Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Monday, February 17, 2020

An Ode to the Ice Cleat


So, I'm not really writing an ode. Although it would rock. We have had experiences with Yak Trax but it was nothing like the joy the ice cleats brought us during the recent hike through Johnston Canyon in Banff (not to be confused with Johnson Lake, also in Banff, but currently closed for the season).  On a number of occasions I would look at my fellow hikers holding on for dear life to a railing or a side of the cliff and wonder why they were being so dramatic. At one point Terry showed me the sheet of ice that covered the path I just tromped down. I had not skidded a millimeter. Oh, ice cleats, why have I only discovered you now?  And, for added joy, they are one of the few items that are actually less expensive to buy in Canada!

All the tourism literature and bloggers compare it to Narnia/a winter fairyland and it is a pretty fair comparison.  I've now officially made it a personal goal to find and hike all trails that involve frozen waterfalls in the two-hour radius around Calgary.

The trip to the Lower Falls is about 1/2 mile and to the Upper Falls another mile beyond that. If it weren't for the fact that you pass directly by the Lower Falls I'd say give it a skip. The Upper Falls were absolutely breathtaking. We watched an ice climbing crew preparing, and a few individuals summiting the frozen waterfalls.  One family with a toddler and a dog looked to be preparing their own climb and we were very interested to see how they managed, but things were proceeding slowly and we moved on.  Side note: Terry disagrees about which waterfall was nicer.  He enjoyed the lower falls and the cave you could go through to get a better view.  The photo at the end is from the lower falls. Side note: Lynne would describe the "cave" as a hole in the rock that one passes through with one large step.

A decent section of the trail is an open-grate catwalk with railing. Just before the last catwalk to the Upper Falls, there is an option to head off the main trail and head down toward a smaller falls.  This was the ultimate discovery and a highlight of the trip. Not only was the frozen fall spectacular; not only could we walk within a few feet of a deep blue pool being constantly refreshed from an apparently (but obviously not entirely) frozen fall; but also we were able to sneak behind a different frozen fall and catch a glimpse of the world from that unique angle.

We created a new verb during this trip - "snowbanking"- which means throwing yourself into a snowbank and taking a rest.  The hike did have its strenuous moments and Terry and I really felt how out of shape we are, so the kids' requests for snowbank time were honored about half the time.  The photos show each kid "snowbanking." They asked every 5 minutes or so, and for a three mile round trip they probably snowbanked a dozen times or more. Towards the tail end we got a bit nervous about getting out of the park before the sun went down.  So the request to "snowbank" were honored a little less often.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I passed!

After just about 36 weeks, I took my language exam and passed.  This means the American government feels safe sending me out to Germany to represent my country in their language and not create a international incident through saying something incorrect or inappropriate.

Woo-hoo!
 
Intensive German language training is now a thing of the past for me.  At post there is usually a couple-of-hours-per-week class to continue learning or at least not forget too much of what I now know, and I do plan to take advantage of that.  I also plan to continue listening to Deutschland Funk Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (A German radio program on economics and society, in my mind it's like NPR's All Things Considered) during my morning commute. And American politics is a lot more bearable when I first have to decipher the German so I'll probably still read Der Spiegel sometimes. But I have no homework - none of this is required.

I do, however, have to navigate a veritable mountain of paperwork and logistics to make sure I am ready and permitted to travel. And next week I get to start learning about how to do my job as a consular officer.

It's feeling more real than ever before!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Test

Yesterday in class we practiced some strategies for handling certain parts of the test. I hadn't been working on these particular parts of the test in a while. I failed spectacularly. Last night I had my first nightmare about the test:  I was in a play and for some reason had never bothered to learn my lines.  So it comes to opening night and there's no understudy and there's no complete script laying around everywhere but I don't even know when it's my line until I notice nothing else is happening on stage and then I tear around looking for the part of the script that has my lines, or at least some direction of where I am supposed to be and what topics I'm supposed to be discussing.

Very hard to understand where that dream came from, eh?

The good news is I feel very confident in my ability to speak German and carry on my job and my life at post. I listen to German radio [aka, news podcasts] and read German news every day. I discuss and debate various topics and while I make grammatical errors or sometimes start on a sentence that ends up so complex that I lose my way halfway through and need to back up and start over (like if I had tried this sentence in German)  I am overwhelmingly understood.  However, as in so many other things, the worry is not about Life but about the Test.

I have two weeks. And if I don't pass, the world does not come to an end. I simply have to learn German for an additional 4-6 weeks before testing again.

But I have my pride.

So I guess this weekend I will be reviewing harder and more diligently on certain areas than I have been in the recent past.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Way More Fun with German

In addition to spending our days in the classroom slogging through the language, we also have other opportunities to play with German.  Two such opportunities came about last month.

One day we had a field trip to the German Embassy. It was the best morale boost, chatting like normal people with Germans in German. The best part - they understood us! In German!

The second opportunity was a special module put together by one of the teachers for handling Consular work. We held mock consular interviews at mock consular windows (apparently called "counters" = "schalter" in German. Probably a linguistic thowback from the days before bulletproof glass separated us from the visa seekers.)

Mind you, my German is riddled with grammar mistakes and missing vocabulary I have to "paraphrase" around. But it appears to be more or less understandable.

It is a little hard to believe that six months ago I spoke no German at all!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fun with German

This may be the longest word I have learned thus far:  Geschwindigkeitsbeschr√§nkung
It means speed limit and has 28 letters. I have to imagine that on the Autobahn there is some abbreviation because I am not reading a 28 letter word while travelling at 200 km/h.

Friday, December 16, 2016

German Language training Part III

Structured Learning
It's been about 12 weeks.  We have switched teachers three times.  We had our first assessment - a miniature/friendlier version of the Final Exam.  It happened to occur during my nadir of confidence and performance. I still did OK.  I have learned a lot about myself as a learner - stuff that might have been useful in my 20 previous years of learning stuff in a structured environment (school, university, graduate school).

My German is painfully slow and riddled with false starts and errors.  But it is 12 mere weeks of knowledge and I am unabashedly proud of myself. And I still have 2/3 of the course to go!

Last week most of us got all switched up - classes broken up and scattered to the wind - so not only are we all adjusting to a new teacher but also to new classmates.  I think we are getting into a groove, though, and am looking forward to more Deutsch lernen.

Outside of Class Learning
Our fabulous au pair is introducing us to aspects of German culture. One of which is the importance of Saint Nicholas Day - December 6 - where she gave the kids fabulous monogrammed stockings with little treats inside them. And she bakes cookies. Which we shared with our classmates (yes, we properly attributed her).

Also, we went to the Christmas Market held at the German School in Potomac a couple of weekends ago.  The lines for gluhwein and crepes were way too long but Terry managed to snag himself some sausage and the kids got cotton candy. We didn't use a ton of German but could hear it spoken all around us (as well as, to be honest, a bunch of Russian). The kids decorated and then ate cookies, and they got to play at the school's playground to burn off steam.

Our fabulous au pair also hand wrote these amazing little booklets for the kids with some simple "Hi my name is ... do you want to play with me" type phrases, basic vocabulary, and great drawings throughout. We got them bound at Staples and hope they will survive a couple of years of heavy use.

Wir haben viel Spa√ü! 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

German language training Part 2

Language training is still wonderful. I definitely speak German better now than I ever spoke Russian, even after banging my head against that language for years.

This week I wanted to say I was sad and realized we had never learned that word. So I also asked my teacher for the words for "excited, or thrilled, or delighted." He thought. He came up with a word that means "looking forward to something". Um, nope.  The conversation was almost exactly replicated with my au pair in the evening.

Apparently, Germans don't have words for extremes of emotion. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

German language training, part I

We've been in class about 3 weeks now and settling into our routines and slowly developing some ability.  Some highlights include:

  • "Morgen morgen" means "tomorrow morning" although nobody says that (they would say "early tomorrow" - I forget the word for "early" but I much prefer this)
  • We've played the game of "hunt for the most consonants in a row." I am currently winning at five. The word I found was "Wortschatz" although I know it is frequent enough that it will come up again.
  • So many alliterative phrases!  One of my favorites of this week "Welche sprachen Sprechen Sie?" (What languages do you speak)
  • Direct quote from my teacher:  Fun can be German too!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Language training

We are back at work, which means we are in language training. During the next several months our full time jobs plus off-time hobbies will be to learn German.  I can't stress enough how happy I am right now.  Unlike Russian, which I beat my head against for six years and didn't seem to get much for the effort, I am already learning a LOT and making notable progress in being able to talk to people about simple things (What is your name, where are you from, do you have children, etc).

We're also providing endless amusement to our lovely au pair, as we try out new words or ask her questions.

The commute just might kill us though. My desperate hope is that when the metro system is closer to operational level all these extra drivers will go back to riding the train. There should be a rule that if a person leaves his or her home at 6:30am there should be no traffic.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Two!

I had my Russian language exam Friday. I went into it feeling confident - I knew I was at the right level, my teachers has prepared me well for the general format of the exam, doing lots of practices to get me comfortable with it.

The end result was the 2 I needed, so it means I go to post on time!

One part that was very funny to me: After giving me the score, the tester asked if I wanted feedback. Of course!  Well, the gist of the feedback was that I needed to work on everything. It was funny to me because level 2 is a very low level of ability so of course I needed to work on everything - if I didn't, I should have gotten a higher score. For the record, the score is spot-on.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Russian language highlight of the day

Background: language instruction at FSI in generally thus: 3 hours of speaking practice/lesson; 2 hours of reading practice/lesson; one hour of language lab; 2 hours of homework. Sometimes people have the same teacher for reading and for speaking and sometimes they are different. Right now I have different teachers for the two.

The highlight: My reading teacher is amazed at how well I guess the meaning of an article when I actually know so few of the words. He thinks my ability to guess is even more impressive than if I actually knew what the article said.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Russian

Last week I began my six little weeks of Russian language training that is supposed to get me to the level I need to be to be allowed to go to post and talk to people in their (likely but not 100% certainly) native tongue. I will have enough knowledge not to accidentally start an international incident, but not enough to really have a deep, meaningful conversation. My hope is that by going out there and talking to people frequently enough the ability will deepen and eventually I will speak well enough to hold my own in the kind of conversation Terry and I have over the dinner table - in Russian. This may take longer than my two year posting!

But I digress.

Language training at FSI is a unique and interesting experience. Because we are learning language for our jobs, we discuss current events and political theory rather than the price of apples in the market or where one can find an English speaking hockey instructor (However, if anyone knows where to find an English speaking hockey instructor in Astana, please let me know!). Yes I can say "according to experts, earthquakes may be caused by drilling for gas" (aka fracking, but I don't know how to say fracking), but not "Oh look my child is hitting yours with a shovel. Let's stop that."

When I went to Tver for my two week intensive study, I had four hours one-on-one with an instructor. Including rewriting my notes and doing assigned homework, I spent another 2-3 hours at least on instructive learning. I napped every day. At FSI we have 5 hours of classroom instruction - just me and one other student with our instructor - and an hour in the language lab doing online exercises. We have homework every night. Our teacher told us to spend no more than 2 hours on the homework, if it took longer just don't worry about it. At the end of every class hour we have a quick break and each time the teacher says "pereorif" I look up surprised that so much time has already passed. However, there's no napping.

My commute is between 45-75 minutes and I have to drive because of the schedule - the last shuttle to the metro is 10 minutes after my last class and it's a long walk or expensive cab ride if I miss it. I barely participate in family activities anymore such as dinner, doing laundry or running errands. I desperately miss taking naps. I have resigned myself to a six week daily coffee habit and hope my clothes still fit at the end of it.

This may seen like complaining but I only mean to paint the picture of what the day looks like. Well, the commute part was complaining. If it weren't for my nervousness about the exam at the end of all this I would be celebrating - my only complaint is that I don't have more time!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A little more detail

So yes, we're going to Kazakhstan. Astana, to be exact, as there is also a post in Almaty. Yes, we're happy about this. My head is still swimming and I stayed up way too late last night looking at post information. We'll be here through the summer - I need more Russian language training before we go as I didn't test high enough (I knew that was going to happen, my abilities are nowhere near where they had been after a year back in the USA). Other than that, I am eager to be paneled so I can reach out to post with my thousand questions. That poor CLO has no idea what's coming :-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

And now she reads

Today I went to the book store and found some "my first reader" type books in Russian. I know Alex is ready, I hadn't realized how ready.

Tonight she read the entire book of Masha and Medved. 25 sentences. She didn't know the meaning of every word but then neither did I. After dinner I read the book to her and we talked about what was going on.

We are opening a whole new chapter! I am so happy Bukvoed is having a big sale on children's books this month!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Russians and their language

It is well known to people who have ever tried to speak Russian to a Russian that they are very particular about how their language is spoken. "Muttonburger" gets wide-eyed stares, "Moo-ton beurh-gher" get the waitress scribbling in her pad. So far as a I know every detsky sad has a speech pathologist who comes by to check that the kids are able to speak properly.

So it should come as no surprise that all over town for the last few months have been these billboards proclaiming:
"Let's Speak Like Petersburgians"

At first I had no idea what it was all about. T explained that it's meant for people who are not from Moscow/Piter but other Russian speaking countries or other parts of Russia who may not
speak "properly".


One billboard I saw a few months ago went through numbers. This one seems to have negotiation and worker type words (agreement, facilitate, draw/scoop, quarter/block ...  but then "utterly"?)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Awesomeness

Awesomness is the 5 year old helping the 3 year old learn his Russian poem for his school performance next week. She already has it memorized from Tuesday night when our nanny was helping him with it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Yep, I'm a big honking geek

I have fallen in love, sort of. I've said before the Russian language has gotten its hooks into me in a bad way, and the love affair seems to only be growing, maybe in light of our impending breakup (at least temporarily). After a recent lesson on Pushkin wherein my teacher impressed upon me his significance to Russia and why he is THE poet of the country my current dream is to read (and most importantly, duh, understand) him in his mother tongue. The more Russian I know, the more Russians I speak with, the more certain I am that no translation between these 2 languages can ever properly capture the essence.

I am also once again signed up for the distance learning, but this time there is a new course - Consular Russian. I'm learning the language and idiom necessary to talk to visa applicants about their plans to visit the USA. And I am loving it.

I had said that if I passed the language test in December I'd slow way down, and it is true I no longer do much homework, but ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alex's Poem

This is why we wanted to put Alex and Zoltan in a Russian preschool.  Their ability to speak Russian and sound very close to a native is amazing.  Especially to me who is having such a hard time learning this language.  Seeing Alex easily recite a poem in her non-native language is truly wonderful to see.  Zoltan also had a poem for his class' Prazdnik and practice the poem to point that he was very good at it.  Unfortunately he was not interested in performing for an audience.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I've got my life back!

The downside to the language exam being over, is that I am 95% sure I didn't pass. I now know what I need to focus on, as well as hoping and praying that if rumors are true that the level I need to pass is about to increase to S-3 from S-2, that it doesn't happen before I re-take the test in June.

I'll report back to confirm when I get the results, which should be somewhere between a week and 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

T-minus-not-enough-days

until my language test. It's next week. My Russian teacher today gave me a mock interview, guessing at the types of questions I may get on the Real Thing. After incorrectly conjugating the very first verb I ever learned, then making the same wrong-case mistake with one of the most common words in conversational Russian three times in a row, I have decided this: I need more exercise and meditation, and not necessarily more studying.

And if the exam goes as badly as things went today, I can always hope and pray the removal of the grandfathering clause that lets me get my points at a mere level 2 rather than 3 waits another 6 months, although the rumors are growing that it is imminent.