Genre of the Week: The Arctic by Ludovico Einauldi

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The Arctic Ocean, one of the last untouched natural habitats in the world. Enriched with fish minerals, it is being eyed by many countries and private companies with their own interest. Despite the advantages of exploration, the Arctic Ocean is a key player in the process of global warming, for sheets of ice have been melting at rates faster than what scientists have predicted in the past decade. This has raised water levels, caused destruction by super storms and flooding and have destroyed the livelihoods of animals and humans alike.

In an attempt to address this issue, the non-governmental organization Greenpeace has been campaigning to ensure that at least a portion of the Arctic is protected against the threat of exploration and overfishing. This included organizing a summit on the island of Tenerife most recently, which bore no fruit. In a statement presented by the organization, they claimed that a conference here in this circle would have been much more effective than on a sunny island laden with tourists. 

But perhaps this short concert by world-renowned pianist Ludovico Einauldi might bring the world to take a look at the landscape and see what can be done about it. Born in Turin, Italy, Einauldi has been a concert pianist for over 35 years, producing dozens of his own works and albums, as well as soundtracks for several international films, including   This is England in all three parts, Dr. Zhivago, Black Swan, and J. Edgar.  When taking a look at the video and listening to his music and the sounds of the sheets of ice falling off the coast of Norway, think about what this piece, the Files’ Genre of the Week, means to you and what you can do to help. Information on how can be found here.

 

FF new logo1

Genre of the Week: The Arctic by Ludovico Einauldi

163409_177086218988702_6769017_n

The Arctic Ocean, one of the last untouched natural habitats in the world. Enriched with fish minerals, it is being eyed by many countries and private companies with their own interest. Despite the advantages of exploration, the Arctic Ocean is a key player in the process of global warming, for sheets of ice have been melting at rates faster than what scientists have predicted in the past decade. This has raised water levels, caused destruction by super storms and flooding and have destroyed the livelihoods of animals and humans alike.

In an attempt to address this issue, the non-governmental organization Greenpeace has been campaigning to ensure that at least a portion of the Arctic is protected against the threat of exploration and overfishing. This included organizing a summit on the island of Tenerife most recently, which bore no fruit. In a statement presented by the organization, they claimed that a conference here in this circle would have been much more effective than on a sunny island laden with tourists. 

But perhaps this short concert by world-renowned pianist Ludovico Einauldi might bring the world to take a look at the landscape and see what can be done about it. Born in Turin, Italy, Einauldi has been a concert pianist for over 35 years, producing dozens of his own works and albums, as well as soundtracks for several international films, including   This is England in all three parts, Dr. Zhivago, Black Swan, and J. Edgar.  When taking a look at the video and listening to his music and the sounds of the sheets of ice falling off the coast of Norway, think about what this piece, the Files’ Genre of the Week, means to you and what you can do to help. Information on how can be found here.

FF new logo1

Lighting it up Passively: A Look at Passive and Active Voice

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Let’s start this topic off with this question: What is the difference between the following two expressions:

The town lit up with LED lights

The town was lit up with LED lights

 

One expression is active and the other is passive. It is more of the question of who does what.

Active and passive voice in English may be parallel with that of the German language. After all, when using active, the sentence construction is the same: A person or an object does something to the direct object, or putting it in linguistic terms: subject, verb and object, like in these two examples:

 

Corrina invited Theodore to her birthday party. (EN)

Corrina lud Theodor zu ihren Geburtstagsparty ein. (D)

 

In either case, we have the subject (Corrina), the verb (invite/einladen) and the (direct) object (Theodore).

In passive voice, we have the copula for English (to be) as well as for German (werden) with the verb constructed in past participle (or in German: Perfekt):

 

Theodore was invited to the birthday party by Corrina. (EN)

Theodor wurde zum Corrinas Geburtstagsparty eingeladen. (D)

 

When looking at the two sentences, we have the same construction, especially with regards to the subject (Theodore) and the object represented by who is doing what to the subject (Corrina).

Yet when we have only one actor in passive voice, one can use an open subject when constructing it into active voice, something that is common in German as well, like for example:

 

Theodore was invited to a birthday party   (D: Theodor wurde zum Geburtstagsparty eingeladen)

Someone invited Theodore to a birthday party  (D: Jemand hat Theodor zum Geburtstagsparty eingeladen).

 

Here, in active voice, we can use someone, but somebody is possible for singular voice, many, a lot of people or even people for plural voice.

This leads to the question of whether there is a trick to determining what is the subject and what is the object in a sentence when converting it from active into passive. The answer that question is yes. One needs to look at the sentence carefully and find two agents (or actors) in the sentence- one should be the subject, and the other should be direct object. These two agents serve as reciprocity in a way that they can be interchangeably used when writing the sentences in active and passive voices.

When looking at the first example sentence, we have the two agents, Corrina and Theodore, which can be used interchangibly. The verb functions dependent on its use as active or passive voice (invite or to be  invited), while the rest of the information is additional and play no role in the reciprocity process. Even when adding the modal verbs, the rule still remains the same, except when in passive, the verb structure always starts with a modal verb, plus to be and finally past participal.  An example sentence using the modal verbs can be seen below:

 

The city could be made brighter with LED street lamps.  (passive)

LED street lamps could make the city brighter. (active)

 

colo light post cfp

The next exercises deals with the history of lighting, especially street lighting with the purpose of helping you get acquainted with passive and active voices. The following exercises can be done both in English as well as in German (if teachers are willig to translate from EN to D.)

 

PART I. Construct the following sentences in active form, using the words given. Please be aware of the tenses, plus one may need to add some missing elements, like prepositions, relative pronouns, conjunctions, etc.  Identify the subject, verb and object (direct object and/or indirect object)

 

  1. Gas-powered lighting/ William Murdoch/ invent/ 1792/ Britain

 

  1. Incandescent light bulb/ invent/Thomas Edison/ 1876/ residents/ Newport, Rhode Island/ first street lighting/ 1880/ get

 

  1. Incandescent/ fluorescent/ lighting/ cities/ USA/ 1930s/ increased/ popularity.

 

  1. Broadway Avenue/ New York City/ name/ The Great White Way/people

 

  1. General Electric/ Westinghouse/ produce/ lighting/ streets/ highways/ 1920s/ World War II

 

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PART II.  Convert the following sentences into passive voice. Then identify the subject, verb in passive form and the object.

 

  1. Charles Wheatstone     saw a ray of ultraviolet lighting while observing a electric discharge in mercury vapor in 1835.

 

  1. Peter Cooper Hewitt created the first mercury vapor light bulb in 1901

 

  1. Osram GEC Company and General Electric modified the light bulb in the 1930s.

 

  1. Cities used mercury-vapor street lighting beginning in the 1950s.

 

  1. Mercury vapor street lamps emit an emerald green color.

 

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PART III. Now do the exact same procedure as in PART II but this time,  going from passive to active voice. Please be aware that some words may need to be added.

 

  1. Cobra-head lamp posts were introduced on American highways in 1957.

 

  1. Shortly afterwards, high-pressured sodium lighting was introduced by the McGraw-Edison Company.

 

  1. City streets and areas near space observatories are employed with orange-colored lighting.

 

  1. Many buildings are being lit with sodium lighting.

 

  1. Light pollution is being caused by too much sodium lighting.

 

  1. Cup-lighting, invented by the George Westinghouse Company in the 1940s, is being demanded by many cities because of their nostalgia.

 

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PART IV. Supplemental exercises-

 

  • Draw a description of a cobra-head street lamp. Think of the animal cobra and its standing position while fighting a mongoose.

 

  • Draw a description of a cup-style street lamp, keeping in mind that the cup should be upside down.

 

  • Looking at the picture above, which of the lighting is considered high-pressured sodium, and why?

 

Handewitt

PART V.  Reciprocal: Can you construct these words into passive AND active voice WITHOUT ruining the meaning of the context? If so, identify in both voices the subject, predicate, object, attribute (if exists)  Some words may need to be added.

1. George Stokes name light fluorescence after mineral fluorite

 

2. Heinrich Geissner invent glass tube in 1856 for fluorescent lighting

 

3. Georges Claude French scientist produce first neon lighting In 1930

 

4. General Electric obtain patent rights over production of fluorescent lighting

 

5. fluorescent lamps need US Army In World War II

 

6. Fluorescent street lamps employ streets Europe after World War II

 

7. Power Companies lower street lamps on the streets provide better lighting

 

8. white LED lighting in 2005 scientists test

 

9. LED street lights US cities In 2012 introduce and energy use less any
  other light bulb              

 

10. The use of LED lights people criticize many because streets too bright to be

 

True or False: This is an LED light:

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Additional exercises can be found by clicking here and here.

 

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: Teaching Beowulf and Old English- Introduction

wikingerschiff_oslo
Viking Ship at the Museum in Oslo. Source: Wikipedia (Hifi0006)

Old English: one of the main origins of our language. Consisting of the languages of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English was first spoken by the Germanic tribes and consisted of words most commonly found in today’s German, English and some Scandanavian language. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, Old English transformed itself into Middle English while adopting words and phrases from the Norman language. Eventually all of the historic elements, as seen in the clip below, made up today’s language, which has its common, fixed structure in terms of grammar and sentence construction, but is constantly evolving because of the language’s adaptation to the changing environments, including the development of technology which is influencing the way English is being used.

 

And this takes us to the story of Beowulf. Written between the 10th and 11th Century, before the Norman Conquest, Beowulf is the oldest known literary work that was conceived in Old English. Although the work has been translated into today’s English, with the most recent work written and edited by Seamus Heaney, it is unknown who wrote the folklore, consisting of a poem with 3182 lines. The work has however been adapted into film, TV series and even children’s stories.

But who is Beowulf and why is it important to teach that in class?

To summarize, Beowulf was a warrior of Scandanavian descent who ruled the Geat kingdom. His strength is equal to 30 men, and he can battle with sword and hand-to-hand combat. He helps the king of Danes, Hrothgar, in defeating a monster named Grendel, who had invaded the dining hall, killing some Danish soldiers. Grendel loses his arm in the battle with Beowulf, runs home to the mother and dies at the end. The mother becomes angry and invades the hall again. Beowulf chases her down and kills her in the end as well. The warrior receives many rewards and eventually expanded his kingdom in the end. Fifty years have passed, and Beowulf, in his 70s, faces another challenge in a form of a dragon. Accompanied by his nephew, he battles the dragon and defeats it, but not before he is mortally wounded. He is honored in his funeral, where as a custom, he is burned on a boat but others give him something as a sacrifice to remember.  Many adaptations exist but a couple shorter animations shows how the story takes place:

Because the poem was written in Old English, Beowulf presents an insight of how English was used during that time, especially as some of the words originated from that period. Furthermore it is important to learn about history after the Fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, especially as far as the creation of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandanavian regions are concerned. Much of that is taught in history classes in schools in Germany, especially in the sixth and seventh grades, but some elements are even being presented in English classes, including the culture of the kingdoms in the regions during that time. While some elements of European history is introduced in American schools, it is important to learn about this, for the Vikings, who explored North America in the 9th Century, the time of the release of Beowulf, came from the regions in Scandanavia, including Denmark, and had been known for invading the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (especially in present-day England) several times before the Conquest of 1066.

The question is how to teach Beowulf to students in school without having to bore them. As mentioned before, over 3200 lines were written and translated, yet the time limit is a factor, as well as determining how it fits in the curriculum for either English or history. One can reduce the content to the most important aspects, but doing so creates a risk of leaving out some elements that may become important later on. Reading it straight out would be as brutally difficult as reading Chaucer, even on the high school level.

But one can create their own adaption of Beowulf. This includes adapting Beowulf to a modern version, such as Beowulf 2.0, Beowulf on Twitter, etc. It also includes activities to fill in the lost years, video games, and the like. It is a matter of presenting a summary of the story, while introducing the details, including Beowulf’s family, childhood, kingdom and even the culture of the Geats, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Scandanavian regions, which one may need a two sessions for, pending on the time alloted per session. After that, students have a chance to create their own versions of Beowulf.

In July, some examples of how Beowulf can be taught will be presented to give teachers and students some ideas for their own project as well as possibilities to teach it in class. These were done by fellow college students at a university in central Germany. More on that will come then. In the meantime, what are some ideas you would have to teach students the importance of Beowulf? What projects did you try doing? Place your stories in the comment section below.

Stay tuned! More on Beowulf will come in July. 🙂

flefi-deutschland-logo

In School in Germany: Teaching Beowulf and Old English- Introduction

wikingerschiff_oslo
Viking Ship at the Museum in Oslo. Source: Wikipedia (Hifi0006)

Old English: one of the main origins of our language. Consisting of the languages of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English was first spoken by the Germanic tribes and consisted of words most commonly found in today’s German, English and some Scandanavian language. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, Old English transformed itself into Middle English while adopting words and phrases from the Norman language. Eventually all of the historic elements, as seen in the clip below, made up today’s language, which has its common, fixed structure in terms of grammar and sentence construction, but is constantly evolving because of the language’s adaptation to the changing environments, including the development of technology which is influencing the way English is being used.

And this takes us to the story of Beowulf. Written between the 10th and 11th Century, before the Norman Conquest, Beowulf is the oldest known literary work that was conceived in Old English. Although the work has been translated into today’s English, with the most recent work written and edited by Seamus Heaney, it is unknown who wrote the folklore, consisting of a poem with 3182 lines. The work has however been adapted into film, TV series and even children’s stories.

But who is Beowulf and why is it important to teach that in class?

To summarize, Beowulf was a warrior of Scandanavian descent who ruled the Geat kingdom. His strength is equal to 30 men, and he can battle with sword and hand-to-hand combat. He helps the king of Danes, Hrothgar, in defeating a monster named Grendel, who had invaded the dining hall, killing some Danish soldiers. Grendel loses his arm in the battle with Beowulf, runs home to the mother and dies at the end. The mother becomes angry and invades the hall again. Beowulf chases her down and kills her in the end as well. The warrior receives many rewards and eventually expanded his kingdom in the end. Fifty years have passed, and Beowulf, in his 70s, faces another challenge in a form of a dragon. Accompanied by his nephew, he battles the dragon and defeats it, but not before he is mortally wounded. He is honored in his funeral, where as a custom, he is burned on a boat but others give him something as a sacrifice to remember.  Many adaptations exist but a couple shorter animations shows how the story takes place:

Because the poem was written in Old English, Beowulf presents an insight of how English was used during that time, especially as some of the words originated from that period. Furthermore it is important to learn about history after the Fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, especially as far as the creation of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandanavian regions are concerned. Much of that is taught in history classes in schools in Germany, especially in the sixth and seventh grades, but some elements are even being presented in English classes, including the culture of the kingdoms in the regions during that time. While some elements of European history is introduced in American schools, it is important to learn about this, for the Vikings, who explored North America in the 9th Century, the time of the release of Beowulf, came from the regions in Scandanavia, including Denmark, and had been known for invading the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (especially in present-day England) several times before the Conquest of 1066.

The question is how to teach Beowulf to students in school without having to bore them. As mentioned before, over 3200 lines were written and translated, yet the time limit is a factor, as well as determining how it fits in the curriculum for either English or history. One can reduce the content to the most important aspects, but doing so creates a risk of leaving out some elements that may become important later on. Reading it straight out would be as brutally difficult as reading Chaucer, even on the high school level.

But one can create their own adaption of Beowulf. This includes adapting Beowulf to a modern version, such as Beowulf 2.0, Beowulf on Twitter, etc. It also includes activities to fill in the lost years, video games, and the like. It is a matter of presenting a summary of the story, while introducing the details, including Beowulf’s family, childhood, kingdom and even the culture of the Geats, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Scandanavian regions, which one may need a two sessions for, pending on the time alloted per session. After that, students have a chance to create their own versions of Beowulf.

In July, some examples of how Beowulf can be taught will be presented to give teachers and students some ideas for their own project as well as possibilities to teach it in class. These were done by fellow college students at a university in central Germany. More on that will come then. In the meantime, what are some ideas you would have to teach students the importance of Beowulf? What projects did you try doing? Place your stories in the comment section below.

Stay tuned! More on Beowulf will come in July. 🙂

flefi-deutschland-logo

The Six-Year Rule: Why A Job in German Academia is Fatal for your Teaching Career

nug3a
Wiley Campus of Hochschule Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Photo taken in 2015

Starting off this article there is a word of advice to anyone wishing to start their career in teaching English as a foreign language, let alone in general as a professor: German Academia is the place where teachers’ careers end- after six years, that is!  If one wishes to continue as a teacher, one has to take the mentality that a person goes where the jobs are, even if it means working as a freelancer until retirement. This mentality goes along the lines of a quote by the late Paul Gruchow: “You go where the good people go. We raise our best so that they can develop a sense of home and eventually come back.”

Teachers in Germany are the highest in demand, especially in the area of foreign languages, yet barriers are standing high and tall in the path to a prosperous career that many of them decide to call it a career and find another profession. This applies not only to German laws for recognizing education degrees for schools from other countries, but this one: The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (known in English as the Limited Contract Laws for Academics in Germany or LAG for short). Enacted in 1999, the LAG aims at limiting contracts for those wishing to work at a German university in an attempt to reduce the number of employees, including professors, receiving permanent posts and encourage competition by hiring new people every 2-3 years, pending on which German state you live in and which “Hochschule” (German university or college) you wish to work for. In a nutshell, people wishing to work at a Hochschule are given a limited contract, most of the time two years, and are allowed to work a total of six years without pursuing a doctorate. With a doctorate (PhD), one receives another six years, totaling 12 years of work. For those studying medicine, the rule is nine years before and six years after getting a PhD, thus totaling 15 years.  Once the time runs out, there is the “Berufsverbot,” which means you are not allowed to work at a German university anymore for the rest of your life.

Yet there are some exceptions to the rule which could help manuever around LAG and prolong your stay in academia. Some of which I learned most recently during an interview at a university in the state of Hesse.  The first involves having children while working at a German university. If one has a child, then the limit of the number of years allowed to work full time is extended by two years per child- a major benefit since Germany has one of the lowest birthrates of all industrialized countries in the world.  Another way of extending your life at academia is through Drittmittel- German for funding from the private sector. According to news reports from the newspaper Die Zeit, more and more academics are applying for this type of funding as a way of prolonging their careers at the German university. Basically, the funding applied for and received is what the academics have to live off from. Most of the time, the funding is barely enough to make ends meet, limited to 2-3 years- meaning another limited contract- and it comes with strings attached, which means one has to work on a project in addition to teaching. Project-hopping is another concept that is practiced at German universities, where people hop from one project to another in an attempt to stay at one university.  Then there is the Publish-or-Perish mentality, where people working at academia are expected to contribute to the university by publishing as many works as possible, while getting a meager amount of money in return. A way of staying on, yet at the cost of your teaching career because most of the time is spent on writing instead of interacting and helping students.  Getting a professorship is possible in Germany, but one needs at least 10 years to complete that, and there are several titles one needs to go through, such as PD, Junior Professor, Professor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor……. (You get the hint 😉  ). If one is not quick enough to obtain such a professorship, let alone follow the publish or perish mentality, then one can call it a career well before the retirement age.

All these options are doable, but in comparison with American universities and colleges, where they provide tenure tracks for those wishing to pursue a permanent form of employment (both as a professor as well as an employee), the hurdles are numerous and high- high enough for a person to a point where if one wants to race the 300 meter hurdles in track and field, it is required to practice triple jump and high jump in order to “jump the hurdles” without stumbling and eventually finish the race a winner.  In fact, only 14% of all positions at an American university have limited contracts. In Germany, the rate is 68%, one of the highest in the world! The trend is ongoing and increasing and for a good reason: budget cuts from the state, which is the main source of financing, combined with less funding possibilities from Drittmittel, is forcing institutions to lay off personnel and cut certain programs deemed as “not financially suitable for students.” Protests have taken place in many German states calling for more state and federal involvement in financing for academia but with partial success. Those who stay on have to deal with funding that is barely enough for even a single person to survive. Others, especially those fearing for their career, opt for places outside Germany, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, as working conditions and better, and  more permanent contracts are guaranteed.

 

But all is not so bad these day. Some universities in Germany are laxing their regulations by either providing permanent employment right away or after a limited contract. In a couple cases in Bavaria, the tenure track has been introduced to allow people to stay on beyond the permanent contract. Yet as it is always the case when dealing with bureaucracy in Germany, it comes with strings attached. Requirements of a degree in the respective field, like a language degree at a university for a job at a language institute is becoming the norm and not the exception. This includes Master’s degrees but also Lehramt (teaching degrees), which includes 7-8 years of studies, student teaching and two state exams (see an article posted here). Even then, the pressure to stay on when hired is enormous and one needs a lot of luck and aggression, let alone some great connections to stay on beyond the contract- preferably permanently.  But even then, when you have established these connections and a great career, chances are likely that you are shown the door when the contract is up.

nu20

This was what happened to yours truly in Bayreuth. I worked at the University’s Language Institute teaching English for two years, from 2008 until 2010. Prior to me being hired, I was told that I would be allowed to work there for two years with no further contract, then I would be banned from teaching in Bavaria. This was customary at that time.  In fact, three of my colleagues had left when I arrived; two more left after the first semester alone, and two more were offered two-year contracts under the same conditions during my time there, but they declined as the move from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bayreuth for two years was not worth the move. While the regulations, in place since 2007,  have somewhat laxed because of successful attempts to keep at least some of the teachers on (many of them had worked there for over a decade before I came), they came after I left, leaving a mark in the classroom and many positive stories and experiences to share among my student colleagues, many of whom I’m still in contact with (and are probably following this column). Despite Bayreuth’s attempts, other Bavarian universities are having a hard time copying their successful attempts so that their staff members can stay on with a permanent contract. But realizing the mentality that not everyone is that mobile and would like to settle down, the winds of change will eventually come to them and the rest of Germany as well.  For me, after another two-year contract at another Hochschule, I decided to pursue my teaching degree for the German Gymnasium, for teaching in schools are more guaranteed than in academia, yet the workload is more than in adacemia- the only caveat. 😉

To end this article, I have a word of advice to those wishing to teach in Germany: If teaching is what you want, you have to cross seven bridges to get there. Many of them are old and rickety, but they are worth crossing. Yet make sure a plan B is in place if you decide to leave it behind. After all, we have more than one talent in our lives to share with others and be successful in. 🙂

flefi-deutschland-logo

 

The Six-Year Rule: Why a Job in German Academia Is Fatal for Your Teaching Career

nug3a
Wiley Campus of Hochschule Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Photo taken in 2015

Starting off this article there is a word of advice to anyone wishing to start their career in teaching English as a foreign language, let alone in general as a professor: German Academia is the place where teachers’ careers end- after six years, that is!  If one wishes to continue as a teacher, one has to take the mentality that a person goes where the jobs are, even if it means working as a freelancer until retirement. This mentality goes along the lines of a quote by the late Paul Gruchow: “You go where the good people go. We raise our best so that they can develop a sense of home and eventually come back.”

Teachers in Germany are the highest in demand, especially in the area of foreign languages, yet barriers are standing high and tall in the path to a prosperous career that many of them decide to call it a career and find another profession. This applies not only to German laws for recognizing education degrees for schools from other countries, but this one: The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (known in English as the Limited Contract Laws for Academics in Germany or LAG for short). Enacted in 1999, the LAG aims at limiting contracts for those wishing to work at a German university in an attempt to reduce the number of employees, including professors, receiving permanent posts and encourage competition by hiring new people every 2-3 years, pending on which German state you live in and which “Hochschule” (German university or college) you wish to work for. In a nutshell, people wishing to work at a Hochschule are given a limited contract, most of the time two years, and are allowed to work a total of six years without pursuing a doctorate. With a doctorate (PhD), one receives another six years, totaling 12 years of work. For those studying medicine, the rule is nine years before and six years after getting a PhD, thus totaling 15 years.  Once the time runs out, there is the “Berufsverbot,” which means you are not allowed to work at a German university anymore for the rest of your life.

Yet there are some exceptions to the rule which could help manuever around LAG and prolong your stay in academia. Some of which I learned most recently during an interview at a university in the state of Hesse.  The first involves having children while working at a German university. If one has a child, then the limit of the number of years allowed to work full time is extended by two years per child- a major benefit since Germany has one of the lowest birthrates of all industrialized countries in the world.  Another way of extending your life at academia is through Drittmittel- German for funding from the private sector. According to news reports from the newspaper Die Zeit, more and more academics are applying for this type of funding as a way of prolonging their careers at the German university. Basically, the funding applied for and received is what the academics have to live off from. Most of the time, the funding is barely enough to make ends meet, limited to 2-3 years- meaning another limited contract- and it comes with strings attached, which means one has to work on a project in addition to teaching. Project-hopping is another concept that is practiced at German universities, where people hop from one project to another in an attempt to stay at one university.  Then there is the Publish-or-Perish mentality, where people working at academia are expected to contribute to the university by publishing as many works as possible, while getting a meager amount of money in return. A way of staying on, yet at the cost of your teaching career because most of the time is spent on writing instead of interacting and helping students.  Getting a professorship is possible in Germany, but one needs at least 10 years to complete that, and there are several titles one needs to go through, such as PD, Junior Professor, Professor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor……. (You get the hint 😉  ). If one is not quick enough to obtain such a professorship, let alone follow the publish or perish mentality, then one can call it a career well before the retirement age.

All these options are doable, but in comparison with American universities and colleges, where they provide tenure tracks for those wishing to pursue a permanent form of employment (both as a professor as well as an employee), the hurdles are numerous and high- high enough for a person to a point where if one wants to race the 300 meter hurdles in track and field, it is required to practice triple jump and high jump in order to “jump the hurdles” without stumbling and eventually finish the race a winner.  In fact, only 14% of all positions at an American university have limited contracts. In Germany, the rate is 68%, one of the highest in the world! The trend is ongoing and increasing and for a good reason: budget cuts from the state, which is the main source of financing, combined with less funding possibilities from Drittmittel, is forcing institutions to lay off personnel and cut certain programs deemed as “not financially suitable for students.” Protests have taken place in many German states calling for more state and federal involvement in financing for academia but with partial success. Those who stay on have to deal with funding that is barely enough for even a single person to survive. Others, especially those fearing for their career, opt for places outside Germany, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, as working conditions and better, and  more permanent contracts are guaranteed.

But all is not so bad these day. Some universities in Germany are laxing their regulations by either providing permanent employment right away or after a limited contract. In a couple cases in Bavaria, the tenure track has been introduced to allow people to stay on beyond the permanent contract. Yet as it is always the case when dealing with bureaucracy in Germany, it comes with strings attached. Requirements of a degree in the respective field, like a language degree at a university for a job at a language institute is becoming the norm and not the exception. This includes Master’s degrees but also Lehramt (teaching degrees), which includes 7-8 years of studies, student teaching and two state exams (see an article posted here). Even then, the pressure to stay on when hired is enormous and one needs a lot of luck and aggression, let alone some great connections to stay on beyond the contract- preferably permanently.  But even then, when you have established these connections and a great career, chances are likely that you are shown the door when the contract is up.

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This was what happened to yours truly in Bayreuth. I worked at the University’s Language Institute teaching English for two years, from 2008 until 2010. Prior to me being hired, I was told that I would be allowed to work there for two years with no further contract, then I would be banned from teaching in Bavaria. This was customary at that time.  In fact, three of my colleagues had left when I arrived; two more left after the first semester alone, and two more were offered two-year contracts under the same conditions during my time there, but they declined as the move from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bayreuth for two years was not worth the move. While the regulations, in place since 2007,  have somewhat laxed because of successful attempts to keep at least some of the teachers on (many of them had worked there for over a decade before I came), they came after I left, leaving a mark in the classroom and many positive stories and experiences to share among my student colleagues, many of whom I’m still in contact with (and are probably following this column). Despite Bayreuth’s attempts, other Bavarian universities are having a hard time copying their successful attempts so that their staff members can stay on with a permanent contract. But realizing the mentality that not everyone is that mobile and would like to settle down, the winds of change will eventually come to them and the rest of Germany as well.  For me, after another two-year contract at another Hochschule, I decided to pursue my teaching degree for the German Gymnasium, for teaching in schools are more guaranteed than in academia, yet the workload is more than in adacemia- the only caveat. 😉

To end this article, I have a word of advice to those wishing to teach in Germany: If teaching is what you want, you have to cross seven bridges to get there. Many of them are old and rickety, but they are worth crossing. Yet make sure a plan B is in place if you decide to leave it behind. After all, we have more than one talent in our lives to share with others and be successful in. 🙂

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Interesting Facts about Germany: Asparagus

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Before reading this article, think of the top five foods you will find and most likely eat while visiting Germany.

Many of us will associate Germany with sauerkraut (made from cabbage), bratwursts, various sorts of steaks (like the Sauerbraten and the Kasseler), various kinds of potato dishes and for desert, marzipan (an almond paste you find in many pastries). One can include roasted wild boar, venecin (deer meat), fish entrées (mostly in northern Germany) and even chocolate (like nougat).

But what about asparagus?

When I was first introduced to asparagus, I was only eight years old and my grandmother had a small field with green asparagus, located in the middle of a four acre pasture that was mostly occupied with horses. It was not cultivated as in the videos below, but was fenced off so that it could grow on its own. When riped, it was peeled and served boiled- most of the time with butter or cheese, and it was perfect for a typical family cookout in the United States. 🙂

Yet, especially when watching the videos above, when traveling in Europe, one will embrace the Spargelzeit and with that, many colorful kinds of asparagus, stemming from purple and black to white- the latter is a German past time. I had an opportunity to try white asparagus for the first time while staying in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1999, in a form of a “cold plate entrée.” Right away, when comparing the white with the green, the difference was clear- a bit bitter, but watery for the white. Nevertheless, it was delicious. 🙂  Trying the standard German entrée, with Hollandaise sauce for the first time a year later, and one needs no introduction except to say, you will be committing a sin if you elect a Big Mac over boiled asparagus with butter sauce- especially during this time!

Between April and the end of June, asparagus is harvested and available in stores for people to eat. Recipes, including a couple from the Guardian (here),  are in scores, and people will find asparagus in every single meal, whether it is a soup, in a pizza, or in various salads, like the one I tried in Switzerland. Every year, Germans treat asparagus as Catholics treat Lent- You have to have it at least once a year, because they are pure, healthy and just plain delicious. It’s just like with fish, which is eaten during the time of Lent as the only source of meat.  Yet as hundreds of thousands of tons are eaten every year, more are planted and cultivated, which is a time-consuming and sometimes a painstaking task to complete. The videos can provide you with an overview of how asparagus is planted, harvested, packaged and sold for the dinner table. And this minus the peeling and boiling of them which we have to do ourselves.

In the end, all that work is well worth the consumption. It is safe to say that asparagus is the food of champions for those who toil in the fields to bring them home for us to appreciate, bless, and in the end, eat it. 😉  ❤

So for all our tourist friends visiting Germany next time, especially around springtime, take this advice: eat the Spargel and leave the rest of the food for later. When you try a German asparagus, you will never resort to meat again. 😉

To finish my patronizing of the asparagus, here’s a bonus from the German mystery series Tatort with Thiel and Boerne, whose case to be solved takes us to teh asparagus fields and the reason why asparagus is an important food for Germany, especially in the spring time.

Enjoy! 😀

 

 

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All They Want is Stuff: The Use of Stop-Gaps in English Part II: Worksheet

Like in the German language, we have some English “fill-gaps” that are used to describe certain objects that we do not know the exact words for that. These “fill-gaps” help with the fluency of the language- mainly oral but to a certain degree written, however, they should be avoided as much as possible when dealing with business and academic English, for they are considered to be too informal and can cause confusion among (non-) native speakers, who may not know what you are referring to.

These “fill-gaps” consist of the following words:

Stuff     Things    So     Like      Well       And     Whatchamacallit 

 Thingamebob   Of    Which     Get       Very   Really

 Also included is the usage of contractions, which may be OK when writing e-mails, HOWEVER when writing business letters and academic papers, it is considered informal and unprofessional to use them.

EXERCISE I.  Can you identify the mistakes and eliminate the “fill-ins?” Reconstruct the following sentences, correcting the mistakes and eliminating the “fill-ins” in the process.

  1. The thing is this: We are in the red for two months ago, so we have to cut back on things so we can make money.

 

  1. Like the company which is losing monies which is from the stock market crisis is ever going to get any money.

 

  1. The first thing I must say to you is the fact that we have too much stuff in stock in our very small storage room.

 

  1. We have to let go 400 men because there is much stuff going on which could get the company into more financial problems.

 

  1. Well, we have a source of work in Bulgaria, which is cheap. So, we’re going to move there.

 

EXERCISE II.  Look at the following sentences below and determine whether they are informal (I)  or formal (F). Some of the words are marked in bold print to help you. Note: informal sentences will most likely have these fillers or stop-gaps in there.

  1. Perry’s items to discuss in the interview with Coach Green includes why his football team is undefeated and what they are expecting in the playoffs.
  2. Betty and Ben are an item and have been getting on since last winter.
  3. Claudia is getting a restraining order against her boyfriend for cheating on her.
  4. GET SCREWED!” hollered Dad when he learned that his favorite boxer lost despite his dominating the match.
  5. “I’m really angry with you for wikiing on your homework,” said Mrs. Stone. “You will rewrite the assignment again.”
  6. Judge Marge did it so that Barrett does community service after school for six months to help pay for the broken window of the post office.
  7. That woman who just served me was a former colleague of mine from school.
  8. Which of the proposals would you favor? Proposal A or Proposal B?
  9. Mike was like “Wow! That was very cool!”
  10. Stacy was grabbing her things and heading out west to Oregon.

 

EXERCISE III. Here’s A.J. Collins, a 30 year old who is very disgruntled because of a proposal to build a shopping mall in his neighborhood. This proposal would cut his neighborhood into two and create an adverse effect on his business, which was passed down to him by his father. He has never written a business letter before, and his English is only good enough small talk. Nevertheless, he has formulated a rough draft and has asked you to rewrite it, eliminating any “fill-ins” that you see and ensuring that it is within the context. Good luck! 🙂  

 

RE: Proposed Shopping Center next to our village

 Dear Mr. Burleson,

I am writing to you because you are proposing to replace my tavern and surrounding neighborhood with a shopping center and interstate highway, which is going to really destroy it and well, destroy the environment very much. I have a few things that I want to talk to you about, which are very important and so I decided to write you this letter.

Well, I know that the shopping center will get more shoppers and provide more things for them and it would get more money for the city. However, I have a problem with people wanting to destroy old places with stuff that no one needs. In the past, we were a community that was very old but had a lot of things that made us very proud. We had a really old water tower, a very big dance hall, which we had a lot of cool gothic stuff on it. We had an old but very cool bridge that we went fishing for like everything while we were children. Now all of these things are gone and replaced with stuff that we don’t need, like an interstate highway, a Whatchamacallit museum which has a souvenir store selling Indian stuff, and that big thing that holds football games there, which has a huge parking lot that is half full. I don’t understand why you want to destroy our tavern and neighborhood for new stuff, when you can get the people to come here and enjoy the meaning of life of an old but very neat village.

So, to end this letter, I hope you can straighten things out and rethink the idea of the shopping mall. After all, we have enough stuff here and the people in my neighbor have enough things and really don’t want to have a concrete building, which is ugly and consists of a Thingamebob of a name Tavener Mall, which is the last thing we need. We can get money through our business alone. We don’t need more stuff, when we don’t need it.

Thank you for your time and have a nice day.

Sincerely,

A.J. Collins

EXERCISE IV:  Apart from what is mentioned, what other fillers and stop-gaps can you find in the English language? Find five more to add to your vocabulary list, look for the definitions and present at least one example sentence per word. Be prepared to share your five with your neighbor(s). Good luck! 🙂

 

EXERCISE V: WRITING AND SPEECH.  Choose two of the following pictures below. With one, write an essay about it, using your creative mind and telling a story about it. With the other, make a presentation following the same procedure. While in the first it must be done while avoiding the use of fillers and stop-gaps, in the second, you should construct two different speeches- one with and one without fillers and stop-gaps. Can you tell the difference here? If not, have your neighbor(s) listen to you.

 

Author’s Note: This worksheet is in connection with the questionnaire that was conducted a month ago, which you can click here to see the results. Basically, the results reveal that words mentioned here in this worksheet are more likely to be considered fillers or stop-gaps because of their excessive usage. The lone exceptions are that, which and item. However, one linguist found 297 of these expressions one shouldavoid using. A link to his guide can be found here. Despite the findings, there are many more words and expressions out there that are becoming informal because of their use in the context. These are just a handful that are use the most in English. The best advice is to pay attention to the words are being used and ask yourselves the following questions:

  1. Are they used appropriately if looking at it from the formal standpoint?
  2. Are there alternative words and expressions to replace them? 

As a rule, if they are replaceable and used in informal settings, such as a typical conversation or in slang, then the expressions are considered informal and are thus fillers or stop-gaps. If not, then it is OK to use in formal settings, such as in academia or in business or technical settings.  🙂

 

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A Tribute to Robin Williams

Author’s Note: This is a throwback article going back to 2014, when the world lost one of the best comedians in the business, Robin Williams. He was a great figure for people of all generations and from all aspects of life. This article comes with a small addition at the end.  

Somewhere on the beaches of Travemünde (in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein), where kite-flying is one of the most popular sports to find along the Baltic Sea, traces of Robin Williams will be found, either in a form of kites, or the sound of the radio with his voice on there, doing his finest impersonations, and making people very happy, laughing all day and making their day.   Yet the news of Mork being found dead in his home in California, breaking Mindy’s heart is not typical of the comedian. In fact, we are all speechless, trying to find answers as to why he left so soon- at a young age of 63, but many miles to go in his career.

Leonard Nimoy once coined his famous term while saving Krusty the Clown from jumping off the Monorail in the Simpsons (in 1998): The World needs laughter.  Logically speaking, yes- in dark times as well as in the age of euphoria, we do need some laughter to make our day. Robin ensured that we would receive it, either as an actor, a stand-up comedian, or anything that is Hollywood-related.

Yet as we pay our respects to the greatest comedian with many faces, it makes me wonder if Robin had not been not a comedian or an actor, how he would have fared out in other professions. After all, as some people become greats in their careers, others keep looking for the right fit, even in their 50s. I dug out some examples of alternative careers that one could see Robin playing a role in, in real life. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Doctor:  An apple a day can keep the doctor away. Yet if it is imminent, a doctor visit can chase the sickness away.  Especially for children and the elderly, doctors can cheer them up and just be plain funny, as is seen in the clip from the film, Patch Adams. Robin played the medical student doing his internship at a hospital, despite having been in a mental institute for depression at the beginning of the film. Based on a true story, the actor showed that you can (and should) have a little bit of humor when treating patients, as happiness and humor go hand-in-hand in treating and curing (almost) all illnesses. Perhaps he would have done the same as a doctor, which if it was the case, he would have been honored in a film bearing his name: Dr. Rob, or Dr. Willie, or something like that.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byPJ22JDFjI#sthash.LKivEsMU.dpuf

Radio Talk Show:  Closer to his role would have been a talk show host on radio. Of all the radio talk shows that exist, any show with his name on there would rake in more viewers than the Jay Leno, Rachel Madow,  David Letterman, and Rush Limbaugh shows combined. Why? No biases, no bashing celebrities. Just some humor, turning any current event scenes into something worth laughing at while driving. Jokes and impersonations of celebrities would belong to what would have been a masterpiece, had he gone into radio instead of acting. Example would be in Good Morning, Vietnam, where Williams played a radio DJ for a station in Saigon, starting off with Goooooooooooooood Mooooooooooooooooooooorning Vietnam! The best scenes from the film can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Erf2iFHG44M#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

PoliticianRonald Reagan would not have had a prayer in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections. George W. Bush just would not get it in 2000 and 2004.  Sarah Palin would have been taken to the cleaners for reading her script in the Vice Presidential TV debate in 2008. Mitt Romney’s pleas for a “Return to Normalcy under Bush” would have fallen on deaf ears, had Robin Williams ran for political office, even as President, and won in the process by a landslide. It would have kept every viewer glued to the One-eyed Monster 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the social networks would have been blooming with likes and comments. Yet, as history serves itself, a promise needs to bring practice, as was seen with previous actors who ran for political office- most notably, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet the results of Williams’ run would have been more than marginal, as seen in his political satire presented by the likes of Monty Python in the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW2jSLuHlz4#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 Cook/Au Pair: I used to work for a restaurant in Iowa while in college and was taught the golden rule of food service: Always make the customer happy, no matter what. These words came from the owner who had gotten his lesson from his father, who had owned a restaurant in Minnesota for over 50 years before retiring in 2008. Could you have imagined Williams working in the restaurant business, or even as au pair had he not gone into showbusiness? Look at this scene and decide for yourself. As the father of the restaurant in Minnesota died two weeks ago and was honored yesterday for his service, I’m sure he and Williams will get along in the business in Heaven:

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAp8j4c2LGs#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

Teacher/Professor:  Like in the doctor role, Robin would have been honored by Hollywood in a film bearing his name, had he decided to become a professor or a teacher. Speaking from experience, a teacher has to be creative, flexible, funny and a person who provides food for thought in order to become a great and have people follow you. This was what he did, playing the role of Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, winning the hearts of his students of literature at a private college in the northeast of the US. Yet in all reality, being a professor and having such liberal thoughts, using the logo Carpe Diem to encourage students to be successful, may not be to the liking of some (conservative) universities, but to others, they would embrace him and his work in (yes, definitely imagineable), literature. Here is an example of his barbaric yawp in Dead Poet’s Society, where the Captain shows the students for the first time, the meaning of life in literature:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec8FOZvcPVM#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

Diplomat:  Can you imagine Robin Williams as a diplomat? If you look at a scene where Mork meets Fonz, one could say, yes. Diplomats are open-minded to different customs from different regions, willing to trade values and learn from one another. Had Williams been an ambassador to the United Nations or a US Ambassador, he would have found very successful ways to breaking down barriers, taming countries out of control and even coming up with universal solutions that everyone would have been happy with. Sometimes a smooth and good-humored person bringing a certain sort of magic to Geneva and New York makes meeting international diplomats more enjoyable and entertaining, right?

Clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHWXAJhmvyU#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

We will never know which alternative role he would have taken, had he decided on calling it quits. But maybe he did not need to do that, as he made so many people laugh and made a difference in millions of lives. He helped out many who wished to become comedians and actors, yet with his passing, it will definitely be difficult to fill in his shoes, if not impossible. We will never know why Robin Williams left us so soon, as we learned a great deal from him, growing up, watching Mork and Mindy, as well as his films. As a teacher I sometimes refer to his films for guidance and ideas for classes. Others have done the same for their purposes. In either case, he will never know how many of us miss him, or let alone, as drive into the sunset, how many radio shows will play the best of him from his many films that will still continue to play in theaters. He is the man that cannot replaced.

Both the Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to say thank you to Robin Williams for his work and to his family and friends for making him one of a kind. He will be sorely missed but not forgotten.

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