Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome to German 101.

If you’re like me you’ve waited last minute to take that dreaded second language course you need to graduate. I’ve never been good at speaking another language. I failed Spanish in middle school which upset my mom because for some reason she was naturally good at rolling her “R”s. When I was a senior in high school I was forced into German which I managed to pass with a solid B. I’m a senior again enrolled into Elementary German, surrounded my fresh faced students eager to learn while I’m praying to just pass.

The first day of class was like any other; uptight students looked around at one another but not utter a word. A young woman with blonde hair stood in front of us. “Guten Morgen, Mein Name ist Katharina.” I felt smart; she spoke the five words I remembered from my high school German class: Good Morning, my name is…” Katharina handed us a sheet of paper with a bunch of German words which told us a little more about her. From what I could gathered, she was from Germany and would be the teacher’s assistant for the semester. She asked the class if anyone could make out any of the words; a few brave souls raised their hands. One thing I’ve always hated about second language classes, it’s a guessing game. Am I really suppose to know what der zweitkleinsten means?

We filed into class on Wednesday; Katharina was in the corner and Professor Undine Giguere was gliding back and forth from each side of the classroom. Giguere apologized for missing the first two classes but insisted she had just found out she was teaching a few weeks before hand. She was middle-aged, petite, short brown hair, thick German accent, full of energy, talked with her hands, and attempted to make everyone feel comfortable. She’s who you’d want to teach you a second language, not some boring old man who just reads from a book. Giguere realized learning a second language at our age is difficult; so she pulled out a little helper: a yellow teddy bear hand puppet. The class burst out in laughter. Had we just graduated into kindergarten? She put the puppet on her right hand and began blurting out foreign words. There was something comforting about that smiling bear talking to me. Her German accent didn’t seem so harsh anymore.

Giguere went over the syllabus. There would be two tests throughout the semester, pop quizzes, and homework from the textbook and an online workbook. She also made is clear attendance and classroom participation is very important. Giguere where the homework would be located on blackboard; it would be under the assignments link. But she warned us, the dates are mixed up and something assignments needed to be submitted online but some had to be written out and handed in. The class looked confused. Giguere informed us she wasn’t great at navigating blackboard and when it came to the dates for homework she told us to hand it in at the earliest date listed. During the second week of class, when some of us went online to do homework, we were told it was already too late. I knew this was going to be a long semester.

Our homework for next class was to make a nametag. Giguere gave the class construction paper. Our nametags needed to be big and sit on our desk so she could learn who we were. One student, Chris, took this assignment to heart. His name was written in fancy, beautiful cursive; it was bold. He wanted to be known. Mine was simple text medium sized; I wanted to blend in.

The next two classes we learned the basics: how to say good morning; my name is; what’s your name; How are you; thank you; and good-bye. The class seemed to be divided into certain types of students. There were the over achievers, like Ben, who never put their hand down and got a hard on when they answered the questions correctly. Ben was 17, and he made my life a living hell. Every time Giguere asked a question Bens hand popped up. He spoke every German word almost perfectly with an overconfidence tone and a sly smith on his face. I hated him. I hated that he wore Ivy league college t-shirts to class every day. I hate that his nose always looked liked it was running. I hated that I was stuck in a class with a kid seven years younger than me. I wanted his mom to pick him up and bring him back to high school. Then there were the students who were more hesitant, who raised their hand some of the time but usually waited until they were called upon. Then there were the remaining six students in the class, who avoided eye contact and tried to hide behind other students to avoid being called on. I found a good hiding spot behind a tall blond soccer player from New Zealand. He had the perfect afro to block my face from the professor but to my disappointment the second week of class he had cut it.

The third week started off with learning about standard classroom materials and objects. Notebook, blackboard, chair, table, pen, and pencil, were things we had to point to or hold up. Giguere asked to see pencils. She and I were the only ones who had one. Mine was a silver mechanical pencil, which seemed to be a new invention to her because she denied it being a true pencil. The class looked at me like I didn’t understand what Giguere had just said. I felt my face turn red. I turned to the person sitting next to me and him it was a pencil. He just looked at me. My first attempt to contribute in class and I was shot down. We then moved onto the months and seasons; to learn the seasons we were shown a poster of a song. We sang about the months and what they brought. The class giggled. Giguere apologized for the poster but told us sometimes she teaches children and today we were those children. All I remember from the song is that the summer brings grapes and the winter is cold. However, it did help me pronounce the seasons better. Maybe Giguere was onto something.

Giguere taught her class in a circle, so she can see everyone and more importantly their nametags. She wanted interaction and communication even if you pronounced something wrong. She was almost hyperactive and kept you on your toes. This wasn’t a class for those who enjoy sitting back and taking a half page of notes a couple times a week. Giguere expected you to know when to hand in homework regardless of the four different dates listed, sing songs about the seasons and raise your hand to answer whatever she feels like asking. More importantly, if you sign up for this class you need to find your inner kid and enjoy it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Und you vill en-choy it!

10/27/2009 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Long-time RN said...

German is such a guttural language. None of the flowing rhythm of the romance languages. Quite a challenge!

Geez, another big cut at Conde Nast. Someone wrote the current editor has too much 'vanity' and not enough 'fair'. Ugh!

10/30/2009 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Toff said...

Hey, I saw the article in the ASP today, somehow I missed the first part, I just looked it up online. I live in Glenmont and had gone to BCHS. Very interesting to hear your story, I didn't know you had served. Did you take photos with film or digital, or both?

Sorry to hear about your dad. Mine had served in the Quartermaster Corps (is there one anymore, or is it all private contractors now?) prior to my birth. He managed to stay out of Vietnam because he was one of the few people in the Army then who knew about computers, which is what he pursued when he got out. He died in 1994 at age 51 from a brain tumor.

Hope German is going well for you. I had to withdraw from it, it hasn't been a very good semester for me. I was going to continue to informally audit; Prof. Giguere was supposed to get my Blackboard access reestablished (I got blocked once I withdrew), but given her trouble with BB, that never happened. I also felt I was too far behind already. Frustrating, as I really want to learn it.

Karin Hamm-Ehsani used to teach the class and had been listed as the instructor on MyUAlbany up until the last minute, I don't know what happened. She had been very internet-savvy and had two German TAs who created additional online material on another website.

I wonder what happened to Giguere's puppet Lady? I think she only brought Lady out once.

She had run out of construction paper, so I was on my own for that. I had to make a nametag for another class as well, so I used photo printer paper so it would be sturdy and stand up well, and I used a Fraktur font. They'd used that in Germany until the Nazis switched to Antiqua. I actually have a German textbook of my late grandfather's printed in Fraktur.

I'm sorry I didn't get to know you in class!

11/18/2009 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Toff said...

Hope the class turned out OK for you, that the final wasn't too bad!

12/14/2009 12:01:00 PM  

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