Monday, August 28, 2017

Post 14: School is in session!

Now, it's my turn to tell you about school. =) Emily's post was great, but I had written most of this already so I figured I may as well post it too--there are some details where our experiences differed.

I arrived early for my first day of school in Kraków. First, I wanted to make sure I got there in time. Being my first day, I gave myself extra time in case I took a wrong turn, a wrong bus, a wrong stop or whatever. Plus, I was supposed to have a short interview before classes started so they could assess my Polish thus far.

If the interview was being graded, I'm pretty sure I bombed it badly, but this wasn't a pass or fail test--it was a test to assess my abilities and get me in the right class best suited to my skill level.

Which is how I ended up in a class by myself! Wee! =)

Most of the students today showed up for the after-school activity of making żurek. =)
I think anytime they involve food, there's going to be a high turnout!

But that only lasted two days before I was approached and one of the teachers asked if it would be okay to move me to a class with some other students because they thought I'd get more out of it if I did. I'm not entirely convinced that that was the whole story--I had the impression there was some sort of scheduling conflict in the background they were trying to work out and it would be convenient not to have a teacher dedicated solely to teaching me each morning. To compensate for less of the one-on-one courses I was doing, though, they'd give me some extra one-on-one courses after the group class was over, and I was okay with that.

Also, I think they realized that I actually knew more Polish than they had realized based on my interview which was entirely hearing and speaking--definitely my weak points! After a couple of days of lessons, I think they realized that on a theoretical level, I could keep up with one of the group classes. That's not what they said--just my interpretation of the situation.

So on my third day at the school, I joined a class with four other students: one from England, two from Germany, and a fellow from Ireland.

And immediately, I felt way behind the others terms of hearing and speaking ability. The teacher would tell us to turn to a page, but I didn't know what page and would look at what the other students turned to and follow suit. I know my numbers--why the heck can't I hear them? Stupid head.

Marcel, from Germany, is on the right. Iwona (on the left) is the teacher handling this after-school activity, and I don't remember what they were talking about when I took this photo, but it probably had something to do with new words she was using since the board contains words like faruszek (apron) and obrus (tablecloth).

My favorite Marcel story: Monday morning, shortly before classes would start, Marcel asked me--in Polish--how was my weekend. And this particular weekend I hadn't really done much of anything. Wandered around Kraków a bit, but nothing particularly noteworthy so I told him, "Było nudne." (It was boring.)

He looked at me with a strange look, a little worry in his expression. And I suddenly realized that he didn't know what the word "nudne" meant. It's pronounced like "nude-nay." He didn't know the word, but he clearly heard the "nude" part and starting making assumptions about the word. And I quickly switched to English, "NOT NUDE! Nudny! It means boring! I had a boring weekend--and I had clothes on ALL weekend!" =) He laughed and said he said that he was glad to hear it, because he had, in fact, been worried that I was about to tell him more about my weekend than he really wanted to hear. =)

There were some definite differences between this school and my school in Sopot. For one thing, in this school, saying anything in English is all but forbidden. Even during breaks, talking with other students, we'd continue trying to speak in Polish. Often times I wanted to say something, but unsure of how to say it in Polish, I'd just not say anything at all.

In class, if I asked about a word that I didn't know, they'll try to tell you its meaning by speaking in Polish, often turning into games of charades or Pictionary--anything but actually tell you the English translation of the word. Only when all else fails and you still couldn't understand the word several minutes later they might give you the word in English.

I suppose this is good for learning Polish, but it can be frustrating at times when the Polish explanation of a word doesn't immediately explain it.

English was so uncommon, in fact, it was two or three weeks into class when I heard the German guy, Marcel, speak a full English sentence to me and I was absolutely floored that he didn't have that traditional German accent I would have expected. I literally had NO idea what his English sounded like the first couple of weeks we had classes together!

Emily--you remember her from her guest post--was from England, but it still took me by surprise the first time I heard her speak English a week or two after we met--she had a British accent! Which, I know, doesn't seem surprising since she is from England, but I never heard a trace of that British accent in her Polish and that's all we ever spoke, so I kind of forgot that she would likely have a British accent. I'd met a French student in Sopot who, even when speaking Polish, you could hear a French accent. Our native languages can seep into our non-native languages. But Emily--nope, I never heard a trace of an English accent in her Polish so--in my head--she didn't really have any accent at all (or rather, a stereotypical American accent that, to me, sounds like no accent at all). And so, the first time I heard her speak a complete sentence--in English!--a week or two after we met, I was surprised to hear the English accent. I tried to hide my surprise, but she's probably reading this now and thinks it's hilariously funny. =)

Emily, from England (who still managed to surprise me by speaking with a British accent a week or two after we first met), was put in charge of cooking the kiełbasa.

The other big difference with this school was that I didn't have the same teacher throughout the day. The first session would be with one teacher, then the next session would be with a second teacher. It seemed quite deliberate and probably is suppose to help us learn Polish better by hearing different Polish accents, expressions and teaching methods. Round us out better. It seemed an odd set-up to me at first because none of the language schools I'd ever attended ever did this. Not in Central America while learning Spanish and not in Sopot while learning Polish.

But our teachers were well coordinated and would hand us off to each other seamlessly. My usual teachers were Jurek and Magda--with Jurek being my first and only male teacher during my time in Poland.

One day, Magda had Emily and me play roles. I was to be a victim of a robbery--my wallet was stolen! Emily was to be a police officer that I was reporting the theft to. I'll write our conversation in English, but of course, we were speaking Polish. We were, after all, learning Polish. And I'm paraphrasing. It's not like I was recording this conversation or anything.

Me: Help! I've been robbed!

Emily: I'm sorry to hear that. What was stolen?

Me: My wallet.

Emily: Okay.... and anything else?

Me: No... just... well, yes. My pride! My wallet and my pride were taken!

Now let me cut in here a bit and explain this a bit. Pride is one of those weird words that you wouldn't expect someone learning Polish to know, and I didn't expect that Emily (or any of the other students) would know what it meant, but I thought it was a funny joke to say that my "pride" was stolen and at the very least, Madga--our teacher--might find my response amusing. And I was curious how she would try to explain the concept of "pride" without using any English. Being such an abstract word, it's not something one can pantomime or draw easily. And I thought it was a funny answer. I'm a sucker for funny answers. (Alcohol i spać?)

Emily: Duma? Nie rozumiem duma.... (Duma? I don't understand duma.)

Even our teacher, Madga, looked at me not seeming to understand what I had just said. Duma? she repeated, puffing her chest out and tilting her head back trying to imitate what someone full of pride might look like. Madga understood what I had said, but was clearly thinking she must have misheard me because surely I wouldn't know a word like pride.

Me: Tak! (Yes!) Duma!

Magda turned back to Emily.

Magda: Ignore him. It's an abstract word, and you don't really need to know it now.

She did try to explain what I was talking about, and even though I knew what she was talking about I didn't understand her explanation in Polish. Emily and Marcel nodded their heads like they might have understood what she was saying, but I'm not sure how much they really understood about her explanation. Except the part that the word was "abstract" and not one they really needed to worry themselves about.

Me: I hope you find my wallet, but I know you'll never find my pride. *sigh*

The rest of my theft report went on without anymore of my smart-alack answers, probably much to Emily's and Magda's relief! =)

After the two group sessions were over, I'd stick around for some extra one-on-one classes which I liked since the classes could go at my own pace and cover whatever I wanted them to cover. Jurek and Magda would switch off who would give me the one-on-one lessons, and my last week was provided by Iwona--an entirely different teacher altogether. (She's actually one of the authors of our textbooks. I didn't think of it at the time, but I should have asked her to autograph my texts!)

For our one-on-one classes, I preferred just to talk. I always felt like speaking and hearing Polish were my biggest weaknesses, so we'd toss the textbooks aside and just chat in Polish. I told them about my hiking stories, or what I did last weekend or after class, or what plans I had for the upcoming weekend, or whatever. It didn't really matter--just time to practice. Sometimes we'd write words or concepts on the whiteboard I didn't understand which I'd copy into my notebook for later study. They'd correct words that I butchered or cases that I'd mess up. We'd stand or pace around while chatting--a nice change after sitting for most of the time during class.

Early in the class, Jurek and I had a mock discussion about making room reservations over the phone with a hotel, and as a homework assignment, I was to write out half a dozen questions I might ask about the property over the phone.

Which I did, and during the next class, he looked over my questions and we discussed them a bit, then he pulls out his phone and starts dialing a number telling me that he's calling the hotel and I'm to ask these questions.

"WHAT?! NIE!!!"

Hang up that phone! The number rang, and he had the phone held out to me, and I disconnected it, and Jurek asked why I didn't want to do that.

"I don't want to bother some clerk who's probably busy about a hotel room I had absolutely no intention of renting for the night."

Then he told me that it was actually his wife he was calling, not a real hotel, and if that would be okay. The exercise was meant to build my confidence talking to other people--strangers--in Polish, and he thought I was totally ready to have such a conversation on the phone. Which is a clever exercise to make things interesting, and I wouldn't have minded a mock conversation with his wife who was allegedly expecting the call anyhow. But now I wasn't sure if he was just telling me that to go along with the ruse or if it really was his wife that he was calling....

Eventually, he decided to leave me with his phone, then went into the office next door and called his own phone which I was supposed to answer and he'd pretend to the desk clerk at the hotel. So we did that for probably ten minutes or so as I went through my list of questions and Jurek answered them. When I didn't understand an answer, I'd tell him that (all in Polish, of course), and he'd try to answer again in another way or explain his answer more thoroughly. It was a little bit harder over a phone than in person without being able to use hand signals or spelling out words I couldn't understand on a whiteboard, but I muddled my way through my first Polish conversation on a phone.

A week or two into my one-on-one lessons, Madga asked me what I'd like to talk about in the next session. "Nie wiem," I told her. I don't know. It didn't really matter to me. But then for some reason, I remembered my Polish book--a copy of which I had in my backpack. "Oh!" I said, digging into my backpack and pulling out the book. "To!" This.

Madga looked at the book, surprised to see that it was both in Polish and had my name as the author. I gave her a copy (I had plenty of copies!), and that became a subject of discussion for the better part of a week asking me questions about my adventures, translating the pages from "sophisticated Polish" to "Polish that Ryan can understand."

The next morning, before classes began, I was looking out the window of the third-floor window admiring the view--I often did that, sometimes sitting on the windowsill which seemed to concern some of the teachers who were afraid I'd fall out--when Jurek stormed into the room. "Ryan!" he said. "You have a book in Polish?!" (He said this in Polish, of course.)

"Ahh...." I said. "You must have been talking to Magda." =)

So then he wanted to see the book and had all sorts of questions about it as well and become a topic of discussion with him for the better part of a week as well.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me that you had a book in Polish," he said to me.

"Well, it's not like I wrote the Polish," I explained. "I can't even read it! That Polish is hard!"

Then I joked that I was taking Polish classes so I could check that Karolina didn't change the story on me or have me killed off unexpectedly to build up to a more exciting ending.

My last day of classes were down to just Marcel and Emily. That's Jurek, the teacher on the left. I kind of miss our little group. It was also Emily's last day of classes, but Marcel was scheduled to continue for another two months. (Probably finishing up about now when this post is posting, actually.)

After my one-on-one classes were over, there would be some sort of after-school activity we had the option of participating in. It was also a chance for me to meet some of the other students in the school that I didn't share a class with.

The activities varied wildly. Some days we went out of the school on field trips such as to Kościuszko Mound which I mentioned in my previous post. Another time we went on a scavenger hunt of sorts through a local shopping mall looking for answers to questions on a set of questions we were given that could be answered somewhere in the mall. All of the activities, of course, were done in Polish and were meant to allow us to use and expand our Polish skills.

During the shopping mall scavenger hunt, I didn't know what an  AGD was which seemed to surprise Emily. Those stores would sell things like kitchen appliances and washing machines, and Emily knew I knew a lot of words--but seemed surprised that I didn't know AGD which was apparently a word covered very early in the textbook. The textbook we were using had 26 chapters, and my first lesson in it was chapter 20 or so. There was a lot of stuff from those first 20 chapters that I didn't know! A lot of names of shops I could guess. For instance, if you know the word "flower" then saw a word for "flower shop"--even if you didn't know the word "flower shop", you could make a pretty good guess what what it was. But I couldn't do that with AGD--it was an acronym, and an acronym that I hadn't come across until today! (Yeah, learning more Polish!)

Another day we made żurek--a popular Polish soup. Another time we were given comics with the dialog removed and we were to fill in our own Polish dialogs. Other times we played games in the small garden area in the back. Another time we played table games. The whole time I was there, we never had the same activity twice.

And finally--often as late as four o'clock in the afternoon, I was done for the day. I'd been speaking and hearing Polish almost non-stop for seven solid hours. I'd go out for dinner somewhere nearby, maybe walk somewhere nearby to do some sightseeing (usually on days when I didn't participate in the after-school activity), and then took the tram back to Agata's place--using the free time on the tram to study Polish flash cards I installed on my smartphone. And at Agata's place, I'd create new flashcards for all the new words I came across that day and complete all of my homework assignments at which point I pretty much went straight to sleep.

It was exhausting! I learned a lot, but I never had more than a couple of hours of free time to sight-see and explore on school days. Weekends were kind of a nice break from the daily mental bombardment.

Saying goodbye to each other at the end of our last day of classes. (It was actually the last day not just for me and Emily, but also Aya--the woman on the left who comes from Japan.) Of all of the students I met, I bonded with Marcel and Emily most since I had them in my classes considerably longer than any other students. Marcel was in my class for all six weeks I attended the school, and Emily was there for the last five. Aya was at the school the whole time I was, but we never had any classes together so I didn't get to know her as well.
Aya, from Japan, had been attending the school for the last six months and drew this comic during our comic-drawing after-school class. It's adorable! The rest of us filled in thought bubbles from existing comics, but Aya made her own from scratch about her adventures in Kraków. (It's even better when you can read the Polish on it--most of which I can understand, I'm happy to report.)
Jurek had these dice that you roll and then tell a story using them. So we rolled them a few times and I took photos to turn it into a story as a homework assignment. Alas, it was a homework assignment I never got around to completing, and I still feel guilty about it. One of these days, I'm going to write that story and email it to Jurek! But! If YOU want a homework assignment, build a story out of these dice. You can write it in English, but if I really like it, maybe I'll translate it into Polish and email it to Jurek as my own idea. =)
Just in case you didn't like the results of the first roll, here's another one.
And another!


Karolina said...

I like those dice of Jurek! Sounds not only like a great language tool but also a fun game to play with your family and friends!

I also like Aya's comic. :-)
Need to start creating comics like this for my trips!

Emily Bailey said...

Haha! Yes I remember the Duma episode. I thought it was 'dignity' from Magda's explanation. Fun times! I miss those classes.

Ryan said...

Pride, dignity.... they're more or less the same! =) I'm not sure I'd have understood what she was saying at all if I hadn't known the word already!

-- Ryan