Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Students

It's been ten days since I last wrote about my class of delightful students, and in the mean time I have asked for and received permission from them to write about them publicly. When I last wrote, it was after just two days of class. I was enthusiastic, I was enjoying it, and I couldn't have had any idea how much I would continue to love this experience.

I can hardly keep up with them - I teach them how to construct a sentence with Modalverben (helping verbs), and they want to know about Modalverben with trennbare Verben (separable prefix verbs). Ok, we do that next. Then in a reading exercise practicing trennbare Verben they see an example of comparatives and want to know how to do those. I think the thing I say most often is, "We'll learn that in the next few days!" or "That's on my plan for this afternoon!" They seem eager to learn everything. They have even requested homework.

I wish you could meet them. Ayman is the 19-year-old who is frustrated because he hasn't mastered the language in 7 weeks, although he's made so much progress! Danyal, who I did not realize was not German when I first met him, helps his neighbor, Hadi, who is working hard at German pronunciation. Ahmad, whose name I have been practicing pronouncing because the H is like an exhale, is eager to volunteer and has a very solid grasp of grammar. Eyad understands most of my explanations (also about cultural things - most recently the Catholic Kreuzweg, or "Way of the Cross" situated on a hill in Horb) and is always ready to translate for the rest into Arabic. Amanuel is from Eritrea and has the best grasp of grammar of the four Eritreans, so he helps the others as needed. Adhanom struggles at times, but when he is confident with an answer he's giving, I see it in his eyes and face. Talal gets my jokes and has a charming smile, and Mohammed Asaad is earnest and friendly, and doesn't want to waste any time. He never leaves the room during our 30-minute break - rather he stays in the room and studies. There are always students during the break who ask me questions about how to say various things rather than going upstairs to play Tischkicker or ping-pong, and I'm glad to help them. Basel has a jolly personality and good ideas of what he thinks they should learn (for instance 10 new verbs each day), and I'm taking his suggestions whenever possible. Yonas and Abraham are soft-spoken and I don't always hear their responses very well because they sit near the far end of the table, but I know the others near them are helping. Omar doesn't always come to my class, preferring one of the morning classes - but he's clearly learning a lot there because he participates unhesitatingly when he's with us.

These are some of my students with their former teacher -
the one who gave them such a strong foundation in the German language
that my job is easy!

I enjoy class so much because of them. When one of them fehlt (is missing), something in general fehlt from the class. They work straight up until the minute it's officially time to quit, and the three hours fly by. Last Friday I said to them that they had worked hard with heavy grammar almost all afternoon, and we could either quit 10 minutes early (as some of the other classes had) or practice our conversation questions until 5:00pm. They chose to practice the questions. They want to use every minute and learn as much as they can. This is every teacher's dream.

Each one of these men has a story of what his life was like back home in Syria or Eritrea and his passage to Germany. Most, if not all, of them have faced hardships my family and I will never experience. And yet they are so eager to laugh, smile easily, and appreciate the opportunities available to them here. They are in the midst of navigating through German bureaucracy - something that makes Western expats quake and tear their hair out in frustration - the intricacies of the German language (their third language after Arabic/Tigrinya and English), and piles of snow and freezing temperatures. But for these three hours of German class, they have a safe and warm place to learn, and classmates who gladly help them.

Although I'm not a fan of superlatives, I do feel like the luckiest teacher alive.

The Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg is in this building - das Steinhaus.
It was built in the 14th century and once served as a storage building
for the Kloster Reichenbach as well as the town's Kelter (winepress).

My friend and Sprachpartnerin visited our class on Friday and was impressed with the students. They welcomed her warmly and then interviewed her with the conversation questions we've been practicing. She helped out with some questions that stumped me - there are always some of those. One of the questions I have not been able to answer is why the H in many German words is pronounced, but it's silent in others. My Sprachpartnerin gave us the answer:

When a consonant follows the H, then the H is silent. If a vowel follows the H, then it's pronounced.
Examples: die Wohnung, das Geheimnis, fahren, Haushalt, ohne

There may be some exceptions, but this rule works for us!!

I wish I had time to share with you each of the fascinating questions and conversations we've had in and after class - about language (German, English, Arabic, and Tigrinya), culture, customs, and religion. One student told me he is Muslim because he was "born that way" - as in, his parents are Muslim. I guess that's the same reason I'm Christian. Another asked me about what Germans say before they eat ("Guten Appetit") and what it means ("Enjoy your meal"). He said in Syria many say "Gott/Allah sei dank" (God be praised - as in thanking God/Allah for the meal.). I told him it is common in American Christian families to pray in thanks for the food and to the cook before the main meal, and although I don't know any Germans who do this, I'm sure there are some.

There is much need here for volunteers willing to help the refugees learn German. For those of my readers who live in Germany, all you need to do is search for the "Freundeskreis Asyl" for your area, and you can find dozens of ways to get involved or the name of someone to contact. If you have only one spare hour a week, there is something you can do. Getting involved is one way to get to know these people that you only otherwise hear about on the news.

I will always believe that when people of different cultures come together face-to-face and get to know each other, barriers, misunderstandings, and prejudices fade away into the wind.


  1. This was very interesting to read. Thank you to your students for the permission, and to you for writing it up. It's good for others to see what people are experiencing.

    Also, as someone else who teaches, can I just say how cool it is to teach motivated adults? There really aren't the behavior problems like there are with children/teens because they're more interested in learning and can see a direct benefit of the education. I teach my coworkers, not refugees, so my situation is a bit different but I really enjoy it too. It's so cool when they get excited about something they've learned from me; it feels so good! I'm glad you've found something that lets you experience the positive aspects of teaching.

  2. Grr, I just wrote a long comment, but then my Internet crashed and it disappeared!

    Anyway, part of it was I thought those h's you don't pronounce were only there to turn the vowel in front of them into a long sound, rather than a short one? So The h in ohne tells us it's oooh-nuh, not o-nuh (sorry, I have no idea how to write out pronunciations!". Kind of like the e at the end of words in English that tells us to pronounce a long "a" in cape, for example.

    1. That sounds reasonable as well - it sounds like both explanations work. Yours explains _how_ the letter combos are pronounced, and the other is _when_ the H is pronounced. Both are helpful!

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    1. I'm glad you've enjoyed my posts. Welcome, and happy reading! :-)