While on sabbatical in Europe I decided to see if I still had it in me to be a student again, so I decided to take language lessons. Given Strasbourg's mixed franco-germanic history and culture I decided to take formal classes in German and French. (and picked up a few words in Alsacian along the way). This post is about my German lessons. My French language experience is documented in this blog post.
My German lessons were at the Goethe Institut in Mannheim, Germany, courtesy of the DAAD and a scholarship that they offer to academics who wish to learn or improve their German. I was only able to participate in 2 of the four weeks of lessons due to family obligations (the commute between Mannheim and Strasbourg was a little more than I had planned for), but the two weeks were intensive and fantastic. I got to stay in the residence at the Institut and my teacher, Marco, was fantastisch.
The experience was a truly positive one. While I had previously taken German language courses at a Volkshochschule ("Adult Ed") in Jena, Germany during my 2006-08 post-doc and in college in Quebec City in the 1990s, it is clear from the beginning that the Goethe classes were of superior quality. The intensive nature and the facilities at the Mannheim Goethe Institut were key factors in this. I received a certificate at the A2 level upon finishing my intensive course. A2 is "order food and find the washroom" level... enough to get by and to understand simple conversations with a few "bitte langsam" and "noch ein mal" thrown in.
While I had to cut short my course to only two weeks due to personal situation (and am grateful to the DAAD in its accommodation and understanding) I was able to improve my German, especially with respect to knowledge and usage. For instance, I had been struggling with the distinction between the Akkusativ, the Nominativ and the Dativ prior to the course. While I wouldn’t say that I have truly mastered them at this point, they make much more sense to me now and I have practiced with tools that help me look up the grammar questions I have when I use German in written form with colleagues.
Since the Intensiv course I have been in active discussions with a university in Germany to work out details for exchanges between their students and ours at York University in Toronto, Canada. The Goethe Institut class helped remind me of the need for quality language education to help make such exchanges a success and I will be working with all three institutions to ensure that our students access language courses effectively, perhaps including lessons at the Goethe Institut in Toronto.
I am looking forward to seeing what kinds of language courses are available back in Toronto when I get back so that I might continue my linguistic and cultural journey.
I would like to thank the personnel at the DAAD and the Goethe Institut for their openness, patience, support and understanding prior to and during the course.
James Andrew Smith is an associate professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department in York University's Lassonde School. He lived in Strasbourg, France and taught at the INSA Strasbourg and Hochschule Karlsruhe while on sabbatical in 2018-19 with his wife and kids. This blog post is part of a series discussing the family's sabbatical year, from both personal and professional perspectives. You can view my Twitter postings from about Strasbourg (INSA) and HsKa (Karlsruhe).