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 ‘university’

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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Just a quick note on inspiration, laughing, cleaning ladies, and stray dogs.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on October 22, 2010

It goes to show how inspiration comes from all sorts of places. And how uninspired I am. Honestly if I hadn’t promised myself to be constant in my writing efforts and instead chose to listen to the dark side of laziness, I wouldn’t be posting anything at all today. So here I am, stringing together a couple of anecdotes from the past few days, trying to make it seem like they have something more in common than pure chronology. I hope for all our sakes I achieve this with  a certain measure of style and panache, but I can’t promise anything. Maybe if only one thing happened a day I would be able to devote an entire post to it, but sometimes so many things happen one after the other, and all seem so worthy of being told…  I have such an exciting life! Ho ho ho. So, as it is I have to operate a quick analepsis and tell you about three different moments at once.

First there was training on Wednesday night. What larks! It was absofuckinglutely a-ma-zing! All right, half the time wasn’t all that productive as far as learning was concerned: I was too busy laughing! Do you know what it’s like when you start laughing and you just can’t stop. I was literally on my hands and knees, eyes tearing up, ribcage heaving, struggling for air, face red… You can take all the clichéed expressions about hilarity you can find and  I can assure you, every single one of them could have described me at some point during that training. I went through all of them. Several times. I tried telling people about what caused it afterwards, but then I realised: it wasn’t even funny. Shall I tell you what happened? No, I don’t think so, I’ll just let you make something up. You’ll probably come up with something better and more interesting. Just picture me in a room with four other “white-pyjama” clad people trying to learn japanese self-defence techniques and imagine all that could possibly go wrong. Add to that a propensity to laugh…

Before you let your imagination run completely wild, let me tell you the cleaning lady episode. Also surreal, although quite brief. It happened yesterday, a few hours after I climbed my way into university. After a while, the demonstrators all left to march through the streets and the bins and bits of furniture were returned to their usual place. How dull! But trust a french person to make entertaining things happen. Suddenly, some random bloke walked in, disappeared into a corridor and came back a couple of minutes later with an wheely office chair. He pushed it back through the hall and walked with it out the main entrance.  He then carried it down the stairs and down the street.

That’s when he was spotted by the eagle-eyed cleaning lady patrolling the area. She ran after him, down the street, armed with a broom. My gaze followed them down the road until they turned the corner. I decided to stick around. Come on. Surely there are better things to do with one’s time, but don’t you want to know whether justice prevailed or whether a poor lecturer will return after the holiday to find his chair gone? Well just so you know a few minutes later, they came back, in exactly the same order: chair, thief, broom and cleaning lady (slightly out of breath) Aaah if only I’d had a videocamera at hand.

While we’re on the subject of “if onlys”, if only my sister wasn’t watching french reality-tv while I am writing. I’m already having inspiration difficulties, and it’s extremely distracting to watch crap telly in another language when you’re trying to write in English…

I’ll tell you about the dogs tomorrow.

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France, or how I had to climb over a table and two chairs to get into Uni today.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on October 21, 2010

Well yesterday I didn’t write for lack of time and inspiration, but wow! How things have changed! Where shall I start? there was training yesterday night, which was hilarious, then I got a phone call to tell me people were coming to lay new floorboards in my bedroom (major excitement), but then I got into university this morning, and.. well… didn’t. In an unexpected move students have blockaded the University. It’s actually quite an achievement. The languages department is always quite a challenge for the instigators of such actions, because of its many, many doors. A bit of quick maths tells me there must be at least 20 different points of entry. All of which were today blocked/barred. There is a double barricade around every access. On the outside, every door is lined with bin containers and rubbish bags, and on the inside rows and piles of tables and chairs to stop anyone who somehow might have succeeded in climbing over the bins, opening the door and wrestling past a small army of demonstrators armed with the latest of leaflets (lethal).

That was the task I set myself as soon as I arrived. Not because I am a traitor to everything these people hold dear. I am not particularly fond of the idea of working until I’m wrinkled and old and have to crawl into an office with my deambulator every day. It just so happened that I have an exam today. Talk about bad timing! So I found a door guarded by more accommodating students and they let me through but not before I had proved to them I really really REALLY had an exam today. Eventually I managed to get in, heavily laden with prospecti and leaflets from all sorts of syndicates. Just so you know, there is an open meeting this afternoon and another one next Wednesday with a banner-making workshop to prepare for the next march. Yes, it would seem this season’s strikes aren’t over yet.

So here I am. In. And waiting to find out if my exam is actually going to happen. There is still an hour left before it starts and I wonder how many students will go to the trouble of finding which door has sensible people watching it, and bother asking them to let them in. Few, probably. Who knows, the teacher might not even turn up with the papers; after all, she is a very convinced militant and goes on strike every time an opportunity to do so turns up. A couple of years ago, because she wanted to make a point (and french grévistes are very good at doing just that), we ended up having linguistics lessons out in the park. Many lecturers were doing that actually, so people wandering in the park had a choice of philosophy, applied mathematics, german  linguistics, french literature… Unfortunately not a viable option today: ambient temperature: about 3ºC.

Never mind. At least I’m inside, I have an internet connection, a chair (some compassionate teacher decided the floor tiles were just too cold to sit on for two hours) and a sandwich. I can survive for a while yet. I also have a copy of today’s newspaper which demonstrators are giving out for free, and my horoscope tells me I will “have difficulties working today”. Go figure.

Quick update: someone just told me the dean had decided to cancel all exams today. And judging by the noise outside, someone has decided to get an impromptu march going

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