1994-2007 Primary and secondary school in Germany, 2007-2012 Humboldt University of Berlin (and one semester at University Aix-Marseille in France), since 2014 University of Nottingham
German Abitur (A-Levels) in English, French, Education and Maths; BA in German Linguistics and French; MA in German as a Foreign Language; started a Doctorate in Education in 2014
Before I came to Nottingham, I worked at Newcastle University for a year, and during my studies I did teaching placements at a language school in Cape Town (South Africa) and at a university in the south of France. I have also taught kids during summer schools in Germany.
Linguist, German language teacher and doctoral researcher
University of Nottingham, my post is partly funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
Favourite thing to do in my job: Finding out something new, working out problems and being able to improve the way things are done.
I like to discover how languages work, how we learn them and what successful language teaching should be like.
Being a great enthusiast of languages, I’ve always found it unfair that children learn their first language so effortlessly. Why can something so natural turn into rather hard work when we are older? What can we do to make language learning as effective and enjoyable as possible? It was my interest in questions like these that made me choose to become a linguist and language teacher. Now I teach German language and linguistics at the University of Nottingham, and I’m doing a doctorate in which I look at language education and language teaching.
Having studied languages myself, I know my students‘ situation from my own experience. I’m passionate about teaching, and I love to make my classes fun and engaging. In one of my classes, my students have created their own video tutorials. Here’s a funny one on German pronunciation:
What is linguistics?
Linguistics is the scientific study of languages. Linguists try to find out how languages work, how they are related, why some of them are quite different from each other, and why seem quite similar. Compare the following three sentences:
Ich liebe Linguistik. (German)
I love linguistics. (English)
J’aime la linguistique. (French)
You can immediately tell the similarities between the sentences but you can also spot the differences quite easily. Languages often ‘borrow’ certain words from other languages, too. German kids, for example, use English words like “cool” or “song” quite a lot. Did you know that the German word for “mobile phone” is “Handy”? Weird, isn’t it? However, there are also quite a few German words in the English language: “spiel” (as in “she gave me a spiel about her favourite song”) or “rucksack” (which literally means “back bag”) are two examples of words that English has ‘borrowed’ from German.
(The picture shows a “language family tree”, taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/gallery/2015/jan/23/a-language-family-tree-in-pictures)
Another thing linguists are interested in is how languages change over time. How is Shakespeare’s English different from the English we use today? How do we talk on social media like Twitter or Facebook?
Why linguistics? Why languages?
Language is all around us, we use it constantly, often without even being aware of it. Language is more than just words (if someone says “Oh, it’s really cold in here”, what might they really be trying to say?). There’s also language that works completely without words, for example body language.
It’s really interesting to explore something that we tend to just take for granted. Also, every science uses language, so language is something that all sciences and academic disciplines have in common.
Unfortunately, languages are sometimes underestimated in the UK. In many European countries, every child has to learn at least one or two foreign languages from an early age. As English is such a wide-spread language in the world, this is not always the case in the UK. That’s really a shame because it is so fascinating to study a language.
You can learn so many things by learning a foreign language and you can only fully understand a foreign culture if you speak the language. Also, you can learn a lot about your own language and culture. Some people say that people think differently depending on the language(s) they speak. This is very interesting but controversial idea.
The aspect I’m particularly interested in is how we learn foreign languages and what the best way is to teach and learn a language. How can make teaching and learning fun and effective at the same time? By the way, have you heard about this guy who speaks 11 languages fluently?
Quite impressive, isn’t it?
My Typical Day
Teaching, marking, speaking to colleagues and students, and drinking too much coffee!
My main activity is teaching: I teach German language classes, classes on contemporary Germany and linguistics classes on the teaching and learning of foreign languages. I love teaching and working with my students – it’s so rewarding and so nice to see their progress.
Unfortunately, as a teacher I also have a lot of marking to do. This is definitely not my favourite part of the job.
After our classes, we often organise co-curricular activities. Here are some pictures of our German drama group and our German football cup:
In my breaks, I usually go for a coffee with my colleagues. Sometimes I get the chance to go to conferences and meet other linguists and language teachers from all over the world. The most exciting conference I have been to was the World Congress of Modern Languages in Canada, just by the Niagara Falls:
It’s great to have a job which gives you the opportunity to travel every now and then!
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d like to get more people interested in linguistics and languages and organise an event about languages.
I’d quite like to organise a “language discovery day” which anyone could attend to find out interesting and fascinating stuff about other languages and cultures. This could include some taster sessions, during which people could learn some words and phrases in languages they don’t know yet, and maybe also learn new things about their own language. It would also be interesting to start a project for which university students and school students work together on language-related topics. I’d also like to create a website to connect students at different universities and schools and give them a platform to share their interest in languages. I’ve got too many ideas…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Ambitious language enthusiast.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
To get people excited about linguistics and languages.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My former English teacher who was so passionate about the English language – it was contagious. And the fact that I have always been quite curious (maybe even nosy?) haha.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes, yeah. I used to complain a lot (and I still like moaning about things, haha).
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Probably a school teacher (I just love teaching!). Or, for some reason, I have always wanted to work in an airport, probably because I really like travelling.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
There are too many… I quite like Maximo Park and Calvin Harris.
What's your favourite food?
Pizza and pasta – with tons of cheese!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I travelled to South Africa and climbed a famous mountain called “Lion’s Head”. Such a stunning place!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Have more time to learn more languages, have lots of money to travel and see more places, take a gap year (I’ve never really had one!).
Tell us a joke.
What time is it when you have to go to the dentist? Tooth-hurtie.