Rod Liddle of the Sunday Times learns German with Chris Polatch Language Courses

"Can Teresa, from Chris Polatch Language Courses, do in a few sessions what Mr Webb failed to do in five years, and teach me how to hold a lengthy and perhaps intimate conversation with, say, Claudia Schiffer or Angela Merkel?"

Teresa Kennedy, cp-fl German tutor: "She is brilliant: inventive in her teaching methods, and endlessly patient"

The Sunday Times asked us to help with a feature in which their writers attempt to master a new skill in just 20 hours.

Rod Liddle wanted to learn German.

We don't usually recommend crash courses, but our excellent teacher, Teresa, was courageous enough to take on the challenge!

Our teacher Teresa: "Brilliant: inventive in her teaching methods, and endlessly patient."

Here is Rod Liddle's account of his German crash course:

"During the oral section of my German O-level, in July 1976, I forgot the German word for bill. I was being asked to describe the scenario taking place in a supermarket, where Herr Ehlers was in the process of buying some groceries. The cashier was handing him the bill. What’s she giving Herr Ehlers, my German teacher asked hopefully. I thought about it. I racked my brains. No use. “Ein Papierflugzeug,” I eventually replied. A paper aeroplane. She’s giving Herr Ehlers a paper aeroplane. It was the look on Mr Webb’s face that will stay with me for ever: a sorrowful mixture of contempt, weariness and futility. So all these years later why am I learning German again? Because I love Germany and Germans; I go there a lot and struggle through with my meagre grab-bag of Schuldeutsch and Ferien (holiday)-Deutsch.

TWO HOURS

Few of the grammatical rules for German have stuck to the insides of my imbecilic brain. Can Teresa, from Chris Polatch Language Courses, do in a few sessions what Mr Webb failed to do in five years, and teach me how to hold a lengthy and perhaps intimate conversation with, say, Claudia Schiffer or Angela Merkel? No, of course not. Nowhere near, but she is brilliant: inventive in her teaching methods, and endlessly patient as she listens to me mangle her language and employ a sentence construction that makes John Prescott sound like Dr Johnson.

EIGHT HOURS

This time around I am a willing pupil, anxious and even desperate to learn; but to do this properly I should have stayed up all night going over the stuff Teresa had drummed into me in my first few sessions, hammering it all into my skull. And then maybe taken an easyJet flight to Munich and spent about three months jabbering to the locals about more involved stuff than just “Ein Bier bitte und eine grosse Schweinshaxe” (One beer please and a large roast pig). I didn’t do that, and even now can feel the rigour and discipline slipping away from my addled mind.

TEN HOURS

Stuff flies in one ear and out of the other. I’m beginning to worry that Teresa will get that Mr Webb look on her face pretty soon. It must be excruciating, trying to drum the grammatical rules into the ear of a halfwit whose only fluent German really is “Kann ich habe eine Zigarette, bitte?” But then I can ask for a cigarette fluently in exactly 54 languages, including Northern Sami, language of the indigenous people of Lapland.

TWELVE HOURS

I’m taking regular breaks for me to smoke multiple cigarettes and pace about trying to recall the conjugations of werden (become). There are seven of them. And that’s before I get to the subordinating conjunctions, the words that turn a sentence upon its head.

FIFTEEN HOURS

We stop the grammar for a bit because Teresa has noticed I’ve started to fidget, yawn and claw at my wrist. We play a game where I have to name German cities and rivers. This is great, it’s like Sporcle, except in a foreign language. I can do this.

SEVENTEEN HOURS

It should be an easy language to learn for Brits; a brother language, only a few paces away from our own. And in a sense that is part of the problem: so close and yet not quite close enough. 

The German for bill? Try reckoning; the reckoning — or Die Rechnung. Now get the tenses and the genders right — oh, and all the other stuff, the sentence construction, which is really not very English at all. Nowhere near.

By now, though, I can read the front page of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and have a reasonable idea of what the Germans are getting up to, of what’s getting them worked up.

TWENTY HOURS

I’m still missing the nuance, undoubtedly, and some words will have me scrambling for my German-English dictionary: bankruptcy — Konkurs.  Loan — Darlehen. Greece — Griechenland. Yeah, I’d have got the last one, thank you. I suspect, when I next go to Germany or Austria, I will again use German words with English sentence construction, if the going starts getting tough. So, close — aber keine Zigarre."

Source: The Sunday Times. Read the full article here:

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1469895.ece