Confession: my first German teacher was the worst
I have a confession to make: my first German teacher was so bad, I blocked him from my memory.
For years now I've been working on this website, cultivating each page and making everything as genuine and transparent as possible. And then it hit me: I have indeed had another German teacher (a professor, actually), from whom I learned exactly 3 words of German in 2 semesters at college:
ein Glas Limonade
Yep, das war alles.
So it's no wonder I'd blocked it all out. It was just that bad.
I wanted to demonstrate to you, dear reader, what fantastic skills I learned from my teachers, from the teacher at Eloquia and at the Goethe-Institut, and how those skills carried me for years after! Each lesson was beneficial, the learning and memorizational techniques demanding and helpful, helping me store everything in my long-term memory as soon as possible. These teachers were absolute pros!
This particular professor was the exact opposite.
Meet Herr S.
Herr S. was in his 50s when I joined his class. People said he wasn't an awesome teacher, but that you did learn in his class. I hadn't had a foreign language class for a couple of years and since I'd made some German friends, I was really interested in learning German. The possibilities of European travel and bilingualism began to blossom in my mind and I was thrilled.
Herr S. spoke 9 languages, including Russian, Danish, German, English, Spanish, Kaqchikel, and others. Impressive!
Herr S. was writing his own textbook. That's a big deal, right?
Herr S. had an unbridled enthusiasm for language and for grammar and regularly demonstrated to us, we without any prior knowledge of German, how the subject OR the object of German could come before the verb. Wasn't that fascinating?!
No, actually, it was horribly confusing.
Where it all went wrong
Instead of starting us out with beginning words and sentences like
"Guten Tag. Ich heiße Warner, Nicole Warner. Und wie heißen Sie?"
we started with an elementary German reader. Entire sentences, groupings of vocabulary too numerous to memorize in a week, short stories far beyond our beginning capacities.
Herr S. was also einfach abgelenkt--easily distracted. One particular classmate regularly distracted Herr S. by making him translate sentences that were completely unrelated to the material at hand. He wasted hours and hours of class time and Herr S. always said, "Oh, but this is fascinating! Look at how you can do this in German!" and he would continue writing on the whiteboard in his illegible handwriting, oblivious to the fact that we were frustrated, confused, and angry. Our protests went unheard.
We never had a textbook that entire year, Herr S. charged us a copying fee and gave us copies of his book as he completed the chapters and the exercises. Except it wasn't a German learning textbook, it was a German grammar practice book disguised as a textbook. And we never truly learned Akkusativ. Von Dativ und Genitiv ganz zu schweigen!
The sad truth was, Herr S. was so good at German (and all the other 8 languages he spoke) that he had forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. Herr S. was either so good at languages that he never recognized he hadn't always known everything about them or he had forgotten the process of language learning. His false assumption was that we were just like him--a wiz at languages--and we would just "get it."
He'd forgotten what it was like to acquire language piece by piece, word by word, one verb conjugation at a time.
From this we learn...
...that it's right and good to start at the beginning.
Everybody starts somewhere! Nobody starts out perfect at German, not even German kids! Remember to give yourself time to learn, to discover new things, and to explore what your personal learning process is.
So whether you are learning German or teaching it, simply enjoy German movies & books or spend months traveling in German speaking countries every year, enjoy the process of learning something new. It will never be new to you again!
What happened with all that paper?
After that long, long year of not learning German, I ended up throwing all of those hundreds of pages of copies in the recycling. I hadn't learned anything, didn't understand the book, and decided I was done with German.
Obviously that didn't last. Und das ist gut so.