Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Language Experience

After writing a lengthy blurb about language assessment, I realized that it would be best if I addressed my experience with German so that there would be some context to the assessments that I did, both self and more official. If you haven't read that post and you are interested, click here, or see Language Assessment in the right column.

I started learning German in 1992, in my first year at Lewis and Clark College. I was tired of learning Spanish, and wanted to learn another language (I took the good advice of my dad and continued to study Spanish as well). So, I decided to add German for a variety of reasons, the first of which was because I'd be able to spend a year in Munich during my junior year. I loved the language so much that I quickly decided to change my major from Biology to Foreign Language (German/Spanish), and was much happier without having to attempt to pass O-chem! I did spend my junior year in Munich, studying through Lewis & Clark College at the Ludwig-Maximilian Universitaet (LMU). Most of our classes were privately taught for only our program participants, so I interacted little with the university system and students themselves in class. But they were all in German, so I learned a great deal about both the language and culture.

I lived in student housing in northern Munich, at Studentenstadt. In my house, many of the students were Germans, but it took me most of the year before I grew to be accepted into their circles. Because of that social challenge, I ended up spending a lot of time with the other Americans on the program, and by the end of the year, found that my German wasn't nearly as proficient as I was hoping it would be.

On the Goethe-Institut Zentrale Mittlestufenpruefung (Central Middle Level Test), I scored as follows at the end of my year there in July 1995:
Listening Comprehension--fair
Reading Comprehension--good
Written Expression--good
Oral Expression--satisfactory

On the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Exam in German, I received a score of Advanced High. This is one level down from the highest rating of Superior, and is described as follows on the American Council for Teaching of Foreign Languages website:
Able to satisfy the requirements of a broad variety of everyday, school, and work situations. Can discuss concrete topics relating to particular interests and special fields of competence. There is emerging evidence of ability to support opinions, explain in detail, and hypothesize. The Advanced-Plus speaker often shows a well-developed ability to compensate for an imperfect grasp of some forms with confident use of communicative strategies, such as paraphrasing and circumlocution. Differentiated vocabulary and intonation are effectively used to communicate fine shades of meaning. The Advanced-Plus speaker often shows remarkable fluency and ease of speech, but under the demands of Superior-level complex tasks, language may break down or prove inadequate.
(for further ACTFL information, click here)

As dissatisfied as I was by my proficiency in German (and my intimidation about life after graduation in the US), I decided to return to Munich for a year in 1996-1997. I spent part of the year living with a host family, teaching their daughters English, and the rest of the year back in student housing in a very international and active house. That year, my German-speaking friendships solidified more quickly than they had 2 years prior. I also had a nanny job, as well as two data-entry jobs with two different companies. After that second year in Germany, my German improved immensely. Unfortunately, there was no assessment that took place, self or otherwise, immediately upon returning to the US after that second year in Germany, but in looking at the above assessments, it's clear to me that I would have been a strong C1 German student, with some areas being at the C2 level.

Between 1997 and 2004, I did little to maintain my German, other than communicate with friends in Germany through email and interpret the random German medical appointment. I maybe read a book or two in German, and still felt just as passionate about the language, but was focusing more closely on my outdoor pursuits as they related to my career than I was on my foreign languages.

In 2002, however, I was hired as a teacher at Pacific Crest Community School. Initially, my position was Language Arts and Astronomy teacher, though the director was clear that I had dreams of starting both an outdoor program as well as a German program. After a year at Pacific University, where I earned my Masters in Teaching with German and Spanish endorsements, I was given the green light to build both the outdoor and the German programs that I dreamed to create.

It was at this point, in April 2004, that my German was once again officially assessed by the Educational Testing Service on my Praxis exam:
German Content Knowledge 186/200
German Productive Language Skills 196/200

Apparently, that 7 years didn't take too big of a toll on my German, as I would have expected. Maybe I did more with it back then than I can remember, but it certainly wasn't anything drastic, like living abroad or taking any on-going courses.

So, between 2004 and 2008, I ran the German program at Pacific Crest, including teaching levels 1-4 of German every day, and coordinating and accompanying two groups of students to Leipzig, Germany, in 2006 and 2008.

Which brings us to 2009, when our precious little love and the whole purpose for this blog came into our lives. And naturally, the next thing to discuss is the concept of why we chose to raise her bilingually in German (as opposed to Spanish). One day I might go into the reasons why we chose bilingualism in the first place, but there are a couple of great articles that I found which lay it all out better than I feel I could. Check out the resources to the right for links to those articles, if you're interested.

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