly affected by such events. In any case, the day was needed for my body to recover from the Cheetahs' victorious match, and to prepare my lessons for school the next day. On Tuesday, I took the 10c for their whole double lesson, and tried something out that I had been looking forward to for a while - I introduced them to "If" by Kipling, and got the class to translate the verses in four different groups - one per verse. I was a little nervous to begin with, particularly with regards to how the class would react to a lesson involving poetry, but the results were very promising. The poem was, of course, difficult for them to understand, but with a useful vocabulary list (produced by yours truly) and plenty of time to talk through any difficulties before the translation task, the results of the translation were very pleasing - and even quite poetic in places. In the afternoon, I met one of the classes that I will have after the school holidays - the 7b - and was very satisfied with what I found. The pupils were, as always, warm and welcoming, and very excited to have a chance to test out their English on a native speaker.
I discussed this earlier in the week with my namesake (Mr Titchen), and I feel it is worth mentioning in the blog - the nature of a Language Assistant's job is remarkably varied. It is not enough to simply turn up in the classroom and babble away in English - to start with, the language levels of the different classes are remarkably and noticeably different. The 5e Klasse, for example, can, understandably, barely speak a word of English, and in these classes it is necessary to speak a lot of German when explaining tasks, and often to repeat sentences in German after saying them in English. The difference between this class and the next one, the 6e Klasse, is astonishing - in just a year, the pupils have learnt enough English to cope for the vast majority of a lesson with no German being spoken. Of course, in order for this to be the case, as a language assistant one has to carefully monitor one's vocabulary and pace of conversation. If one talks too quickly, the class is immediately lost, and similarly if conversation turns to a topic that the class has not covered, or even has not covered recently, blank faces and panic-stricken eyes are all that await the assistant as he or she surveys the classroom. Nevertheless, when using a limited vocabulary and practising recently covered topics, the 6e Klasse's abilities never cease to impress me. As is to be expected, the classes continue to develop in this way, with the 7e Klasse being able to express themselves much more than the 6e Klasse (whose answers are often one or two words at the most), yet there are many basic errors throughout any spoken English in this class. The 8e Klasse manages to iron out most of these mistakes, particularly when they stick to areas of conversation they are comfortable with and have covered often.
In the 9e and 10e Klasse, things change again, rather drastically. Interestingly, and perhaps unexpectedly, in the 9e Klasse the number of mistakes increases during spoken English, but not because the language level has decreased - on the contrary. In this class, the pupils (or some of them anyway) become much more adventurous in their attempts to form English, and the inevitable result is that there are more mistakes in their language. The important thing, however, is that they are more than capable of making themselves understood, even when talking about fairly complex topics - such as which careers they are interested in in the future (the lesson I had with class 9a on Thursday of last week - 6th October). The 10e Klasse is just as ambitious as the 9e Klasse in terms of the English that they try to speak, and, as is to be expected, they make fewer mistakes and use more complex constructions. In all of the classes, therefore, it is important for a language assistant to carefully modify the language he or she uses, so that it suits the level and expectations of the class in question. This takes a little time to get used to (or at least it has for me), but this is not the only challenge associated with the job. To start with, there is the expectation from the pupils that you have learnt the German-English dictionary by heart, and are therefore capable of translating any vocabulary queries they have immediately and without hesitation. In the lower classes this is not such a problem (although it does involve revising some vocabulary that has not been covered for the better part of a decade - I cannot remember the last time I said "Bücherregal" or "Taschenrechner"); in the higher classes, it can naturally pose greater difficulties. Thus far, I have managed to hold my own, proving that years of vocabulary tests in school were not entirely wasted; and, should, heaven forbid, a word ever crop-up that is unknown to me, I have discovered a very useful means of avoiding referring to a dictionary (which would simply be embarrassing for all involved) - the question "Could you try to explain it in other words in English?" proves a useful challenge for the pupil, and gives the assistant a chance to find the word that they were looking for.
Possibly greater than the vocabulary challenge, however, is the General Knowledge issue. Being English-speaking, it stands to reason that an assistant is aware of every single event in the history of every single English-speaking country; it is also only reasonable to expect that the assistant spent several summers as a Taxi-driver in London, and can therefore summon to his memory at will the most obscure of street names and shopping facilities; similarly, the assistant has no doubt extensively travelled throughout the English-speaking world (I mean, it would simply be remiss not to have done, surely?), and thus can rattle off fact after fact about population sizes, social problems, cultural differences in any English-speaking country of choice. Suffice it to say that the pupils expect you to know everything, and the look of disappointment on their faces when you fail to come up with a satisfactory answer to their queries almost makes you expect yourself to know everything too. I can only thank my parents for taking me to so many English-speaking countries on holiday when I was younger, and my course at Oxford for teaching me to blag with such eloquence and finesse...
After that brief aside (which was much longer than intended), we can fast forward through the rest of the week, during which I had another training session with the Cheetahs (one which left me completely exhausted but feeling like I had been through a thorough work-out), had my last double lesson with the 8a for rugby, and bid Wolfgang and some other teachers farewell for the holidays, as they were off on a class trip the following week, which would be the last week before half-term. On Friday Evening, I had tickets to see a performance called "Das Indianische Tuch" by Edgar Wallace, in which a teacher from the LSG was performing, and therefore several of my colleagues attended as well. The performance was in a renovated barn, which gave the event a very appropriate atmosphere and added something extra to the evening, and the performance itself was spectacular - wonderfully acted, entertaining and funny, and just serious enough at the important moments. A particular highlight of the evening was hearing the attempts at expressing the wild-west accents in German - never an easy task, I imagine, but very successfully pulled off by the cast.
The next day was a day I had been looking forward to for quite some time - my long-awaited trip to visit Rosie in Bonn was finally upon me. I woke up early (after a relatively late night at the theatre), packed my rucksack quickly with two days' worth of clothes, and some supplies for the train (for "some supplies", substitute a big packet of Haribo Gummy Bears…), and made my way to the train station. The train was not late (for once!) and I arrived in Bonn at around 2 in the afternoon, to be greeted enthusiastically by an ever-so-slightly late Miss Liebermann. It was very good to see her again after such a long time, and we chatted away happily whilst Rosie showed me around her new home town. I had been to Bonn once before, on a family holiday last summer, but we had only spent a few hours in the city, and I was keen to see a little bit more of it, particularly in the company of somebody who was now an official inhabitant of the city - a Bonnerin, if you will. Just be grateful for the two "n"s and the fact that Rosie is a girl… Anyway, we went inside the city cathedral, and wandered around the grounds, which reminded us a little (not without a hint of nostalgia and homesickness) of an Oxford College.
As the weather began to worsen, we decided to head back to Rosie's new home, so that I could drop off my bag and we could make plans for the rest of the day and indeed weekend. Rosie had even gone to the trouble to prepare a chocolate pudding for me, and it had my name on it (literally - see photos on Facebook for proof). However, we decided to save it for later on, either that evening or the next day, and made plans for our evening meal. Rosie told me that there was a good Italian around the corner, and Italian, being food, sounded amazing to me, so that was one decision made. The meal itself was good, with the highlight being the Spaghettieis at the end (I will never, ever tire of that, nor will the novelty ever wear off), yet the experience was slightly tainted (or made more hilarious, depending on whether you ask Rosie or me respectively) by the fact that one of the waiters did not stop staring at us for the entire meal. We're not talking about the odd, subtle glance over in our direction, here - this was a solid, hour long stare, presumably punctuated by the occasional blink, but otherwise unbroken. His motivations remain a mystery. We did ensure that he did not follow us home, however…
Following the meal, we proceeded to a cocktail bar - something I had been looking forward to all day, since seeing the Facebook invitation before I set off. Unfortunately - no, let's put this into perspective - catastrophically, disastrously and tragically, the cocktail bar was full to bursting, and we were unable to sample its no doubt delicious beverages and concoctions. Thoroughly disappointed, we selected a different seller of alcohol - the name escapes me, largely because I was busy weeping and considering my life to be over - and met some of Rosie's friends in Bonn. There were several Oxford students there (two lawyers and a linguist), as well as an American and several other people of varying backgrounds. As a result, little German was spoken, but that was not the purpose of this particular evening - a good time was had by all (except for me, obviously, still being inconsolable at the lack of happy-hour cocktails on offer), and an adventure was had on the way back home, when the tram Rosie, Patrick (the American mentioned previously) and I were on decided it had no desire to travel to its advertised destination, leaving us forced to depart from the vehicle and seek alternative means of transport home. This ended up being a taxi, via a bus-stop graveyard and what appeared to be a mafia-esque meeting of all of the tram drivers in the city. It is a complicated story, but the important thing is that we survived it, and have not had any death threats since. For the bus-stop graveyard, see pictures on Facebook. For the mafia-esque meeting, see THIS SENTENCE HAS BEEN EDITED BY THE BLOG SUPERVISORS FOR THE SAFETY OF ALL INVOLVED.
The next day, Rosie and I decided to engage our Nerd-mode (this did not prove difficult), and picked out a few museums that we were interested in seeing, with the Deutsches Museum winning our short-list. First, we enjoyed the relatively good weather, by strolling along the Rhine and having lunch in a pleasant café overlooking the UN-building. Then, we made our way to the Deutsches Museum, which proved to be rather small and disappointing in all honesty, especially when we compared it to the other Deutsches Museum we had already seen together in Munich the previous year. Nevertheless, we did our best to enjoy it to the full, and made our way back to Rosie's room in order to enjoy some episodes of "How I Met Your Mother". It was then my turn to take Rosie out for a long-awaited Birthday meal (which I had promised back in July), and we selected a restaurant in the central part of Bonn, with an impressive mixture of German and Italian meals. I could not resist the steak, Rosie opted for pork (the precise dish escapes me for now), and both meals were more than satisfactory, especially when they were topped off with a glass of Disaronno on the rocks each afterwards. The chocolate pudding awaited us at home for dessert, as well as a few more episodes of How I Met Your Mother, and it was agreed that a good night had been had. The next morning, it was already time for me to leave again, but fortunately we had managed to speak with the fabled Features of Mold (occasionally, but not better, known as Sarah) during my stay, and thus has arranged for me to come visit again at the start of December, coinciding with her and the Wray-man coming to visit. Watch this space.
My working week began again, this time with greater logistical difficulties in getting to work, as Wolfgang, who usually takes me in his car, was away on a class trip. I had arranged with a teacher from the Schulzentrum (a much larger school just round the corner from the LSG) for him to take me to the Treffpunkt in the morning, where we would then join up with a larger Car share and carry on to school. On Tuesday and Thursday this arrangement worked without any problems, but on Wednesday there were greater difficulties, as Johann (the teacher I had travelled with on Tuesday) was not going to school until the second lesson. I therefore had to take a bus to the Treffpunkt by myself and, to cut a long story short, the bus arrived one minute later than the Car Share was used to leaving, and so they had left without me. I was far from pleased, as there is only one bus an hour, and I could not have arrived any earlier, therefore (except, perhaps, 60 minutes earlier), and the teachers in the Car Share had been informed (by me) the previous evening that I would be travelling with them. I rang the school and informed them of the situation, and was unable to make it into school in the end. I am not an angry man by nature, but I was definitely bordering on the edge of mild irritation all day.
The days that I did make it into school, however, went very well. For the first time, I taught completely without supervision, in the classes that Wolfgang would otherwise have taken (the 10c and 7c), and largely unsupervised in another class, the 9a - the teacher came back right at the end of the lesson. All of the classes went well - I introduced the 10c to the Beatles, and the 7c had a surprise waiting for me - they had organised with Wolfgang that they would lay out a breakfast for me, as our double lesson was first thing on Thursday morning, and we spent the lesson discussing the differences between German and English breakfast over food, and then the second half of the lesson we played a few games, including hangman and, my personal favourite, "Fizz, Buzz" - a counting game. It was the last English lesson before the holidays, and the 7c had worked very hard during the term - they definitely deserved a fun lesson at the end of term.
The current situation is as follows: I have done a spot of tidying and washing, as adults are occasionally forced to do, and am in the process of preparing for next week's adventure with Kari to Berlin - many more details on this will be waiting in the next blog entry. Due to the sheer multitude of things likely to be happening in the near future (a week on Sunday my parents are arriving in Oldenburg), I cannot say for sure when the blog will next be updated - I will either try to write another entry after going to Berlin but before my parents arrive, or will wait until the end of the holidays, and write a(n even) long(er) entry covering everything that has happened between now and then. In either case, I hope there will still be some interest for the content, and between now and then, macht's gut!