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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Germany Quiz 8: Saxony Part I: How to Speak Sächsisch

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Sächsisch Deutsch is probably the most local of regional dialects in Germany. Consisting of a mixture of dialects from the regions of Lausitz, Vogtland, Franconia and the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), people living in Saxony use this dialect with stresses on the short A and long O for vowels as well as consonant sounds mainly of sch, g, k and b. When compared with the high German, it’s like speaking a completely different language, like one sees with the Low German,  Franconian German, local Bavarian and even some northern German dialects in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Some like Franz Xaver Kroetz find this dialect somewhat fremdschämend (embarassing):

 Dialekt ist die Unterwäsche des Menschen, Hochdeutsch ist die Konfektion, die er darüber trägt. (EN: Dialects are like underwear, high German is the ready-made clothing a person wears)

or when they love to chat with one another:

Der Sachse hält nich de Gusche (Mund).  (EN: The Sachse never shut up)

However, like all the dialects, the Sächsisch des have some bright spots, apart from winning the hearts of a local woman in a village in the Ore Mountains or Vogtland region. Especially if you are a miner in the mountains along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Lichtenstein, a yodeler in Little Switzerland south of Dresden or even a farmer in the green valley near Glauchau, if you can sing the Sachsenlied, as written by Jürgen Hart, you can expect a bouquet of wild flowers and a mug of local beer from an admireress to go along with the chisel and hard hat  😉 :

Der Sachse liebt das Reisen sehr. Nu nee, ni das in’n Gnochen;drum fährt er gerne hin und her in sein’n drei Urlaubswochen.Bis nunderhinunter nach BulgarchenBulgarien, im Ostblocksystem war das bereits eine Weltreise dud er die Welt beschnarchen.Und sin de GofferKoffer noch so schwer, und sin se voll, de ZücheZüge,und isses Essen nich weit her: Des gennt er zur Genüche!Der Sachse dud nich gnietschennörgeln, quängeln, der Sachse singt ‘n Liedschen!  (!: Click here for the entire song and below to listen to the melody sung by him 🙂 )

 

Either way you interpret it, Sächsisch Deutsch is the most local of all German dialects and one where if you have a dictionary, CD on how to learn it and (for the men), a beautiful local woman to teach you the language, you will open the doors to its local pride and heritage. And even if you have a partner from another part of Germany, Europe or elsewhere, having an opportunity to listen in on the locals will help you get a grasp of the language and perhaps open up new business ties with them, as they hold a treasure of inventions and patents of products we still use today.

As part of the series on German states and the quizzes and concentrating on Saxony itself, the Files has comprised a quiz, testing your knowledge of Sächsisch Deutsch and teaching you the tricks of the language, with the exception of the first part, all of the tasks consist of multiple choice questions, so you have at least a one in three chance of getting the answer right. The answer sheet will come in May.

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So without further ado,  😉

Activity 1:

The following words are written in Sächsisch German. Find the equivalents in high German and English. The first 10 are quite easy to find, yet the last 10 has a hint given in one of the two languages. 

 

Sächsisch Hochdeutsch English
Fläscher
Radscho
Bargblad
Gliewärmel
Daschendicher
Biordäggl
Nachellagg
Breedschen
Beefschdeeg
Glemdnor
Lorke Dünner Kaffee
Reformande Strafpredigt
Dreiche Dry
Blembe Weak soup
Bliemchen (-kaffee) Ersatzkaffee
Kääbsch Picky (eater)
Iezch Angry
Motschgiebchen Marinekäfer
Quatschen Shooting the breeze (oral)
Rumbläken Herumschreien

 

Activity 2.

In your honest opinion, what is the Sächsisch equivalent to the following cities in Saxony. Mark the best answer. In some cases, none of the answers apply and therefore, you need to choose other and write it in (and also mention in the Comment section here)

 

  1. Zwickau (Saxony)     a. Twigge    b. Zwigge      c. Zwick          d. Zwish

 

  1. Leipzig     a. Leice       b. Liken          c. Leib            d. Leibz’sch

 

  1. Dresden    a. Dräsd’n       b. Driez      c. Drisch         d. Dreeb

 

  1. Chemnitz      a.Chemmik      b. Gemmnidz       c. Gemmit        d. Dammit

 

  1. Plauen     a. Plowing      b. Plaue     c. Plau         d. Plau`n    e. Other ________________

 

  1. Mylau   a. Mi-low    b. Meow        c. Moolah       d. Meela     e. Other __________________

 

  1. Bautzen    a. Pausen       b. Other ____________  c. Bauz’n         d. Baussen

 

  1. Meissen   a. Mice      b. Miken              c. Maise          d. Mei’ sn    e. Other ______________

 

Activity 3.

Now look at the pictures and choose the best of the three words in Sächsisch German and identify the English meaning. 

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a. Pieramidgerzen      b. Bieramidngärdse     c. Booramidskärze      EN:

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a. Bleedma      b. Duummann    c. Blodmama        EN:

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a. Seegeboot      b. Sähschelboud     c. Sälhboot      EN:

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a. Chim-Cheroo      b. Feierrübel     c. Firebookman         EN:

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a. Pomguberschbärde     b. Geeschma     c. Gombschudoreggsbärde      EN:

Now that you have an idea how Sächsisch can be spoken, we will move onto the Quiz on Saxony itself, but not before listening to a pair of songs in Sächsisch- one of which by German comedian, Rainald Grebe.

Viel Spaß und los gehs oufz Dai’l zwee! 😉

 

 

AND NOW TO PART II, WHERE WE GET TO KNOW THE STATE BETTER. CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE QUIZ! 🙂

 

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The Day When the Temperature Went Under Zero

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Prepositions. They can serve as a compliment to an adjective or verb, yet with over three dozen of them in the English language (more in German and other languages), they can be a nuisance as the meaning and usage of them are sometimes confusing, especially when a person learning English as a foreign language wants to know the equivalent in the native tongue. Sometimes there are pairs of prepositions, which mean the same in general but are used for different purposes, such as over and above, through and via, ….

or this one: under and below.

While both prepositions mean anything below average, below the line or even below zero, one deals with moving down towards and beyond the threshold- which is under- while the other stays under the threshold- below.

For example, one can say “I went under water” or “I crawled under the bed”, for movement and “The sunken ship is 300 meters below sea level”, or “The neighbors living below us are noisy”, to describe something stationary and still. Yet, can we make the difference with the thermometer?

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As a general rule, a temperature can be below zero or a certain degree because it implies that the mercury is constantly at this mark and cannot move at a fast pace. This is independent of the real air temperature which can be warmer or colder, pending on the humidity and the dew point.  That means the temperature may be -1° Celsius (34° Fahrenheit), but can be warmer because of the high humidity and the sun, or colder because of the dry air, low humidity and the wind. Since the 1990s, the Real Feel Temperature Index has been using several factors to compare the temperature on the thermometer and how it feels on the person in reality, based on light, wind and moisture.

But can a temperature go under zero?

As a general rule, you cannot use under when you describe the temperature because the mercury is so slow that it would take many hours for it to fall. The same applies to over and above when describing the increase in temperature, which is why we use above only. However, as history presents itself, there are some exceptions to the rule.

If a student asks you (as a teacher) why we use below zero, instead of under zero, you can share him/her a pair of stories of how certain regions actually went under zero- in a very short time, during two very tragic events in the United States. Here they are in summary:

  1. November 11, 1911:   According to weather historian Jim Lee, a very strong cold front carrying first strong thunderstorms with rain and tornadoes, and afterwards sleet, snow and blizzard conditions struck the Central Plains region, causing temperatures to plummet by double digits within an hour. This included Springfield, Missouri, where temperatures dropped by as much as 40° F in 15 minutes. From 80°F (27° C) before this drammatic drop at 3:45pm, to 40° F (4° C) fifteen minutes later, to its bottoming-out low of 13° F (-11° C) by midnight, the city was one of over two dozen, whose record high and low temperatures were recorded on the same day, which included Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Over a dozen tornadoes followed by blizzards in this Great Blue Norther, caused over $3 million in damages- the heaviest hit areas were in the Ohio River valley, as well as in Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. 13 people lost their lives with over 50 people injured.
  1. November 11, 1940:  Known as the panhandle hook, this tragic  event reshaped the way forecasts are given. On this day, hundreds of people took the day off from work to go hunting for ducks and pheasants with temperatures in the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit (18-20° C), many of them were underdressed for the occasion. During the afternoon, the temperatures dropped dramatically to a point where by midnight, they were at or below 0°F (-20° C)!!! Many hunters were taken by surprised and tried to seek shelter from the cold, icy wind, combined with heavy snow and white-out conditions. Fifty degree drops were recorded in a region of over 1000 kilometers long, including states like Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, where 1-2 foot snowfall combined with 20 f00t (6 meter) drifts were recorded. Collegeville, Minnesota set a record for the most amount of snow in a storm with 27 inches (69 cm). 145 people perished in the snowfall, many of whom froze to death. 49 of the deaths were recorded in Minnesota, of which half of them froze to death. Rescue efforts by pilots Max Conrad and John Bean by locating stranded hunters and providing aid saved many lives. The storm resulted in changes in weather forecasting as 24-hour mandatory coverage and improved technology was later introduced, which is still in use today but with advanced technology.

These two events show that temperatures can go under zero if the mercury moves quicker than it should, even though in a grammatical sense, one should use below as it shows consistency on a longer termed basis. If your students ask why below is best used for temperatures below the mark instead of under, it is best to say that under is used for movement purposes but in quicker form and also on a temporary basis. It is unknown how (long) a mole can live and dig under the ground, but treasure and cellars can be found below the ground (level) because they are permanent. Yet when it comes to temperatures, especially after reading the examples of the storms that occurred on Veterans Day in the States, some exceptions do apply, although they very rarely happen. So use below zero instead of under zero unless you want to be that brave duck hunter wishing to hunt while in the snow. 😉

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An Interview with Fiona Pepper

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How difficult is it to understand the language of another person’s tongue?  This is something that many of us have dealt with, especially when traveling to/ in a foreign country. It is even more difficult when you are learning the language of the country you are living in, only to find that no one understands you because of the dialect and accent you use. Take German, for instance. Most of the non-native speakers of German speak high German, yet when communicating it with someone from a region with a different dialect, such as Mecklenburg-Pommerania (with its Plattdeutsch), Franconia in Bavaria, or even Schwabia in Baden-Wurrtemberg, they not only may not understand what you are saying. In fact, they may respond with their own dialect, which despite living in the country for many year, you may not be able to understand at all.

I have to admit, I was taken aback when my former boss at a German university, who had spent 12 years in Scotland, once told me that my American accent was too strange to understand, even though it is Chicago-style, the dialect that is considered high American English and spoken in the Midwest, where I originate (I’m a Minnesotan, by the way). An article about this subject can be found here.

 

But suppose our language is indeed strange to understand?

 

Last year, the Flensburg Files profiled a genre of the week entitled Skwerl, starring Karl Eccleson and Fiona Pepper, to show how a foreign language can be strange from an outsider’s point of view, featuring an activity for students learning English or any foreign language to try and decipher . Admittedly, as a teacher of English, I tried it with my students, only to find that there were many interpretations as to how the characters behaved toward each other in the five-minute skit. One of many questions the students had was what exactly happened in the story.

 

Well, I took a chance to find out for myself by interviewing Fiona Pepper. Absent from acting for two years and is now a radio broadcaster in Australia, Ms. Pepper took a few minutes of her time to answer some questions I had for her. For those who guessed that the couple would break up, you will be amazed as to what she mentions about Skwerl and and how a person can interpret the story from many angles.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Tell us about yourself: Why go from actress to radio host? How many years have you done both?

I studied acting at a well-respected Australian drama school called Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), I worked as an actor for around 6 years and during that time I was involved in the making of Skwerl. I’ve mainly worked in theatre as well as acting in some films and commercials. I’ve now been work in radio for around 2 years. I decided to study radio because I felt frustrated working as an actor and not feeling in control of my career trajectory. There are many parallels between radio and acting and really when it comes down to it radio is simply another form of story telling.

 

  1. How many (short) films had you made before making the career change to radio host?

I had been working as an actor for around 6 years before I moved into radio, I’m not sure of the exact amount of short films/ films I had made in that time.

 

  1. Skwerl was released in 2011 and your role was the woman who makes a special meal for the boyfriend (played by Karl Eccleson). Can you briefly describe the character and her changes in personality in the story?

The character is a mid 20’s woman who is in a serious relationship, she lives with her partner and in the film they have a disagreement over her partner’s decision not to attend her mother’s birthday. I think this is probably an ongoing disagreement that the pair have.

 

  1. Skwerl describes the way English can be perceived by non-native speakers, yet even from a native speaker’s point of view, up until the last two sentences in the clip, it seems a bit more Dutch with some local Australian in there (from my observation). Given that plus the script formulated by Fairbairn and Eccleson that I read, what language is spoken here?

We weren’t speaking a particular language, the words were all made up. In terms of where the words were derived from, I can’t be certain because I didn’t write the script but Karl speaks fluent German and French, so I’m sure when he and Brian were writing the script they would have been drawing from other languages.

 

  1. After trying this out with some students, here is the plot: A nice dinner ends up going down badly after the man forgets to do something; they both get into a fight; woman wants to break up with the man for his actions, takes the plates and runs into the kitchen, crying; man is very angry because of all the years of love and dedication with her; woman brings out a pineapple with candles on there and in the end, there’s silence with the two staring at each other. Am I right with this plot, or are there some important details missing?

To be honest, I don’t think we were particularly clear on the plot when we made the film, it is therefore very much open to interpretation. The films focus is obviously on language, so the actions of the film were fairly open ended. When it came to Karl and I defining the plot it was really just to help us try and somehow remember the dialogue.

 

  1. What’s the symbol behind the pineapple and the three candles?

Once again I didn’t write the film so I’m not exactly sure, I think the visual impact of the pineapples and candles were more of a focus then what they actually symbolized.

Author’s note: One of the points students and teachers have mentioned with the pineapple is the three candles where the candles represented the number of years the characters had been together and the pineapple represented the place where the two had met. However, this is open for other interpretations.

 

  1. By looking at the clip once more and from an outsider’s point of view, how strange is English?

I don’t think it’s just English, I think all language is strange from an outsider’s point of view.

 

To sum up the interview, what Ms. Pepper and the crew did with Skwerl is to present a dialog in a language unknown to any of us for two purposes: to interpret the scene but also to make a point that no matter what foreign language you are learning, it will become strange at first, especially when dealing with the different dialects and accents. It is more of the question of learning the language and all the tricks and tips involved. When that is done and you have mastered the language, it opens a new world, both big and small. Small because you can understand what the “natives” are saying, but big because learning a foreign language makes you more open to new things, as well as helps you foster your development as a human being with intellect and a diverse background.

This is something to think about, not just when you try this Skwerl exercise with your groups, but also when learning a foreign language or even a regional dialect in your own language.

To follow Ms. Pepper and her works as an Australian radio broadcaster and actress, please click here and enjoy all her documentaries. For her help in clarifying this interesting play, whose activities and genre profile you should click here to view, the Files has her thanks.

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

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Willow Creek Bridge in Mason City in the 1950s: New Bridge on the Left, Antique 1800s Bridge on the Right. Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Transportation

This article is co-produced with sister column, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in connection with a project being constructed.

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Stop-gaps. Each language has its set of stop-gap words that people use, either as a substitute for a word they were looking for (but couldn’t find it), or as a bridge in the conversation with the purpose of avoiding a pause and revealing their insecurities in communicating with other people. Many of us are guilty of using these stop-gaps, both in our native tongue as well as when learning a foreign language. Here are some examples of how they are used in English:

  1. In connection with the picture above, I had my final conversation with my grandmother back in January 2007 about her community’s strive to destroying historic buildings and bridges, including a bridge near her home and a high school that used to be a haven for theatricals. Her reaction to the city’s plan to tear down the high school: “All they want is stuff!”  Difficult to replace stuff with new or modern things, but she was opposed to modernization, fighting all the way up to her death three months later.  Highly spirited woman I admired. 🙂 ❤
  2. A former college classmate goes off on a tangent over a teenager’s excessive use of “like.” Example: “I was like great. We could like meet at like 7:30 at like the theatre. Would you like that?”  Overhearing this in a restaurant, she paints a vivid reaction on facebook.  Geil! 🙂
  3. A college professor stresses the importance of not using thing in a paper and was appalled to see at least 10 of these words in a 25-page paper in English. That student bawled his eyes out while receiving a failing grade, using that as one of the main reasons justifying the need to rewrite it.  The professor was Czech and his student was from Saxony, who had spent time in Iowa as a high school exchange student, by the way. 😉

But the underlying question is which of these stop-gap words are really informal and used for personal communication, and which ones are formal and can be used  for formal purposes as well as for research papers? In connection with a project being conducted at a university in Jena, a question for the forum is being introduced for you to think about. All you need is two minutes of your time to answer the following questions:

frage für das forum

1. Which of these words do you use the most in terms of verbal communication?

 

2. Which of these words do you use the most in terms of written communication?

3. Which of these words do you think are considered stop-gaps and used for informal communication?

 

4. Which of these words do you think are NOT stop-gaps because of their use in formal communication?

 

5. Why do you use stop-gap words in English?

 

For the first two questions, only one word applies; the next two has a limit of five possibilities and the last question has more than one answer possible. Each one has an option where you can add other words and items that are not on the list.  You have until 16 May, 2016 to vote. The results and some exercises will come in June. In case of any questions, please feel free to contact Jason Smith at the Files, using the contact details in the website under About.

The purpose of the questionnaire is to find out how often these stop-gap words are being used and why they are used. Already there have been discussions about this subject and even the author has put together a worksheet on this subject for use in college (that will be presented in the June article). It will help linguists and English teachers find ways to modify the use of stop-gaps and (especially for the latter) encourage students of English to use other alternatives and widen their vocabulary. Interesting is to compare the use of stop-gap words in English with that of other languages, including German- one of the words has been used here in this article.

Can you figure this one out and find the English equivalent? 🙂

 

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Question Tag

question tag

Dialog- a concept where two or more persons converse over topics that are of interest. It does not necessarily have to do with trying to find solutions to conflicts that are bothersome to both parties. It does not have to do with cheering or booing teams. It has more to do with having a discussion to find and expand interests, views and other personal traits that the parties have in common with a goal of establishing friendships (or in some cases, relationships) and exchanging ideas for the good.  Hans Küng stressed using a dialog as a tool for finding common values among religions when he initiated the Global Ethics project in the 1990s, much to the dismay of priests of his own Catholic Faith. Samuel P. Huntington in his last book Who We Are, argues for compromise through dialog in order for the United States to come to terms with the influx of immigrants, especially from the south. Francis Fukuyama claimed in his thesis The End of History that the new era offers a chance for mankind to develop a universal form of civilization which includes the quest of similar values and compromise via dialog.

But dialogs do not necessarily have to concentrate on politics, religion and personal views alone. It has more to do with breaking down barriers that confines us and keeps us from reaching out. This can include language barriers, cultural and religious differences, and even personal differences, all of which are avoidable if we have the will to find a medium ground to start off with. 🙂

And this is where this activity comes to mind. It’s called Question Tag. Useful in not only foreign language classes, but also in general classes in school as well as in other education institutions, Question Tag (short, QT) offers students and/or parties an opportunity to break the ice right away and start a conversation by asking the other person a question of interest before eventually spreading it around. The main goal of this game is threefold, speaking from experience:

  1. For foreign language education, QT offers the students an opportunity to show their language skills, including vocabulary and skills involving asking questions, while at the same time, acquire additional vocabulary and other skills by listening and involving themselves in the conversation.
  2. For other topics, QT can enable a thought-provoking discussion to find out the views of others, while generating other questions and thoughts that may be useful and fruitful for the discussion. This includes specific topics, like the refugee crisis, or the US Presidential Elections, but also general topics, such as involvement in clubs and associations, interest in technology and even sports.
  3. Students can benefit from QT by getting to know the other one and his/her interests. This is especially useful if one or two members in the group are exceptionally shy and not forthcoming in the conversation. And as dumb as it may be, it is useful for group projects that involve people of different backgrounds and personalities, regardless of whether the project is related to work or the university.

The object of the game is simple: Each participant receives five index cards (Karteikarten in German), regardless of size, and a pen. The participant must then write down five questions that he/she has, then turn them over so that no one else can see. It’s like a poker game but more discreet. 😉

Please note that the questions must not be too personal and not too biased. So questions involving sex life and dating, as well as views on xenophobia (as examples) should be refrained altogether. But questions involving hobbies, childhood memories, first crush on a person, favorite pet are ok, if formulated appropriately.

Once the questions are written down, place them in the center of the table face down and mix them up. Then, one person chooses a card and the target person, and asks the question. After the target person answers the question, others can join to share their answers and views based on the question.

Nothing to it. 🙂

The game is open as a one-to-one but you can include as many people as you see fit. The beauty of this game is that anyone can play and it can be played in various languages. That means even people seeking refuge in Europe can play this to learn a new language, as well as those hosting them, who are interested in learning their language, like Persian and Arabic. 🙂

Question Tag serves as a starter to breaking down barriers that keep two people or parties apart. The worst a person can do is either strengthen the barrier or try breaking through to impose ideas and rules onto the other. This is where conflicts have prevailed regardless of which level. It is even more painful, if the conflict deals with language differences or even differences in culture and the way of life. Conflicts can be avoided if a middle path is found and the parties can have a peaceful co-existence. That is why dialogs are important and with that, asking about one’s interest and the way of handling people. Sometimes a question is free and can get a person somewhere- to establishing a good working relationship or even friendship. Blocking someone out is not the answer, a dialog is. And this game is one that can get a dialog going. And eventually, with a dialog, barriers can fall and a middle ground can be found and the misunderstandings can be eliminated. If you have a problem with a person or group, perhaps you can try this someday. After all, all conflicts have a solution that involves a dialog instead of a blockade, right?

That’s what I thought. 😉

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