I learned German the easy way: I got dropped in the middle of the country as an exchange student and was then told to have at it. One year and many migraines later, I returned to the U.S., „fluent“ in German. But not. It would be years before I could really hold my own in a conversation, read a decent book, or write a letter. Don’t get me wrong, I could talk–a lot–but it rarely went past a certain level. I just didn’t get to hear or read enough German in different contexts.
In those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no such mystical thing as the Internet, it was difficult to develop better listening and speaking skills that didn’t revolve around how much fruit you’d bought at the market, or how much you were planning on buying tomorrow, or how much fruit you would buy if you had an extra 20 DM, or what you would do with the extra 20 DM if you didn’t need any fruit, or…you get the idea.
There is a space between „Eine Wurst hätte ich gern“ and „Würste stammen eigentlich nicht aus Deutschland, wie manche das gern hätten.“ And this is a weird space, often difficult to navigate. How do you acquire all the random vocabulary that doesn’t focus exclusively on the everyday, and at the same time make it relevant and entertaining? Those random words and phrases are tied to random elements of the culture. But how do you discover random elements of the culture if you’re too busy trying to learn the language? And what materials do you use?
Listening recently to a podcast called The Dollop, with Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, I realized that history might be an ideal vehicle for linking all those things together. History is complicated, but you can make it accessible. It involves everything, from people to food to laws to children to clothes to drink to politics and science and other insane shit you’d never even thought about. And, if presented well, sitting on solid research and awesome humor, as demonstrated by The Dollop, it can be highly educational.
So we’re going to try something similar. Dr. J researches different figures and events from German history, and then tells her „schlagfertige“ friends what she’s learned. As a team, we march through the Middle Ages, culinary wars, the 20th century, scientists and bank robbers, famous writers and composers, and things that even most Germans don’t know about.
Everyone interested in German culture and history should listen to the podcast. People who would like to improve their vocabulary but have yet to find a system that gives them the breadth and depth they would like should listen to the podcast. Some students have to listen to the podcast. But I hope it’s as much of a pleasure for them to listen to as it is for us to make.
Blog entries will be in German and English, at our will, and not necessarily perfect. It’s about the kommunizieren, nicht die Perfektion.
„Wenn Sie Fehler finden, können Sie die behalten…“