The Origins of SmarterGerman – Part 02

A black pug lying on wooden bench

Let me continue with my background story which started in 1999 in Warsaw, Poland.

Part 02 – Mind numbing yet Eye Opening

I was young and needed the money when I started working for Berlitz, Warsaw, in 1999. That got me started nicely but after a while would prove to be a too tight corsage for what I needed to grow. So when I left Poland in 2001 after 20 months in Warsaw, I had learned what there was to learn from Berlitz.
But even though I now had ~18 months of teaching experience on my CV, it was nearly impossible to find a job as a German tutor in Berlin without any kind of formal training. At least not right away. So, I got a job with the help of a friend who worked at one of the biggest language schools in Berlin where I would correct the texts of students that prepared for their university admission exam (DSH).
90% of those students were nowhere near ready for university at least language wise. And most of them also didn’t really improve much over the course of three months of intensive studies in a DSH preparation course. It was quite a painful and frustrating job to read jumbled German for three hours a day but it taught me endurance and taught me to quickly judge the quality of students’ homework. And I learned how not to prepare students for an exam: by sheer rote repetition without ensuring understanding.

A Humble Restart in Germany

After a few months of this mindnumbing activity I finally got a job as a German tutor. My first hourly rate was 12 EUR as a freelancer. From that I would have to pay my health insurance and my obligatory pension fund which would easily eat up 33% of my income. We already call 12 EUR a Hungerlohn in Germany, so there I stood with 9 EUR per hour. But I worked quite a lot and with some child support from the government it somehow got my little family through the coming years.

In that time I worked in five different language schools, all lovely, and met the most interesting of people from all over the world. I was still pretty green when it came to teaching German as I had no real training and still learned a lot by trial and error. And mistakes I made many. I hurt students because I was so self-centered and wasn’t really culturally aware as until then I had only spent some serious time abroad in Poland which left 193 countries that I wasn’t really experienced with. On top of that I again and again doubted my ability to teach or the students ability to learn because they simply wouldn’t get the simplest things and I just didn’t understand why. Just many years later I reailzed that it was the system that was so clearly broken that caused most of the issues I experienced. By “the system” I mean the idea that one should teach students German by only speaking German to them. What a ridiculous idea in hindsight. But as part of that system I was simply blind to this major flaw.

Bad Language Classes can be Painful

At the same time I began studying German as a Foreign language (DaF) at the TU-Berlin and a year later added Turkish Studies at the FU-Berlin to my portfolio. I chose Turkish mainly because there were I around 8 papers to be made in various languages: Turkish, English, French, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, Old Turkish, Old Mongolian and Uzbek. As I loved learning Polish I thought this would be an easy study. But boy was I wrong. The languages themselves were easy enough to pass as one only needed to get to B1 in Turkish and the other languages only required A1 level. Yet, sitting in language classes with teachers who had learned their trade in the sixties or at least it seemed this way, was painful. Lovely people, don’t get me wrong but clearly in the wrong profession. There were two that were lovely lovely teachers and an inspiration: Frau Ersen-Rasch (Turkish) and Herr Schönig (Old Mongolian). It was a delight to see the at work and to learn from them. I also learned from all the others how not to teach and I don’t even remember their names. That’s the difference a good teacher can make. Okay, a horrible one would also leave a lasting impression but lucky enough I haven’t had such bad teachers in my life. Just very very boring, uninspiring ones and those already killed most of my motivation so that I put in as little effort as necessary to get my A1 certificate which is easy enough to hack. And hacking it became my motivation.

Human Interaction – Hmmmmmm

These experiences taught me the value of the right kind of human interaction which is why in my online courses you will always have my personal support via the SG Community platform. Sitting in front of the PC for hours to learn German possibly after a long day in the office where you already sat in front of a screen all day can be a drag. That’s why it is so important that you check out our motivation channel in the SG Community every now and then and also share your experience with me and your fellow learners.

And if you long for a human face, you can come to my free Q&A which currently take place once a month but from mid October onwards will be held bi-weekly.

I’m certain that you can relate to many things I wrote above.
In the next part I’ll share the biggest mistakes I made as a learner and what I learned from them as a teacher and in part 04 I’ll talk about the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a teacher which some of you will find easy to relate to. Stay tuned.

And as always let’s close this chapter

The Origins of SmarterGerman - Part 02