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What is “fluent” English?

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Looking for a new job? In these uncertain times it might not seem like the best time to be moving to a new employer. However, some people have been given no choice or perhaps this unprecedented situation has provided people with exciting new opportunities.

This is a repost from 2018 but the information is still totally relelvant and helpful for anyone who is searching for a new job but worried about their English skills. CV and interview coaching is one of the most popular packages I offer, so if you need some support, don’t be shy to get in touch for a free consultation.

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Just about every job advertisement you read here in Germany these days contains the words “Fluent English required”. Something that scares the hell out of a lot of non-native speakers. Even the ones who are pretty good at English.

But before you decide you shouldn’t apply for that job, take a minute to consider the following things:

 

1. “Fluent” does not equal “perfect”.
Nobody is perfect. Not even in their native language. How many people know every single word that exists in their native language? People would consider me to speak “fluent” German as I am a CEF level C2 and can handle every situation from scary telephone conversations with the tax office to nice conversations with my nail lady discussing the pros and cons of a shellac manicure. All of this I can do without reverting to English, checking a dictionary or getting into too much of a flap. But I am NOT perfect. I make small mistakes all the time. And sometimes big fat ones when I’m having a Bad German day. Just for reference, a Bad German day is a bit like a bad hair day. No matter what you do, it just isn’t right. One of my Bad German day classics was asking someone in a tourist information office if I could get to the local castle “mit dem Fuss”. A weird combination of “mit dem Bus” and “zu Fuss” which literally came out as “with the foot”. Like I only had one foot. Or I was planning to hop up there “with the foot”. Yes, my husband still laughs about that one.

2. What is the employer really expecting?
For many employers, good English and fluent English are interchangeable. They only write the word “fluent” because that’s what everybody writes these days. The reality could be they need anything from a level B1+ to a C2. (click here to see more on CEF language levels). Don’t know your level? Ask your English teacher for a guideline or take one of the many free online CEF tests available.

3. Get yourself an interview and then let them decide.
If English is important they will test it during the interview anyway. If they decide your level isn’t good enough, then that’s that. But perhaps your level is good enough for what they need and meets their idea of “fluent”. If you really want the job, it’s worth giving it a try at least. You could also ask in the interview more about what skills you really require in English.

So, to sum up, defining the word “fluent” is a bit like defining the word “fit”. I can run 5 km without dying so some people would call me “fit”. On the other hand, I generally can’t do it in less than 30 minutes which means I’m pretty slow, so therefore a lot of people would say I’m “not fit”. In the same way, everyone has their own definition of fluent. Just take a look at the blogs and forums on this subject and you’ll get a lot of different answers.

Try not to see fluency as an unrealistic ideal. There’s more flexibility to fluency than you think.

Do you have a different idea of “fluent”? Feel free to comment below. For regular posts like this straight to your inbox, subscribe to my blog by adding your email address in the box on the right.

 

What can I learn in 10 minutes a day?

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It’s a couple of years since I wrote this post but the “10 minute” question has frequently come up in client (remote) meetings over the last few weeks, so I thought it might be worth reposting. A lot of people have started projects during lockdown such as yoga, cooking, woodwork and interestingly (for me at least) some are learning a new language. Resources showing us how to do all these things are endless but often the question remains, how much time do I really need to invest? Maybe this post will help you decide.

via Is “10 Minutes A Day” the best way to learn?

Favourite German Sausage Sayings

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Where would Germany be without the sausage? The wurst is omnipresent here from street festivals to Saturdays at the football, from Christmas markets to your average takeaway stand serving the slightly bizarre, currywurst (chopped up sausage with ketchup and curry powder!). If sausage disappeared from German lifestyle there would be a big empty section in the supermarket and a certain level of hysteria among the non-vegetarian/vegan section of the population i.e. most Germans and my husband! Apparently, there are around 1500 different types of sausage in Germany. That’s a lot of wurst!

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Of course, the wurst has also made its way into the language and there are lots of great idioms/sayings that are sausage-related. As I have said before, idioms are a fun way to spice up your language skills and impress a local. Just make sure you learn them word for word, as one small mistake can mess up the whole thing. So, here goes with my top 5 wurst idioms and their rough translation:

  1. Let’s start with my absolute favourite. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst / Don’t play the insulted liver sausage. Basically, this can be used for anyone who’s in a bit of a huff, bent out of shape and sticking out their bottom lip because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly and now they’re playing the insulted liver sausage. No idea why this one has to be liver sausage (if anyone out there knows, please tell me).
  2. Armes Würstchen / Poor little sausage If you know something about the German language, you might notice the suffix chen on the wurst here. Chen is used to form a diminutive, making the wurst small. So, if you call someone an Armes Würstchen / Poor little sausage you basically feel sorry for them because…..well let’s face it nobody wants to be or receive a small sausage, right?
  3. Eine Extrawurst kriegen / To get an extra sausage On the other hand, if you are a lucky person, people will tell you, you get an extra sausage. This could be anything from getting extra helpings at dinner to getting a better bonus than your colleagues. Because the only thing better than sausage in Germany is of course, more sausage (and perhaps a beer to go with it).
  4. Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst / It’s coming down to the sausage This is kind of like it’s coming down to the wire i.e. this is where it really counts. The final match of a tournament or the last 10 minutes of a tight game or the last exam that’s worth extra points. In the past, it was apparently common at village fairs that the prize for winning a contest was a sausage. It’s all coming down to the sausage now!beef close up delicious diet
  5. And to finish, as we finally start to come out of lockdown and see a faint light at the end of the dark covid-19 tunnel, Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei / Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. At some point, all things must come to an end. Apart from the sausage.

All this makes me wonder if other countries have similar idioms using their national dishes. Do the Spanish have idioms about paella or the Japanese about sushi?? Let me know if you’ve ever come across something similar or have other wurst idioms to add to my collection. Thanks for reading and as always, please subscribe (in the box on the right) if you would like to follow me and receive this content straight to your inbox.

5 Great Reasons to Improve your English

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Happy English Language Day! Yes, it seems everything has its day these days and the English language is no exception. April the 23rd was introduced as English Language Day by the United Nations to “celebrate multilinguism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization”. And why this date in particular? Well, it turns out that April the 23rd is Shakespeare’s date of birth AND death. Really. He was apparently born on this day in 1564 (although accurate records don’t exist) and died 52 years later on the 23rd of April 1616. He shaped the modern English language, inventing over 1,700 words that are still common today, ranging from amazement to zany. So, to celebrate English Language day, here are 5 great reasons why it’s good to improve your English. Really hoping my clients are reading this…..

  1. Job. This one is a no-brainer but the fact is, speaking good English can seriously open up your career path. There are very few jobs today that don’t involve some level of communication in English. Even if your company is local not global, chances are they have international customers or perhaps plan to expand internationally in the future.
  2. Information. More than half of all online content is in English. Which means if you don’t understand English, you’re missing out on a whole lot of internet sources of information. In addition, large amounts of films, series and books are written in English. Improving your skills means you won’t need to rely on translations or subtitles to enjoy this content.
  3. Education. English is spoken in so many countries that there are thousands of courses taught in English all over the world, so understanding English opens up a huge range of opportunities in education. In addition, English is now increasingly the language of science. Most papers are written in English, even if the reseacher is not a native.
  4. Travel. One in five people in the world can speak or at least understand English. That’s over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Of course, I’m in favour of learning some of the local language when you travel but if I hadn’t learned some Swahili when I was in Tanzania, the next best thing was English. This goes for a lot of countries. English is the official language in 67 different countries and the second official language in another 27. According to the Pew Research Center, almost every country in the world requires children as young as six to learn a foreign language at school and it’s usually English. So, if you want to travel and make your life easier, speaking English is definitely the way to go.
  5. Fun. Ha ha. I can literally picture some of my German clients sitting in front of me, struggling through future tense and muttering away at how really Scheiße the English language is. But really Helmut, it can be a lot of fun! It’s incredibly rich (it has more words than any other language), it allows you to communicate with 20% of all people on the planet people and it can open up new worlds of information, education and entertainment. And like all language learning, it’s good for you. I know I often bang on about this but studies have shown that learning a second language is good for brain health.

Feeling motivated to get started? Why not join my Duolingo challenge and start learning now from the comfort of your couch? Or drop me a line if you are looking for some live coaching. And as always, feel free to add your comments below or follow my blog by adding your email address to the box on the right.

Groundhog Day

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Week three of lockdown and life is no longer as we know it. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”

Speaking to people over the last couple of weeks, one question seems to come up a lot:

“What day is it today?”

We’ve all been thrown out of our usual routines and somehow every day seems to be blending into the next. There’s no going out to work, to the gym, to a cafe, to meet family or friends, to the pub. We’re all still trying to do these things in a remote way but there’s just one problem. It all happens in the same place. At home. And it’s starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day!

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the film Groundhog Day, my first question would be, why? It’s a classic Harold Ramis film from the early 90’s starring the magnificent Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil, a self-centred, obnoxious weatherman who gets sent to the small town of Punxsutawny to cover the story of the famous groundhog who comes out of his burrow on February 2nd to make an anuual weather prediction. Phil hates his job, his colleagues and all the annoying people of this little town. However, one morning he wakes up and realises, he’s reliving the same day, over and over again and it won’t stop. He’s stuck.

While it might not seem like your average self-help coaching film, there’s a lot to learn from Groundhog Day. Whole coaching books have even been written about about The Wisdom of Groundhog Day (Paul Hannam) explaining how the film is not just a comedy but also about self-improvement and self-transformation. The message is pretty simple. Once Phil realizes he can’t change his circumstances and he’s stuck, he chooses to change his attitude and ultimately himself instead. He creates his own ideal day based on creativity, compassion and contribution. He adapts to his surroundings and makes the most of his circumstances, utilizing his time to learn the piano, learn French and be nice to people. He makes friends with the locals, falls in love with his colleague Rita and soon becomes the most popular guy in town. And finally, he’s happy.

In a way, being “stuck” at home in lockdown is similar. We can’t change our circumstances, we can only change our attitude and how we use this time. So here are 5 lessons from Groundhog Day which might help you deal with life in lockdown:

  1. Establish new and better routines. Nobody likes being pushed out of their usual routines. They give us a sense of comfort and control over our lives. To help bring back that feeling, establishing new routines is essential. Try to get up at the same time every day and stick to a morning routine e.g. shower and breakfast. And while you’re at it, why not create some new and better routines. Not all the habits from your pre-corona life may be worth holding on to after all.
  2. Be kind. Take a minute to think about the people you know who might be suffering during this crisis. People who are worried about their jobs, health, they’re home alone or struggling to with work from home while handling their kids. There are a lot of people in difficulty right now. Drop them a mail, give them a call, think of a way you could help from a distance. Helping other is a win-win, as it supports them, it makes you feel good and it takes your focus away from your own problems. And remember this is “physical” distancing rather than “social” distancing. There are plenty of ways to still say social, even if you can’t meet people. Skype, Facetime, Zoom, calling, emails or even the good old-fashioned letter.
  3. Suppress the sea monster. Lockdown does not mean you need to turn into a creature from the deep in pyjamas. Go out, get some fresh air and daylight, have a shower and make yourself look presentable. Feel like you would on a normal working day. Fresh air, daylight and exercise are essential to well-being. Studies of people suffering from depression show that just a few minutes a day walking outside in the fresh air can improve mood and mental health. In the same way, take pride in your work/home space. Declutter and tidy up. Clutter in the home can actually cause anxiety and has been linked to higher levels of cortisol (the stress causing hormone). The last thing anyone needs now is more stress.
  4. Learn a new skill. Phil learns French (to impress Rita) and takes piano lessons. If there’s a skill on your bucket list, perhaps now is the time to get started. Learn that language (there is still time to join my Duolingo experiment), take up knitting, learn how to cook, start writing that novel. Sometimes, the best way of getting things done is to simply begin.
  5. Think about what you can learn going forward from this bizarre experience. Maybe this time has brought you closer to certain people (despite the social distancing), you’ve learnt a new skill or developed good habits. That’s a win and something positive to take away from lockdown. We keep talking about life going back to normal at some point. But perhaps some things will have changed for the better and we can go back to a nicer normal. Think carefully about the future and all the things you really want to do when this is all over. Because at some point, it will be over. As Phil says in the film:

Phil: Do you know what today is?

Rita: No, what?

Phil: Today is tomorrow. It happenend.

As always, if you would like to receive more content like this straight to your inbox, add your email to the box on the right. Thanks for reading and stay safe.

 

Duolingo Challenge: Volunteers needed!

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Duolingo

So, maybe you’re already tired of people telling you about all the great ways you can spend your time in isolation right now. Get fit, start knitting, declutter your house, sew your own face mask, count your toilet rolls….

Learning a language is something people would often like to do but never find the time to do. Along with getting fit and learning to play a musical instrument, it’s normally in the top 3 of most desired skills. So, if it’s been on your bucket list for a while, this could be your chance!

Maybe you fancy starting a new language or picking up something you learnt back in school. I’m looking for as many volunteers as possible to join in and see just how effective it is to learn a language with an app. Duolingo is the biggest and most popular free app/website for learning a language with over 300 million users. It’s easy to use and aims to make learning fun.  Whether you’re an experienced language leaner or a complete language muppet, Duolingo’s mission is to provide free, easy, language tuition for everyone.

What is the challenge?

It’s pretty simple. Try to complete 24 hours of learning with the app before Sunday May 31st. If you start today and learn every day that would be around 24 minutes a day. Duolingo doesn’t track time but according to their website, one lesson = approx. 10 minutes so you can use this as a guideline.

Back in 2018 I carried out a 24-hour Polish project. The rules were the same but I only had lessons with a native speaker and used books and cards. No apps or online tools. I would now like to compare that experience with a completely online/no human interaction/social distancing experience. This time, I’m going to spend 24 hours learning Turkish, but only using Duolingo.

How does it work?

  • First of all, download the app (available for both iOS and Android) or go to Duolingo.com
  • Choose a language you want to learn (they have a great selection)
  • Set a daily goal (you can change this later) and then set up a profile (name, email address and a password)
  • Join my experiment class by going to your Profile, press Progress Sharing and add the Class Code GQVAAD. (If you have any problems joining the group, just let me know). That means I can see who is taking part and the progress they are making. Alternatively, you can just drop me a mail here at the website or on Facebook or Xing. Let me know what language you are doing and your email address and you can join the challange without being in the online group. Just keep track of how many lessons/hours you do. At the end of the challenge, each participant (whether they complete the challenge or not) will receive a short questionnaire from me to give their feedback on the experience. I plan to use this feedback to write a post reviewing the Duolingo app and the general experience of learning a language online.

Why should I take part?

Well, first of all because it’s always fun to learn something new, set yourself a challenge and you can impress everyone this summer with your new language skills! It also means that at the end of the journey, my review of Duolingo will be based on numerous opinions and not just mine. I would be extremely grateful for your support.

What language should I choose?

Absolutely anything that takes your fancy. Duolingo has a great selection from standards like French and Spanish to much more exotic things like Vietnamese and even High Valyrian!  I’m planning to do Turkish i.e. a level 2 language like Polish (see list below) and a language where I’m a complete beginner. But feel free to choose anything you like the sound of. Whether you’ve learnt it before or it’s completely new. To stay motivated, keep in mind the following things when you are making your choice: Do I like the sound of the language? Is the language used in a country I like or would like to visit one day? How difficult is it? The list below gives you a rough guidleine:

Level 3 (most challenging for English native speakers)

Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic

Level 2

Russian, Hindi, Greek, Turkish, Polish, Hebrew, Czech, Hungarian, Ukranian, Vietnamese

Level 1.5

German, Indonesian, Swahili

Level 1 (least challenging for English native speakers)

French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Romanian

What is the start/finish date?

You can join in at any time. However, the end date of the challenge is May 31st.

What if I don’t manage my 24 hours?

Nothing of course, this is not school! It’s just supposed to be a bit of fun. If you don’t manage the 24 hours, I will still be interested in your feedback at the end, to find out what you think of the app and why you didn’t make the 24 hours (frustration, boredom, lack of time etc.)

Any tips?

I’ve used Duolingo a lot in the past. My advice would be:

  1. Add the new language to your language settings on your phone. This helps with typing different characters and predictive text.
  2. Always have the sound switched on so you can hear AND see what you’re learning.
  3. Try to speak out loud as often as possible to get used to hearing your new language “voice” and get used to pronunciation.
  4. Think carefully before deciding which language you want to do. This helps you to stay motivated in the long run

So that’s it. If you have any questions, please let me know. Looking forward to learning with you!

 

The Swahili Swerve: How to start speaking a new language in 15 minutes!

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Photo by Lloyd Deacon

Sounds like a dance move or an exotic cocktail but in fact, the Swahili Swerve is what I call my recent “abrupt change of direction” in my language learning journey. I’d been plodding along quite nicely this year. I brushed up my Spanish to use at a wedding in March, my Polish teacher was here again over the summer so I ploughed on with “the terribly difficult Polish language” (his words, not mine) in preparation for my trip to Warsaw in November. But then all of a sudden, out of the blue, I’m sitting in a jeep at Kilimanjaro airport at the start of our Tanzanian holiday and our driver Tito (who became my Swahili teacher for the next few days) was greeting us in Swahili, “Karibu”. Oooooh something shiny and new! Within the first 15 minutes of our drive, I’d learnt a few phrases and from there I was off!

On arrival at our first lodge, news quickly spread amongst the staff that there was a Mzungu (white foreigner) learning Swahili and by dinnertime I was happily communicating with them and having a great time. Every time I went to the bar, to the buffet to reception or generally wandered around the complex, staff started talking to me and handing me their own handwritten list of useful words for me to learn. They were so sweet, polite, patient and encouraging that over the next week I continued to learn and practice with Tito and talked to anyone along the way who would listen to me.

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So, how is this possible? How can you start speaking a brand-new language and making basic conversation with locals in such a short time? It’s true that my experience of learning and teaching languages gives me a head start, but there’s really no magic here. And that’s why in this post I would like to share my own tips on how to get going with a new language in 15 minutes flat!

  • Rule 1: No fear! Probably the most important rule when it comes to learning and, most importantly, speaking a new language. If you are afraid to speak, you will not progress. End of story. Forget the shame, swallow your perfectionist adult pride and just give it a go, right from the start. This strategy always works for me (see The Polish Project). In addition, the locals were sooo patient and supportive that I never once felt stupid, even when I made mistakes. That was a huge help. Once you get over your fear, your progress will be unstoppable. If you are unlucky and the native you speak to is unsupportive and doesn’t want to help you, find one who does. There are always plenty out there, I promise. If you don’t have the luxury of having a patient native to practice with, YouTube should be your next option. There are thousands of videos with natives giving you the “First 20 words/phrases” in whatever language you want to learn. Listen and repeat out loud as many times as possible. Talk to your friends, family, the cat, whoever will listen. It doesn’t matter if they understand you or not, the point here is to find and listen to your own “language voice” as early as possible.
  • Rule 2: When you’re starting out, don’t learn grammar right away. Focus on useful phrases and learn by heart, word for word. Once you get deeper into the language, you can see the patterns and figure out some basic grammar. But at the beginning, keep it simple and most of all, practical. Learning “Everything is great thank you” or “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” can be used immediately and much more often than “I go, you go, he goes…..” yawn, yawn
  • Rule 3: Be a parrot Listen and repeat, listen and repeat. Every time Tito taught me a new word, he repeated it at least 4 or 5 times and I copied. Not only does this give you chance to get used to the sound of the word and help you learn it (and drive the other person in the jeep i.e. my husband, mad) it helps with accent. It’s no good learning a new language if no one understands you because your accent is all messed up. I’ll talk about the importance of a good accent in a future post but personally, I think it is essential and the sooner you start working on it, the better.
  • Rule 4: Choose an easy language Listen out for words you might already know and create hooks. While Swahili sounds like an difficult, exotic language, it’s actually classed a level 1.5 for English natives i.e. relatively easy. If you want to see progress quickly and you have a choice, aim for an “easy” language. For example, if you are a native English speaker then French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese are considered easier than say Bulgarian, Russian or Turkish. Swahili is phonetically easy for English speakers and I was amazed at how many words I already knew. If you’ve ever watched The Lion King, you probably have a lot of words already; Simba, Pumba, Jambo, Hakuna Matata! Finally, a vocabulary “hook” or mnemonic is really helpful when you are learning brand new vocabulary. Try to find a connection between the new word and your own language e.g. the Swahili word for “Yes” is “ndio” which sounds a bit like “indeed” which is close to “yes”. There’s your hook.
  • Rule 5 Have fun with it Learning should always be an enjoyable experience and add something positive to your life rather than cause stress. Will I use my Swahili in the future? Honestly, I don’t know. It is the most spoken African language and around 90 million people speak it so yes, perhaps. Personally, the most important part of my Swahili swerve to me was making a connection with the local people and seeing how much they appreciated my efforts. Their big smiles and positive reactions constantly reminded me of my favourite “language learning” quote:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

So true.

Maybe you have a trip planned and want to give a new language a try? Follow my tips above and let me know how you get on. As always you can add comments below or add your name to the box on the right to follow my blog.

Hakuna matata!