Rounding Out My German Skills

In terms of my studies at the Goethe Institut, the past two weeks have been my best so far, which is perhaps why I have not posted in a while. I am now in an A2.2 course, which means—according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Langauges that Goethe Institut follows—that I am an advanced beginner. If my first month here was about getting my footing in a language I had studied but not had much practice speaking, the second month so far has been about consolidating what I’ve learned into a more well rounded set of skills. I’ve really appreciated the encouragement of the new instructor I had for the first two weeks of this course, who constantly reminded us that our classroom study will mean nothing if we do not also seek out contact with Muttersprachler, native speakers. This was a helpful nudge at a point in the summer when it would be easy to fall into the basic routines I’ve established and not push myself further. So I’ve continued to initiate conversations and try to throw myself into the daily situations I encounter. My favorite moment from the past two weeks was when an older German woman waiting at the light rail station with me asked what train I was waiting for, which led to a longer conversation about what I was in Germany. We were in fact waiting for the same train, and it was a delight to talk with her during our ride.

Besides continuing to practice speaking, I’ve sensed a significant improvement in my ability to write German during the past two weeks, something we did not practice much in my first course. As an English PhD student, it is especially satisfying to begin learning how to express myself in writing. As opposed to the improvisational nature of conversation, writing allows for time to think carefully about how to say something, and polish what you’ve written. For a language like German that has many moving pieces that all need to correspond to make a guten deutschen sentence, having a little extra time to think is especially helpful. Whether writing a paragraph about a topic in class, or composing simple emails to the German people I’m in contact with, being able to step back and look at what I’ve written, tangible evidence of my learning, has been an encouraging experience during my second course at Goethe Institut.

With only two weeks of coursework left I am hoping to finish well by putting as much effort as I can into my remaining classes. While I am reading and comprehending more German than I have all summer, I need to give more intentional time to translating academic texts that Goethe Institut has not exposed me too. When I get back to Notre Dame this fall I will be taking an “German for Advanced Research” course, so returning my attention more explicitly back to translation work will help me to transition from the more practical focus I’ve had in Germany this summer. Even though my time here has been wonderful, I’m starting to look forward to heading home in a few weeks.

Digging deeper into the Argentine culture

Me in class working on a project/flyer

Me in class working on a project/flyer

Last week was a whirl. Although the picture suggests otherwise, five hours of classes a day, plus homework, can be really time-consuming (and hard), but I believe that challenging yourself can only make you better. That week in class, we talked about immigration and discrimination, which made me think about the issue in Argentina. I live really close to Barrio Chino (the Chinatown of Buenos Aires), and for this reason, there are a lot of Asian people around. Other than that, I have not really seen many people of colour. Here, they refer to people with dark skin as morrachos. I know that because, as I was getting my hair cut, the hairdresser extensively explained to me that he would call me a morracha because of my “piel más oscuro” (darker skin). However, I don’t think he meant to be discriminatory since he went on to say that he had a 23-year old son and that we would make a good pair due to the difference in skin colour. Later, I talked to my friend Guillermo (pronounced Gui’sh’ermo because, you know, Argentina)  about it. He told me that since most Argentines are descendants of Italians and Spaniards, there is not much discrimination in the country. They are also predisposed to immigration from bordering countries, as well as Asia and Europe. As such, Argentines are tolerant and accepting of others. However, there can be certain prejudices and stereotypes relating to Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Asians. He added that some of his friends from other countries have felt that people looked at them differently because of their skin colour.

My experience in Argentina has been great so far, and it’s hard to believe that it is soon coming to an end. My only complaint is that everyone in my class/program is from the US, which made it harder to meet locals. However, I found some ways around this. First, I joined that conversation exchange program at the university. I also try to talk to as many people as possible when travelling around or going out. Additionally, I created a Bumble* here, through which I met a few people (Disclaimer: if you are planning to use it, be careful, i.e. follow the rules** of talking to random people online).

Last Thursday, we went to a Tango show preceded by a Tango lesson. We learnt the basic steps and were certified. I am far from being a pro, but I intend to learn more (I added it to my bucket list).

Best couple of the night (according to us)

Best couple of the night (according to us)

I know I promised stories of adventures in my previous post, so stay tuned to read about the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.


*Bumble is kind of like Tinder (so basically an online dating app) except the girl has to talk first and has 24 hours to do so.

** The rules are:

  1. Do NOT ever give out sensible information about yourself, e.g your address
  2. Never agree to meet alone. Meet with other friends or in a crowded place, and always let someone know where and with whom you’re going
  3. Beware of cultural differences
  4. Do not believe everything you’re told
  5. Be SMART

Buenos Aires’ secrets revealed

Last week was my first one at ‘La Universidad de Belgrano’. Classes started on Monday after a two-hour orientation. I was placed into the Advanced Level and the first day, it felt like it was a jump from Intermediate II (the last class I took at Notre Dame), but it’s getting easier. We have classes for 5 hours everyday from Monday to Friday. It’s intense. There’s only 5 people at the Advanced Level, so Prof Yael makes all of us talk, which is great! Class is usually reading texts and answering questions about history, culture and art, working on some vocab, and doing advanced grammar. We really go into the technicalities of the language, which I surprisingly enjoy.

I’d also like to use this post as an erratum to my previous one, with respect to the accent here. Basically, the sh replaces the y sound here, i.e. whenever there’s lly and j in foreign words only. For example, they would pronounce mayo (May) as mashoella (she) as esha and jazz as shazz. Argentines also have a tendency to not pronounce ‘s’ in the middle of a word or a sentence. They call it aspiración de la ‘s’ (aspiration of the ‘s’).
We also went over the differences between Spanish spoken here and in other countries. It turns out Argentina has a lot of different words for stuff, like frutilla for strawberry (instead of fresa) or palta for avocado (instead of aguacate). Most of them have to do with food.
Another big difference here that I mentioned in my previous post is the use of ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’. ‘Vos’ is conjugated exactly like ‘tú’ except for the Present Indicative and Imperative. I also read a couple things about this and talked to some local people and found really interesting that the conjugation of ‘vos’ is not taught in school. Kids learn how to conjugate ‘tú’ and ‘vosotros’, but in everyday conversation only use ‘vos’ and ‘ustedes’.

Additionally, Argentines use a lot of slang and abbreviations when they talk. Now that I know a lot of them, it’s easier to hold conversations with the locals. My roommates and I often find ourselves practising ‘sobremesa’ after dinner. ‘Sobremesa’ is probably my favourite Spanish word to this day and describes conversation that people have at the table after a meal. It is very common here to spend hours at the dinner table talking even after all the food is gone. It’s also a very good a way to practise speaking!

Culture-wise, I had the chance to go to a Milonga last Wednesday night. A milonga is a place to which locals go to meet people and dance tango. Although it was mostly older people, I thought it was really fun! Also, tango looks really hard.
I took a trip to MALBA (El Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), where I saw works of famous artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Fernando Botero, among others.


Me at MALBA trying to explain what a sinusoid (behind me) is. It’s just a sine curve #mathmajor

A highlight of this past week is that my roommates and I got better at navigating the city, taking the bondí (slang for bus), the subte (metro) and the train.

Alexa, Jaimee and me in downtown Buenos Aires

Alexa, Jaimee and me in downtown Buenos Aires

I already have my first exam at the end of this week. Hopefully it goes well.
¡Deseame buena suerte!