What is an American Dream? Does it really exist?

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This first article is the first of many to come as I embark on a road trip with my wife and daughter and try and answer the question of whether the American Dream still exists or if it is just a faded memory. The idea of a journal had several stories to go along with that. We’ll start off with my absence from the country. On our last visit in 2015, it was during the era of President Barack Obama and despite the States’ best relations with Germany, Europe and the allies, combined with a sound economy and low unemployment, the country was stuck with inner-strife both on social and political levels. Fast forward to this year, and we see a different environment. America is isolating itself, the conflicts have exacerbated and it feels like the country is on the verge of a civil war similar to what happened in Spain. Yet there has to be some bright sides to what is going on, right? That’s why I’m embarking on that journey to understand the logic of my (still) fellow countrymen from an outsider’s point of view and show the readers what I saw.

Another idea came from a presentation a former student colleague did for her student-teaching in Saxony a year ago. She wanted to know from me what the definition of the American Dream is and whether it exists. She teaches English and Geography on the high school level. And while this essay was based on my discussion with her on that topic, I’m hoping that my journey to Trump’s America will provide some light on some topics of concern, which includes our encounters with locals, discussions with family and friends and just simply looking at the landscape for people to see and better understand. And for me, as an American expat having resided in Germany for nearly 20 years, to understand.

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So without further ado, the first entry here starts with this question:

What is an American Dream? Does it really exist?

 

This is one question that is really broad because of different success stories from people with different backgrounds, plus how it has developed since 1945. If one wants a very simple definition of the American Dream, it would be the strive for personal success, which means people grow up in a traditional family with siblings and two cars, who usually go to church on Sundays, involve themselves in extra-curricular activities in school to find their fame,  find their sweetheart in high school whom they later marry, graduate and either go to college or take up a profession, and then repeat the cycle over and over again. But if I was to go by that definition, it would be similar to the question about freedom in America, which was discussed in an episode of Newsstory a few years ago and by today’s standards, the term of American Dream would be considered naive at best.

 A link to a review I did a couple years ago is enclosed here:

 https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/genre-of-the-week-america-is-not-the-greatest-nation-on-the-face-of-the-earth-any-more-the-newsroom/

  

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the success of the American Dream has not only been based on the materials they possess- be it clothing, cars, music they listen to, movies they watch and friends they have, but also based on the haves, have nots, used to haves, wished they had, wished they would’ve hads, etc., and I’ve seen that the success of the Dream has veered away from striving to become successful as a person to the strive to be associated with a certain group as a way of having a sense of belonging. This especially includes political affiliations for if you are a member of one political party, you alienate the others who are in the other party. If you don’t make the right amount of money to keep up with the Joneses, you are looked down upon as trash. If you cannot conform to the neighborhood, the neighbors will make sure you do with force.  And if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve to be in heaven. All of these senses of belongings started creeping up in the 1990s and have dominated the American scene ever since, especially since September 11, 2001 with the attacks on Washington and New York, which resulted in the lives of 3300 people being lost. Especially when we look at the key elements of money and power, religion and politics they have dominated the dinner tables and classrooms in the States and have destroyed families, marriages and even friendships because whatever opinion you might have, your own individual ideas and thoughts, don’t matter to the others because that’s not what they want in life. If you ask whether the American Dream still exists today as it was 25, 40, or even 50 years ago, in its original form, it no longer does because today’s American is raised to belong instead of raised to be individually successful. And if people look at you differently, they will make note of that either in person or through social media. 

 

Link: https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/genre-of-the-week-are-you-lost-in-the-world-like-me-by-steve-cutts-and-moby/

 I’m actually happy that social networking never existed during my days in school because  it would never have allowed me to be successful as a person because I was different from most people. I was raised poor with my parents having job-hopped during my time growing up. My father was a teacher before he became a robotics technician by the time I was in my last year in high school. My mom worked in many fields before settling down as a massage therapist and worked with people with developmental disabilities. The community in Minnesota I grew up in, had their typical American status quos where the baby-boomers and the war-generations had established themselves and it was expected that their kids were to follow their footsteps. If they fail or try and veer off in their own direction, they are looked down upon. This happened to me because of my dad’s father (my grandfather) being a successful American football player and sheriff of the county. Since my dad failed to live up to the family name, he tried to get me to make up for that, especially with American football. Didn’t work. The sport wasted my time and I wanted to spend time with other people, travel and take photos, bike and just be me.  I had my own dream of becoming either a teacher or civil engineer and not having much “materialistic” items in the house got me to being creative with things from the nature when growing up. Despite all the bullying and peer pressure I got from my family and peers in school, I somehow bucked the trend and showed others that I could be better than others in things that are not mainstream and require pressure and boos from fans.  But that was with direct confrontation and not what students are doing in school with facebook, twitter and other means of e-communication. Had that piece of media existed, I don’t know what would’ve become of me, to put it diplomatically speaking.

 After high school, I followed the trend in going to college and collecting some very valuable experience, especially through travel and photography, but also through social work. Yet my breakthrough came when I met my college sweetheart who was from Germany and was doing her exchange program at my college. After she left I took her advice and went abroad- something that was absent in the American Dream, if looking at it from a naive person’s perspective- because a true American never lives abroad as everything he/she wants to have is in the States. However there are some like me who beg to differ and wanted to try something new, and learn new cultures, something that would make me a universalist like Emma Watson. To this day I have no regrets taking that step because I knew that I wanted to explore new places and try new things. It was at that time where I started my career as a teacher, something that I still enjoy as much as I do with writing. 

But looking at the American Dream from a universalist perspective, and also from a modernist’s perspective, we see five different strands of Americans fulfilling their dreams:

 

  1. The traditionalist role- following the footsteps of the forefathers by striving for a career, having a house and family and fulfilling the duties of going to church and engaging in social events in their own circles. The majority of people, esp. in rural areas still have this role even though the numbers are decreasing.

 

  1. The universalist role- these are people who don’t follow the American Dream and are wanderers, looking for adventure until they settle down somewhere outside their home. This where I fit in. Ironically, two other classmates of mine are in that boat too, as they have been living in Germany since 2014.

 Link:

 https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/americans-in-germany-2-hometown-locals-part-i/  (This has two parts)

  

  1. The disadvantaged role- these are people who struggle to make a living because of adverse conditions, such as long-term unemployment, abuse, discrimmination and other social issues. Sadly this applies for over 65% of the American population and affecting all race. This also applies to the undereducated who are also ignorant.

  

  1. The experimental role- these are people who instead of following the traditional role, they discover themselves through the creation of alternative lifestyles-regardless of whether they adopted them or created them. This also includes homosexuality, feminism, aethesism and the like. Basically it’s individual preference. These people usually don’t experiment with things from other countries so they don’t do much travelling outside the States unless they are doing it for a cause.

 

  1. The multicultural role- these are people who used to lead the American Dream until they decided to travel for a while and see new cultures before they return home to share with others. I had one classmate who did just that, having left Minnesota for five states, three countries including Germany and then resettling in the States. Only a few of these kinds you will find in the country today

 

But the categories are not completely etched in stone as there are some outliers that have made it successfully despite having come from broken households. This applies to several players in the NFL and NBA who have come from that category but found their way to success, despite having still face adversity because of their skin color. Michael Oher (the film The Blindside) is the poster boy for this rags to riches category that still exists but the numbers have dwindled over the years. We also have some who followed the traditionalist line as a child but veered off to become a rebel and hippie, putting them into categories 2,4 and 5. That number has increased over the years because of their tiredness of being controlled by their parents regarding every step they take.

 To summarize the debate and clear up the matter, the American Dream still exists today but definitely not in the form it used to be. And despite Donald Trump’s feeble attempts to right the country into that traditional role- which will never happen because he has been a symbol for dividing the country into the neo-right vs. neo-left (a recipe for a civil war similar to what happened in Spain in the 1930s)- the American Dream has branched off into several segments, each of which has its own ways of struggling to establish a foundation which families can thrive on, and each of them are so different that they can never get along unless they find one common ground that could destroy the US, such as climate change and all the fighting that has come from it. If they could at least look at the issues that threaten the existence of the American Dream in any way, shape or form and tackle them together without the use of religion, politics and other items dividing the country, then we can maintain this Dream for generations to come. Otherwise if they don’t, we won’t have much left of the US by the time our children reach our ages. And with my daughter closing in on the 10 mark at the time of this post, time is running short to make that change.

 And from my experience, even if I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations as well as successes, if there is one thing we can learn from it, it is this: There is a thing called TEAM. Not like in German, where we have the Toll, Eine Andere Machts (I even witnessed that with our group presentation in Novels and Films with Volkmann a couple years ago), but this one I learned from football: Together, Everyone Accomplishes More.  We just have to allow for others to develop their talents and utilize them to help others. 

May the journey to find the good to turn things around begin. To be continued…..

Fl Fi USA

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Historic Structures and Glasses: Restore vs. Replacement in Simpler Terms

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Co-written with sister column, bhc-logo-newest1

The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site.  This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.

Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.

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Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.

Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.

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The author’s sunglasses: the older model from 2005 on top; the newest pair from 2018 at the bottom.

Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.

In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.

So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches.  The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name.  The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside.  As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?

There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled.  More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.

And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of  these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.

The Bridge at Pointer’s Ridge. Built in 1910 by the Western Bridge Company of Omaha, NE. The Big Sioux River crossing was one of five bridges removed after years of abandonment in 2012. Photo taken in 1999 when it was still open.

One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980.  At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since.  A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle

This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument?  Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or  flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care.  The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.

Big Sioux River Crossing at 255th Street: One of five bridges removed in 2012 after decades of abandonment. Photo taken in 1999.

For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house.  Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that.  Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.

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In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.

To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.

The Bridge at Iverson Crossing south of Sioux Falls. Built in 1897, added to the National Register in 1996. Now privately owned. Photo taken in 1998.

We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.

 

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Living in a World they didn’t make, by Janet Jackson

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Our next Genre of the Week focuses on gun violence and takes us back to 1989. It was at that time that one of the members of the Jackson family released a powerful album containing songs that focused on social aspects. Janet Jackson started her career with the rest of her siblings in 1973, yet went solo in 1986 with her first solo album (and third overall), Control.  Her breakthrough came with Rhythm Nation 1814, which was released in 1989 and won six platinums, garnered 12 million Dollars in sales and made it all the way to number 1. on the Bilboard charts in the US. It was the first album where songs reached number 1 in the Top 40 Charts for three straight years, and it was the first where seven songs made it to the Top 100.  It is considered one of the most iconic pop music albums in history, with a mixture of rhythm and dance but also some slow dances. The album focused not only on themes of love and dance, but also social issues, which included drug use, domestic dispute, violence,…..

and guns.

While Janet managed to get seven songs into the Top 100, this song deserves to win the Flensburg Files Genre of the Week, even if the song was produced almost 30 years ago. Entitled Living in the World They Didn’t Make, Janet takes us to a school where memories are left over after a shooting incident that happens on school grounds. Children playing on the playground- gone. Teachers helping other- gone. Neighborhoods and families- shattered. All of these ring a bell to the problem with gun violence and the school shootings that have plagued the US as of late. While some have refused to talk about it, when looking at the March on Washington that happened on 24th of March, the theme of gun laws, school violence and issues that have led to people taking it out with the guns have been brought forward to those who want to see change and will not rest until it happens, regardless of who is representing each state in Congress and is running the country at the White House.

Gun violence was the issue upon the song’s release and is still the issue to this day. Listen to the song and ask yourselves, how can we put an end to this madness without having the teacher march around with a machine gun in the classroom.

This Genre of the Week song is for the kids at Parkland who took courageous steps and brought this up front and personal on Capitol Hill. Keep strong, be stronger. Eventually those who resisted will listen or cave in. You will have it your way soon. ❤ 🙂

 

Fl Fi USA

Volkswagen: The Wagon of Vikings- Or Was It Vagen for Women? The Tongue Twister Guide to the V and W Words in English

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Vince and Vance went with the Volkswagen Van west to Las Vegas. Vince is from Wiesbaden and Vance is from Wernersgrün. They both have fathers named Werner and they both enjoy Weizenbier (Wheat beer).

Looking at this sentence, how would you pronounce these words? Chances are, regardless of where you are coming from, you are pronouncing at least some of the words wrong. If you are a native speaker of English, chances are you are pronouncing the German words with a W when even though they start with a W, they sound like a V. This puts Wernersgrün, Werner, Weizenbier and Wiesbaden in the line of fire. Yet if you are a non-native speaker of English, be it German, Russian, Arabic, or eastern European, chances are that you are pronouncing the V-words like they are W. This is where Vince, Vance and Vegas fall into that unfortunate trap. Furthermore, especially in Germany, some words that start with W are pronounced with V. Apart from west and wheat in this example, other words that fall into the crossfire include wake, watch and wear.

To keep it straight, as well as short and to the point, the Vs and Ws are always mixed up! 😦  Aside from the TH-words, the VW words are one of the most difficult pronunciations in the English language for that particular reason. Another reason behind it is the way they are spoken, something where Ronnie in this video has an easy way to explain the difference between V and W words:

And while she views W-words as words spoken of a true kisser from the Czech Republic and V-words like a two-eared bunny rabbit saying “FUCK!” when spotted by a vulture, here’s another easy way to explain the difference between the VW words.

With the V-sound, it has a close relationship with the F-words, meaning air is constructed from the top part of the mouth. The difference between the F and V is the length as the V-words are longer and most of the time voiced consonants. The F-words are shorter and mostly voiceless.

As for the W-words, apart from forming that short O in the mouth and then widening it in length, one can refer to the Seven-Ws in terms of question form, meaning the Who, What, When, Where, Why, Which and How. With the exception of Who and whose (since the W there are silent), the rest follow this kissing Czech concept. This is also regardless of whether the W-words stand out alone or if a consonant is added to the W.

This takes us to the Tongue-Twister exercise featuring the uses of V and W words. Homemade by the author, it was divided up into the V-category, the W-category and the mixed category. If you can master the first two, then you should be able to master the third one easily. 🙂 A video is enclosed at the end of the article to provide you with reference on how they are pronounced in case you need assistance. 🙂

So without further ado, away with you in your Volkswagen and be vicious, vivacious and victorious with these examples! 😉  Good luck! 🙂

V-category:

V/F:

Vincent went to Fargo with Fred to visit his friend Vance, who owns a Volkswagen five-some conversion van. Fred is fat from feasting on fawn while Vincent is invincible for being Vice President of the Federation for the Advancement of Unforgivable Follies. Vince and Vance are Friends for forty-four years, while Fred is friends with Faye for fourteen fortnights.

 

V:

The Virgins value the Vikings.

The Vikings value the Vegans.

The Vegans value the Vegetarians.

The Vegetarians value the Viceroys.

The Viceroys value the Vocalists,

While the Vocalists avenged the Viceroys with Viagra.

 

W-Category:

W:

Where was Wally Worthington when we wanted him? Wally Worthington was one writer who won twenty wonderful awards for his work, while his wisdom we want, for Wally wants to whistle a wonderful, unwavering work with a whippoorwill.  But Wally Worthington will walk with a wild woman to Willy Wonker’s white and wealthy, western restaurant. Why? Wally and the wild woman want to eat a whoopee cushion.

 

TW:

Twelve twiddling twins tweeted Mark Twain on Twitter with twenty tweezers and with twelve twitches. The twisted twins tweeted that Twain twined twenty tunes about twinberries and twinflowers, twisting and twittering in a Twinkie. Twain twinkles a Twinkie in the Twilight and twists and twirls with the twins.

 

SW/W:

There was a Swiss doing Swan Lake wearing her Swatch Watch on her wrist. She swaddled in the water and met Katharina Witt, who swiped the Swatch Watch swished it into a weaved swivel with White Washington underwear. Where was Washington who wore white underwear? Underwater with Winona Ryder.

 

TW/SW/W:

Twelve twisted witches were swimming with the wind, when we witnessed twenty twisted wolves, who were witty wonders of the world. The wolves were weeping with wiseguys who wore woolen sweaters weaved by sweating workers twiddling with white whisks, swearing with white wisdom teeth, while the twelve twisted witches swirled with their sweethearts, switching their swords with words.

 

Mixed Category:

V/W:

Waking in Vegas, William walked to Vincent with a victorious whistle, wondering why Warren visited Vanessa while wrestling with Vegas Wally Vanderworth, the world wrestler with wonderful vicious wild faces which wants William to wail him one.

 

V/W:

Wayne Von Western ventured with Victoria Wallace with a Volkswagen Van with four wheels to western Washington. Wayne and Victoria were whistling various vivacious songs about a white Hoover vacuum cleaner with various vinyl vibrating hoses with wax which Viviane and the Women Vikings whacked with a vulture.

 

 

V/W:

Virginia with a wonderful voice, ventured with Vivi in a Volkswagen onto Venice with Winnie to voice their vengeance with world-renowned vocalists Vincent Wallingford who videotaped with Werner and Verne their voices for Weight Watchers.

 

V/W:

Victory was wonderful. Winning was victorious. Women were invincible. Vikings were whipped, while Vince and Vance vacated the white Woolworth and went with the Volkswagen to Vegas.

 

Here’s the video where you can listen to the tongue twisters, some of which even the author stumbled during the recording……. 😉

 

 

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Blacksmithing Words with TH: Mr. Smith’s Guide in using TH-words in English

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When I first came to Germany in 1999, one of the main struggles I saw and even witnessed myself in learning a foreign language was the way words were pronounced. In particular, words in English that have TH in them happen to be a struggle among Germans and other foreigners whose native language is not English. The classic example I can pull out straight away was the problem pronouncing my last name, Smith. Even though Smith is one of the top three most popular family names in the world (along with Johnson and Brown), non-native people had a lot of difficulties pronouncing my last name. Instead of Smith (where the tongue is nudged behind the lower teeth partially blocking air flow), my last name was pronounced as the following:

Smizzzz, Schmiet, Smit, Schmizz, Smis (like Swiss Miss) and Smif (like Smurf).  Funny, isn’t it. 😉  Furthermore, many insisted that my last name should be Schmidt instead of Smith.  Sorry to disappoint you, but we have a lot of Schmidt in the US and Canada, plus a beer bearing that name (which comes from my homestate of Minnesota) 🙂 :

To put it bluntly, the name is SMITH! Even more so because we have several words, whose ending is the same as my last name.

Words with TH are indeed the most difficult to pronounce in the English language- just like with the German CH, Z and all the vowels with the two dots on there. This has to do with the fact that we have two different types of TH pronunciation: the voiced (which sounds like a bee buzzing behind your teeth) and the voiceless, which produced a slight steaming sound with the tongue behind your teeth. A video below better explains how the voiced and voiceless TH’es work from a phonetical point of view:

Also important to note from a historian’s perspective that nearly every second word used during the Middle Ages had TH in there, but mostly at the beginning or end of each word, such as doth, hath, thou, cometh, etc. Many of these words over time have been transformed to the ones we use in our modern time, which meant the THes were dropped. Yet even though we’ll find our TH-words in one out of ten sentences, they are there for people to use, even though practicing can be a torture, which brings up this Tongue Twister activity.  Consisting of both the video and the sentences to practice, this activity will give you amples of opportunities to work with the TH-words so that you not only know how the TH-words are pronounced but also give you the confidence needed to say them properly.

You could say that producing TH-words is like blacksmithing: you work with it until you have the right form to use. 😉

It is highly recommended to watch the video to see how the TH-words are spoken before practicing. Yet how you implement them in class or practice them in groups or at home individually depends on you, the person who wants to handle this rather difficult part of English phonetics.

So enjoy and may the TH be with you. 🙂

 

Something in a thirty-acre thermal thicket of thorns and thistles thumped and thundered threatening the three-D thoughts of Matthew the thug- although, theatrically, it was only the thirteen-thousand thistles and thorns through the underneath of his thigh that the thirty-year old thug thought of that morning.

 

There was a mammoth with the name of Thurman, who thrives in Gotha, Thuringia. The sloth slithers through at three in the morning to slither to Thorn’s thermal threading company in Furth, threading thermalware for thirty thoughtless worthless months for thirty-three Euros a month. Through thirteen months and thirty days, this mammoth threads strings from moths and makes thermal underwear. Thurman is happy.

 

Three Catholic athletes bathe in clothes in a bathtub. The thirty-somethings thoroughly thought something that’s thick through their teeths. Through their theory they thought about thieves, thugs, theocrats and heart-throbbers that thrive through their three-thousand thirty-three throwaway thermos cloth, and loath thirty times a month.

 

Thou hath throweth thy health through thy wrath with thy thick thighbone. Theoretically cometh death onto thee though Beth Smith hath saveth thy life through warmth smooth hearth.

 

The South Path is thin. The North Thruway is thick. Through thousands of thinkers, sleuths, telepaths, sociopaths and youths, badmouthing and thrashing over vermouth for the umpteenth time, is the South Path thick and the North Thruway filthy.

 

Beth’s with Ruth. Theodore’s with Faith. They’re thinking ethics. They’re thinking theology. They’re thinking myths. They’re thinking with vermouth with a twist.

 

The Moth is on meth. The moth does math. The moth thaws myths and thus they’re through with this.

 

There are thousands Smiths on Earth. The twentieth blacksmith with the thirtieth locksmith with the fortieth gunsmith with the fiftieth silversmith with the sixtieth goldsmith with the seventieth tunesmith with the eightieth coppersmith with the ninetieth songsmith with the hundredth whitesmith. Smiths ends with z, while one smith has TH.

 

Author’s note: These tongue twister stories are homemade, by the way. 😉  Feel free to add more to this list if you have some more. 🙂

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In School in Germany: Picture Games

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To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

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Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

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It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………   

 

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It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

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Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This At Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 ❤

Thanks, Paul!

 

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