Donnerstag, 30. Juli 2015

Blooping ist menschlich. So enjoy your bloopers, and learn from them!

Oops! Embarassing bloopers are all part of learning.

I've been blogging as a Brit in Bavaria for over five years, and covered many typical expat experiences, from embarrassing myself in a brass band to unashamedly cheating in a cyling competition. But I notice that I've hardly ever discussed what I do almost every day: Teaching.

A good starting point is "bloopers". Also known as "howlers". When you mean to say one thing but say something totally different. If this were a feature film it might be called "For They Know Not What They Say". Teachers are not exempt from blooping, of course. My own biggest blooper was on my first school trip to Germany, when I met my exchange partner’s mother, shook hands and announced “Ich bin sehr erregt”.  I meant to say I was nervously excited (“aufgeregt”), but had confused it with the word for naughtily excited. No wonder she raised a quizzical eyebrow. 

Laughing together with your students about embarrassing "faux pas" like this is a great way of bringing light relief into the classroom. Besides, when students slap their forehead and say “Ah so!” you can bet they won’t make the same mistake again.

The other day a student announced her friend was no longer coming to class because she was “becoming a baby”. When I gave her a surprised look she corrected herself: “Sorry, I mean she’s getting a baby”. “Oh”, I replied, playing along, “is she adopting, buying it online?” It’s one of the most common bloopers you’ll hear from German speakers in English. A tell-tell sign of how arbitrary language can be. Does saying “having a baby” really make any more sense than “getting a baby”? 

Roleplays produce hilarious bloopers too. A student was recently welcoming a guest to her company. Shaking hands with her male counterpart she wanted to say “Ich möchte, dass sie sich zu Hause fühlen“. It came out as “I‘d like to feel you at home”.  

In another roleplay I asked a student to react to the statement “May I smoke here?” Thinking it might make her cough, she obviously had the German word “sensibel” (= sensitive) in mind. The response came out as “Please don’t smoke, I’m sensible.”

But beware serial bloopers. Especially when they lead to misunderstandings. I was invigilating an oral exam in which students had to negotiate the sale of a consignment of jumpers. Yet instead of jumpers the seller kept talking about “journeys”. Her partner clearly had the correct word on their role card too, yet at no point did she say “Oh, don’t you mean jumpers?” She ended up buying 2,000 journeys. Destination unknown.

If only I could have a Euro each time students have inadvertently flirted on the phone by asking callers “Can I give her a massage?”. Better still – creepy creepy – when asking to speak to the “Chief Execution Officer”.

I encourage students to note “minimal pairs”, which look similar but are pronounced differently. There's a clear-cut difference between "end" and "and", for example. Like that 1980s group Cool and the Gang, who German radio presenters still announce as "Kool end ze Geng".

Practising word pairs like this can help students sound less like Lothar Matthais and more like Daniel Radcliffe.

It should also save them from embarrassment in front of their friends too. My all-time favourite blooper came in a class discussion on hobbies, when a student announced he liked to “play sex at the weekend”. The room went all quiet and I noticed some of the girls gag a giggle. My gut reaction was to gracefully ignore the comment. But seeing he was totally serious I had to giggle too. He was simply talking about that musical instrument, the sax.
    
                                

Dienstag, 28. Juli 2015

Achtung! Leitungswasser feels like a dirty word in Germany

Tap water in Germany: Pure and plentiful.
Just don't dare ask for it in restaurants.

The other day I was in Regensburg, entertaining friends from London. The best preserved medieval city in Germany, Regensburg is my most favourite and well worth a visit if you’re anywhere in South Germany. After enjoying a stroll round this world-heritage gem we decided to call at a restaurant for a midday meal. I’d been there before and loved the pasta. It was very hot, so along with beers we also asked for Leitungswasser. We were served a jug of sparkling water - obviously decanted from an Evian bottle, or similar. When I politely pointed out the mistake to the waitress, she looked a bit confused, and disappeared without a word. Still, she came back after a while with a jug of "normal" tap water and everyone was happy. The meal was lovely too. But when the bill came I noticed they'd charged us 6.99€ (!) for "Mineralwasser".

The waitress seemed out of her depth with my questioning the error, so I asked to see the Manager, explaining we had asked just for "Leitungswasser". We're not allowed to serve tap water, he told me. I was about to enquire if that was for public health reasons contamination risk maybe but then remembered this is Germany. Better avoid humour. Instead I asked "So why didn't the waitress tell me that, instead of simply putting expensive mineral water on the bill?" After a lot of "hin und her" as they say in Germany, the Manager told the waitress to give me a 3€ refund, which was simply handed to me without commentary.

Leaving the restaurant, head held down, I felt a bit like Oliver Twist who’d been similarly rebuffed after daring to ask for second helpings. The three euros in my hand felt more like a trophy than a refund – I’d certainly had to fight for it. Why do restaurants in Germany feel so challenged by a simple request for tap water? Even the poorest countries in the world offer it free without you having to ask.

In future I think I’ll just stick to ordering beer with my meals. And bring along my own tap water.

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