So I have about six other blog posts pending at the moment, which I will hopefully finish once I’ve moved flats this weekend, but I have just had a very interesting class which I think warrants a quick scribble.
I had my first one-to-one class today with a lovely lady called L who is Chinese-born but who has been living in Germany for 12 years, and married to a German for most of those. Aside from my envy of her 14-year-old son, who is growing up English/German/Chinese trilingual (with some French at school for fun), I loved my first lesson with L.
The little ‘getting to know you’ activity which I always do with new students was a little too easy for her as her grammar is very strong, but it did serve to spark a nice conversation about her history and why she’s in Berlin.
She currently owns a company which has something to do with precious stones, but has experience with translation and other languagey jobs in the past. She is now looking for a career change into a German Ministry, for which she has to pass a dictation exam.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the dictogloss grammar review lessons we have on our school plan because our (mostly German) students always really enjoy it, but to use a dictation – and only a dictation – as part of a selection process for a job seems a little old-fashioned to me.
My Director of Studies agreed with me as we discussed it after my class, but did say ‘it`s very German’, which does explain why Germans are the people who seem to enjoy the aforementioned dictogloss lessons the most.
However, I have five 90-minute classes to help L with her dictation skills before her exam. She’s asked me to find a text about international affairs / news of about 300 words in length to read to her each class, which of course will be very easy to find. In her exam, the text will apparently be read three times: first at normal speed, then slightly more slowly and then once more at normal speed. The exam in total is 40 minutes, so whatever time remains is the candidates’ chance to reconstruct the text as accurately as possible.
As L explained all this to me, I was instantly reminded of my Interpreting classes from the German part of my degree, where we learnt to develop our own personalised type of shorthand in order to interpret consecutively. (That is, hear a text and take notes during it, then have only a few minutes’ break before having to reproduce it in its entirety.)
I asked L if she had developed any such abbreviations or had worked on her shorthand, and the whole concept seemed unfamiliar to her so I showed her how I’d scribble the first line of one of the texts she’d brought along. She seemed horrified with my messy writing at first, but then as I explained my logic behind each scribble, I think she could see its potential usefulness, but still didn’t seem convinced. Presumably, then, in her practice runs so far, she’s been taking notes in full words, which seems ludicrously difficult to me! Therefore, I think trying to convince her to use some shorthand will be one task for me…
Another interesting issue arose when she asked me to read out one of her example texts, believing it would take almost 8 minutes to read 300 words out loud. I read the text in a fairly slow pace (definitely not normal Rachel speed!) and it took me just under 3 minutes, so L was reassured that she’d have more time for the reconstruction part than she had imagined, once the text has been read 3 times.
However, I read this text completely cold and in some places I stumbled, which is unlike me when reading aloud, if I may be so bold as to say so. Some of the phrasing seemed awkward and the punctuation a little random. Once I was finished, I asked L where she had got the text from and, as I had suspected, it was from a German website, Deutsche Welle. This is a German news website with an English version, and I’d bet a fair amount of money that the text she had brought with her had been translated from a German original. She found this observation fascinating, but yet insisted that I take my texts for future lessons from the same source ‘as it’s easier to understand.’ So now I have my second dilemma: do I take slightly Denglish articles from Deutsche Welle for our practice runs, or from a ‘native’ source and claim I’ve done the former anyway. I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this issue!
Thirdly and finally, how does one teach dictation? L’s grammar is quite strong, but dictation seems like something that you just need to practice… She said we could also work on vocabulary and pronunciation, as sometimes she doesn’t recognise words because she doesn’t know how they should be pronounced.
All in all, a really fascinating class, and very different from all my other classes.
And now the plea for help: Has anyone (particularly anyone in Germany) had experience of teaching such a student? How did you help him/her?
Any tips would be appreciated!