Preparation on both parts is critical in making or breaking a successful German lesson. My lesson planning may involve following the syllabus of a course book or bespoke learning material, correcting homework, reading a piece on economics or simply keeping up to date on current affairs. A healthy interest in politics and the economy makes that part of my work easy. On the other hand, teaching opera singers, actors, or people interested in Wagner or German fine art is taxing. I also have to read up on medical terminology, law, insurance, real estate, financial markets, technology, journalism, agriculture, geology, precious metals, coins and many other subjects in preparation for my German lessons.
My work also involves rehearsing speeches and presentations or pitches with students. I do not translate, though, and expect students to write their speeches and presentations in German. Some of these speeches were held at weddings, others in the German parliament, in the presence of the German Chancellor, leading industry figures or at company AGMs. I have taught at foreign missions and in central government departments in London. There probably isn’t a profession or industry in London I have not had dealings with whilst teaching German. I mainly teach in person but also teach students online across three continents. As is evident, there are very few dull moments teaching German.
Occasionally, work can be somewhat predictable, with most English speakers tending to make the same syntax, pronunciation or accentuation mistakes. Having less exposure to foreign languages than their English contemporaries, Americans find comprehension and intonation difficult at first. However, unlike the English, who are somewhat more reserved, they don’t mind asking questions. The Scottish and Irish have the most tenacity and the ability to learn. Some students have to relearn how to learn first. These differences require adaptation and bespoke syllabi so that everyone experiences effective language learning.
Students are often surprised when they learn about the German mindset. Whereas the English speaker tends to elaborate, Germans are rather curt; neither do we readily dole out praise, which is hard to shoulder for some. At the same time, Germans don’t take that well to praise either or people being overly apologetic. It is not part of Germanic behavioural traits. Germans are more opinionated than other nationals and speak their minds quickly.
Seeing a German learner comprehend their first German sentences and then being able to respond in German is always a special moment. I’ve seen students delight their German-speaking colleagues with their newly acquired German language skills; others move into different jobs on the back of improving their German. Then again, some students are pleased to have the ability to converse with their in-laws. Numerous students pass a German language exam out of necessity or to measure their progress.
Many enquiries arrive from prospective students looking to learn German. Some have realistic expectations whilst others expect to be fluent within weeks. Some are applying for German citizenship only to discover whilst overcoming the last hurdle that part of being German is being able to speak German. Corporations find that a lack of German language skills and cultural understanding hampers their attempts to break into the German-speaking market.
The onboarding process is simple – a German language assessment, ascertaining reasons and goals for learning German, comparing diaries and students are off to a start.
How long does it take to become fluent in German? The best school, of course, is to live in Germany. Learning German outside a German-speaking country is altogether different. Progress is very much dependent on the legwork students are able or prepared to put in. I’ve learned that flexibility with my scheduling helps students find time to learn German. If students still experience difficulty finding time, I suggest making time.
Teaching German as a foreign language here in London gives me great job satisfaction. My teaching is mainly one-to-one and in small classes. I have been teaching German for many years, which allows me to meet people from many walks of life. It sometimes has its challenges, but I find it to be a very rewarding profession.