The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘german’

How career advice will precipitate you into existentialism.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 28, 2011

Indecision time.

What shall I do? I am now entering the final semester of my degree, and, to be quite honest, I’m terrified. This could be the end of all these years of general expansive studying: soon I will have to specialise. Dread. And simultaneously: excitement. I’m really looking forward to working, to finally putting my years of studying and wandering around Europe to some use, and at the same time I can’t help but worry: Am I good enough to do this? Should I study some more before I definitely enter into this? Have I even picked the right career? Would I really be satisfied with translating other people’s thoughts and words? What about my own thoughts? I have thoughts! (and judging by this blog, I have trouble keeping them to myself).

Strangely enough though, this wave of turmoil hit me only three weeks ago.  Well, it isn’t exactly as if previously I walked serenely through life, full of confidence, never troubled by thoughts about the future. I worry as much as anyone else, and then some. But what really got me started this time was a spoken exam a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty obvious I could do with improving my German (and yes I am talking about language skills, I do not carry a small german person in my pocket). So we concluded maybe I wasn’t ready to apply to that ESIT interpreting school I’ve been dreaming about for ages. And I was really looking forward to that! So that night I cried myself to sleep and the following day I started considering my options.

I could still try out for the ESIT, with English as my first language of tranlation and forget about the German for a while. But wouldn’t it be a shame after spending so many years learning German? Add to the equation the fact that any one person can only apply there twice… I don’t want take any chances. And yet if I don’t try, I can’t really know. On the other hand, I could go to Germany for another year: there’s this bi-national masters degree in cultural and media studies, one year in Regensburg, one year in Clermont. It actually sounds quite interesting, and I’m sure after a year studying in Germany, I should be fine for the ESIT exams. And this way I would also meet a lot of new people, and maybe get some ideas for an alternative career orientation if I am still not good enough for the ESIT…

And then since questions without answers bring on only more questions, I am ow starting to doubt everything: am I really meant to be an interpreter? And this masters degree in Regensburg, is it really a way to improve my german, or is it an escape route: am I running away from growing up? because that’s what the ESIT is, in a way. It’s the end of my being just a student. I’d be an interpreter in training, almost a grown up… I suppose maybe it’s time? Oooooooooh I don’t know… and I went to the careers’ advice office at Uni today, and came out with even more questions!

So I still don’t know what to do with my life.

Decision time?

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Oooh look! Grammar…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 20, 2011

Like oh-so-many people, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship thing going on with grammar, and german grammar in particular. I mentioned a few days ago that Mark Twain called it the “awful language”, partly because of its strange and mind-boggling syntax. I still haven’t read the rest of his essay, but I like to imagine it like a metaphorical summary execution, each rule being dragged out of the dark recesses of a grammar book, into the light, exposed to everyone’s view and shot down. Aaaah, if only someone could do that with Russian genitives…

looking for the local tribes in the German library

But I’m missing the point really, because although I could kill a prepositional verb right now, as well as the person who turned up with the idea of declensions, in fact I really love grammar. I love observing it, and as with most things pertaining to language, I think it’s a wonderful invention. I personally am definitely not a grammarian: I don’t like putting labels on things and saying : “This is the way this should be” or “that should happen in such and such a way because that’s the way it is and otherwise it would be wrong”, just in the same way that I hate it when people put their pre-conceived set ideas on my and label me as “nice”, “boring”, “french”… Some people go through languages with a magnifying glass, a butterfly net and a pair of tweezers, ready to catch a grammar rule, pin it down onto a page and pull it apart under the microscope. I’m much more of an explorer: I travel through the world of languages with my backpack and a safari hat, taking a few notes, and trying to get used to the strange customs of the native compound-adjective tribes. And the populations of these heathen lands are both fierce and shy. I had to circle around the declension village about ten times before I could even get close, and even today some of the little guys won’t come out of their hiding place.

I honestly do get a little thrill of joy when I find out something in the way a language works which cries out loud: I am somehow related to such and such another language. I get pangs of recognition, sometimes, in Russian or German, and I go: but that’s just how it works in English, or I wonder if that’s related to the way they say that in spanish… I get all flustered and most people think I’m crazy, but I just love it. In fact, I’ve long since figured out that’s the only way to understand a language.  By observing it in situ. All those guys with their butterfly nets and their glass boxes haven’t understood a thing, and this is probably why there are so many display cases hopelessly labelled: Exceptions

So basically I love grammar, I just don’t like studying it. Am I a linguist then or am I not?

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Starting afresh: un-New-year’s resolutions for today (yes, again)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 18, 2011

For those of you who were already aware of my blog’s existence, you may have noticed that this is somewhat of a repeat. For those who hadn’t a clue: well it’s pretty obvious in the title anyway, and I won’t be cross-referencing so you should be fine. The point is, I was having a bit of  a writer’s block today, and lists are always an easy thing. For example, here is a quick list of the things I could talk about today, but won’t: starting karate; changing my plans for the future; the constant litter on our front door; the gardening-inducing weather and the lack of garden on my top-floor flat; holiday plans… etc.

See: easy.

But anyways, revenons à nos moutons. Resolutions: I need to make some and write them down. Publishing them on this blog really helped the last time: exposing your failings to public scrutiny seems to be a good incentive. And also a good means of procrastinating: while I am writing those resolutions down, I am also postponing the fatidic moment when I will start living by them. Today is my making lists day: tomorrow will be the start of my new year. The Chinese, Christian Orthodox, Japanese, Tamil… have their own so why shouldn’t I? From now on, the 19th of January will be the first day of the AmphibianAlice calendar.

Seriously though, I need to make some improvements in the way I lead my life, and you will notice that unlike my previous new year (which started on the 9th of November), the following list includes a lot of habit-type resolutions. Things I will have to do on a regular basis. It just dawned on me during my exams that I simply didn’t work enough. Like my mam says: if I want to do something, I have to give myself the necessary means. This, it would seem involves a lot of studying.  I kinda knew I wasn’t working enough: I was bright-ish at school and never really needed to put in a terrible amount of personal effort into my studies; now’s the time to change that! So here goes:

– Every morning I will arrive at Uni before 9:15 or 8:30 am (having watched German channel arte on the telly) and open up the library where I will work and read german newspapers until my lessons start.

– Every week translate the headline articles of “die Zeit”

– As soon as I get paid, purchase a swimming pool card and go once or twice a week (do it girl, stop talking about it!)

– Always concentrate during trainings, even if/ especially when I am tired or in a bad mood

– Try not to leave my lessons till the very last minute. (try not to leave everything till the very last minute; and that includes administration)

– Either stop obsessing about being single or do it more scientifically and be funny about it, not sour or despondent (I know it may be weird, but I really like that word: despondent)

– Will keep to the strict-ish timetable I will set up tonight (and set myself exercices and everything…): let’s prove all of them wrong, who think all linguists are lazy. I know I am, but I’ll try and fight against it. You watch me…

-actually learn my Russian vocabulary

– Cook more / Eat less

– Of course at the back of my mind there are also the usual : lose weight, cycle more often, smile more, live more healthily, take more photos, be more artistic, etc, etc…

As you may have noticed, most of these have something to do with studying and improving my German. An lecturer let drop after one of my exams that I had really better spend another year in Germany before I even attempt applying to the ESIT translation school in Paris. I had a vague feeling my spoken german wasn’t good enough, but reality catches up with us all in the end. I guess next year’s destination will shift to Regensburg 430 km further away from Paris than I am now, and ever so slightly more to the east… Anyway, the bottom line of it all is that I need to improve: if I do end up in Regensburg in Bayern ( Ratisbon and Bavaria to you and me), I will have to attend proper university courses and lectures entirely in German, and I doubt the lecturers will stop and translate everything for me, so I’d better be up to it. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know if I’m sticking to my resolutions at all or if it’s just been a waste of an hour. I’ll come back to this post in one month and if I’ve kept any of my promises I’ll cross them out.

I think I’m starting to understand my aunt Hilary’s enthusiasm for lists.

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Mark Twain and truancy in the German department…?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 17, 2011

Well today was the first of a shiny new semester, after two long weeks of exams, and what an impressive kickstart it was! For starters, there were only two lessons all day, adding up to a total of three and a half hours. Some cynics will say that’s because linguists have an easy life, and maybe that’s true: this semester I have four-day-long weekends (but just wait until wednesdays, when I have 7½ hours lessons with a just a 30min lunch break to run and find something to eat, closely followed by three hours training).

That not being my point however, I move swiftly on to discuss a serious attendance issue in my class. Indeed for the first lesson (translation), half the class was missing, then for linguistics, two thirds of the students simply didn’t turn up! So basically not only are we a bunch of lazy sloths, but we also have a serious truancy problem! And yet, you’d think it would be easy getting all three and a half of us together!

Yes, you heard me right: our university is strong of three, sometimes four final year german bachelor students. Obviously taking a literary, linguistic and cultural approach to German is not a very popular choice. There are way more lecturers in the department than there are students and -you may have guessed/calculated it by now- sometimes you end up getting private tuition. A bit of quick maths will tell you I spent two hours today faccing our linguistic teacher alone, while she grilled me. For example, please analyse this sentence:

Olaf steckt die Flöte in die Hosentasche und geht rülpsend und grinsend an der Jette vorbei, hinter der Mutter her, schön an der Hand.

I hope you’re not actually expecting me to analyse this for you now, I just did it in French; no way I’m going through this again especially since I have no idea how stuff like anaphore, ellision, le plan morphosyntaxique translates into English! Have fun analysing this yourselves!

I also learned today that Mark Twain knew German, and that he hated it! I had no idea! Here is something he wrote about parenthesis in a text about “the awful German language” as he calls it:

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab — which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

“The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One is sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it.

And it’s so true…

Anyway, I need to go shopping if I want food when I return from training tonight! TTYL

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