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Interview with Natascha Kruger

Kruger, Natascha
Smith, Melissa
Date of Interview: 
overcoming obstacles; relationships with people and places; then and now
Natascha Kruger talks about language classes in school.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Melissa Smith interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
MS (Melissa Smith): All right, so, you know, um, German, English, French, and some Latin. And you learned German first?
NK (Natascha Kruger): Yep.
MS: But what was the next language you learned?
NK: Latin.
MS: OK. And how long did you learn that for?
NK: I started in the fifth grade. And I had for seven years.
MS: Was it basically like written, or did you, 'cause I really don't know much about Latin. Do you, do they teach you how to speak it?
NK: Huh-uh. You, that's a dead language, pretty much.
NK: So you don't speak it but you translate it first. It's like, I think I started out with Latin-German, German-Latin but then like two years later we got to the point where we would only translate from Latin to German. 'Cause it would have been way too difficult to translate from German into Latin with all that weird grammatical construction of structure. It's like real weird so-.
NK: It's just so, I don't know.
MS: OK. So after you took Latin, what language did you tackle next?
NK: Seventh grade was English.
MS: OK. And have you pretty much taken it ever since, or-?
NK: Yeah.
MS: OK. And then when did you learn French?
NK: Ninth grade.
MS: Wow. Um, so how was your schedule set up that you could take all these languages? Was it every day you had class?
NK: No, actually, I mean, it's different than here in the US. You have, like in that year you have biology, whereas in Germany like in fifth grade you get all those, I had biology, geography, math and all that.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: And some classes like Latin, I had every day. I think I had like six hours a week.
NK: Whereas biology would only be three hours a week.
NK: And we didn't have school in the afternoon. But, when you got to seventh grade and English was added and I think history was added too, so we had some afternoon classes.
NK: And then I only had five hours of Latin compared to like six before.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: And I had six hours of English, and then, yeah, so I mean they just added more classes and some were they just decreased the number of classes.
MS: Uh huh.
NK: Like I think with math I started with six hours too, but then to one, at one point it got down to four times a week.
MS: Was that the way for everybody?
NK: Yeah.
MS: Or did they like, um, detail your schedule for you?
NK: No, that you have your class and you stay with that class.
MS: You stay with the same people?
NK: Like for, throughout your high school.
NK: Basically.
MS: OK. Um, how were your classes set up? Was it mostly writing, or did you have conversation, or did you have different teachers for different skills?
NK: No. I mean you had the teacher like for throughout the whole year.
NK: And, well you have, you use books or, or start out with like a new text, new story and we'd read that, talk about the vocabulary. Do like another hour class, we'd do like grammar or whatever.
MS: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
NK: So, and then the teacher asked questions about the text in English which we had to answer in English.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: Some, like my teacher in seventh and eight grade she, she taught like a lot of the grammar stuff in German and I don't remember that, speaking that much English in that class, only to like, to answer questions, which was like not like everyday English was. They're specific to whatever text stupid, or text we read. I mean they were like dumb. But then in ninth grade we talked, I mean we basically only talked in English which was hard to adapt to, at first. 'Cause you know that we weren't used to speaking.
MS: Um, so from ninth grade on was it like you were in full immersion, you only spoke English all the time and your, and your directions for like your tests and projects were in English as well, or-?
NK: Yeah.
NK: Only time the students got to grammar then, that was in German.
NK: So you can compare.
NK: But I was speaking in English, but that was just the teacher, I, actually went back to that school like for kind of an internship, I don't know.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: And I went back to one of his classes where he taught English actually to sixth graders or seventh graders and they talked a lot in English. Yeah, I mean if you start out like that it's, it's going to be even easier.
MS: Right, so it was the teacher's style?
NK: It's the teacher's style.
MS: OK. Did you know other people who, who had different experiences?
NK: Yeah like one of my friends she had another teacher and that teacher just came in seventh grade and started talking English and everyone was like-. [Laughter] "What's going on?" So, and, I mean some just never spoke a lot of English. It just depended on the teacher and I guess how good the teacher was or how fluent. I mean, even though my teacher in seventh and eighth grade was fluent, but she didn't have like bad, she had a kind of German accent, you know, in English, whereas my other teacher in ninth grade he had like a really British accent.
MS: Um, which class did you like better?
NK: Ninth grade.
MS: Ninth grade? The one that spoke more English?
NK: Yeah, it was a lot tougher but it was awesome, I learned a lot in that class.
MS: OK, um, did you learn American English or British English, or another form of English?
NK: Well, I guess we say we learn RP, the resistive pronunciation.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: But, when you get to the chapter, which I think we did in ninth grade, about the US, then we cover like all, some of the differentiation like the um, negation of like 'have to'. Whereas like the English say, "I haven't got a book," and here you say, "I don't have a book," or different terms like subway and underground.
MS: Yeah.
NK: We got into that a little.
MS: Did you find it hard when you came here, since you were used to speaking the other English to get it back to American English?
NK: I think, I, I came here with my twin brother and it took us like three months to like start dreaming in English and all that. And, but I guess it took us like a month to like get used to it, maybe three months to really like adapt to everything. But then we were like, and then it took us like three more months to like get fully integrated and all that.
NK: But, at first I remember like my first math class. My teacher started telling jokes, and I, I mean I could tell from his voice that he was telling jokes and everyone was laughing, and I just sat there and I was like totally serious because I didn't get it. I didn't understand a word of like, hmm, everyone was like, "Who is she? She's not even laughing!" You know, everyone kind of-. But otherwise-.
MS: Did you get to choose when you started taking these languages, and what languages you took, or is it pretty much decided?
NK: You, I guess you kind of get to choose, I mean, I choose that high school and I knew I'd have to start off with Latin, but my parents really wanted me to start off with Latin.
NK: So, but I have to try, I, I just thought, I mean all my, my older brother and sister started off with Latin, with Latin, so I was like, "OK, I want to start off with Latin too." So-.
MS: So basically it's what high school you go to determines what language-.
NK: It depends, like mine, was like, like, sort of old school-.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: -Traditional school.
MS: It's whatever philosophy the school-?
NK: Yeah and then the newer schools, they start off, off with English but then you can't, and in seventh grade you can choose between French or Latin, and I think they've added Spanish too. Like in my, my school, actually, like you have to take Latin, then English, and then you could choose, choose between Old Greek and French in ninth grade. And, now they've added Spanish and Italian to it in ninth grade.
NK: In some other schools, they had, have, put more emphasis on science, so you'd have like, you can take two languages like Latin or English, Latin/English, French and then you have more chemistry, math classes in ninth grade and after that.
MS: So people who go to those schools will probably be going on to professions in the science field?
NK: No, they just, well, most people who take more science classes just really suck in languages.
MS: Oh, OK [laugh]. Well I guess that's good. Do you feel that you learned a lot in your language classes? Or are there ways it could have been improved?
NK: Well, I regret that I had that one teacher in seventh and eighth grade, the same teacher-.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: -'Cause I know like, in eighth grade I just hated English. I mean I really liked English 'cause I mean I, I was born in the States. And also of the fact that I'm like, "Yeah, I'm an American." So, I really wanted to pick up the language. And also regret the fact that my parents like didn't teach me before, a lot, like-, and stuff.
MS: Are both your parents German?
NK: They're German, yeah.
MS: And do they speak English fluently?
NK: My mom does, she's an English/French/German teacher.
MS: Oh!
NK: So, yeah.
MS: That's good. Are they here now? Or, no, you said they were back in Germany. Is she teaching in Germany?
NK: No. No, not anymore.
NK: My dad is retired, so my mom sort of retired.
MS: So they can do their thing together [laugh]. Um, did you, what kind of tests or how were you tested to see if you had learned or were proficient in like English?
NK: Well, so, let, let me split up like the years in two semesters.
NK: So you'd get a report like in February and then one in end of July again.
MS: What was your school year?
NK: It was like September till end of July, mid September, end of July, and we'd have like a couple of days off and for, two weeks off in, around Christmas, two weeks Easter, two weeks Pentecost, and then six, six weeks, six or seven weeks in the summer.
MS: OK. And, but you just went to school in the morning, for about how many hours?
NK: Um, we started at eight and I was done at one. But at maybe fifth or sixth grade I had swimming class or lessons and I think that every other week on Thursday afternoons.
NK: And then in seventh grade I had Monday afternoon classes, eighth grade I had I think Monday, Wednesday and then Tues-, at one point I think I had like almost every day afternoon classes.
MS: Wow.
NK: Everyday but Friday, but then I played basketball or whatever, so-.
MS: You took that time up? [Laugh].
NK: Yeah.
MS: So, um, what kind of tests were you given?
NK: Well, we had like, per semester, we had in, like we had in like major classes, I guess, and minor ones and, um, I don't know, the main, the important ones were like German, the languages like Latin, Math, English, those were the more important, important classes and, there we had two exams per semester.
NK: We had like a final exam, we just had like-.
MS: They weren't cumulative. They were just about you've learned?
NK: Yeah.
MS: About-.
NK: And then so there was like four exams.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: I think we might have had five in Latin. I'm really not that sure. And then we had, I guess, quizzes which were unannounced.
NK: They were surprise quizzes. And then we had like oral quizzes maybe oral-.
MS: Like interviews or oral presentations?
NK: At the beginning of each class usually, um, they would like quiz the vocabulary you had to study for that class in English. So, one of us had to either go up to the blackboard and write down on the back, like, 'cause we had those that fold-.
NK: So we had to write on the back and like the vocabulary and other sentences, to write it on there, in the notebook and then we, I mean the one up on the blackboard would be graded. Some days they would ask questions and you had to answer them.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: You know, and then, also, participation was very important, especially in languages.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: So, that's it.
MS: Did you have to take, um-.
NK: And we had dictation English.
MS: Oh, you did have dictations?
NK: Yeah, a lot, I suppose. I think I had them for like three years.
MS: Wow.
NK: Seventh, eighth and ninth grades.
MS: Did you have a lot, did you have to write reports at all, or basically your written skills were tested in homework and in your exams?
NK: We had a lot of homework and then the exams would be a vocabulary part, a grammar part, translations, dictations, and then answer questions, like short answer questions.
MS: OK, was there, um, like a listening comprehension section of the exam?
NK: No.
MS: No? OK. Did you get nervous before you took the exam? Or it was just another test?
NK: Yeah, I got kind of nervous 'cause, I mean those are the ones that really counted. They count like seventy-five percent, or something, of your grade.
MS: Really?
NK: So, if you have like four of those exams-.
MS: OK. Did you have to take the TESL, I mean, what is it called?
NK: You mean the TOEFL?
MS: The TOEFL, I can't believe that I messed that up [laugh].
NK: That, no, actually I didn't have to take that 'cause since I took classes in summer of 2000 here-.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: -As a visiting student last, I had like more than twenty-eight credit hours. So, if you have that you don't need the TOEFL.
MS: Well, that's good. So you, you took your tests in-. Did you feel that, umm, the tests that you took and the grades that you received, did they reflect how much you knew the language?
NK: Well, I thought they were important 'cause my mom was-.
MS: [Laugh].
NK: -My brother had good grades and I had grades that wasn't good.
MS: [Laugh].
NK: And I, I'm not sure I don't, I guess, I just, 'cause you, like up to, up to the time I went to the States, actually, and really learned like how to speak it and all that.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: I guess, yeah, I mean, I just worked hard 'cause I really wanted to be good and when I had a bad grade in English, I mean I was really-, but I mean I didn't cry, but I felt like it.
MS: Yeah.
NK: 'Cause I just really wanted to be good. And I don't, some subjects, it didn't matter as much such as that I have an older brother and an older sister there was a lot of pressure there.
MS: Yeah.
NK: So they did really good, and so I really wanted to do good, too.
MS: Yeah. Um, did you feel that when you got those bad grades that you didn't know it, or maybe you just had a bad day or what?
NK: Well, sometimes it was like a bad day, you, you'd get to a section and you'd be like, I have, no I, like you, like-.
MS: You'd blank.
NK: Yeah, you would blank, so I was like that in math. I just went blank. I didn't remember.
MS: So, you'd say you were more of a language person?
NK: Now I think I am. At one point I was really good at all the science classes, I guess it depended on the teachers I had.
MS: Oh, OK.
NK: I had a teacher, and I liked the teacher, and I was really good, then I got a teacher I didn't like as much, so, and then I got kind of bad and then my mom was like, "OK you've got to study on this. You study on this, all the different subjects."
MS: Well, it was good that your mom was involved.
NK: Yeah, and then in my minor classes or whatever, like biology, we didn't have those exams we only had quizzes. Unannounced quizzes and then in each class the teacher would like ask questions to one or two people and they would get grades for that.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: So you basically had to, you know, take a chance and always be prepared for those classes, but then sometimes you would have an unannounced quiz. And you'd like flunk it-.
MS: Yeah.
NK: -Or you always had to be prepared.
MS: What, in your opinion, since you've taught language, what is the best way to evaluate how somebody knows the language?
NK: I guess there would, comes a point where you have to decide what's more important, to speak it or more important to write it. I think that both is important. But I think it is easier to write if you already know how to speak it.
NK: I mean, when you go to the country and that's what most people go, and you're only used to like translating or writing, you'll never be able to really think in that language.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: So you won't be able to speak it and lots of class members say that they hesitate to speak it. They understand but they hesitate. So, I mean in the classroom, there is a lot of emphasis on speaking it. And if it's like they want you to speak it, you won't really hesitate because you, that's almost the only way you know it.
MS: It puts you into that mindset.
NK: Yeah, and especially when you are like in the fifth or sixth grade and you are 10 or 11, that's just easy for you to learn.
MS: Yeah. So, if you were teaching people who were 10 and 11, how would you evaluate how well they know the language? Like would you concentrate on oral exams, would you do projects-?
NK: I think I wouldn't do oral exams.
NK: Because I know that most people get really nervous when they do them, and others start laughing 'cause if you can't pronounce the "th" or whatever. But I would try to do projects, where they'd have to say something in German, I would have them speak in class a lot, like just German, like when it comes to grammar, when you'd have to speak, or like something. You'd give problems and so you can say that in, in that language where that's English. And then you'd have, of course, to switch back to the native language.
MS: So you'd have mostly the class in the target language and when necessary fall back on the native language?
NK: Yeah.
NK: Yeah, and, I mean, I also would put emphasis on writing, too because I mean all the things are spelled differently and I just think that's important to know.
MS: And also, if you were to write it, when you'd see it, you'd be able to read it.
NK: Uh-huh.
MS: Do you feel some people learn languages better than others? Or, if you work at it, it will come to you?
NK: I think some people have, are just more, maybe, engaged or fascinated by language so they just are more into languages. I don't know, 'cause I mean, I know when I learned French, I just got real excited. We went to France in the summer.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: And, so I always wanted to learn French. So, when I finally got the chance to, and I was just really working hard and trying to like adopt the pronunciation, the intonation, the, the French I mean you've got music so everyone speaks like that. So, and others just didn't care about it 'cause they got confused like how French pronunciation and the way you write it, spelling it, is just confusing and so-. But yeah, I mean some people just can adopt accents easily, balance, whatever. And some people just are not in that mindset. That's why they do like some math, solve some math problems.
MS: So, it not only is the innate ability, but you believe that if you have an incentive, like how you did when you went to a country and you wanted to learn the language.
NK: Yeah, motivation I guess.
MS: And then, if you were an English, are you, do you teach English when you go back or are you going to stay here or you don't know what you're going to do?
NK: I know I'm going to stay here, but I, I want to go onto grad school and try to get my Ph.D. in English.
MS: What do you eventually want to do?
NK: I'm not sure. I'm actually really into languages, but I am also like the structure. So, I change my mind depending on the class. [Laughter]
MS: And probably the professor.
NK: Yeah, exactly. In Chris's class I'm like, "Yeah, I'm going be just like her yeah, that is the greatest." But then I have like Dr. Govan and in African American literature, Langston Hughes-.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: -And every time I'm in that class, I'm like, "Oh yeah, I'm going teach that." And then Thursdays I'm depressed and am like, "What am I going to do?" [Laugh] But, I don't know.
MS: If you were a language teacher, or like say when you taught German, what did your lessons look like? Were they mostly, you know, like, drills, or would you have the students talking to each other-?
NK: Like when I taught?
MS: Yeah.
NK: Well, since I was, it was like an internship or whatever, so, I really didn't, I wasn't able to do it the way I wanted to do it.
NK: So, what we did after the first five minutes which was to ask questions, "How was your day?" "What did you do yesterday?" Something to warm up. Then, we'd correct homework, and then I think we had to practice reading the text-.
MS: Uh-huh.
NK: -And then answer questions on the text, and did some grammar stuff.
MS: But if it was your classroom, how would you have done it?
NK: Um, I probably would have had vocabulary quizzes.
NK: Even though I didn't really like them myself in high school. But I noticed how my students wouldn't learn the vocabulary. They wouldn't really go home and study it. So, when we had the tests, they just didn't know it.
NK: And then they're not able to speak. And it's basically, you've got to learn, students just don't learn if they don't have to. So, you've, I guess that's why, I guess, the second is important.
MS: So, you would focus on their vocabulary skills 'cause the basic-.
NK: I would do that regularly, just like as a part. I mean I wouldn't say it was my main focus.
MS: Right, what would you focus main-, you would focus mainly on speaking?
NK: Yeah, I would try to make them speak, interact, maybe act out some of the dialogues we read, or write their own dialogues, if that's possible. So, I would also maybe record, not long ones, just like something about their summer vacation. Something like, just, tell them and maybe then afterwards go back and write down what they did. So that they'd have both writing and speaking.
MS: But you would gear so that the assessments or something were relevant to them, or important to them?
NK: I don't know how much I would assess that. I would probably more assess those that they did the work. That the way I can see, OK, they worked hard. And not so much the way the, I mean, I guess you have to, test or, rate the way they presented. But if the accent is like not as good as others, or if the pronunciations is off, I wouldn't be that tough on it. Or if someone is really nervous. Because, I mean, if you're really tough on that at the beginning, they will be so nervous, and that's just not fair.
MS: Would you do informal assessments, like as they working in their groups, walk around and listen to them speaking, see how they are when they are a little more comfortable.
NK: Probably, I mean, that's, I guess goes into the participation grade. I just-.
MS: Great, well, thank you. I don't have any more questions.