Studying German in Leipzig

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Here’s a post for those interested in learning what the study is like when abroad, or at least, how Temple in Germany is studying right now. Grammar, vocab, and the classroom logistics aren’t exactly what a student marks as highlights in her foreign excursion, but they’re undeniably integral to the language learning experience—and my goodness, is Temple in Germany but language learning intensive!  Of course, vast improvement in German only comes to those who adhere to the no-English rule, which is very easy to break when with the group from home!

Temple works with the interDaF (the Institute for German as a Foreign Language) at the Herder Institute of the University of Leipzig. With 90-some students total in the program, the Temple students form a small but sizable minority in the group, spread out over various levels of German fluency. Most are from the US, but others come from South Africa, Ecuador, Columbia, China… there’s even a student from Tajikistan!

The interDaF sorts students according the European standards of language proficiency: A, B, C are the main levels, of which C is the most advanced. Each level has numerical sub-rankings of 1 and 2, as well, such that A1 is the very beginner’s level, while C2 is the level of a native speaker. At interDaF, only levels A1 through C1 are taught, as we all are foreign students of German. Each class of about 10 students has its own teacher and curriculum for more personal language training; however, students at all levels are strongly discouraged from talking in one’s native tongue (that’s die Muttersprache, in German, for those of you following along at home). Students also group themselves into course project teams, which prepare a performance to present at the end of the program, on some theme related to Leipzig or, more generally, Germany.

I’m in the C1 level, and my class has 11 students, all having studied German at least the university level beforehand. Have a look at rather typical day at school from yesterday:

9:00 – 12:30        German Class (or Phonetics)

In the morning, every day, we start class precisely at 9 in the morning, or earlier, if possible. Germans are punctual: there’s a stereotype that this program encourages! Our group mostly learns by taking a new theme daily to discuss in German. Yesterday’s theme was humor. What are the differences in humor from country to country, and is it true that the Germans have none? We pick up new words as we go with their explanations also in German, and we talk a lot. We make mistakes a lot, too (or at least I do), but whenever this happens, we must repeat what we meant to say until we get it right, in proper German. A stressful, but very effective method!

We also spend a section of the class time discussing grammar and sentence construction. Because at this level, we have already learnt most of German grammar, we use this time to discuss the proper ways of using more complicated constructions. For example, we review the role of the Subjunctive II case in giving advice or the proper order of sentence components. Yesterday we spent an hour working with verb and preposition combinations, which are entirely idiomatic usages. This makes for some of the easiest learning, says my teacher, because it is all memorization. It is, however, entirely impossible to figure out by logic. English is the same here: why is it that we look into matters to check them, and not look on? Why do we wait for friends, but do not wait after them?

Tuesdays, we have Phonetik, or phonetics, where we work with a speech coach to better our pronunciation. We get very personal attention, as pairs of students with similar pronunciation problems receive a half hour at a time to practice consonant sounds, vowel qualities, and whatever else may prevent from sounding native. My own problem happens to do with vocal melody. Just as in English, German stresses certain syllables and gives them tones that shape the rest of the sentences. Should the tone be lower, it sounds more assertive and manly. If the stressed syllable sounds higher than the others, then the sentence sounds like appeasing or feminine speech. I have a voice that tends to go very high, and so in German this reads as überfeminine, very friendly, and overly cheerful. To prevent sounding annoying or like a whistling bird, I have to focus on deepening my sound. Learning a language takes more than just grammar and vocabulary!

14:00 – 15:30     Project Groups

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we meet with our project groups to prepare our end-of-program presentations. Some groups have themes like “Leipzig, City of Music” or “Leipzig, City of Art,” while other groups focus less on local culture and more on German mastery, like “Creative Writing.” I’m in the Wir spielen Theater or “Let’s play theater!” group and we’re composing our play at the moment—I can’t tell what it is yet, though, because that’s a secret to everybody!

20:00-22:00        Visiting the summer theater to see “Treasure Island”

Nearly every day, there’s one event or another planned into either the interDaF or the Temple schedule. Last night, the whole interDaF group went to see “Die Schatzinsel” (Treasure Island) together in an open air theater. The night was chilly, but the play was so funny that laughing kept me warm. (That might just be because I cannot resist puns of any sort). It definitely helped to know the story beforehand, because that let me recognize some vocabulary I wouldn’t have known otherwise. To quickly review the play: there were some directorial decisions I disagreed with, such as making scene changes into dream sequences; however, the actors were so good together, playing multiple roles, exchanging witty banter, and making the whole thing fun, that I’m sure everyone with at least a minute interest in pirate would have enjoyed the play. And these days, who doesn’t like pirates? As a language learning exercise, it was really good, because the actors enunciated so well, making easy the incorporation of some good, colloquial German into the memory.

End of School Events for the Day

More often than not, our days are similarly full from morning to night with the scheduled German learning program. That leaves less time than you might expect for the mundane things like cooking, cleaning, washing, and homework study—though we (the Temple group) still manage to play hard, with plenty of free time excursions to clubs, cafes, and concerts. I’ll have to tell about our enjoyment of the city’s play areas in another post soon. Until then, there’s a concert of the Thomanerchor at the Thomaskirche I need to get to! Till later!

(Let’s see if I can add pics to this later, I forgot to bring my SD card reader to the computer lab!)

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One response »

  1. Wow! How interesting and pleasant to read the details you wrote! My whistling bird, thank you for the comfort and joy you have brought me! Stay warm, remain busy, and write more! Love you and miss you!

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