Deutsch lernen macht spaβ!
Amanda Minervini, World Languages and Cultures
I could go on forever saying how much I love teaching languages and what a blast it has been to teach German 101 at SSU this fall, a language that had not been offered as a day course before. But I promise I will only say a few words and let my students speak. We meet three times a week for fifty minutes: on Fridays, we take turns bringing chocolate to share. We call this habit: “Schokolade Freitag.” The first day of class, after going over the syllabus, I played some German music videos and gave my students a hand-out with a quite long list of German singers and bands. I wanted to let them hear how German sounds, how musical it can be, and it was also a fun introduction to German culture. I suggested going online and bringing one song/video to the next class. These songs provided the soundtrack of our first stroll into the German world. Why German, though?
Michelle Barrasso wants to study German because she is a history major interested in German history and the Holocaust. Furthermore, she wants to work in Germany someday. “I also love the way German sounds and have wanted to expose myself to it for a number of years,” she said. Kati Nalbandian has a strong personal motivation to connect with German culture that has to do with her family history. She also wishes to live and work there in the future:
To learn the German language is an important goal in my life. I have family in several areas of the country and have met two of my cousins who are closest in age to me. My Oma has always been an amazing inspiration to me. She was born and raised in Germany and was only a teenager when Hitler began his occupation. Her life story is incredible and could become a book if I was to share it all here.
However, because of her I am here in America. She had my father and aunt in the United States in the early 1950s. She is still alive today and it would mean the world to me to be able to have one conversation in German with her before she passes on. Of course, one of my cousins in Berlin is a dear friend of mine after meeting her for two consecutive summers. We are like soul sisters and I would love to continue to see her and speak her language with her.
If I can become proficient in this language I plan to live in Berlin after graduation. I am a Theatre Major and wish to become involved in the arts in one of the most artistically diverse cities I have ever seen. I hope to study abroad there this summer with some of my classmates.
Didn’t you know? Starting next summer, Salem State Students who have taken at least German 101 will be able to study in Berlin, the wonderful capital of Germany, at the prestigious Humboldt Universität!
I am not going to lie to you: German grammar can be tough. For example, there are three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. But do not expect things to be neuter just because they are inanimate objects: that is not how it works. Wine is masculine, as is coffee, but water and beer are neuter, whereas your apartment and your clock are feminine. There are only a couple of rules, everything else rests upon your memory. Armen Gevorgyan has invented his own cool technique to remember the genders of the vocabulary relative to apartments and furniture (when you read how he got there, you will probably figure he is a math major):
The first step for me was to memorize the subject words without their definite articles, which was not very difficult. Now, keep in mind that there are three articles, namely: “der”, “die”, and “das”. This means if I learn which subjects the articles “der” and “die” go with, then I can safely assume that the rest of the subject words (or nouns) in chapter 2 are “das” words. This is great because it cuts down my work by around 33%. Great!
The next step was to learn all the “der” words, and so I decided to use a visualization of a very brief scenario to do this. Please note that my scenario is silly for a reason; I am not crazy. Also, note that all of the subject words in my scenario are made up of only the “der” words from chapter 2, and they will be underlined to make them easier to recognize.
The “der” scenario
There is a man, who is sitting in a closet. This man just finished working on his garden during the day and is now thinking about how to fix his balcony. This man is sitting at a table (note that any kind of table in German has a “der” article. i.e. der Nachttisch, der Couchtich, der Schreibtisch, etc…), which is surrounded by chairs and an armchair for some reason. The table is standing on a rug to prevent scratching. On this table there is the man’s computer with an internet connection, his alarm clock, and his Euros; under the table there is a paper waste basket. This man is watching TV, on top of which is a DVD-Player, a CD-Player, and a VCR. Lastly, the man is mad because he’s sitting in a closet watching TV, and he doesn’t think that this is a proper place for a person to be doing that.
Remember that it is important to visualize this scenario with a snapshot mental picture instead of remembering the story word by word. Once I was able to actually see this man in my mind sitting in his closet with his belongings, I could be sure that recalling all the “der” words during the test would be easy.
The “die” scenario
There is a woman listening to her stereo on the terrace of her second floor apartment, which is overlooking her garage, and as it happens to be, this woman really hates people but loves her houseplants (yes I know, she’s a little weird). The weird thing about this terrace is that the woman keeps her dresser there because she likes getting dressed on her terrace. Suddenly the woman remembers something and quickly opens the terrace door and runs into her apartment which has lots of furniture. The woman runs into the kitchen, turns on the lamp, and looks at the clock hanging on the wall. She looks really worried because she’s running out of time to come up with the rent for her apartment.
Having remembered those two scenarios I was able to take the chapter 2 test with confidence knowing that I knew all the “der” and “die” words, and by default, if a certain word was not in one of those two scenarios I could conclude that it is a “das” word.
It didn’t take me long to come up with these scenarios and even less time to take a mental picture of them, however they served me as a very powerful tool to study for the test. I will definitely be using this method for future tests.
This method paid off, and Armen did wonderfully on his quiz! For some students, comparing German grammar and culture to their own is also helpful. Shane Donovan explained he learns best when he can “connect German language to parallels in English, or when the German related to culture or history in Germany.”
If you are reading this thinking: “Awww, learning a language would be cool, but I am not good at it/ I am too shy/ I panic when I see a dictionary,” read what Jae Ackert had to say:
Ms. Minervini paid attention to our effort and was very supportive, even when we made a mistake. As someone who personally suffers from an anxiety disorder, I was most appreciative of her simple and straightforward corrections. I never felt like I was being made fun of or singled out. The teacher was very encouraging and available often outside of classtime, fully willing to talk and help with whatever the problem. She used a variety of media to teach and I looked forward to going to class each day. If all language classes are this way, I will be happy to continue taking them and improving my German.
And Ariana Shea:
Professor Minervini taught with videos and verbal exercises, which helped improve my German pronunciation that I am shy about. There was nothing that was particularly unhelpful about the assignments or exercises. I learned a lot of new grammar and my knowledge of the German language has expanded exponentially.
Many students found that the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in class has been particularly conducive to learning. Here’s Michelle again:
The atmosphere in class is how I wish all of my classes were because it is fun and relaxing, yet it is understood that we are all there to learn and help one another.
Everyone gets along well and wants to take something beneficial away from the experience, which has definitely been a positive and productive one. I feel that I have learned and been provided with the basic foundation for German in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and cultural knowledge. I am pleased with what I have taken from my experience, and I believe that the interaction with my peers served as a beneficial component. They helped me with certain elements including pronunciation and grammar points.
Teaching German to students like this has been ausgezeichnet!
p.s. No students were harmed, threatened, or tortured in the making of this article