the ‘latest’ edition of the Tübingen Lektorinnen my memories
are still very fresh, and it may seem easier to put my impressions into
words. But even so, they can only be impressions.
These last two years have flown by, and my thoughts still need time to
The one-way ticket to Leeds proved to be a perfect choice, and my initial
fear at being stranded in a place where I did not know a soul was soon
turned into the joy and excitement of a job with so many facets and faces.
Tübingen, as many of us know, is a different sort of place altogether,
the ‘university across the city’ is completely different to
the campus in Leeds, and yet I found myself getting lost more often on
the Leeds campus than in the Altstadt ... Not only the physical
appearance of the Universities differ, but also the way people study.
England and Germany are two different kettles of fish altogether and for
a German finalist the ways to study in England appear at first alien and
weird. The role of the Lektorin is not only that of the language teacher
but also of representative, maybe even ambassador for their country, particularly
in times of political and economic change, or when international football
events turn even the laziest person into an eager fan …
Teaching with little previous experience was a daunting task, and many
a night I wondered how I could and would do it. Like many of the things
in Leeds the reality turned out to be so much less frightening than those
sleepless nights. The students seemed just as excited about the prospect
of studying as I was of teaching them, and on the whole we managed to
take the first steps in the right direction together. In the course of
my time here I learnt probably more than in all those years in Tübingen,
and I often felt more like a student than a teacher. Both colleagues and
students contributed to this, never failing to make me think more about
the reality we shared, but also leaving me occasionally wondering if I
was dreaming this all up. Like in a long and beautiful dream that one
does not want to stop.
On my arrival to Leeds I was introduced to my office equipped with the
latest technology and internet access, while books and papers of many
a predecessor were waiting on the bookshelves to help me out in times
of need for ideas and material. For the first couple of days I would just
sit grinning in there, not believing what I saw and not realising what
a strange sight I must have been to everyone who was passing by …
The computer age had just started when I began studying – with pride
I had typed my first essays on an ancient typewriter in the central library
in Tübingen – indeed, for a good while I regarded the new machines
as something very odd. Internet and email were unheard of, and the rapid
growth and availability caught up before long, and suddenly I was the
proud owner of one of those ‘wonder-boxes’. Since then a lot
has changed, and yet it still seems an utter wonder to me how technology
has changed the face of studying. The opportunities for research and not
least for language learning and teaching have broadened to an extent which
is hard to grasp and understand, but becomes more and more normal for
today’s students. While the use of videos and satellite television
is taken for granted, newspapers and books are just as readily available
now as are television stations and radio broadcasts – all without
moving away from the computer. Students can ‘jump’ from Leeds
campus all over the world in no time, and practise their active language
skills via the computer links on a daily basis.
The role of the Lektorin as the native speaker is still important for
communicational skills, but the students now have more opportunity to
access the spoken and written language without help from us. However,
I feel that the vastness of the information and the amount on offer tends
to lead students to believe that by having German at their fingertips
they have it also in their mouth. It does not always work out, even though
the advantages are clearly visible. A systematic review of their language
knowledge is as important as their cultural and political awareness.
‘Virtual reality’ has become one of the keywords of our time,
but occasionally the mere facts of daily life can cause trouble and heartache.
The excitement about the new life as a student offers not only fun, but
sometimes the realisation that the workload and the new freedom can be
very demanding and occasionally overwhelming.
For the students the computer has become a major tool in their studies,
and the changing conditions in the economy add to this. On the verge of
the new millennium technology has become a major part of the life at University,
and the recent fears of the millennium bug (which, thanks to Richard,
turned out to be made from chocolate and quite delicious) or the I
Love You virus have shown the frailty of the system.
Not everything was about the computer, though. In the classroom, communication
with real people and talking about all kinds of subjects became the focal
point. As one of the aims of the German course at Leeds is to help students
to function like native speakers in Germany it is important to give them
an insight into the ways how Germans not only speak but also think. Role-play
and group debates helped them assume new identities and ‘pretend’
to be German. By using the language a whole new world opens, and students
suddenly can find themselves in a reality that is accessible, because,
although it can cause problems, it is much more rewarding than a web-page
print-out. Acting as a speaker of another language helps one to assume
this new identity, and when we staged a short play in honour of Goethe’s
birthday [“Goethe” von E.Friedell u. A.Polgar, mit Prolog
von S.J.Metzger], acting became even more important. Not only those
who took part in it but also the audience felt the sheer fun and pride
in using this new, other reality. The fact that even the Choir joined
us and incorporated the audience in their songs made it an unforgettable
occasion for everyone involved.
The ‘fun element’ in teaching seems enormously important.
Studying is not only hard work, but fun and joy all round. Sometimes students
and teachers can forget it, but I found that humour – one of those
bones of contention in Anglo-German relations – is probably one
of the best teachers. The overcoming of differences and of fear of using
another language is witnessed in the laughter in the classes. With such
pleasant colleagues and students, laughter was not a stranger to the department
but our daily companion which made work enjoyable and extremely rewarding.
At times I encouraged the students to write poems together, mostly for
the sake of raising an awareness for the language, rather than for serious
content, but the jokes and innuendoes showed that the poets had thought
hard to come up with witty pieces.
One poem I find worth quoting on this occasion. A group of first year
students wrote it together, trying to get the most important impressions
of their first year at the university into it ...
Wir lernen an der Uni hier
Deutsche Grammatik (und trinken auch viel Bier).
Verben, Nomen und Perfekt ...
Alles was im Coursebook steckt.
Es ist ganz lang und gar nicht -weilig
Und wenn ich alles richtig lerne,
Werd ich heilig.
Finally, all I can say is that I fail to put my thoughts into appropriate
words, but the joy that creeps up from behind every time I think about
my time in the German Department is too large to fit into a short piece
like this. To my colleagues and students I am eternally grateful for everything
I learnt and had the opportunity to store in my memories.