I had my second German lesson on Wednesday.
It started promisingly. Dora the teacher put us into pairs and asked us to talk about what we did at the weekend. I was sitting next to Kirsten, the Brazilian I mentioned last week, whose parents are German-speakers but who never learned German as a child.
‘Was hast du am Wochenende gemacht?’ I asked her.
Kirsten wasn’t completely up for the challenge and stumbled over her answers.
‘Ich bin mit mein Mann…’ she started.
‘Ich WAR mit meinEM Mann,’ I corrected her, a little too quickly.
Her eyes popped out on stalks. ‘You were with your man?’ she asked, in surprise.
‘No, I was correcting you. You said ‘ich bin’ and we’re talking about the past.’
‘Oh right,’ she said, sleepily. She looked around hopefully to see if anyone might want to change partners.
‘Und was hast du gemacht?’ I asked.
‘Wir essen … um …’ (We eat….)
‘Wir haben gegessen…’ (Note to self – stop correcting so quickly).
‘Ja.. wir haben gegessen … um…’
Now, those of you who know a little German will know that in a situation like this, you have to put the object between the auxiliary and the past participle. But one thing I’m very clear about in my own mind is that I don’t believe in using the language of grammar explanation when helping people correct themselves.
So to help Kirsten work out what to do, I said:
‘Wir haben – doof, doof, doof, – gegessen.’
Why I chose doof, doof, doof to indicate where the object should be I will never know. I have never done it in an ELT classroom as far as I can remember. Kirsten looked at me as if to say: ‘OK, you’re mad, can I go and sit somewhere else now?’
‘Wir haben – zum Beispiel – Pizza gegessen,” I said.
‘Zum Beispiel Pizza?’ asked Kirsten. I laughed quite loudly – Zum Beispiel means ‘for example’.
At this point, the normally mild-mannered Dora yelled ‘STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!’
Kirsten and I hadn’t got very far, but I would be able to cobble something together during feedback.
But there wasn’t any feedback. And that was a feature of the entire lesson. Get into pairs, talk, Dora yells STOPPPPP and we move on to something else. Poor Kirsten was stuck with me all lesson – but we were never asked to report back on what we’d been talking about.
After the first pairwork activity, Dora asked us to look at a photo of a tropical palm-fringed beach on the IWB.
‘Heute, das Thema ist Urlauben,’ she said. Today’s topic is holidays. ‘Wo ist das?’
There was silence in the room. I decided to liven things up.
‘Brighton?’ I suggested, wittily. There was a desultory chuckle from somewhere in the room.
Dora smiled winningly. “Brighton – ich glaube nicht.’
No one else offered a suggestion, so I suggested Hawaii. Dora agreed that it could be Hawaii.
‘Und haben Sie alles einen Urlaub in einem deutschsprachigen Land verbracht?’ Have you all had a holiday in a German-speaking country? Another sudden change of tack.
There were some affirmative murmurs, and she put us in pairs again.
‘Also, hast du einen Urlaub in einem deutschsprachigen Land verbracht?’ I asked.
Kirsten looked at me defensively. Now I know from last week that she’s better than this, but she was clearly having a bad day, so we chatted in English to sort things out.
‘Have you ever had a holiday in a German-speaking country?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have an uncle in Cologne.’
‘Have you been there?’
‘Und was hast du gemacht?’
‘Wir essen…. um… wir haben zum Beispiel Pizza gegessen.’
We both laughed at this. Kirsten then apologised for not being on the ball and thanked me for my help.
And you know what? I really enjoyed helping her.
The rest of the class was all book and/or grammar. And it was a bit dull and controlled. Once again I’m going to give Dora the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe she’s waiting until she knows us a little better before she takes the brakes off. But I’m not holding my breath.
I’ll report back after next Wednesday’s lesson. And I’ll sit next to someone else, because I think you know quite enough about Kirsten now.
The names have been changed.