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Interview with Johannes Lichtenfeld

Interviewee: 
Lichtenfeld, Johannes
Interviewer: 
Blum, Carrie
Date of Interview: 
2003-01-26
Identifier: 
LGLI0561
Subjects: 
Cultural idenification
Abstract: 
Johannes Lichtenfeld talks about learning English in Germany and doing an internship in Charlotte.
Collection: 
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Carrie Blum interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Transcript:
JL (Johannes Lichtenfeld): ( ) Is Lichtenfeld, L-I-C-H-T-E-N-F-E-L-D. Um, I am born, um, 18 September nin-, eh, '78, so which means that I am 24 right now. Um, I am born, I was born in Germany, and that's where I am living, my leg-, // eh, the le-, huh? //
CB (Carrie Blum): // Where, // what city in Germany?
JL: It's, uh, near Hamburg. You won't know the city where I am living.
CB: Will you spell it for me?
JL: Hamburg?
CB: One-, not Hamburg, but the city where you live.
JL: OK. It's Ahrensburg, A-h-r-e-n-s-b-u-r-g.
CB: OK. How do you spell Hamburg?
JL: B-U-R-G.
JL: So the length of time in the US is this time three months.
CB: So you've, you've been here how many times before?
JL: Um, I think five times before.
CB: You have family here?
JL: I've got family in Chicago and New York. In Chicago I got three uncles and one aunt and in New York I got one uncle.
CB: OK.
JL: Um, so length of time in Charlotte area is for the three months I am here. I am here for an internship.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: My native language is German.
CB: Tell me the name of the company that you are doing your internship.
JL: It's Beiersdorf ( ). It's B-e-i-e-r-s-d-o-r-f. This is actually the company I work for in Germany and they own a company called Tesa Tape, which is a tape manufacturer.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: And, uh, I'm doing my internship at Tesa Tape North America, so that's why I am here. Uh, other languages spoken is English // and-. //
CB: // So // German, is German your only native language?
JL: Yes, it is.
CB: OK. OK.
JL: And I speak a little bit of French [pause], and I have three months of Latin in school. [Laughter]
CB: At what age do you start learning, um, foreign language in Germany?
JL: Um, at the age of six in the first grade.
CB: OK.
JL: And it started, um, in the first grade by, hearing some stories from our, our teacher. She, we played some games so it didn't start the hard way.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: So she told us stories in German and then she translated a little bit and then we learned songs, we learned singing and the language and so it was kind of the smooth way to learn the language.
CB: Now is this mandatory for all school age children that they learn, um, a specific language or they have a choice to learn language at that point // or-. //
JL: // I-. //
CB: -They're being taught strictly English?
JL: I can only speak of my school-.
CB: OK.
JL: -And um, we had to learn English as well as French from the first grade.
CB: OK. So you learned two languages at the same time?
JL: Yes.
CB: // OK. //
JL: //Yes, // I think this is not usual for, for schools in Germany-.
CB: OK.
JL: -But for my school.
CB: Uh-huh. Because I've noticed, um, that a lot of German people speak, have spoken, English almost all their // lives. //
JL: // Yeah. //
CB: So it seems like, it seemed like to me that that was pretty common.
JL: Yeah, English is the first, um, for-, foreign language, in Germany.
CB: OK. So at your school it was mandatory language learning?
JL: Yes.
CB: OK.
JL: From the first until the Arbitur, which is the, um, thirteenth. I don't know how you say, grade?
CB: OK.
JL: We go to school for 13 years and in my school I had to learn English for 13 years and I learned French for 13 years but I am not sure if, if French was a, a must.
CB: OK.
JL: Of course, I never thought about it. I learned just for 13 years.
CB: So did you have, um, in those 13 years you went to a specific English class? Like, you said it started off kind of, um, more fun and casual-.
JL: // Right. //
CB: // -When // you were younger, but did it gradually turn into where you were taking English classes, // like in actual classes? //
JL: // Yeah, it started // in the sixth grade-.
CB: OK.
JL: -Like the hard-.
CB: Right. // [Laugh] //
JL: // [Laugh] // The hard grammar studies and all this // kind of stuff. //
CB: // OK, yeah, // that's what I was looking for. And you had the same thing in French?
JL: // Yes. //
CB: // OK. // What was the, um, like the method that they used to teach you English? Like were you already speaking it well enough that by sixth grade it was more of a grammar, you know, grammar study with writing and reading or how did they approach teaching English from what you can remember?
JL: // Hmm. //
CB: // [Laugh] //
JL: Uh, that's kind of a hard question. Um-.
CB: Like do you remember, um, translating things in English or do you remember, // um-? //
JL: // Well, // we worked with books so we had like, uh, one was the life of Gandhi-.
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: // -For example, // and then we had one which was called Dick Whittington.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: Um, it was about a little boy's life and we, we read it in English, we read it in class together and then we got different homeworks like translate it or summarize it and, um, besides that we always had to learn, like verbs.
CB: Right.
JL: [Pause] And, um, the grammatic stuff as well.
CB: Did you do more like memorization and, um, like a lot of the way that they, they taught us was just memorizing and practicing like, um, identifying in the sentences and diagramming sentences, um, // worksheet kind of things? //
JL: // Most of the time // yeah, we got like a, a page of paper-.
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -And // there was some words on it and we had to learn it at home and then we had a little test-.
CB: Yeah, // OK. //
JL: // -Next, // next time in class and she asked just to write down some of them-
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -She // had prepared a little test or something where they were in German and they were in English and we kind of had to just translate them, what we've learned at home.
CB: The other thing that we have to do when we're learning foreign language, um, in America is you have to learn how to, um, like conjugate the verbs, like say the past tense-.
JL: Oh, // yeah, yeah, right. //
CB: // -You have to learn the past tense // and all that. So you're // doing that ( ) too? //
JL: // It was, // uh-huh.
CB: OK. And so what, what other kind of tests do you remember having in English?
JL: Um, // yeah. //
CB: // Would // you have tests on the parts of speech like nouns and verbs?
JL: Yes, // we did. //
CB: // OK. //
JL: All this, um, you know, all the good stuff.
CB: And memorizing? You had to memorize things like that?
JL: What do you mean by memorizing?
CB: Memorizing different verbs and what they mean and-.
JL: Yeah.
CB: // ( ) //
JL: // We // had to learn them actually, we had to learn them by heart.
CB: Uh-huh. [Pause] So did you do a lot of, um, more creative things at that point also? Did you also do creative things? Like, um, like did, when you were taking your classes did you dialogue with other students in English? Like was your class taught strictly in English?
JL: Yes. // Or actually uh, no. //
CB: // Or was it taught in German? //
JL: Well, our teacher tried to keep it in English.
CB: // OK. // [Laughter]
JL: Sometimes it didn't work, but she tried really hard and actually it worked pretty good and yeah, we had some conversation but most of the time it was like reading a specific test, uh, text-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -And then we read our summaries we wrote at home, and, um, this was actually in the, in the last, the last classes we always got a summary-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -Or, uh, we had to interpret something or interpretrate, you know what I mean?
CB: // Interpret? //
JL: // [Laugh] // Right. And, um, then we gave it to our teacher and she corrected it at home and this was actually a kind of a training for our last, last, um, exam which is called Abitur in Germany.
CB: How do you spell that?
JL: H-B-oh, sorry, A-B-I-T-U-R.
CB: OK. And what's that?
JL: No "E."
CB: Sorry. [Laughter] English spelling.
JL: This is, um, yeah, the thirteenth class is called, uh, yeah.
CB: That's the // thirteenth class? //
JL: // Final. //
JL: Yeah, actually, actually this is the, the grade we get when we leave like, it is not a diploma but this is the highest, uh, degree which you can, uh, get when you go to school. You can leave school after the tenth, no, I think after eighth grade, after tenth grade, and after thirteenth grade.
CB: OK.
JL: So this, after thirteenth grade you get the Abitur, if you are good enough.
CB: // OK. //
JL: // [Laugh] // If not, you won't get it.
CB: OK, so this is something you have to, it's, it's like a, uh, like a classification level that you // would get in English-. //
JL: // Yeah, yeah.// Uh, no. For the whole-.
CB: -Or just for the whole-.
JL: // For the whole-. //
CB: // -For everything? //
JL: -School time but it includes English.
CB: OK. What, and what kind of, um, exam would you have to take to get that for English?
JL: I had, um, I had to write a summary or actually I had to write a, yeah, I got a text-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -Yeah, it was a six hour exam, and I got a text about, about this time we read, um, um, Nelson Mandela's life, about Nelson Mandela's life and we got a text about some specific theme-.
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -About // this book and we to, to write our thoughts about it and we had to develop an idea and, um, this was actually yeah we had no oral, oral, um, exam, only, um, writing. // The. //
CB: // OK. //
JL: -Oral exam I had in French. I didn't have writing exam, I had oral, oral exam in French.
CB: OK, um, so the six hour exam, is that just the English part or is that for everything?
JL: No, this is the English part.
CB: Just the English // part-. //
JL: // Yes. //
CB: -Six hours.
JL: It's very long.
CB: [Laugh] So how did you feel about, um, how did you feel that your years of school that you spent learning English prepared you for that? It sounds like your // exam-. //
JL: // Pretty-. //
CB: -Was a lot like what you had been used to // doing. //
JL: // Right, // yeah. The whole thirteenth year in English we actually, um, did this-
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: // -We // had like in the end, we had every second Saturday we had a four hours, um, kind of a test exam, and, um, and like and the last two or three weeks before this exam we had a six hour exam, uh, test exam just to, to try it out, how it works and then our teacher would, uh, collect, uh, our work and would correct it at home and then tell us what we could improve in. So actually the whole thirteenth year we got prepared for this final exam.
CB: Uh-huh. And so in order to go to university do you have to // get to this level? //
JL: // In order to go to // university, I have to have Arbitur.
CB: OK. So not everybody does that, but-.
JL: No.
CB: -But everyone who goes to the // university does that? //
JL: // Yeah, right, right, // either in the first way or in the second way, which is like [pause] what do you call? How would I say? Um, if you can't make it in school-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -You have to go to like night school-.
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -And // prepare for that and then somehow you can get the degree to go to the university-.
CB: Right.
JL: -But it takes a little longer.
CB: Right, yeah, we have something like that here, too. OK. So how, so you felt pretty good about your exam and passing that-.
JL: Yes.
CB: -And going to the // university-. //
JL: // Yes. //
CB: -You felt pretty // confident? //
JL: // Yes. //
CB: It wasn't something that was like different from what you were used // to doing. //
JL: // No. //
CB: And you felt pretty comfortable with your, um, would you say that you were fluent in English in that point or-.
JL: // Um-. //
CB: // -You // were at least knowledgeable?
JL: Yes.
CB: You spoke it well enough-.
JL: // Yes. //
CB: // -And // could read and write and-.
JL: Yeah, right, definitely.
CB: -Obviously you've had no problem coming over to the United States-.
JL: Yeah.
CB: -And communicating?
JL: Yeah, right.
CB: So then once you get to the university level do you continue to take classes in language?
JL: Yes, um, I continued and actually English here as well, is a must. So I can't say, "I don't want English I want to do something else."
CB: English is a must in the university?
JL: In my university, // yeah. //
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: I'm doing a special co-op program, // which means-. //
CB: // Co-op? //
JL: -Co-op // program-. //
CB: // Yeah. //
JL: -Cooperation program, which means that I go to the, um, to the university and for, for a few weeks and then I go to, to the company Beiersdorf and work for them, and they pay my university fees.
CB: Like tuition and so forth?
JL: Yeah.
CB: Right, OK. All right, so is that something that, um, that most people do? They do it like a co-op program // or is this ( )? //
JL: // No, this is actually, no, // most people go to university, regular university program-.
CB: Right, and stay there-.
JL: -And stay there-.
CB: -And study.
JL: -And study all the time so they have the, only, uh, theoretical knowledge-.
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: // -And // we also get to get practi-, practical knowledge.
CB: Right.
JL: And, um, yeah, in this, uh, univ-, I call it univ-, actually it's an academy, it's an academy, but it's like university.
CB: Right.
JL: And, um, there we have to, to have English as well but in addition we can have French and some of them even started with Chinese.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: And, um, that is more for fun, I would say because, no, // OK. //
CB: // It's // not mandatory?
JL: Right.
CB: Right.
JL: And some of them study Spanish as well-.
CB: Right.
JL: -But I am only into English. And, um, we have to have this, and this is, uh, even a little, to me it seems like I have more grammatic, uh, classes in the academy that in school so // we have-. //
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: -A lot of grammatic homework and try to refresh our times, like past and future // and-. //
CB: // The tense, yeah. //
JL: // Oh, // the tense, yeah.
CB: Yeah, that's what we call it.
JL: Right.
CB: So you have an emphasis on grammar and, um, especially with like, tenses of words, verb tenses, and past tense-.
JL: // Right. //
CB: // -As // well as future tense.
JL: Yeah, and also we kind of, um, do the stuff we had on our exam. So we like, last year we had, we had to write a business letter and, uh, a summary of a text and that's what we practiced like the whole year-.
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -And, // for homework. We got like a German, a few German words we had to write in the business letter with a specific outfit like the date is on the right-.
CB: Right, // right. //
JL: // -And // the signature is on the left-.
CB: Right // [laugh]. //
JL: // -And // all this stuff.
CB: So is that, you said training, is that another test that you'll have to take, um, in the university?
JL: Yeah, in the university we got this program works for three years. So it takes me three years-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -And after every year we've got, uh, several, um, um, exams in all the, all the classes we had and English is one of them. So I have three English, big English, uh, finals, [pause] one after each year.
CB: Uh-huh. And that's the same, you say that's the same kind of thing again you had training for in your // classes-. //
JL: // Right. //
CB: -And using, uh, so how, when you started, how many years you had, is that three years total that you go to academy and the business-?
JL: Yes.
CB: -Work for the business?
JL: Yes and it's splited up, uh, two-thirds is business and one-third is university.
CB: OK. So, do you go to the university and then the business comes at the end? Or do you // or-? //
JL: // No. //
CB: -Are you going back to the university after you leave here-?
JL: // Yes, yes. //
CB: // ( ) // To study?
JL: This is like I go to university for six weeks and then I go to, to company for, that will be eight or 10 weeks and then I go back to the university for four weeks or it differs-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -But it's always a change. Like I go to university, I go to work, I go to university, I go to work not within one week-.
CB: // Right. //
JL: // -Not // like two weeks, not two days at university and three days work.
CB: Right. Or like a whole semester even-.
JL: // Right. //
CB: // -'Cause // that's what those of us we do in a co-op [cellphone rings] program, um, here in the United States would wait until, you know, we go to university for four years-.
JL: // Uh-huh. //
CB: // -And // so what we do is go, we just take our classes for the first three, three and a half years and it was like, they wait until you're ready to graduate and give you that, that practical experience-.
JL: // Uh-huh. //
CB: // -You // don't go back into the classroom after that so it's kind of different. So, would you go, uh, is this the first time you've done the business part, coming here?
JL: No, no, no. I started this program two years ago-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -And, // um, ( ). //
CB: // So // this is the last time you're coming here?
JL: No, now I'm doing the practical.
CB: OK.
JL: Then when I am back in Germany in one week I go to the university for four weeks and then I go back to the company for, I don't know, eight, eight weeks or six weeks and then I go back to sc-, to university, so it is a constant change.
CB: OK. [Laugh] So are you coming, um, when you go to work for the company, then you're not coming back to // America? //
JL: // No, // no, no. I'm going back to Beiersdorf, not to Tesa, to Beiersdorf.
CB: OK. So you'll stay in Germany // and work for the company? //
JL: // I'll stay in Germany, // yes.
CB: OK. So you only come to America once?
JL: Right, this is kind of an opportunity they give us to, to do an internship and especially when I take, uh, the last year you've got to choose a special class in university.
CB: Right.
JL: One is, for example, Controlling and Finance, one is Human Resources, and I chose, uh, International Business Administration-.
CB: OK.
JL: -And, uh, in order to do this internship, uh, this internship, uh, I've got to take this class.
CB: Uh-huh. [Pause] Um, what I need to ask you about is, like I've asked you if you thought that you were prepared, you know, for the assessments that you've had to take.
JL: Uh-huh.
CB: Um, tell me about that because I'm not sure, you said you have to take a test after each year at the academy. Is there like an exit exam for that as well?
JL: After the first year all the, all the exams I write after the first year, if I, I fail them, I got to leave the academy or I have to do this, eh, this year again.
CB: OK.
JL: And, um, the second year I collect points, um, which are added to, to the finals I have after the third year. So it's kind, kind of part of the exam-.
CB: Um-hmm.
JL: -After the second year is part of my final // degree-. //
CB: // OK. //
JL: -Or whatever.
CB: OK.
JL: And, uh, I think one thing I didn't tell you yet is, uh, that when I came the first year I came to the academy, um, they gave us like they made a little test with us to see in which kind of class // we are.//
CB: // Right. // We call that, uh, placement test.
JL: Yeah, right, a placement test-.
CB: // OK. //
JL: // -To // see if I go to the, to the beginners or on to the pros-.
CB: Right, right.
JL: -And so.-
CB: So they do have different levels // of classes ( ). //
JL: // Yeah, they // do have, they have three, three different levels. // Um-. //
CB: // OK. // So did you, how did you feel about your placement test? Did you feel like you were pretty well prepared and were you comfortable with it?
JL: No I wasn't comfortable-.
CB: // OK. //
JL: // -Because, // uh, I never had this intensive, uh, grammatical practice so I wasn't very good in all the // grammatical stuff. //
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: And what I can do is I can translate texts, I can write summaries but I was never good in like tenses and, uh, words orders and well, actually word orders weren't too bad but. // [Laugh] //
CB: // Right. //
JL: So the, the hard stuff and they of course asked for something like this and I didn't feel very comfortable with it.
CB: OK.
JL: So, um-.
CB: Did you feel like that was a, um, fair assessment for placing people though because you're going to, I guess, the academy with people who you, with other people from other schools, // right? //
JL: // Right, // from other companies.
CB: OK.
JL: All the, all the people going to this academy work for a company.
CB: OK.
JL: So they all doing this co-op program.
CB: OK.
JL: And, um, of course you have to have like tests to, to do a first grouping-
CB: Right.
JL: -And, uh, but I've seen people who changed it afterward because maybe they weren't very good in like the grammatic stuff but then in class they were sitting around bored-.
CB: Right.
JL: -And changed classes so, uh, it's kind of to get an idea, a first idea-.
CB: // Uh-huh. //
JL: // -How // to group the people but I wouldn't say it's the, the best thing to do. Well, actually you have to do something to group // them but-. //
CB: // Right, // right.
JL: -Um, and most of the times people stayed in the class they were put in-.
CB: Uh-huh.
JL: -Uh, not always.
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