Today was my first full day of German classes at the Goethe Institute in Berlin, and boy was it challenging! The strategy employed here is one of total immersion in the foreign language, which means no one says anything to you in English. I was actually at the Institute yesterday as well, but not for a class. On the first day, one has to take a placement test and then have a brief "interview" with an instructor; based on the results of these, one is place in an appropriate level course. I was placed in the A2 course, which (according to Peggy) is just where I should be. But please don't think that this was a simple matter; it was a rather disorienting experience--and I'm sure from the faces of those around me, I was not alone in feeling this way. Privileged American that I am, I'm accustomed to being spoken to in my own language in such situations (after all, the Goethe Institute offers its website in many major world languages, and all the arrangements for the class were done in English), so it was quite a surprise to be so suddenly thrust into German. I drew on my resources, tried to listen carefully and latch on to words and phrases I knew, and managed to get through. I have to say, as a newbie ESL student (well, I guess a GSL student), I have a newfound appreciation and respect for those who come to us at Richland and go through the same experience in preparing to learn English.
The class today was comprised of people (18 of them) from all different parts of world and speaking a wide variety of languages. I was the only Amerikaner and native English speaker in the group. There were people from Syria, Libya, Russia, Japan, Venezuela, Brazil, Israel, Greece and other places I can't now recall. A truly amazing mix of people. Our instructor, Alex, entered the class and immediately began speaking in German--and we were expected to do the same. This, by the way, is a 4 hour class which meets everyday, M-F, for 4 weeks. By the first "pause" halfway through, I had a headache. It was quite hard to listen, absorb info, follow directions, make notes, and of course speak when called upon. But we all did the best we could and had some laughs along the way. We also got to know each other a bit from the series of exercises he gave us that made us ask questions of one another. All in all, a good, if demanding, experience. I am glad, however, that I'm doing this now, before my semester begins. It's going to keep me busy.
In other news, the Teacher Academy conference in Bonn this past week and weekend was a great experience. (more info here, on the U.S. Embassy website) My presentation on The Simpsons and American Culture was very well received, as was the workshop I offered on Media Literacy. There is a lot of interest here in American pop culture right now, and many of the teachers who attended are quite interested in ways to incorporate this into their curricula, in a variety of fields. I met a great many people, and had lots of good, stimulating conversations about teaching, academia, politics, the U.S., Germany, beer, etc. I also had a lot of very good food--the catering was incredible. I got at least three invitations to come speak at high schools and/or universities around Germany, and just this morning received another from someone at the University of Heidelberg. (Fascinating history this place has; check out their website.) So, I guess that I am also going to keep myself busy with some speaking engagements this year, which of course will provide a great opportunity for me to travel the country and get to see even more of Germany.
In short, I'm continuing to have a wonderful and inspiring time here in Deutschland.