- I learned a lot about the language acquisition process during my SLA experience. The two teachers that I had had very different approaches. One was more focused on building up our basic grammar skills, while the other prioritized vocabulary. Both certainly have their advantages in acquiring a new language. I engaged by doing my best to interact with as many locals as possible and observe how their daily routines and habits differed from ones in the United States. My teachers were also a valuable source for explaining cultural differences that were important to know, such as the fact that jaywalking is not at all allowed or practiced in Germany. I definitely feel like I met my goals for language learning that I set for myself. Both my grammar and vocabulary have improved, and I learned a ton about German culture. Finally, I was able to interact with fantastic people from all around the world.
- I have gained valuable insights from my SLA experience. The most self-altering aspect of the trip was meeting people from all over the world and learning about them and their cultures. I met people from approximately 30 different countries, and got to know the Germans very well. Different approaches to life, such as the importance of family to the German people, the laidback, caring nature of the Argentinians, or the environmental attentiveness of the Danish are all wonderful traits that I would like to incorporate into my own life. I always thought that learning about other cultures would be valuable, but this SLA experience totally confirmed and reinforced that belief. My main recommendation to anyone who was considering applying to SLA or another language program would be to talk to as many people from as many different places as possible. Learning the local language can deepen your immersion within a culture, and widen your horizons even further.
- Firstly, I plan on using my language and intercultural competences in my Notre Dame classes. I am taking Intermediate German II in the next semester, and then I plan on continuing my German education for the rest of my four years and beyond. The SLA experience grew my love for travel, language learning, and cultural immersion. I would really enjoy another opportunity to take classes in Germany, or even get an internship or a job there. I think that working in a foreign country would be a totally unique experience that could build on the skills and expertise that I accumulated during my SLA program. As I move forward personally, I believe that my SLA experience has made me a more worldly person, and increased my respect and understanding of other cultures and peoples. I have grown to love the city of Munich, and I sincerely hope that I will get to live among its wonderful people once again in the future.
Author: Corey McCarthy
Viewpoints on America
I interviewed three different people about their attitudes toward the United States. The first was an 18 year old woman from Denmark. She told me that her overall impression of American and Americans was a positive one. She had visited New York and Houston and loved the big city atmosphere compared to her small, rural Danish island. However, she did have a negative view of Americans in thinking that we were somewhat lazy. In Denmark, she walked or biked nearly everywhere. She disliked the fact that Americans seemed to take a car or bus even to cover short distances, and that we have polluted the environment greatly with this practice. This attitude was largely based on her interactions with Americans during her visits to our country, as well as Americans like me that she had met in Europe.
The second person that I interviewed was a 26 year old man from southern Germany. He also had a positive overall view of America and Americans. As a former member of the army, he had a lot of respect and admiration for America’s military strength. He told me that he wishes he was American so that he could have served in our army instead of the German one. However, he had a somewhat negative viewpoint on American college students. He considered all of us to be huge partiers who were more concerned about joining the best fraternity and drinking all the time than actually going to class and studying for our degrees. He was surprised at how hard we worked and how little we went out to the bars and clubs in Munich. This attitude likely was grown in him from watching American television and movies.
The third and final person I interviewed was a 55 year old German-Turkish man. He was my professor for the first month of lessons. He enjoyed making fun of Americans, and always made jokes about us during class. But, it was all in good fun and he told me during the interview that he actually thought very highly of America and Americans. He did, however, find us to sometimes be cocky and self-absorbed. He also had a negative view on our government. He told me that Trump was disliked by the vast majority of the German population, and that the general opinion was that he was ruining relations with European nations. He especially disliked Trump’s immigration policy. He thought that the treatment of many immigrant groups was inhumane, and that Trump should be more welcoming and less cruel to our southern neighbors. This attitude was one of someone who approved of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open their own southern borders and accept a large number of immigrants, especially refugees from nearby wars or natural disasters.
One delicious dish that is unique to Germany is Käsespätzle. Käsespätzle is essentially the German version of a mac and cheese. Not only did I order this dish from an authentic restaurant, but I also had the opportunity to prepare it with a local cook at the guesthouse I stayed in. The ingredients are pretty simple: flour, eggs, water, onions, cheese, butter, and spices. Cheese variety can vary greatly, but Emmentaler is definitely a popular choice. The basic pasta dough ingredients are mixed together. This involves a very large amount of stirring, which was the task that was given to me. While this is being done, onions are fried in a pan separately and the cheese, butter, and spices combine in a sauce. Then, an instrument called a “Spätzlehobel” is used to form the noodles. The “Spätzlehobel” resembles a grater with larger holes. The dough is pressed through it and dropped into boiling water to create small, oval shaped disks of noodle. These are scooped out after only a few minutes and mixed with the cheese sauce and grilled onions. Breadcrumbs and crispy onions may be added as a textured garnish. It is typically served in a hot pan or dish.
A good Käsespätzle is one with the best ingredients. If the dough is not made from scratch, it will have a more packaged, unrefined taste to it. The same rule applies for the cheese sauce. A powdered or canned cheese is very much frowned upon for addition to the Käsespätzle sauce. Käsespätzle is very important to German culture. Much like the American mac and cheese, Käsespätzle is considered the ultimate comfort food. It is best enjoyed during the winter months, but is eaten year-round. It is both a main dish and a side dish. Considering the richness and carb-loaded nature of Käsespätzle, it is usually served with something light like a fresh salad. It is also eaten among the people of nearby Switzerland and Austria, especially in the Alps. Originally a dish prepared by peasants, Käsespätzle is now enjoyed by nearly everyone who calls Germany and the surrounding regions home.
An important local holiday that just took place was Whit Monday. I spoke to a worker at a local tourism center and a friendly man at a beer garden about the holiday. The tourism worker gave me a brief historical description of Whit Monday and how it is celebrated in Bavaria. I found out that Whit Monday is a national public holiday, and that it celebrates the second day of Pentecost. This used to be an entire week-long celebration, but now it only lasts a single day. The day before Whit Monday is the end of the Easter period, and is filled with religious ceremonies and services for those who practice Christianity. There are various local traditions associated with the event, many involving the fight against evil spirits who want to rob and cause destruction. Some towns also have parade events with processions of horses.
The man I spoke to at the beer garden did not have nearly as much information about Whit Monday as the tourism worker. He told me that he wasn’t particularly religious, so he never attended any of the Whit Monday events, nor did he really know what their significance was. To him, Whit Monday was just a nice day off from work for him and a day off from school for his kids. The difference between his response and the response of the tourism worker shows that while Germany’s roots are still very much based off of religious traditions, the average layperson is not necessarily religious or a devout follower of the ceremonies. However, I received the impression that the non-religious citizens had no problem with the religious holidays, and even welcome the days off.
One of the most commonly used slang words in Germany is “Ciao”. While this word comes from the Italian language, I heard many native Germans use it to say good-bye. Upon speaking to a young German man and woman, I learned that it was a slightly cooler version of saying bye that was especially popular in southern Germany due to the proximity to Italy. Both of them used the word quite often, especially among their friends. The word is much less formal and easier to use than “Auf Wiedersehen”, which I have only heard a few times so far. The middle-aged individuals that I spoke with used “Ciao” much less often. They fully understood its meaning and used it occasionally, but preferred to use the more traditional German good-bye “Tschüss”. In my experience, the overall usage of these two words is about 50/50, and their meaning is essentially the same.“Ciao” is a strong representation of Germany’s diverse culture and relationship with surrounding countries.
Another slang word that I have seen constantly is “Semmel”. This word confused me a lot during my first week or so. I was corrected when I attempted to order a roll at a local bakery with “Brötchen”, the word that I had learned in class. A salami sandwich turned out to be a “Salamisemmel” instead. Thankfully, talking to a few locals helped me to clear up the confusion. Neither age nor gender made any difference in the understanding or usage of the word, but where the individual had grown up was crucial. Two of the people I spoke to had grown up in the Munich area, and used “Semmel” 100% of the time. This seems to be typically in the entirety of Southeast Germany. The other people I spoke to had grown up in the Hannover and Berlin areas, respectfully. Both of them fully understood the word “Semmel” and used it while they were in Munich. However, they had each grown up using “Brötchen”, the word that I had learned. The woman from Berlin told me that they occasionally used the word “Schrippe” as well. No one seemed to know why Munich used a different word, but it didn’t appear to have any variance from the more traditional words used in other areas of the country. Either way, I plan on exclusively using the slang word “Semmel” for the remainder of my time here.
Ending my Journey
I am now approaching the very end of my SLA experience. I am quite proud of the language skills that I have accumulated, as well as the rich culture that I have been able to immerse myself in. I have continued along with many of the strategies that I described in previous blog posts, including the flash cards and extensive writing exercises. I feel much more comfortable starting up conversations with locals, which I have found is an excellent strategy for language acquisition. Learning from a native speaker is wonderful, but it is often very formal. Hearing how the average German speaker talks is invaluable in deciding how I should actually speak. While my vocabulary had been improving rapidly, it was only through this strategy that I have been able to confidently discern the connotations of certain words and when a layperson would use them in a conversation. A final incredible cultural experience that I had was going to see a Bayern Munich game. The team is wholly beloved by the city, and I had heard locals rave about the team and the sport so often that I decided I had to see it for myself before leaving. The atmosphere at the game was incredible. I spoke to the fans around me, many of whom had grown up watching the team. Their passion was infectious, and they taught me many of the cheers for Bayern Munich, as well as the soccer terms that Germans used. While this wasn’t something that my class would have taught me, it is certainly an important part of the culture and something that would come up regularly in a conversation with the average German sports fan. I am quite pleased with the progress I have made with the language during the SLA experience, and I believe that the language acquisition skills that I have learned and practiced extensively will allow me to succeed throughout the rest of my German classes back at Notre Dame.
I am now a week into my second class. My new teacher is a lot younger, and thus has a very different approach to language learning. She focuses a lot on writing, which is a nice change as this is something that I could always use practice with. It forces me to slow down and really consider my grammar and word choices, as opposed to speaking where I have to move quickly. We have to write a short essay every single day, and the corrections that I have gotten back so far have helped me to pinpoint the mistakes that I make regularly so I can address them. We have also been getting into super advanced grammar. The nightly homework has been helpful in practicing these skills. I have been trying to use these new formations when I speak to my friends or locals outside of class. Applying the skills to real conversations is a strategy that I’ve found to work really well in effectively building language skills. One recent cultural experience I had was visiting the BMW world. Engineering, particularly relating to cars, is an important cultural area for Germans, as well as a great source of pride for the country. Besides learning a lot about the vehicles, it was an interesting language exercise. I had never experienced many of the technical vocabulary words before, so I got extensive practice learning to best use context to make an educated guess as to what certain words meant. Once I did that, I would check myself against the English translations of the information boards to see how well I did. By the end of the BMW Museum tour, I could translate the entire paragraphs with very few mistakes!
Initial Language Acquisition
I am three weeks into my German course, and I can already feel my language skills improving. The flashcards that I made for myself certainly came in handy in buffing my vocabulary abilities. Immersion is really the best way to expedite language acquisition. I need to force myself to only speak to the other students in the class in German, even when they can speak English fluently. The more formal conversations outside of class are a great supplement to the grammar and vocabulary lessons in the lectures. In addition to the language program, I have been able to take in a large amount of German culture. I have visited the Neuschwanstein Castle and the small beautiful village of Landshut. Listening to the tour guides speak in rapid fire German on these trips has been a struggle. It was also difficult to keep up with the locals I spoke to when my friends and I visited the English Gardens a few days ago, a popular spot for Munich residents on warm days. However, I can definitely say that experiences like these with native speakers has forced me to improve my listening abilities so that I can keep up with those who speak German quickly. This is a very valuable skill that I am proud to be getting stronger at.
Arriving in Munich
The beginning of my SLA experience in Munich has been fantastic. I faced a challenge right from the start when I had to figure out the public transportation system to get to my language institute. My German was a little rusty, but thankfully I was able to communicate enough with a friendly airport worker to buy the right subway ticket. The course has been challenging, but helpful. Four and a half hours a day of German, in addition to the immersion, will definitely progress my skills rapidly. My teacher chooses to only speak German, which I believe is an effective strategy to force us students to practice with him. He convinced us to speak as much as possible, both by asking us lengthy questions and by giving us conversation prompts to work on with a partner. He is also a big believer in the power of vocabulary. It might benefit my acquisition of the language if I make flashcards to practice all of the words he emphasizes in class and the ones I have encountered often in the city. Food was particularly difficult to deal with, as I didn’t know the words for many of the ingredients. I had to just point at first, but I would really love to be able to communicate fluently with the German vendors. Thankfully, I am beginning to figure out many of the common dishes and everything tastes delicious!