Thursday, 19 December 2013

She doesn't even go here...

So, three months of Year Abroad down, and about to go home for Christmas (TOMORROW!!!!). Looking back at my blog posts from this term, no one would ever believe that I've actually had a job this whole time (I have, honest!). I've mentioned practically nothing about my work as a language assistant at the school, possibly because it didn't seem like the most exciting part of the experience. But I'm sure it will be of interest to some people reading this, be they friends or family members, prospective year-abroaders, or even other language assistants looking to compare experiences.

This first term has been a blur of pen-erasers, 11 year olds wearing 'twerk it' T-shirts (so wrong), and teachers flinging the windows wide (in spite of pouring rain or temperatures of minus a million) for the sake of 'fresh air'. I also had to stand up in front of far too many classes of unenthusiastic teenagers and introduce myself, which is awkward and embarrassing at the best of times, let alone when you're pretty sure none of them can understand a word you're saying.

For the first few weeks, I had my fair share of sitting at the back of classrooms learning about ancient Rome or the student revolution of 1848 (thankfully taught in English), while the pupils shot 'what-is-she-even-doing-here' looks in my direction, and the teacher asked me detailed vocabulary questions about parts of a 19th-Century barricade.

Gradually, however, I've moved on from this. I've even learned a few of the teachers names (at least 3), and am getting fewer 'what-is-that-student-doing-in-here' looks when I sit in the staffroom. Score.

Here are a few things that have particularly stood out about my experience in the school so far:


This seems like a not-completely-relevant topic, but it's a big 'un, so bear with me. Now, school is the only place (really) where I hear English - my beautiful, unique, and hitherto-taken-for-granted mother tongue - spoken by non-native speakers. It's a fascinating experience, hearing the different levels of language, learning what words and structures the pupils find difficult, and spotting direct translations from German (which can sometimes be pretty funny!). And, for the most part, I'm impressed.

But there are a few things I find baffling to the extreme. For example, the inability of any of the pupils of this school to pronounce the word 'clothes'. I already wrote in a previous post about sitting in on the year 5s' oral exams ('I am a chicken'... Remember?), and a few weeks ago I was called upon to do it again, this time for the year 12s. Not a single one of them pronounced 'clothes' correctly. The vast majority of them mumbled a word that closely resembled 'closes', although some went the extra mile and managed 'clothez'. When asked for feedback afterwards, I remarked upon this (with amusement) to the teachers doing the examining, and expected a wry laugh in response, accompanied by the usual complaints about how the students never listen no matter how much something is drummed into them. What I got instead was a pair of blank looks and the dawning realisation that this is how they have been teaching them to say it! And it's not just at my school. I've asked around and received insider information that this is how almost all teachers (hopefully just the ones who are not actually native speakers of English) are teaching this word. Two syllables. Clothez. Consider your minds officially boggled.

Another highly baffling pronunciation problem I've experienced is people (though mostly not the teachers, thank goodness!) pronouncing a 'v' as a 'w'. Yes, you read that correctly. In German, 'w' is pronounced like our 'v', so I would expect that mistake. But the other way around is just bizarre! It means they end up saying words like 'willage' and 'TeeWee' (the latter of which is frankly hilarious). I thought it might just be hyper-correction, but it isn't. I've had the extremely surreal experience of pronouncing 'invade' and 'advice' right there in front of students, and having them say 'inwade' and 'adwice' right back at me. How is this a thing?

Just to clarify, I'm not ragging on Germans for not being able to speak perfect English! I am well aware that my constant difficulties with articles, prepositions and plural endings in German would make me a hypocrite if I were. I am merely expressing my confusion at the bizarreness of these particular pronunciation problems.

I'm a teacher!

Honest! I taught a real class and everything! By myself! And not just once! Lots of times! (I think the abundance of exclamation marks in this paragraph accurately reflects how accomplished this makes me feel.)

I, for whole lessons at a time, was responsible for the shaping of young minds, for the moulding of a new generation, if you will. I think I'll just let that sink in for a moment.


So, although things are going a lot more smoothly than they were at the start, let's not forget that I'm still being a sort-of teacher (with no teacher training) in a secondary school (ugh teenagers) in a foreign country. Pretty solid recipe for awkward times.

Let's start with the keys. Basically, every room in the school locks, and they all get locked after use, so obviously all the teachers need keys. I have no keys. Although hearing stories from other assistants of the extortionate sums they would have to pay to replace their lost keys does make me slightly glad of this fact, it's still a bit annoying. Not only can I not get into the classroom for my English AG (more on that in a bit) because, despite the room being officially booked for the purpose, no one seems to have informed anyone about it, least of all the teachers who continue to lock the room after the lesson before. Cue me having to sprint to the classroom for 1 o'clock to catch the teacher on the way out, then having to wait around on my own in the classroom until 10 past when the lesson actually starts. Also, the staff toilets get locked too when no one's using them - as if any student ever would go in and risk meeting their teacher in the loo (a child/teenager's nightmare come true). This means that I either have to go up to the staffroom and awkwardly ask someone to come and let me in (did I mention the awkwardness?), or just perpetually hold it in. Not ideal.

Further awkwardness arises when I have to choose whether to use Sie or du (the two forms of 'you') (well, there are actually three, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). In theory, I know Sie is more formal, and is used for someone older/more senior than you or just to show respect, and du is more informal. But in practise it is a lot more hit-and-miss. I pretty much just say what pops into my head at the time, then worry about it afterwards. A couple of teachers have specifically asked me to duz them (use du), which makes my life a million times easier. But others just allow me to struggle on unaided, smug in the knowledge that they have their stupid language as a mother tongue and never have to painstakingly learn it. Grr.

N.B. I like German really.

English AG

AG stands for Arbeitsgemeinschaft, and basically just means extra classes. This is my supplementary English class that I set up as a way to offer extra help (and bulk out my woefully-empty timetable), which, despite my worries, people actually come to. And some of them even come back, which would suggest they actually enjoy it. Win!

And while the aforementioned 'advice'/'adwice' scenario did take place during one of these lessons, I love the fact that the 16-19 year olds who come are actually enthusiastic about learning English and want to improve. They're also a laugh; a group of them went to London for a day and were telling me all about their antics, and another girl discussed with me how she'd learnt all about different regional accents from TV shows like Geordie Shore (worrying...).

Faith in children restored

Finally, the one thing that has surprised me the most is the way some children behave towards me. Before coming, I was having visions of some of the classes I was in (or heard about) at secondary school, where the teachers ran out crying or decided to quit their jobs. Of course, the kids here are no angels, but I have had so many of them surprise me in lovely ways. One group of girls came over to me while I was sitting twiddling my thumbs in the mid-lesson break (another thing to add to the awkward list!) because they thought I might like company. Another girl, whose family moved here from Iran last year, offered me sympathy because she knew how hard it was being foreign and not speaking the language well. (That class has actually been told I don't speak German. Awkward list.) And she gave me a sympathy biscuit.

Loads of other pupils have been really friendly to me too, especially the ones who I've met in choir and orchestra, but also loads of others who are just really nice!

Maybe this last bit is just me getting all sentimental about the end of term. Who knows?

Anyway, off to England tomorrow! Bis nächstes Jahr, Deutschland!

1 comment:

  1. 'Also, the staff toilets get locked too when no one's using them - as if any student ever would go in and risk meeting their teacher in the loo (a child/teenager's nightmare come true).'- I CRACKED UP. This is the TRUTH. :D

    My admiration for you grows and grows! Can't wait to have you home. :)