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So long, Farewell

University is most assuredly over. I’ve got results (graduating with a 2:1 – boom), I’ve been given farewell drinks by the university and now housemates are starting to move out. And it’s the last one of those things that’s really made it feel like university is over.

Getting results happens every year and so it doesn’t really say END OF UNI in big solid letters. But the fact that my friends are dispersing is bringing it home. One of my housemates I met on the first day of university. Now he’s moving to Sheffield and starting a PhD in September. And I’m going to be who knows where.

Thankfully we have the internet and mobile technology, which means even if I end up on the opposite side of the world, I can still easily keep in touch with my friends. But it’s not quite the same. There will be no more bumping into my housemates on the stairs and then chatting for half an hour. There will be no more late night cups of tea. There will be no more house.

It is difficult to say good bye, even when I know I can keep in touch so easily. Even when it’s probable we’re going to see each other again. Goodbye in English is so final. At least in German it’s “Till I see you again.”

University has been excellent and it’s mostly due to my friends. Especially the ones I’ve been lucky enough to live with. And I’m trying not to get sappy here, because no-one wants that. And I’m trying desperately not to do the grand public sentiment thing, but dash it all. Ev, Lucy and Ryan – it’s been great. You were excellent housemates for both of the years we lived together. I’ll catch you on the internet. Hopefully in real life too.

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To graduate will be an awfully big adventure.

This time four years ago, I think I was still doing my A-levels. And then there was to be a long summer of friends and holidays and then, then there would be results day. After that, as long as I’d reached Nottingham’s requirements, I’d be off to university in September.

I’ve been trying to think back to remember how I felt, which is difficult. Not only was it four years ago, but my Mom was seriously ill, which took precedent over what I was going to get in my A-levels. I mean, I must have been excited. Since I was about 15, all I wanted was to go to university. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’d watched too many films, read too many books, but my heart was set on university.

Originally I was going to do English Literature. Then it was German and English Lit. And by the time AS level English Lit had finished bashing me over the head, I knew I didn’t want to spend three years at university studying it. So German it was. I made lists of universities. Compared them by what grades they wanted, how far away from home they were, even if I’d ever been to the city they were in. I was excited. Anxious to leave home, be an adult, learn something about Germany that wasn’t just the language.

And now it’s all over. My four years are at an end. It’s very anti-climatic. No-one warned me about that. My last lectures were exam prep that basically no-one turned up for. My last exam was a translation exam, so it involved lots of vocab learning but no heavy duty, practice essay writing, notecards filled with dates type revision. If I can paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way uni ends. Not with a bang but a …huh.

University has been pretty great. I’ve learnt to cook, to motivate myself, to actually clean a house. I’ve learnt how to play Quidditch and how to swing dance. I’ve made friends and lived abroad for 9 months. I’m even basically fluent in German. And while I still ended up studying some literature, I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. Except Brecht. I do not understand Brecht.

Now what? It’s a time for making plans and moving forward with life. Which is terrifying. I mean, I like moving forward, I like the fact that in theory the world is open for me to do whatever I want. But the job hunt is not going spectacularly well, I have no idea where I’m going to be in a month, two month, three months time, and I’m not really sure what I’m doing with my life.

But I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m scared, yes, but that’s not going to stop life happening. So I just have to get on with it. And if I can move by myself to Germany to a town so in the middle of nowhere that even Google street view hasn’t made it there yet, I’m sure I can cope with whatever is about to happen. So graduation is an awfully big adventure, but unlike Peter Pan, I’m ready to grow up.

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A Suspicious Abundance of Well-behaved Kids

So, this week began, as most of them do, with tutoring prep on Monday. I decided as it was the penultimate week, I should do a recap of all the stuff that we’d done, which meant making a crossword and a match the sentence sheet.

Tuesday I was at work, though I wasn’t needed in my first class as the kids had a competence test which the English teacher had forgotten about, so I wound up supervising a class who were typing up stories on Word. I appreciate I’m 21 and not 8, but I was still a little shocked that none of them knew how to change the font size on Word. Happily, explaining how to use Word auf Deutsch isn’t too difficult. Or at least it isn’t as long as the kids listen. I also had to explain to them that the computer doesn’t know every word in the dictionary and sometimes it’ll tell you you’re wrong when you’re right. Especially if you’re typing up from a piece of work your teacher has already corrected. Not that they listened.

In my second and third class they were practicing dates and numbers and colouring in. None of which really requires me, but the colouring at least means, that for the most part, they all behaved. In the evening I made dominoes for tutoring to recap vocab from the year, which meant going back through what we’ve done this year. Which is a lot more than I thought.

Wednesday began with circle time and that class found out it was my last lesson with them. I’m going to miss first period on Wednesdays. It always starts with circle time and there’s always at least one kid who says they’re happy that I’m there again. And Jonas always remembers to include me in circle time despite me never actually sitting in the circle. We didn’t actually do English because the dentist was in school so the kids were in and out of class. But I did learn about what teeth are called in German.

Second period I talked about birthdays and then we played pass the parcel. Which had some of the kids very excited. So much tactical playing went on. In my third class I wasn’t needed and in my fourth I was supervising colouring in again, advising on what colour to colour apples.

At tutoring we did all the recap stuff I’d prepared and then the kids made pictures of their favourite topics from this year. For Vicky it was animals and for Luka it was London.

On Thursday I did German with Klasses 3/4c for the last time, and for the first time in the whole year they were all super well behaved. Still a little smartalecy,but well behaved none the less.

Friday began with the topic favourite places. I’m glad that while they’ve been doing favourite places they haven’t asked me, because trying to explain why Harrods food hall is my favourite place is difficult. And then I was asked to explain telling the time. This is difficult because here in Ilmenau they tend to use regional terms rather than standard German for the time. So instead of explaining English to Standard German, it was a case of explaining English to Standard German and then attempting to say it in Ilmenauese as well.

In my second class they went round the circle to wish me luck and happiness and sunshine and a nice new school for once I leave. We were doing about families still and I was listening to them explain their family trees to me. At the end one of the boys came up and said it sucked that I was leaving, and did I really have to go back to England? Which was super sweet.

In my final class they were doing colouring again, and yet again a normally rowdy class was very well behaved. I think there’s something in the water.

Saturday was spent not doing a fat lot. On Sunday I did the Brits proud and forgot to put any sun cream on and now my back is burnt to a crisp. Well done me. I also started packing, which basically entailed putting my winter clothes in a suitcase. All hardcore packing is waiting for next week. So if I’m unreachable in the second half of the week, it’s because I’ve died under the weight of all the packing. 

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Word Lens: Magic in Action

I am here today to talk to you about magic. Honest to god, modern day sorcery. Well, it’s actually technology but for once, I’m not sure of the difference. So I have a friend who I’m going to call Gask (because that’s his name) and he messaged me saying that there was an app I should try out, and so I did. And I marvelled at it for five minutes. And now I’m going to tell you about it.

Word Lens (click here for the iOS version and here for the Android version) is a mobile phone app that allows you to point your camera at text in a foreign language and have it translated straight away, on the screen. The words literally change from one language to another in front of you. (Check out this promo video for an accurate portrayal of how it works.) You know what that means? No more having to go to online dictionaries to figure out if that sign in a shop window means they’re shut. No wishing Google translate would work quicker when presented with a menu that you don’t understand. No more carrying “pocket” dictionaries around when abroad so you can understand train timetables.

This is magic. This is like a TARDIS translation circuit for your phone. This is having a babelfish in your hands. In my relatively short life there have been many technological advancements and this is the first one that has ever made me speechless.

I mean, it’s not actually witchcraft. Looks like it, but isn’t. According to my technological advisor, (otherwise known as Gask) the Word Lens app uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which reads text using your phone’s camera and interprets it. The app then separates each word, translates it and replaces what is already there. Gask could have stopped there in his explanation and I would still have been blown away. But apparently the cleverest part of the app is that the removes the old text, blurs the background and applies the new text in the same size in real time (aka pretty much instantaneously). This means that the coding and graphics rendering must be super efficient.  

It’s not a perfect app. It uses a local translation library, meaning it’s as if the app looks up each word in a dictionary, which does mean that sentences don’t always make sense. Kind of like how if you translate whole paragraphs with Google translate, coherency and some meaning is usually lost. (Don’t use Google translate for coursework, guys. Teachers can tell. Because it’s not good.) The other thing is that the languages (Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian) are all translated to or from English. You can’t point it at Spanish and have the Russian translation come up. I mean, that works for me, because English is my native language, but obviously that isn’t the case for everyone.

However, the app is really easy to use and it’s genius. It has a normal dictionary built in as well, and you have the option of putting your flash on, so the words you’re trying to translate are easier to see. It is also free and just for the sheer joy of having magic on your phone, it’s worth downloading. It’d be useful for when you’re abroad as well. But mostly download it because it’s magic. And it is always worth having magic in your life.

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Grundschule Vocab List

Here is a list of words and phrases you’ll need to know working in a German primary school aka the vocab list I wish I’d had back in September. It is by no means comprehensive and spelling may be dodgy as I’ve only ever heard some of them, but it is alphabetical, so that’s something.

Du brauchst mich nicht
Means ‘you don’t need me’. For when the kids keep calling you over despite being perfectly capable of doing the work themselves.

Halt deine/eure Klappe
Means ‘shut your mouth’, though is slightly more acceptable to say to kids in German. Use sparingly and only when at the end of your tether.
Hör zu
Means ‘listen’. Will be said several times over the course of one lesson, most oftentimes with little to no avail.
Ich glaube
Meaning ‘I believe’, it is an excellent addition to any sentence where you’re not entirely sure what you’re talking about.
In die Reihe
Means ‘in the line’, as in ‘walking in a line’. A state of affairs which never happens as the kids aren’t too bothered about the fact that the road is for cars.
Keine Ahnung
Meaning ‘no idea’, it will be used liberally by kids and by you when faced with German vocab that however many years of study didn’t cover.
Leise
Means ‘quiet’ or ‘quietly’. Is often said, but cannot often be used to describe the children.
Leute
Must be said with great exasperation. Literally means ‘people’ but can be more accurately be translated as ‘children, c’mon. Pay attention, be quiet and give me a break.’
Mensch!
An exclamation of exasperation.
Mund zu
Means ‘mouths closed’. Often combined with ‘Hör zu’, and if ignored, may later by followed by ‘Halt euere Klappe’
Setzt dich/euch
Means ‘sit down’. Will need to be said at least three times for anything to happen
Stickies
The trend which has all the kids enthralled at the minute. Tiny plastic figures with big eyes that stick to things. Makes one long for pogs or pokemon cards.
Was denkst du?
Means ‘what do you think?’ Gives you time to work out the answer to the maths problem a child has presented you with.

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Accent-ally sounding Thüringenese

I have a lot of feelings about my accent, especially since someone in my home town laughed at it. (A jerk genuinely called across a pub to ask a friend what my accent was and then laughed. Ruined the end of the story I was telling.) Essentially, my accent is a huge mash up, featuring Geordie, Yam-yam and the southern influences of my university friends. This mean I get the mick taken by my home friends and university friends. Phrases like “you sounded so southern then!” and “I’m sorry, try that word again?” regularly make an appearance in my life.

Sadly this heightened awareness of my accent only happens in English. I have no idea how I sound when I speak German. Actually, that’s not true. I made the mistake of asking a German if I sounded English when I spoke German. Yes. Yes I do, is the answer. So rather than get bogged down in how my accent is, I’d like to point out three Thuringien dialect features. Or possibly just three Ilmenauese features. (Either way, the title of this blog is misleading because I’m gonna look at dialect. But I couldn’t pass up the terrible terrible pun.)

1. ‘Ge?’

Ge or geh or however it’s spelt is the Ilmenau equivalent of ‘oder?’, which when added at the end of a sentence with a questioning tone is the German version of ‘right?’. Can be used for seeking clarification or affirmation.

Personally, I can’t stop saying it. I keep nearly saying it in English. I say it more than native Ilmenauers. It’s a compulsion, like talking about the weather with the only other person at the bus top at 7.20 and telling the kids to sit properly on their chairs otherwise they’ll crack their heads open.

2. Drei viertel…

Bear with me, because I can’t quite get my head round this one without serious thought. Drei viertel zehn (three quarter ten) means quarter to ten. Not quarter to eleven. It’s like an extension of the whole German ‘yes, when we mean 8.30 we’ll say half 9’. Whatever the reasoning or twisted logic behind it, it’s one feature I am not going to use. I’m paranoid enough about messing up times in German thanks to the aforementioned cack-handed way of dealing with 30 minutes past the hour – there’s no way I’m going to attempt drei viertel…

3. Pfannkuchen

As anyone who was my friend on Facebook during second year of uni will know, I am insanely proud of being able to order pancakes in Arabic. Seriously, that was the highlight of learning Arabic for me. Managed to get it into every oral exam. So my claim was that I could order pancakes in three languages – Arabic, English and German. Yeah, about that…

So here in Ilmenau, Pfannkuchen does not mean pancakes. It means doughnuts. Everywhere else in Germany* Pfannkuchen means pancakes and Berliner means doughnut. Berliner was one of the first pieces of German I learnt outside of class, thanks to this video. (Yes, it’s more Eddie Izzard, yes, there’s some swearing.) And this crucial piece of vocab is now redundant. I think I might have to go eat a Pfannkuchen or three to cheer myself up.

* possibly a slight exaggeration. Or just plain wrong. I did not fact check.

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Levelling Up.

On Tuesday I was asked how I thought my German was going, so I figured now would be a decent time to reevaluate my language skills. That and the fact that I have an hour and a half free at school with nowt to do. [Edit: This was written at school on Friday in my huge break. However, the computers at school have a vendetta against WordPress, hence the delayed blogggeration.]

Overall, I think it’s going well. My German’s definitely improved and I’m way more confident in it. Having eight year olds correcting you makes you want to improve quickly. I’m not sure how useful most of my new found vocabulary will be in an oral exam, but, despite that being the only way uni tests my speaking skills, learning a language isn’t about oral exams. It’s about being able to communicate with other people. And that I can now definitely do. It also helps that Kim insists I can speak fluent German and Jana thinks I speak good German. Nothing boosts your confidence like native speakers thinking you can effectively use their language.
 
People say that you know you’re on your year abroad when you start dreaming in your foreign language. I have to report I haven’t experienced that head spin yet. However, I have started saying things in German when I intended to say them in English. Also vice versa. This is very confusing, especially when I’m in class. I’ve also come away from conversations not being able to remember if they were conducted in German or English. This is a massive head spin. 
 
I think what I’m trying to say is I’m getting there. My grasp of the passive tense may not have improved, but my word order has. I can use prepositions without hesitating for half an hour in the middle of the sentence, because the Germans don’t know what prepositions you’re meant to be using either. Essentially the year abroad is improving my language because in real life people don’t sit there picking out your every mistake. There’s no mark in real life either. Isn’t that glorious?