The German Teacher Who Makes Mistakes

I learned about the accidental German teacher/life coach Jaime Beck from this article in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel (in German). Jaime came to Germany from Colombia aged 14, with barely any German, and eventually became a hotel owner and business consultant. In 2015 he visited a shelter to make a donation at the start of the refugee crisis, where he was mistaken for a German teacher … and so he taught, even though he sometimes confuses the dative and accusative cases.

Broadcaster Deutsche Welle did a story on him in English, which can be seen here.

Jaime offers students mime, energy, and plenty of his time. This ranges from acquiring theatre tickets to helping them fill in applications, accompanying them to the job fair, and on one occasion driving a woman in labour to the hospital. While respecting their backgrounds and the terrible trauma many of the refugees have been through, he gets annoyed if a capable student is not doing their best inside or outside the classroom, and argues about topics such as sexism and LGBTQ rights.

I was deeply comforted by Jaime’s ability – despite minor grammatical errors – to motivate language beginners in quite desperate circumstances. He does not have to teach, let alone act as a lifeline for scores of people, and his energy is amazing and touching.

9 Ways to Stay Motivated

The desire to learn a language is the first hurdle – and not every 14 year old in French class gets over that hurdle. If you have chosen advanced Spanish in school or beginner German as an adult, you understand the appeal of languages, what they bring us and why they matter. How, though, do we keep it going?

  1. Picture the long-haul. Accept that learning and refining a language can be a life-long (headache) journey.
  2. Understand your reasons for learning. Needing a language for work or life can be motivating but also intimidating – learning out of interest has freedom in that sense, but does not give you a driving force. Work out how to push yourself or how to encourage yourself in both situations.
  3. Use the native speakers in your life for their expertise and to remind yourself you can still chat with them!
  4. Find other people who are learning the language so you can commiserate (see quote below).
  5. Vary the tools you use, whether it’s reading and writing (books, newspapers, flashcards) or listening and speaking (film, TV, podcasts, apps, tandem partners, Meet Ups).
  6. If possible, give yourself breaks – be it one day or a few.
  7. Immersion is valuable, but so is making the learning time count. You could watch an episode of Narcos, or spend 15 minutes making notes on a podcast or looking up words from a newspaper article.
  8. Make use of professionals if you can, either in a classroom or through a tutor. They can correct you, explain well, and untangle the grammar. They can also praise progress when they see it!
  9. Go back and reflect on the basics. If you have completed any beginner or intermediate levels, go and test yourself online and appreciate what you have mastered so far.

… [I] never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.

Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language” 1880

Why are you learning your language/s? How do you find your motivation?

What Makes a Flu Spanish?

This month’s centenary of WWI has put the conflict back in focus. But what about the greater disaster which started in 1918?

In the UK, the mythology of the war has a long development which has slowly expanded to include discussions about trauma, conscientious objection, and the racist attitudes of various sides. (See the November 13th episode of podcast The Europeans for some introductory information of treatment of non white soldiers and labourers).

Lesser known is the Spanish Flu pandemic, which in my history class was barely mentioned. It lasted from 1918 to 1920 and wiped out between 2.5% to 5% of the world’s population (the huge margin shows how much epidemiologists still do not know). Last week I picked up Laura Spinney’s book Pale Rider which gives an great overview for dummies like me who knew nothing about the extent of this “Spanish” tragedy.

The flu was not a result of the war but the mass movement of people surely intensified its spread and the consequences. Tragically, it had the worst mortality rates for adults in the prime of their life, and often killed recently returned soldiers – whatever your view of the war, these deaths could not be seen as glorious. There were no memorials for these men, women and children.

Why Spanish? The flu almost certainly did not come from Spain, but the journalism did. The country, being neutral in WWI, was the first to allow wide reporting of the illness. The rest of Europe, unable to know the full extent of the flu in their own towns and cities, assumed the sickness came from Spain. The Spanish called it “The Naples Soldier”, after a catchy song of the time (get it).

Applying distance and stigma to the flu echoes the naming of many illnesses throughout history – such as syphilis, which was called the Spanish/French/German/Italian/Polish disease – depending on where you lived.

Also this week I learned that the Spanish dub of Terminator changed “hasta la vista” to “sayonara, baby” which to me makes him sound like that Simpsons character Troy McClure. You might remember him from such self-help videos as “Smoke Yourself Thin” and “Get Some Confidence, Stupid!”

A German Word from History (No.3)

The previous post in this little series was a word from German history but this week I’m picking something from Austria:

Psychoanalyse (f.)

This is Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and a bloody hard word to pronounce. (Something like “puh-soo-show-anna-loser”, but quickly).

Sigmund Freud, 1905

In researching these German words my starting point is my own knowledge of German history, which in school was focused on 1933-1945, and then later I became fascinated with the East German state.

Beyond Nazi history, Freud was included in my 2 years of school psychology – though don’t test me – and I think as teenagers we all found his theories a bit ridiculous but super interesting because of their drama and absolutism. He captured concepts in his work which are still part of our language now, such as defining the subconscious.

On a related note, there is a great fictionalised version of Freud in Robert Seethaler’s book Der Trafikant, about the elderly psychologist befriending a young man in 1938 Vienna. Short, charming and sad.

Foreign Horror Tips!

Here’s some foreign-language suggestions for the spooky season – boost your listening skills while enjoying some scares…

backlit dark dawn environment
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dark
A German Netflix production which portrays life in an isolated small town where various children have gone missing over the decades… could it have something to do with the power plant? Or with what lies beneath it? Low-Medium Spooky

Los Ojos de Julia (Julia’s Eyes)
Spanish thriller about a woman who is quickly losing her sight to a genetic illness. Her twin sister, who recently killed herself, had the same condition. Was it a genuine suicide? The eye stuff brings this into the horror genre… Medium Spooky

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)
This atmospheric Swedish film, adapted from the novel of the same name, is one of the best examples of a vampire movie. It is creepy and effectively chilling but in some ways it is also quite moving. Medium Spooky

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Would it really be Halloween without evil child ghosts in an abandoned orphanage? This is the best version of that. Very Spooky

REC
This tense zombie flick is one of the best examples of the found footage genre and uses a claustrophobic quarantined apartment building to excellent effect. Turn out the lights and try and remember to breathe. Super Spooky

Because it is almost Halloween and there are many amazing horror movies in English – especially in the last 5 years – here are some of the best (and scariest) I’ve ever seen:

The Babadook (2014)
Ghost Stories
(2018)
The Witch
(2015)
The Borderlands
(2013)
It Follows
(2015)
Hereditary 
(2018)

… and The Blair Witch Project, imo it’s still scary.

P.S. I am obsessed with the new Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, it is terrifying and I can’t stop watching!!