At this point I have been studying at the Goethe-Institut Berlin for two weeks. Although I am still on holiday, the intensity of life is comparable to any day at Notre Dame, being strictly compartmented into morning German classes at Goethe-Institut, afternoon piano practice at Steinway (I am a music major), (from now) evening study at the Berlin State Library, and weekend cultural explorations including organized cultural events organized by Goethe Institut. Due to the highly developed public transportation system in Berlin, everyday routine has been efficient; due to a surprising lack of access to Internet, I was paradoxically free from many distractions.
At the placement test of Goethe Institut I have been placed into C1 under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, meaning I am at the lower lever of the advanced level. The result of my written test and my oral response at the interview showed my area most in need of improvement – Vocabulary. Due to a limited vocabulary, I could not grasp the subtlety of meaning in some texts, and cannot express my true personality in normal conversations. The interviewer suggested wide reading as the best way of accumulating a large vocabulary. Indeed, I recall so many times when I am in a German bookstore and flip through books related to my interests, frustrated that my reading was hindered significantly because I had to look up new words from time to time. How wonderful it would be, I thought, if I possessed a large vocabulary, so that I could read about Wagner’s life, Schiller’s poems, and German history in their original!
As it turned out, vocabulary is a common problem in my class. In order to improve our vocabulary and familiarize us German journalism, our teacher has been guiding us to read a newspaper article daily. Everyone needs to buy a newspaper and read an article from it of interest, look up all the new words and present the central content to class the next day. I have been reading American presidentship election, dispute in China southern sea, Rigaer Street demonstration in Berlin, Attack in Nice etc. all in German, and I found this method very helpful, since reading provides vocabulary learning with a meaningful context to help us memorize the words. Recalling my earlier days of English learning, I remember I was similarly driven by a desire to read about music in English. In those days I was reading The Unanswered Question by Leonard Bernstein, and I was reading extremely slowly, but learned hundreds of words from it.
Other areas of the class are mostly concerning topic-oriented discussions, and the vocabulary and grammar highlights from the textbook chapters. I am glad that today we have a new teacher, who not only has perfect pronunciation, but also pays great attention to the nicety of language by constantly correcting our words into more authentic German expressions. Along with this method come collocations, idioms, and word usages. Besides coursework, I am self-working on a German grammar book, because I firmly believe that the factor that really elevates one’s command of language is Grammar. Without advance in grammar, one’s linguistic sophistication would always stay at the same level, no matter how fluent one sounds. Again, I recall the milestone in my English learning was the summer of 2012, when I read through an Oxford Grammar book. I want to do the same this summer, this time Hueber instead of Oxford.