Learning English in Germany

I've recently started tutoring a group of four students through my school's "Schüler helfen Schülern" (Students helping students) tutoring program. The program matches tutors from the upper grad levels with students from the lower grade levels and provides a room for one hour of tutoring a week. The students signed up to be tutored in English. Imagine their surprise after they found out that their tutor is an American exchange student!

At the beginning of the first lesson last week, I asked the students what their goals were for the tutoring session and why they think learning English is useful. The students wanted to get good grades, be able to understand music that they listen to, and thought it would be cool to be able to speak another language. But what one of the students said really made me realize something about learning English in Germany: "I have to either learn English or Turkish to have any chance of getting a job here."

Now, the situation the way I understand it is a little more complicated than that. Of course there are lots of jobs for people who can't speak English. But it seems that the aspect of employabilty that foreign language skills affect the most here is mobility. Without knowledge of English, many Germans have trouble climbing the career ladder. On the other hand, there are lots of small businesses founded by Turkish immigrants, which explains why Turkish would help job chances.

This explains the demanding English classes in German school. In the highest grades at my school, students analyze Shakespeare, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and novels in English. Germans often learn 3rd, 4th, and even 5th languages in school, too. English is portrayed as a requirement for getting a good job here, and other foreign languages along with English help even more.

So, for those of you worried about English fading away as the mother language in America, don't worry. You can always come to Germany and get by speaking only English here.


Research Paper

I'm back! You can blame the short break in posting on the research paper that was due two days ago. In Nordrhein-Westfalen (the state I'm living in), every student in the 12th grade has to write a research paper through one of his or her courses on a specific topic.

One friend of mine, for example, wrote about music in film through his English class, meaning he wrote his whole research paper in English. Another wrote about epilepsy and seizures through his biology class. Through my history class, I wrote my Facharbeit about the expulsion of 12-16 million Germans after World War II, something that I knew nothing about before I came to Germany.

The topic is very controversial and is therefore very hard to summarize, but I'll give it a shot. Throughout history, there have been many groups of German-speaking populations spread throughout Central Europe. Even the wide borders of the German Empire founded in 1871, which were much different than those of the currentBundesrepublik, didn't contain all German-speaking populations in Europe.

Image from Wikipedia. Please click for a larger version.

In addition, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938, the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, which had a very high German population of over 3 million, in November of 1938, and finally the rest of the "Czech" part of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939.

Image from Wikipedia. Please click for a larger version. The red border corresponds to the border in the first picture, and the dotted bluish border is the border of Nazi Germany in the middle of the war in 1943, not including all of the occupied territories and puppet governments throughout Europe.

After invading Poland in 1939 and the start of World War II, Nazi Germany acquired even more terrritory. The Nazis forced Polish citizens from their homes and settled more Germans in this newly acquired territory.

Then came World War II with all of the horrible atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, above all the 6 million Jews and 6 million political dissidents, homosexuals, handicapped people, and other minorities killed during the Holocaust.

But as the war came to a close and it became clear that the Allies were going to win, the question arose, among others: what should be done with these German populations living in other countries?

Meanwhile, the advancing Red Army caused many Germans living in Eastern Europe to flee. The Allies then set new borders for Germany, which can be seen on the first map in this post. They then decided to expel the Germans from the areas outside of these borders. Families were given sometimes just hours' notice and told they could take whatever they could carry with them.

The numbers are highly disputed, but it's safe to say that at least 12 million ethnic Germans made the long journey from countries like Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the former Yugoslavia. They took whatever they could with them using makeshift wagons and horses.

Upon arrival in Germany, they encountered a situation no better than the one they had just left in Eastern Europe. The country lay in ruins, there were hardly any jobs and there was even less to eat. Most of the expellees sought a new home in West Germany in fear of the Russian government.

After the Wirtschaftswunder (econonomic miracle) in the 1950s, the expellees could finally find jobs and homes in Germany. The expulsion, as well as many other topics about World War II, was still a little bit taboo. It took a backseat to the national guilt about the Holocaust.

From Wikipedia, a picture of Germans expelled from the Sudetenland area in Czechoslovakia.

Now, one finds many families in which a grandparent or relative was expelled way back then, and the issue is no longer taboo. But it, along with all of the atrocities associated with World War II, still have a large impact on the German national identity, and they're something that the modern, democratic Germany really struggles with. Images like the one above are still a very meaningful part of German history.

So that's a short summary of the results of my 2,500 word research paper, and hopefully a good enough excuse for why I didn't post last week.

For the Americans, I'd be curious: who had already heard of this event before they read this blog? I knew absolutely nothing about it until I got here.


Paris on Wheels

Hey all, just going to report a little bit of this and that from my trip to Paris.

Last weekend I went to Paris with my host brother to vist my host sister. She is studying abroad there through ERASMUS, a program from the European Union that coordinates study abroad inside of the EU. The program guarantees that the students won't have to pay more tuition to study abroad and that the credits earned abroad will be recognized by their home university.

The post is called "Paris on Wheels" because we toured Paris with my host sister in a wheelchair. She tore her Achilles tendon in December and had gotten her cast off the day before we got there.

So we walked (and rolled and crutched) through the streets of Paris like this and took turns pushing the wheelchair. In this picture we're on our way to the Notre Dame cathedral, where we had a picnic.

But being with a handicapped person had its advantages. We got to cut the lines at museums and ride the cool elevator in the Louvre.

The Louvre is, by the way, one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. The building itself was actually a lot more impressive to me than many of the paintings. It's so massive that to actually see all of the 35,000 paintings in its collection, you would need over 9 months.

Famous Moulin Rouge, typical touristy picture.

The view from Montmartre, a large hill in the middle of Paris. Fabian is squinting because of the sun. There's a beautiful church behind me and a festive feeling all around. We had a picnic there and enjoyed the atmosphere.

This is a picture of the line outside of the Musee d'Orsay that we didn't have to wait in.

Verena sitting in the wheelchair and Fabian playing with the crutches inside the Musee d'Orsay. I actually liked the art in this museum a lot better than that in the Louvre. The impressionist paintings on the third floor were the most interesting.

The Tuileries Gardens, where we had our third picnic of the weekend. It was just beautiful.

All in all, it was a great weekend in Paris. We got to see a lot of culture, art, breathtaking buildings, and eat a lot of delicious baguettes. Seriously, enjoying a baguette with delicious cheese in the Tuileries Gardens is really something.

What really struck me about Paris as far as the language goes was the lack of English. Although Paris is probably the most popular tourist destination in Europe, there was very little English. Even in the Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, the displays were not very non-native-speaker-friendly. In contrast, many attractions in Germany also have English text under the German text. Is printing the text again in English a sellout to tourism or a hospitable gesture making museums and train stations more available to everyone?

I can really recommend Paris to anyone coming to Europe. The city really does have a charm of its own, even through rampant mass tourism. I guess I can't complain about tourism too much, being a tourist there myself...

PS: If you look to the right, you'll see that my blog has now been visited by people (or bots) from all six permanently inhabited continents! Woohoo!