What’s it Like Taking Courses in a Foreign Language?

I took it upon myself to learn another language during my academic year abroad. I have been living in Germany for 9 months so far, and my German is progressing every day.

My first semester here in Germany was dedicated to specifically learning the language, and I was able to get my German from A1 level to a B1 level in the time that I have been here. Due to the level of my language progression I was able to transfer to the University of Ulm, where I now take mathematics courses that will help towards graduation.

“Every day I’m having to write everything in German, speak in German and think in German during my lectures and classes. It does hurt my head after a while …”

These courses that I became qualified to take are completely in German, and I study alongside other students who are mother tongue German speakers (I am one of only two two students in the whole class who are not).

Aside from language, the German courses for mathematics are taught completely different than in the United States. There are different lecture styles, different courses in general (the math courses in the U.S. are hard to completely match up with German courses), different ways of evaluating a grade (there’s one big test in Germany) and a different semester system (fall semester is October through February, and summer semester is April through July).

Some exercises.

Concerning the courses themselves, they are very difficult — even for German mother tongue speakers. The two classes I’m taking this semester — Lineare Algebra 1 and Analysis 1 — have very high fail rates.

The school does offer many ways to help out including a time block for a math lab, which are tutoring sessions that have experts on the subject help you through the homework problems. I have even been able to find tutors outside of these math labs and these have been crucial to helping me be successful in my course work.

But, of course, it would be silly to assume that you would only need these to be successful. Studying on your own is also a crucial part of these university courses.

My class schedule.

For me this is definitely a challenge. The German language is not so easy to master due to the very difficult grammar and sentence structure. Additionally, the math courses I’m taking involve writing mathematical proofs completely in German and having me learn much of the mathematical vocabulary I already know in another language.

But I also find motivation in this, as it gives me the chance to really excel with my German language skills. Every day I’m having to write everything in German, speak in German and think in German during my lectures and classes. It does hurt my head after a while (thinking in a foreign language is still pretty difficult for me still at my level) but I know that eventually this will subside.

And my German will be so much better than it was before my started my semester here in Ulm.

Until next time, tschüss!

Brandon Einstoss is an applied mathematics and German junior. He is studying in Tubingen and Ulm, Germany, for a full academic year

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