Janice's Doings in Tübingen

Snapshots 5-8

Stories I've written for an English conversation group in Germany

These are little snapshots of my life and thoughts while living here in Tübingen, Germany.  Each story is followed by a few little exercises and a few topics for further discussion in an English conversation group.
Each story will also have audio so that readers can listen to my authentic SE Pennsylvania accent while reading along.
Hopefully each story will also have a small glossary explaining more difficult or obscure words.
Please sign the Guest Book if you enjoy these, want to read any particular topic or have any constructive feedback for me!  Thanks!  - Janice

Snapshots 5-8
   5. What kind of role model is made here?
   6. Passing on my mother language
   7. Favorite food of my childhood
   8. A visit to the 'didacta' education convention


Snapshot 5: What kind of role model is made here? (with apologies to S.)

When the decision was made in 2004 forbidding teachers to wear a head scarf while teaching, I thought this was a reasonable decision. For many, the head scarf is a symbol of repression, the woman being ruled by her husband, a lower being. With a student body of approximately 50% girls, this idea of being dominated is not a very positive role model for building up and educating half of a country's population.


The other day, however, I overheard part of a conversation that has set me to thinking, and my thoughts are quite troubled.


I have strongly supported the local school for over a decade in many ways, but have never helped in their school cafeteria. Many parents and even a few grandparents and retired teachers from the school work diligently, doing all of the food preparation, cooking and straightening up once every two weeks to provide lower cost meals to the students. I know many of the women that do this and they are always pleased to help out. (I've often thought, too, what an excellent opportunity it would be for a newly relocated or stay-at-home mom to build up a group of colleagues or for a foreign woman to improve her German in a friendly atmosphere. That's a different story though.) A Muslim friend of mine has been working on one of the cooking teams since the start of this school year, 7 months ago. The other night, one of the board members approached her about their wish that she should not wear her head scarf as she is helping out in a school. That was the only part I overheard, so I don't know what possible alternatives were offered, but my mind started reeling.


Already the thought of turning away someone's honest help is fairly offensive to me. But this goes beyond that. What kind of a message is put out when a head scarf-wearing woman gets sent away like a naughty girl, told she doesn't belong there? Does the school really wish to convey that such women have no value outside of their homes or only in certain situations but not in 'normal' German society? Do they really want to foster the non-integration of women who wear a head scarf? To me, those are the messages being sent; messages that seem to authorize that a set of women should be excluded from a  portion of society. That a school might be fully supporting this idea is a bizarre educational direction.


I honestly don't claim to know anything about what makes a Muslim woman living in Germany tick - there are definitely things that I see and do quite differently, and happily so - but I think it's time I should start finding out. And looking more closely at the various sides of an issue.


Time to work!

Find the verbs:

make              ___________     have ____________

send               ___________     have ____________

__________     found               have ____________

see                 ___________     have ____________

do                  ___________     have ____________

hear               ___________     have ____________

put                 ___________     have ____________

__________     thought            have ____________

speak              ___________     have ____________


Which verb is better?

   I (saw/have seen) the girl fall down.

   (Have you seen/Did you see) that? 

   I am looking for my book. (Have you seen/Did you see) it?

   A huge dog (chased/has chased) me yesterday and I (fell/have fallen).

   The teacher (told/has told) him many times to do his homework.

   We (painted/have painted) the living room with a warm shade of yellow.

   The sun (shone/has shone) brightly into my bedroom.

   When we were young, we (wore/have worn) hats and white gloves on special occasions.


What is wrong with these sentences:

   He ordered a pizza for his friends covered with pepperoni.

   Derek found a clue in his bedroom that he had never seen before.


Let's hear from you!

  In light of the head scarf ban aimed at Muslim women, do you think it reasonable to have religion classes in schools?


Snapshot 6: Passing on my mother language to my children

My children all speak English with me AND with each other - at all times. I have come to realize that this is something rather special. Here in Tübingen, although most children learn the language of their parents, they will rarely speak it themselves and almost never speak it with a sibling, preferring German instead. I am very happy that my children are a bit of an exception and I was recently wondering how this came about.

It was not with any specific intent that I managed to pass on my mother language so effectively to my children. Of course, when my eldest, Alex, was born I didn't know any German at all. We moved to Germany four months after his birth and once here I started to learn German. I hadn't gotten too very far, however, when my second child, Sophie, was born, 19 months after her brother and really before Alex had started speaking all that much.

In a way the two kids together quickly picked up the English I spoke and, well, stuck with it. I think it also helped that Alex didn't start kindergarten until he was four and a half years old. Speaking English with his now two little sisters was well cemented before he went off to an all-German speaking environment.

So now a family of five, the three kids and I were merrily speaking English with each other, I spoke English with my husband and the children spoke German with their father, the third one picking that up from the older two and from a nice playgroup that she had attended. All was good.

After our fourth child, Dominic, was born, then the troubles started on the German language side. When Dominic was one-year old, we moved to the USA and there my husband had a struggle getting his youngest son to speak any German with him, although the three older children were a very good example. Andrei worked hard on it, though, reading to the children in German every night at bedtime while the children and I listened to German stories on a daily basis to build up our vocabularies since we'd always planned to move back to Germany.

Coming back to Germany after four years in the USA was a bit of a challenge for the older two (going into 5th and 4th grades), but not necessarily because of the language. They were definitely bilingual, but just didn't have the background for many things, like knowing the rules for games in sport class, doing dictations or being able to do mental arithmetic in German.

The language itself was fine and Dominic, too, was able to get in a year of kindergarten in Germany before starting grade school. Things came together to work out at school and the children had long since established English as their choice of language with each other, in spite of where they were, even among German friends.

Christopher and Helene, being born much later into this heavily English-speaking environment, followed suit, falling easily into English and being reluctant with German until they went to kindergarten themselves. Despite his efforts, Andrei could barely get Helene to speak a word of German with him and so we were quite happy to take a place for her at the Rotbad Kindergarten when she was 3½ years old. She picked up German very quickly then!

So now English is the language predominantly heard in our home with German cropping up only when my husband is around or when the younger two bring up a particular game from school. It is quite a joy to have my kids speak English with me and I think I owe it all to Alex and Sophie setting the example as the first two kids in the family.

Time to work!
Singular and Plural:
child              _______________
month            _______________
woman           _______________
baby               _______________
challenge        _______________
story              _______________
language        _______________

Tricky words to pronounce:
months, clothes, _________, ___________

Let's hear from you!
     Do you find it easy to learn a new language?
     What tricks do you use to refresh a language that you learned years ago?
     Do you have any suggestions for helping parents pass on their native tongue?


Snapshot 7: Foods of my youth

With all due respect, my mother was not a very good cook. With a few exceptions the most remarkable thing about the food my mother made for dinner was that it was unmemorable. For breakfast we ate boxed cereal, for lunch we had peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and a small candy bar. For dinner, we had... well, I wish some great meals would come to mind, but they just don't.

Now I will confess that I have a pretty horrible memory a lot of the time and I was also the fourth of five children so the pickings were pretty slim by the time my younger sister and I got to them, but, really, I should be able to remember a few meals...

And, of course, I do... to a small extent. When we were little, my mother let us choose what we wanted for our birthday dinner. I chose lobster tails, with melted butter, which I loved. But as that was too expensive, my mother balked after a few such celebrations. After that, I had her make Chicken Kiev, a rather time-consuming dish apparently that was truly an act of love by my non-culinarily-gifted mother, but it was quite lovely because it was a thin slice of chicken rolled around a pat of garlic butter. (Oops, again butter. This may be a trend...) Looking back, I suspect that was the only time we ate garlic in our home that was not garlic powder (a very feeble substitute). Two other things that I liked, which admittedly were also somewhat painstaking to make, were stuffed shells and lasagna -- pasta, lots of gooey cheese, tomato sauce. That was always a good combo, especially the cheese part.

I loved cheese as a kid. One Christmas morning when I was about 7 years old, my parents received a large box of assorted cheeses as a gift. I walked away from all of my brand-new toys and asked if the cheeses were for me! I still love cheese.

As a kid in the USA there were lots of very sugary sweets that we all enjoyed. One of my favorites was MalloCups which were a candy of dark chocolate with marshmallow cream inside. I still indulge in a few each time I go to the USA to visit my family.

I'd have to say, however, that the most positive food experience of my youth was chocolate fudge. Each year our family rented an apartment down at the New Jersey shore for a week. One night we would drive over to the boardwalk, a sort of wooden promenade along the beach and oceanfront. There were many stores selling beach items and sunscreen, jewelry and sunglasses, cotton candy and roasted peanuts and, best of all, fudge. Made largely of sugar, butter and cocoa powder, chocolate fudge is not a hard candy, but has instead a soft consistency, a bit like a truffle here in Germany but without a hard outer shell.

My father would buy a tiny portion of fudge - he did have 7 people to feed - and each of us would get a piece that was maybe 5 square centimeters in size. And that was all. We would take this precious piece of deliciousness and hold it between our thumb and forefinger and slowly, ever so slowly lick its sweet, sugary, chocolatey flavor, savoring the once-a-year treat for as long as we possibly could.

Yes, chocolate fudge is certainly the winner of favorite childhood foods.

Time to work!
Choose the correct word:  any/some
   1. Can I have _________ water, please?
   2. I would like _________ tea, not coffee.
   3. I'm afraid we don't have _________ tea today.
   4. No, we don't have _________ apples.
   5. Do you have _________ pears, then?
   6. Yes, we do have _________ pears.
   7. When can we have _________ ice cream?
   8. Where can I buy myself _________ new socks?
   9. Why don't I have _________ change when I need it?

Let's hear from you!
    What is your least favorite food from your childhood? Is it still your least favorite food? If not, what happened that it's gotten better for you?


Snapshot 8: My visit to 'didacta'

Didacta is a convention held every year in Germany concerning education. For a long time I've wanted to see what all was there and this year I managed to get over to Stuttgart for a day to wander through this huge event.

My friends and I first went to a special stand about multilingual kindergartens and schools. I don't know of any school in our area that does this, but simply the idea of getting kids to hold onto their mother language is of growing interest to me. (My kids are some of the few I know that speak their mother language with me and each other despite years of school in Germany.)

Various publishers associated with multilingual schooling have some neat materials to offer - there was a creative picture game where the teacher could vary the pictures from day to day, depending on the topic on which she wanted to focus - and there were several fun books, with and without text, but I was not completely pleased. No publisher offers a particular book in more than 5 or 6 languages. Here in Tübingen we have at least 30 languages, probably a lot more, yet there are no reading materials to be found. I find this a bit pitiful given the options that iPads and tablets now give us, where we don't need a printed copy of something. Why aren't Kindle versions of children's books available in dozens of languages?

Next we moved on to the huge hall with the learning materials for grade school children. Wow. It was indeed awe-inspiring! I agreed to meet up with my friends after an hour's time... and I spent almost all of the first hour in the first aisle alone! The very first booth I went to was delightful: the woman there, Elisabeth Simon, was selling a set of short books that she had written. They comprised three different reading levels and are suited for children that have difficulty learning to read. Besides the books, however, she created a charming website where anyone can read these books and more that she has written in any of five different languages: German, Italian, Turkish, Russian or Arabic - all for free! (You can check it out, too, at www.amira-pisakids.de)

Slowly I moved down that first row. I next came to Daimler's 'Genius' engineering project for grade schools: they had a fun kit where a class of children have to organize and work in an assembly line to build 30 little Fischer Technik cars. Besides the obvious teamwork required, it seems like a great project to get all kids involved in planning, design and construction. Impressive.

Next I came to a very quiet table with an elderly man and woman. They had written a special set of German vocabulary guides for the entire Harry Potter series! As I plan on reading 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' aloud to a bunch of Germans, this will come in very handy for me! Such a great find!

My last favorite find in that first row - yes, I'm still in it! - was a lone man with some assemble-it-yourself books of fairy tales or classic German literature. Packed in kits of the papers for 3 stories, a lovely printed cover, string and a small awl, I liked his idea for keeping books special in an increasingly gadget-dependent world. The hands-on aspect of sewing the binding of your own book I'm sure would appeal to children and grown-ups who have perhaps lost touch with the beauty of books. Clearly I'll have to take my little snapshots here and do the same someday!

One thing I had hoped to find was a book of stories to help foreign mothers learn German. But there was absolutely nothing oriented to educating mothers. Such a pity, but all in all, it was an interesting day and I'm glad I went!

Time to work!

   1. Spell your name!
   2. Tell us your phone number.
   3. Tell us your birth date and those of your children (if you have any).
   4. Spell the name of the street where you live.

Let's hear from you!
   What learning materials would you want to find at a convention for education?

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