A halftime review of Learning German in my EVS A Review.
DON’T WORRY, there is no HURRY!!
The main apprehension that I had about beginning was the lack of German that I had. When I had found out that I had secured the placement in Halle I had begun to learn some German using the DuoLingo application but I had never learned it in the school so I knew only really the basics. I was wondering what it would be like to be dropped into a German speaking environment. In all honesty, it is difficult, I am not going to lie. Not be able to understand what is going on and what is being said makes you feel I little helpless at times. However, what I have discovered is that this truly is the best way to learn and it is amazing how quickly you begin to pick up key phrases and words. Within the first day I has already learned several phrases/questions! Being in a German environment means that you are always learning and naturally accumulate vocabulary and knowledge without make a big conscious effort.
Help is at hand!
Although I have said it is not easy the most important point is don’t worry too much! You are not totally left alone to struggle with the dreaded German cases and grammar! That is not how the EVS works. Help is at hand in number of ways. On every EVS placement you should have a mentor and the embarrassing thing is that most of the German people can speak at least a little English- they often say they only have ‘school English’ but you often find they can still understand quite a bit! For me the Red Cross mentor could speak really good English so there was no problem here. Similarly, within my placement I was supported by a few educators that could speak English. In particular, there was one other male educator called Jens who was literally a god send. We had a common interest in football and he really helped me especially with conversation. However, the majority of co-workers will only speak German so if you want to speak to them you must learn German! I have found this a great incentive to learn and a good challenge and opportunity to practice new things that you have learned. You must keep a positive frame of mind though- you are going to make lots of mistakes but generally people will be nice to use if they see you are trying.
As well as the support from the Red Cross and within my placement, after a few weeks we began to have German lessons. This is one of the rights of the EVS volunteers. So starting at the beginning of October until the end of November we had lessons in the Volkshochschule (Adult Education) three times a week beginning at 16:30 until 19:00. Considering I left the house at 09:30 it meant that we had quite long days but still it was necessary. Although tiring, it was essential and I soon found my German improving. Although learning vocabulary could be done in my own time, learning the grammatical rules and the tricky German cases really needs a teacher who could explain things in the correct way. Our teacher, Hr. Lopez, was excellent at this and was always supportive and helpful at the same time. However, what was also good about these lessons was that it was attended by other auslanders (foreigners) who were also learning German. These included several Syrian refugees, two guys from Benin, one from Niger, one women from Croatia, a man from Kosovo, and a student from Ukraine. So it was a good opportunity to talk to others and meet people who were having similar problem with German.
In the middle of November, I logged on the Erasmus+ website and took a test to see what level I was on the European framework. It said that I was overall A2 but that I had scored B1 on reading and listening which I was pleased with. Although I haven’t used this Erasmus+ programme again, writing this blog has reminded me that we can access it. It is meant to be useful learning tool so I must look at it when I get a chance!
As time progressed, I was trying to have more conversations at the Hort and felt that I could understand a lot more and get my point across when I needed, albeit there were still lots of times when I was clueless! However, when travelling to Dusseldorf for my flight home at Christmas, I had probably the highlight of my German speaking year so far. I was on meinfernbus (a cheap bus company that travel all over Europe) from Halle to Dusseldorf and sat next to an older lady making the same journey. Although the first 4 hours were a mix of sleep and awkward bus silence, I somehow got talking to her and we had a conversation about what I was doing and who I was etc. It turned out her daughter had also worked with the DRK before and I found out what she was doing and her plans. She even said that my German was good for only 4 months learning. Pat on the back Martin ;) Who said Germans weren’t friendly! So I went home with a smile on my face knowing that my hard work had paid off.
Coming back after Christmas, I have tried to keep up the conversation and we have had times where we have socially spoke quite a lot of German, mixed with a bit of English now and then which is satisfying. Just before Christmas we managed to accrue a TV from one of the people we work with and so I have found this a good opportunity to improve my listening. A particular favourite show of mine has been the Voice kids. Really easy to understand because it is the same comments over and over again and because they are talking to children they generally use simpler language. This proved useful as on a recent seminar that we attended, there was also a lot of opportunities to practice German and I practically understood all of the conversations that were said which was very pleasing. The only problem still is fully expressing myself which needs more practice.
SO what is the aim going forward? In order to kick on to the next level, I want to get a tandem partner with a native German speaker so I can practice speaking only German. And the aim is also to continue with the lessons again. The B1 course at the VHS starts at the end of April so I would like to do this and then a B1 exam later in the year so that I can come away from this year with a qualification on top of all of the other experiences. However, at the halfway point in my EVS, I am really satisfied with how far I have come. So far his EVS year has been a massive learning curve and has proved a great way to start learning a new language. So if anyone wants to learn a language and at the same time volunteer then a cannot more highly recommend an EVS year! Take a leap of faith and you’ll be surprised with the where you end!