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Don’t hesitate. Sign up for an online German distance learning course and learn to speak German already. Or you can do what I did, and use language learning as your flimsy excuse to live abroad for like ever. Here’s a breakdown of how I improved my German while living in Berlin. Sadly, it’s probably a lot more coherent than my German. Hopefully it will help somebody, someday. Four key steps to success:

1. “Tandem” or “language exchange”
Tandem is what the Germans call a conversational meeting (usually over coffee) in which a German speaker and an English speaker divide the time between two languages. Rather than pay a tutor for an hour of German instruction or conversation practice, I could get a half hour of help in the form of casual chatting, and getting questions answered about how to say certain words or phrases in German. For the second half hour I would help my tandem partner with her English, as she was preparing for a placement test to get back into school.

I wanted to learn German slang. So she taught me that in German the hip-hop version of Wie geht’s? is Was geht? I believe it’s like the difference between “How are you?” and “Whatup?” It may seem trivial, but it actually got me a lot of mileage with the locals. It’s not like anybody mistook me for a thug from the knifecrime district of Berlin, but at least it made people laugh and helped break the ice more than once.

Tandem was the most likely place for me to learn this piece of German slang. I wouldn’t have had the time in the German class I took, where the focus was lesson plans and grammar, nor did I ask any of my German friends teach it to me, as I didn’t want to bore them excessively with minutia about a language they generally take for granted. In Tandem I had the luxury to talk exclusively about the fun aspects of the language. She also hooked me up with an apartment.

You can find Tandem partners in the activities section of Berlin’s Craigslist.

2. Making friends
I knew going into it that the most organic way for me to improve my German would be to speak solely in German with all the new people I met. I assumed all Germans spoke perfect English, so I was prepared

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for a challenge. But after settling in I was happily surprised: not all Germans speak English!

In fact, a couple very close friendships were conducted entirely in German. But because my German was even worse then, I couldn’t help feeling slightly suspicious of anyone who would tolerate lengthy conversation with a verbal cripple like me.

What were they getting out of it?

That remains an open question, but for me the rewards were crystal clear. I got hours of real-life practice forming sentences, responding to questions, making jokes and even working through misunderstandings caused by my poor language skills. Talk about a steep learning curve. I even picked up some very practical language tips: after asking was? all the time, I was told to change it up occasionally with the more polite phrase: wie, bitte?

Of course, many Germans do speak English extremely well, and inevitably I made friends with folks who spoke only English to me. I didn’t mind the friendship, but it didn’t help my German at all. And here’s where an unbroken pattern revealed itself: the first few moments of meeting somebody would absolutely determine the language used for the life of the relationship. The second I said “Hi, how are you,” to someone, the German language was DOA.

I think the reason is because I am a different person when I speak German. I express visible glee whenever I can formulate a sentence. Time slows down and every object on the street or in the café becomes amazing, something worth inquiring about. In German, I am a child.

Once I put it to a test and tried switching to German with a friend who normally spoke English to me. It was a complete disaster. One could almost hear a grinding sound as I tried to switch gears into that friendly, lobotomized character that worked so well in German-language friendships. I smiled and blinked uncomprehendingly as a torrent of gibberish flowed from his mouth. He was baffled by my precipitous drop in IQ. It took only moments for us to switch back to English. We were both embarrassed.

3. Reading books
“Here, read this,” a local once told me. It was Arabboy, by Güner Balci, about a Lebanese-Palestinian boy who chooses a life of crime in the poor part of Berlin. Despite its humor, darkness and valuable insight into the immigrant experience, the prose would have bored me stiff if translated into English. But in German I am a child. And in German, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I followed it up with Bertold Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and inevitably found some parallels in the criminal heroes of both stories.

Of course, in both cases practically every sentence yielded multiple new vocabulary words. So rather than look each word up as I encountered it, I would simply write it down and move on. Only at the end of each chapter would I look up all the definitions, write them down, memorize them, then re-read the chapter with a whole new level of comprehension.

It’s work, but it works; the primary benefits were reading comprehension amassing vocabulary. But while this is not a direct method of learning grammar rules, reading hundreds of pages in German did make me more comfortable with the way German

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sentences are thrown together, and I actually think it even helped my spoken German.

But for real help with grammar, there’s nothing like taking a German course:

4. Taking German classes in Berlin
I enrolled in a German course through the Volkshochschule, which is a nationwide adult education program for lower income folk. An expat friend recommended it, but the Germans I knew would disparage it. One was concerned I’d get bored, and another, with decidedly elitist sensibilities, was uncomfortable mentioning the word in public. The course was held in a bright orange high school building from the Soviet era, located in Wedding, a district with zero popular appeal and a large working class population.

I was attracted to it because I’m cheap. A month long course involving around 80 hours of instruction cost something like 100 Euros. There were other young American expats like me in the course, along with older people who came to Germany looking for economic opportunities. Some students hailed from really exotic places like Belarus, Nigeria and the newly-formed nation of Kosova. Our instructor was very friendly but inexperienced. She spoke with a slight Turkish accent, and the course moved at a snail’s pace; per the lesson plan we wasted a lot of time in activities like making posters to pin up to the wall. Nobody liked the text book but her hands were tied, she said.

Despite these criticisms, I really did learn fundamental grammar rules that I wouldn’t have learned outside the classroom environment. No matter how inefficiently the course was run, I feel that by getting up early and putting over four hours in every day, I was bound to learn something, even if I didn’t make it through to the end of the month. If I had to do it again, I might pony up a bit more, for a faster paced and more exciting German course in Berlin.

So there you have it. Since moving back home my German has degraded a lot but I’m trying to keep up by attending a German conversation group in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Typical CamWhore

Popular among marketing executives who’ve reached that point in their career where the cocaine and booze can no longer create the necessary plasticity to do their jobs is having adults attempt to use hip-hop slang. This lazy tactic started in the 80’s and quickly spread through pop-culture sending titters through middle America and your parents. It should have died out and never been reborn but, because the gene pools have been diluted beyond repair, the hilarious grey-haired matron talking jive to the kids returns time and time again to sell you cell phones or Sunny Delight or whatever the fuck people buy. “Hahahahah! How clueless is she, that retard, trying to talk slang like she’s down?” thinks shiny happy white people holding remotes.

These commercials always, without fail, cause extreme embarrassment for me. I don’t know why, I’ve never done the market research to unearth what deep-rooted trauma lurks in my past to cause such discomfort when some nameless day-actress says something like “keep it on the DL” on national television. Okay, my mother has probably humiliated me in this fashion but I can’t think of a specific instance except for one wonderful Thanksgiving where she was conversing with a younger cousin and it popped out onto the table and began infesting the Turkey with tapeworm. She wonders why I always loved working holidays.

Well, perhaps my horror at witnessing these displays of out of touch adults is an issue of empathy. I don’t understand many of the popular trends currently corrupting society as a whole and the greatest wormhole of confusion can be found here on the internet. The very fact that within a short period of time computers went from being something that, if you knew how to turn one on, could get you physically attacked and verbally ridiculed to being an indispensable daily asset baffles me; I distinctly recall them as being a very uncool thing that labeled users as insufferable nerds and caused my dad to think I was gay. Now he knows about youtube and rappers have websites and myspace pages. Myspace baffles me. I’ve seen people lurk on it for hours at a time, posting comments and trolling through profiles. There’s people who pimp other people’s myspace pages. This is making me feel very much like a clueless adult.

But the truth depths of modern perversion were, until quite recently, hidden from me. I thought that myspace was the ultimate in hyperactive media saturation until livejournal came into view. Message boards have changed significantly from the times of BBSs, although fundamentally they remain populated by geeky recluses who know that appearing at the local mall will elicit mockery and death by being pelted with pennies or small, hard candies. Yet they’re sleek and snazzy and in color with pictures and wobbling icons and, most horrifying, their own slang. In a way it’s a natural evolution of shorthand. You’re typing and you’re excited about the exchange– you need to relate the thoughts bursting from your head as quickly as possible. OMG has been with us for a long time and most of the western world can understand the implications. Kewl has, blessedly, disappeared entirely from usage.

It goes beyond a simple matter of slang, tho. There’s an entire generation coming up that has successfully integrated the internet into their mannerisms and interests and, unfortunately, their lives. A perfect symbiosis has occurred and millions of little wingnuts the world over have been fucking sold on the concept. Little shits posting video diaries of themselves on youtube capture the attention of nations while disaster, fire and brimstone reign supreme unnoticed. There’s a level of humour solely dedicated to online chat and postings. There’s memes. Imagine being airlifted from your safe hovel where you can walk through the room with no light and not bang your knee and being dropped in the middle of a Krystal Meyers concert. Then replace everyone with computers and give them programs designed to allow their unabashed inflation of personality present itself in technicolor with streaming video and audio.

Fortunately there’s an oasis out there where you can kick back for a spell and follow the links, absorbing the terms and cultural fads which populate this hinterlands we’ve created. Last week at work we were busy speculating as to what this new room across the hall was being used for. Actually, those of us who’ve not been in a coma or terminally stupid know exactly what is going on in there but we were speculating all the same. When they first began using it I taped a picture of an alien autopsy on the window which had, for the sake of privacy, been spray-painted opaque. This did not suffice. They’re growing pot in there, someone said. What is this, the 20’s? It must be something sinister. Someone brought up the fact that all employees in the new room must sign confidentiality waivers. This same someone also invoked the memory of a former owner/manager who had been bought out and removed after incurring repeated accusations of sexual harassment and general leering creepiness, suggesting they were being brought back into the fold to run this new top secret department. That’s right, my friends, they’ve put a production studio in at Amoeba and they’ve begun producing and streaming child porn.

We needed to do something about it. Posters, we must make posters and cover their door and its opaque window with evidence of our knowledge. But how do you communicate child porn besides writing on a piece of paper, “We make child porn in here”? Why, you find pictures of pedobear on the internet.

Pedobear

WTF? Pedobear is a pedophile bear that crawls through the internet in search of lolis. Pedobear is an unstoppable force lurking in online forums and virtual worlds hunting for underaged girls. Pedobear can be seen on youtube dancing with bananas. Pedobear became the poster child for the new room across the hall from us. I fired the first salvo finding a suitable image and scribbling a clever caption

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underneath and taping the shit out of it all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore it down. I found a more disturbing image and someone devised an even more clever caption which I taped the shit out of all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore that down too. Someone realized we had a lot of label paper on hand and soon were were populating whatever surfaced were handy with pedobear stickers. The denizens across the hall tried to fight back by taking our own posters and sticking them on our own door. We were not amused but responded by more posters, more stickers, more clever captions. We totally pwnd them, is what I’m saying.

Yet where did pedobear creep in to our collective consciousness and begin to fondle us inappropriately? Our source material came from The Encyclopedia Dramatica. As the Onion is the cool-kids lampoon of American news, politics and

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general going-ons ED is the internet’s bastion of in-jokes, snideness and being horribly offensive for the lulz. It’s toilet humor for people that are smart enough to see the joke in the fuck you but geeky enough to appreciate painstakingly photoshopped pictures of cartoon bears and young girls. It completely consumed our entire Thursday and left everyone following each random link lustily, laughing hysterically and calling one another to our computers. Friday saw a resurgence of fascination as well as a continued assault on the neighbors. It also saw someone figuring out that you can have animated gifs as your desktop’s background. It’s the perfect distraction for whiling away the idle hours at work, it’s horribly addictive and it may be the greatest summation of today’s internet culture that has been pointed out to me.

Lulz

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Thanks to Tim for this great clip. It’s 18 min. but well worth it. Techno music all sounds

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One night not too long ago I was in a fine drinking establishment – I honestly can’t remember which one – when 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” came on. Shocking, I know. If you’ve been semi-lucid and in the proximity of any alcohol in the past four years, this situation has happened to you. Indeed, on the racetrack of possibilities where hearing this song is the course marker, I can’t even guess at what lap this commemorated. But I’m pretty sure I’m losing. At previous listenings, this song has triggered the conditioning I underwent at the hands of high school dances where dark lights, bouncing girls, and driving bass boost heart rates and erode taste, causing me to get up and shake my thang. This masterpiece is in every DJs ‘break in case of emergency’ tool box. On this occasion, however, my Pavlovian response was on vacation and what I heard was not a man in control of his situation – a Caesar of debauchery and violence sent to lead us into a Golden Age of intoxication, ecstacy, and patriarchal absolutes – but a poser who insists on the claims he’s making all the more emphatically because deep down he’s terrified they’re not true. Not that I thought 50 was an icon of truthiness before, but the slick-yet-dirty production and intensity of the song suspended my disbelief under circumstances that could best be

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described as ‘spinny.’ Instead of a universal rallying cry for all things booty, the song became the introductory monologue of a character that you know is going to realize the hollowness of his efforts at the end of the play, unseated by a more virtuous and humble upstart; a call of desperation by someone so deep in the carrion of excess that they saw no way out. In this ironic light, the following lyrics took on a whole new meaning:

You can find me in the club, bottle full of Bud Mama, I got that X, if you into takin’ drugs I’m into having sex, I ain’t into making love So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed… …And you should love it, way more then you hate it Nigga you mad? I thought that you’d be happy I made it I’m that cat by the bar toasting to the good life You that faggot ass nigga trying to pull me back right?

In my mind, 50 Cent went from the most indictable proponent of fratboy narcissism to one of the most brilliant critics of the same behavior. If you can hear the words in this way, it’s like one of those 3D computer generated images where you have to cross your eyes a certain way: Everything in the song takes on new meaning. Other

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mind games you can play with yourself to make life more interesting:

  1. When watching talk shows, pretend all the guests are stoned. (works better with some celebrities – Harrison Ford, surprisingly – than with others)
  2. Instead of just walking down the street, imagine you’re on top of the world rotating it with your feet. Also works when walking up stairs and feeling like you’re pushing the whole world down.

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