Monday Morning

I’m going to jot down a few words before I have to leave for spin class in twenty minutes. No guarantees that it all makes sense or that words are spelled correctly. But I want to check in with y’all this morning. I might be able to do some proper blogging this afternoon.

“Your cup runneth over,” my friend Elizabeth said last week. And it’s true. Last week, I juggled an article that just won’t seem to get itself finished, Jonah’s college applications, special ed PTA stuff, two doctor’s appointments, and one German exchange student. All great stuff, but it was a lot.

And then in the midst of all that, I decided that my living room was looking tired, so I bought all new cushions for the sofa and  a throw for the arm chair to clean things up. I went with a cream, blue, and grey theme. Very clean and modern. This mandatory redecoration project meant two trips to West Elm and IKEA and required — yes, required — some serious consideration about placement and organization.  Compulsive? Me? Nah!!!

This week is much more manageable. The article-that-won’t-die needs another day of work, and I’m on the fun research stage of the next article. Research is always much more fun that writing first drafts. Writing first drafts is about the suckiest thing in life.

With the German exchange student occupying my office, my computer has been temporarily relocated to my bedroom dresser. It’s freaking me out. And I think that this disruption to my work space is partially responsible for the article-that-won’t-die.

Can I just say that the German student’s English is excellent? Should Americans be doing a better job teaching foreign languages?

Also, the German said that he feels sorry for Jonah, because all of his sports and homework. He likes to remind Jonah that he never gets any homework.

Oh, and colleges are free in Germany.

 

 

 

31 thoughts on “Monday Morning

  1. A few thoughts:

    1. Jonah’s college applications!!!!!!!

    How is this possible?

    2. We also have the MBR/office combo problem. I don’t know when we’re going to do this, but I’m thinking an armoire would make a good solution. After all, it’s not like my husband needs a desk at home–he mostly just needs storage for printers.

    3. “Can I just say that the German student’s English is excellent? Should Americans be doing a better job teaching foreign languages?”

    Yes, but it takes actual time and motivation.

    Interestingly, my husband tells me that Canada (which puts enormous effort into it) is TERRIBLE at teaching French to Anglophones in normal public schools. The Anglophone kids are totally unmotivated at French, and they terrorize their French teachers. In fact, a Canadian relative who is a psychologist used to always ask to see problem students in French class, as that’s where Canadian kids typically act their worst.

    French immersion schools in Canada are a big deal, of course, but they have issues of their own:

    http://www.macleans.ca/education/just-say-non-the-problem-with-french-immersion/

    So, I think foreign language is a lead-the-horse-to-water thing–kids abroad know that English is important, but American kids do not typically feel the same way about their foreign languages.

    Also, I think there’s a general Anglo-Saxon language disability, for whatever reason.

    “The results of the survey state that the British are officially the worst language learners in Europe!”

    http://esol.britishcouncil.org/content/learners/skills/reading/british-worst-learning-languages

    With our kids, I was initially very impressed with their private school starting Spanish in K, but I got less and less impressed as I noticed that they weren’t making any progress. They’ve done much better with Latin from 4th grade on (my two big kids are crackerjack Latinists). I have been making some noises about a mandatory Spanish course (with bribery on the table).

    4. “Oh, and colleges are free in Germany.”

    But can you get a job in the US with a degree from one?

    I have a German in-law who has pulled this off brilliantly (free German technical college, some computer certifications, big fat US consulting job), but that probably isn’t true in all disciplines. (His kid also has the option of trying the same trick, but I think they’re probably going to go for US state college.)

    5. Everything is better in Germany.

    Or so we keep hearing from our German in-law who (for mysterious reasons) is living here in the US.

    6. We kind of forgot to teach the kids Polish. Oops.

    If we had barrels of money, we would go over and do summer programs for the kids.

    1. Here on the west coast in Vancouver French immersion public schools (and 100% French) are bursting at the seams. It’s a lottery system to get in.

      They are seen as a way of getting enrichment without having the sticker shock of a private school or tutors (but that’s another story as not all kids can handle a dual language program). Also, they are a way (but few will admit it publicly) of avoiding classes in elementary school that are 60%+ ESL. With the drain to French immersion you have some English grade 1 classes that are closer to 80% ESL.

  2. I have a lot of German-American stories, but here’s one.

    My sis did an exchange program to Germany as a highschooler. One of the people she knew in Germany (host brother?) was a guy who had done an exchange program to the US, was very smug about knowing everything about the US, but had (unbeknownst to himself) acquired an incredible hick accent thanks to his time as an exchange student in Kentucky.

    Don’t be afraid to make your German guest work while he’s visiting–all of his American counterparts back in Germany are scrubbing floors, walking dogs, babysitting and only being allowed to take showers once in a blue moon.

  3. I don’t think you can go to college in Germany for free unless you’re a citizen.
    My understanding is that in a lot of countries where college is fully funded you have a lot less flexibility than what we in the US are used to. My friend from England could not change her area of study once she started. She was amazed that I changed majors twice. Perhaps things have changed since then (the 90s). This is not to say that our costs are not problematic but it is important to remember there are often trade offs.

    1. Marianne said:

      “I don’t think you can go to college in Germany for free unless you’re a citizen.”

      My sis did (but she was eventually married to a local). That was back starting in the late 90s, though.

      “My understanding is that in a lot of countries where college is fully funded you have a lot less flexibility than what we in the US are used to. My friend from England could not change her area of study once she started. She was amazed that I changed majors twice. Perhaps things have changed since then (the 90s). This is not to say that our costs are not problematic but it is important to remember there are often trade offs.”

      I believe my sister’s program in Germany was what’s called a Fachhochschule

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fachhochschule

  4. A German exchange student stayed with my cousin. Throughout the year my cousin took lots of photos that she shared with the student’s mother. At the end of the year, my cousin put together a scrap book using the photos she had taken throughout the year and sent it to the student’s mother as a gift. She also received a gift from the exchange student’s mother. It was a scrap book using all the photos my cousin had sent her throughout the year.

  5. re: French in Canada. There are a couple of ways to learn French in Canadian schools. The best being French immersion. Our daughter started French immersion in grade 6 (first year of middle school). All subjects with the exception of electives (drama, art or band) were instructed in French — noting that the instruction began in January, the first few months of grade 6 were just French language.

    The kids who don’t take French immersion take French courses which are pretty useless unless you’ve got a motivated student.

    Here in BC, if you are francophone, you can send your child to a French school in a province-wide school district where it’s assumed your child knows French.

    A couple of notes: some school districts offer early French immersion (students start in kindergarten) and in some ways French immersion is like a private school within the district. Generally it is the kids who have educated, involved, motivated parents and who are motivated themselves who sign up for it.

    Funny how you have a German student as we have a French student with us. She’s been here for 11 weeks and in February my daughter will go to France for 11 weeks. See osef.ca for information. Her English is excellent and her experience here is as much about English as it is about culture.

    1. gem said:

      “The kids who don’t take French immersion take French courses which are pretty useless unless you’ve got a motivated student.”

      To be very fair to the Canadian system, my husband was able to read Jules Verne in French from his French classes in normal Canadian school.

      But I don’t know that he can string together four words of spoken French.

      1. I would guess this would be true of most languages that students learn at high school. Unless the student is in an immersion setting, they’ll pick up the written well before the spoken.

      2. XAP,

        But this wasn’t just high school–he had year after year after year of French before high school.

  6. When you’re running flat out with a million responsibilities to juggle, isn’t it always the time to tackle redecoration? Seriously – that’s one of my impulses, as well, so I understand.

    On foreign languages, I’m a prime example of the failure of the US language education system. We had a month of French in grade four to learn to sing carols. I can still belt those out but I didn’t tackle another language until I was seventeen and learning became much more painful then.

    I read well now in several languages but speak well in none of them. My husband, who was one of the first generation of French-immersion students in Anglophone Quebec schools, is perfectly bilingual and working on his fourth language now. Eldest did French immersion and if she makes the effort, still manages well (although she lives in a much more anglophone city now). Youngest, ironically, is thriving in her Spanish class and contemplates a double major in computer science & Spanish. We’ll see but good for her!

  7. Access to the college track is severely restricted in Germany. Germans have to pass the Abitur to be accepted to university. Only the gymnasiums prepare students for the Abitur. Access to Gymnasiums is severely restricted by American standards. The last I knew, only about a third of German students are allowed to attend Gymnasium. They can be placed by teacher recommendation; if the parents don’t accept the teacher’s recommendation, there is a two-day test, with both written and oral sections.

    See: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/hard-look-discrimination-education-germany

    Attempts to remedy the discrimination inherent in the traditional system have created more complex systems of placement: http://www.matching-in-practice.eu/matching-practices-for-secondary-schools-germany/

    If we restricted college-track high schools to only 30% of the population, and then only allowed a subset of those students to attend state-financed university, college could be “free” here too. (Parents are responsible for supporting students’ living costs as long as the students are studying at university. This has been challenged in court by a father; he lost.)

  8. I was asking my husband for a little more detail on his French experiences in Canada, and he said that (at least back in the day) there was a lot of local variation in when French instruction started. So, for example, it might start in 1st grade in one area (Ottawa?), but in 5th in another (Guelph?)–he had the bad luck to move from a late-French area to an early-French area for 5th grade.

    Of course, he was ESL and had just immigrated a couple years earlier, which was probably the icing on the cake. (I just looked this up, and 1 in 5 Canadians is foreign born.)

    1. There is a lot of regional variation in French education in Canada because there is a lot of variation in the size of the Francophone community. Once you get much East of Ottawa, there are lots of places with very few people whose first language is French. That means it can be hard to find enough fluent French teachers in many communities.

      The Macleans article you posted has some good insights into the results, but IMO glosses over the issue of finding enough teachers. It’s no coincidence that they opened with a story about a family in British Columbia; French is the language spoken most often at home in 0.38% of BC homes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Canada – outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, that number is below 2.5% everywhere. That doesn’t mean other people don’t have the language skills to teach French, of course – but it’s still a limited group, which tends to be well educated, and as a result have lots of career paths open to them.

      1. “It’s no coincidence that they opened with a story about a family in British Columbia; French is the language spoken most often at home in 0.38% of BC homes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Canada – outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, that number is below 2.5% everywhere.”

        WOW.

        “That doesn’t mean other people don’t have the language skills to teach French, of course – but it’s still a limited group, which tends to be well educated, and as a result have lots of career paths open to them.”

        Yes.

        http://www.acpi.ca/documents/summary.pdf

  9. Germany is great about lots of things, but hoo boy am I fixing the primary and secondary education system on my very first day as Kaiser. Universities are probably day two.

    Cranberry is generally right about about the discriminatory effects of tracking, though there are more paths to the Abitur than there were in the past. In Berlin, for example, non-Gymnasium secondary students can take an extra year of schooling and have the Abitur at the end of that. In North Rhine-Westfalia, to take another, there are many comprehensive schools that offer the Abitur at the end. Even notoriously discriminatory (in my view) Bavaria has alternative paths to the Abitur. None of that is enough, though. The last time I took a look at the statistics involved (some years back), Germany had the closest correlation of any EU country (maybe it was just EU-15 rather than EU-27) between parents attending university and children attending university.

    Speaking of tracking, in most states the decision between college-bound and not is made after the fourth grade. Wtf, Germany? And that’s quite apart from the neighborhood effects that we are quite familiar with from the US.

    Third, elementary school generally runs from 8am to 12:30pm. Hello structural barriers to two-career families. But of course the school day is not uniform: a child may have days that start as late as 9:30am and finish as early as 11:45am. Each child’s schedule will be different from any other child’s. Middle and upper grades are generally more uniform in their starting times, but there are no guarantees.

    Fourth, substitute teaching is handled within the school, rather than at the level of the school system. If there are not enough teachers within a school to cover an absent teacher’s classes, then those classes are cancelled and children are sent home. Parents are not generally warned in advance when this happens.

    Fifth, children generally stay with the same group of kids throughout their time at a single school. That is, they are organized into a class for first grade, and that class stays together all the way through fourth or sixth grade. They will almost always have the same teacher for two years, sometimes for four. The social effects are easily imagined. If, say, a child does not get on well with the elementary school teacher, then has that same teacher for all four years of elementary school at which time the teacher makes the college/not-college recommendation, well. Good luck with that appeals process immigrant parents.

    IEP, what’s that? Why would any child need such a thing?

    Seventh, textbooks (at least in Berlin) are not provided by the school system, but must be purchased by the parents. Wtf, Germany?

    Eighth, schools (at least in Berlin) do not have their own libraries. It is thought that the city libraries are sufficient.

    It’s gonna be a busy first day.

  10. There have been some positive developments in recent years. For instance, elementary and secondary education have generally been pared back to 12 years. Honestly, what’s the point of warehousing 18- and 19-year-olds in a 13th year of high school? That is mostly gone now, though of course some conservative elements are trying to bring it back. (The length of time also led Germans to tell me in all seriousness that their Abitur was the equivalent of my B.A. Bwahahahahahahahaahaha)

    As for universities, just because tuition is free does not mean that courses necessary for a degree will be offered in a particular time frame, or that there will be spaces in those courses when they are offered.

    In the past, that has led to many Germans finishing their first degree in their late 20s. The consequences of that structure for family formation and for young German women starting their careers will be easily deduced by everyone here. A second degree in Germany was generally a Doktorgrad, often finished in the early 30s. That is yet another reason why the upper reaches of most German organizations are full of Herr Dr This and Herr Dr That, but very few Frau Dr Theother, much less Frau Dr who also has children.

    If people start their careers in their late 20s or early 30s, it’s also no surprise that the first few years can be extremely competitive, again with knock-on effects for gender roles and family formation.

    Again, there has been some progress with universities offering (and students entering) BA/MA programs that finish faster than Diplom/Doktor programs. But my second day as Kaiser is going to be pretty busy, too.

    1. Doug said:

      “(The length of time also led Germans to tell me in all seriousness that their Abitur was the equivalent of my B.A. Bwahahahahahahahaahaha)”

      I don’t know whether this is still the case, but here’s another German higher ed gotcha:

      Back in the late 90s/very early 2000s, when my sis was attending a German technical college (Fachhochschule), she discovered (midway through her program) that the Germans did not deem her American high school diploma and one year of American college adequate for getting a diploma from the Fachhochschule (even after taking all the Fachhochschule classes and doing all the coursework).

      I believe that they expected American high school + 2 years of American college to be the equivalent of German high school. To quote Doug–Bwahahahahahaha!

      Germans, as Laura may be discovering, have very high self-esteem.

      So, in order to get a fully legit Fachhochschule diploma, sis would have needed to go back below the Fachhochschule level and put in the remedial work (probably at least a year).

      No, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      (Sis didn’t do it, and fortunately it hasn’t been an issue, as she’s run her own businesses in the US for many years now.)

  11. The German student’s English is excellent because excellent English is a huge asset in the world. German, really not so much. We were discussing languages recently in terms of their usefulness for communication (as opposed to other goals, like problem solving, word roots/grammar, literature) and felt that there weren’t strong arguments for learning German, certainly, French, almost certainly, and that Chinese or Japanese were only useful if you could become very fluent, since your competition would be Chinese (certainly) speakers who had acquired English and maybe Japanese who had learned English (which is probably easier to learn). The rough conclusion was that if your goal was to communicate with international elites, English would mostly do.

    Spanish seems useful because of the potential to speaking to native Spanish speakers in the US/Mexico/South America and because Spanish elites seem a bit less likely to learn English, compared to Europeans. Indian elites speak English and more and more Chinese/Japanese elites are as well.

    1. bj,

      Those are good points.

      Also, internationally, young people are often soaking in accidental English (labels on packages, songs, movies, signs, whatever) in a way that Americans rarely are. It is true, though, that a lot of normal Americans do pick up a lot of accidental Spanish without even thinking about it. I’ve never studied Spanish or German, but I feel like I know WAY more Spanish words than I know German words.

      My kids have had a lot of Latin at school and are good at it and the American side of our family is good at languages, so I really want them to do at least a little of some modern language. I want to tentatively require at least a term of Spanish, but I suspect our 9th grader might benefit more from French, especially if she’s going to anything very academic. I’m pretty certain, though, that our 6th grader ought to do at least some Spanish. This is going to sound weirdly specific, but I see our middle child as either a priest or a doctor. He’s very bright and empathetic, and I think he’d be good at jobs involving people, which means that Spanish would be a big plus, especially in Texas.

      Interestingly, in my experience, immigrant children who come over even in later childhood (even 10ish) are often not that amazing in their first language–without specific training or independent work, they often do not develop into educated native speakers–they get stuck at the “kid” level.

      1. I suspect our oldest would make a very fine Arabist, but of course to get the appropriate experience, you’d have to spend years in some dangerous places (at least dangerous for an American).

        So that’s on my mental radar as a possibility without me being very enthused about it.

        As a general rule, there are plenty of non-native speakers of English who learn very passable English without setting foot on Anglo-Saxon soil or even having a single conversation with a native speaker of English. However, I have never known an American who learned any foreign language properly without spending substantial time abroad. So, that’s another factor in Americans not learning foreign languages. (That said–living abroad is not everything–it is possible to be an American working abroad who never makes much progress with the local language. Doug, am I right?)

    2. yes, about the accidental exposure — take URL’s, which can’t be in japanese/chinese/hindi . . . . We noted number urls in Japan, which was an interesting phenomenon, and also meant that numbers (1,2,3, . . .) were being used there.

      accidental exposure to Spanish is more common in Texas, California, Southwest, and, I think, makes it easier to learn in those places, increasing the possibility that Spanish could be used for communication.

  12. Gaining proficiency in a second language can be done without spending significant amounts of time abroad, as long as one is immersed in the language at some point. This is easier than ever before, since one can watch TV channels, watch movies, read newspapers, and even Skype with native speakers of the target language without even leaving one’s laptop. Time to proficiency varies on the language and the level of proficiency (Intermediate, Advanced, Superior) desired. The Romance and Nordic languages are good to start in college or earlier, but Level IV languages like Arabic and Mandarin are best begun before college if one doesn’t want to live abroad. See http://www.languagetesting.com/how-long-does-it-take for time-to-proficiency estimates.

    1. I suppose it’s theoretically possible with online resources these days–I’ve just never seen it done.

      The Americans I know that are good at foreign languages have all spent substantial amounts of time abroad.

    2. This is interesting, but it talks about 30 hours/week with an instructor and only 1-4 students per class. This would be very hard to replicate by watching tv or reading on your own, or even skyping with a native speaker (who would probably not be as good as an instructor at challenging you and getting you to really develop your skills).

      I wonder, too, how much the language sticks with you if you’ve never really used it full-time in a country where everyone’s speaking it. That may be hard to measure.

      1. af,

        Yeah.

        A need for 30 hours a week of instruction is why actually being abroad would make such a big difference.

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