Becoming German, englishman abroad

My experience of the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer (DTZ)

This morning I toddled down to a private language school in Oldenburg for my appointment to take the German Test for Immigrants (DTZ – Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer), as part of my ongoing quest to Germanize myself before Brexit. Here is what happened.

The candidates, about twenty of us, milled around aimlessly outside until I got the arse and went inside, to ask if I could go inside. I could. So I went upstairs and sat alone in a corridor adjacent to the computer lab which formed a makeshift examination room for the day. Once I had been joined by the other students, the invigilator, a portly German lady in her thirties, and her assistant, a slim young man of around twenty who spoke Arabic and Kurdish, ushered us into a room. The exam was due to begin at 0900 but actually started closer to 0930, as this was how long it took to get a group of twenty young, mostly male students to follow simple instructions.

I have to say, although the entire point of being there was to take an exam that showed we could use sufficient German to survive in day-to-day life, I felt that precious few of the people in that room could have, based upon their inability to follow exceedingly simple instructions such as “sit over there”. Anyway, thirty minutes pass and we’re all sat down, and the exams are being handed out: “Do not open the exams until I tell you to, this is very important! You will be kicked out if you do!” said the German lady approximately forty times. Behold, six of the other candidates flatly ignore this and casually peruse the exam before the official start time. This is not very German behaviour. Throughout the exam, it was the norm for candidates to talk to each other and attempt to look at each other’s answers. They did not listen to the German lady. Occasionally they heeded the assistant when he addressed them in Arabic or Kurdish. The lady decided to move some of the male students to stop them from talking to each other; this nearly caused a riot. It seemed to me that they didn’t like being told what to do by a female.

Anyway, the first part of the exam itself was reasonably straightforward, listening followed by reading and then writing; it took me less than an hour. The writing subtest had me write a letter of complaint about my unsatisfactory (fictional) experience of buying a television online, which I gleefully did.

Then came the speaking subtest, in which I talked about myself, as well as a picture of an entirely too-happy looking family cooking dinner together in their spotlessly unused kitchen (I mentioned this), and then finally I had to make plans with my partner.

I’m relatively confident that I passed this exam. It’s just a B1 level test (lower middle difficulty) and, frankly, the standard of the other candidates was so awful…

Next up is the citizenship test, in ten day’s time. Questions about Germany, its history, society and political system.

Step by step I am mitigating the Brexit shitshow and sticking to my new year’s resolution

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Off to the Ausländerbehörde

This morning marked the next step on my hopefully successful journey to German citizenship: a trip to the Ausländerbehörde. This “Foreigners’ Office” is in the nearest large town, about 15 minutes away, and is where I took all of the documents I could. This included passports, birth certificates, forms and the like but also a Handschriftlicher Lebenslauf. That’s right, a handwritten CV/résumé.

This last one was an absolute bugger to write. A Curriculum Vitae. BY HAND. And anyway, it’s not a job application so what do you put in? “I am a perfect candidate for being German because I’m always punctual and haven’t laughed since 1994. My previous role as an Englishman included propagating an inflated sense of pompous self-worth, making appointments and using Microsoft Office”.

They also wanted to know where I lived and when for the long, bureaucratic forms. I needed a continuation sheet for this because I’ve lived in about twenty different places. Speaking of long, bureaucratic forms, they asked about nationality (Staatsangehörigkeit) but also my ethnicity (Volkszugehörigkeit) which I wasn’t really sure how to answer. In Britain, they tend to include a few helpful suggestions for questions like this, along the lines of:

White

  • English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background, write in

However, I had absolutely no bloody idea as to how writing “White” in the ethnicity box (in Germany of all places) would go down. It’s a bit political, a bit socially constructed. It might be a faux pas similar to writing “Aryan”, so I left it blank. It turns out (yes, of course, I asked!) that this box is intended for people who are, e.g. ethnic Germans who were displaced due to borders being redrawn etc. Just as well I didn’t write anything.

The lady took all the forms and asked me a few questions about the German political system.

She: “What sort of a state do we live in, here in Germany?”

Me (thinking): oh boy, what a state. You can say that again.

Me (speaking): “ein Rechtsstaat” (a lawful state/state based on the rule of law)

She: “What sort of a political system do we have here in Germany?”

Me: “Well, I would say it is a federal republic, based on a constitution, with a parliament which…”

She (rolling her eyes): “cough”

Me: “Oh, right, a democracy.”

We then came to the part where she checked all the financial information we had brought with us, including my wife’s details. “Oh, your wife is a civil servant! This is fine. I’ve seen enough. Typically I’m dealing with two people who don’t have a job between them. This is good. Those people normally get citizenship, by the way”. As far as German hints go, she may as well have given me a welcome package there and then: “here is a passport, some Bratwurst, and a German flag. Please do not look directly at the flag”

So, I’m feeling a lot more confident than I was before about my prospects of becoming a German. All I need to do now is pass the language test and the citizenship test, both of which are scheduled for next month.

Fingers crossed!

Becoming German, englishman abroad

Becoming German?

This Wednesday was the deadline for registering for the only “Immigrant Language Test” in February that I could find. The next available test would have been in April, after Brexit day. So, like any rational person, I jumped onto the train in a mad panic and zoomed down to a test centre in Oldenburg to book my place on this course. Then I high-tailed it to the local community college and booked myself another test: the Naturalisation Test. These two tests are just two of the many prerequisites to becoming a German citizen.

The DTZ (German Test for Immigrants) is a speaking, writing, reading and listening language test, targeted at the A2-B1 levels. I know a little bit about language tests already, having prepared students for all manner of English language tests, often at this level, for years. I think I know more or less what to expect, and I’m reasonably sure that I’ll pass at the required B1 level.

The Einbürgerungstest is a citizenship test of sorts. It comprises 33 questions about Germany, covering aspects such as the German constitution, rights and responsibilities, democracy, society etc. There’s an online test to practise with, and I’ve passed it every time I’ve tried it. I’m certain I’ll pass this, too. There are many other requirements, all of which I am confident I can fulfil.

Yet, somehow, I don’t feel confident that I’ll get citizenship at all. I can’t quite put my finger on why. This bothers me. If I don’t manage to do it in the time that Britain remains in the EU, it probably means that I’ll still be able to become German in future – but I’ll have to give up my UK citizenship to do it.

Would I still do it in this case? Swap my UK citizenship for German citizenship? Trade membership of a non-EU country for an EU country? Exchange my unlikely return to an insular, has-been nation to secure my future as part of an important, European country?

Yes, obviously. Of course I would. But I’d rather it doesn’t come to that; I’d never be able to get my hands on Marmite again.

englishman abroad, language

I can’t speak French for merde

Well, I’m back.

I hadn’t been to France for any meaningful length of time for sixteen years and cannot speak French for crotte any longer. In short, my French is god awful and going to Bordeaux was a useful experience.

Useful? Yes, useful. Going to another country and having absolutely no idea how to function beyond the purchase of a croissant and a pointless school-French conversation about where you live and what you did for your work experience last summer is a humbling experience.

You see, I have been living in Germany non-stop for a few years now, and I’m just about able to get by despite making mistakes in every sentence. Clearly, I have been getting too big for my boots. Clearly, the powers that be looked upon my level of German competence and remarked

Did you hear that? They’re understanding what he says! Despite him repeatedly putting the accusative in the nominative and the dative in the genitive and the verb as a noun and saying “sie” instead of “ihnen”, and then “du” and then “ihnen” again.

He’s getting overconfident; I’ll send him a plague of frogs.

It’s quite an important experience, to go somewhere and be absolutely powerless. It’s especially important for adults to do this, to remember what it’s like for children. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve integrated somewhat into Germany and what an odd feeling this is. In so doing, I’ve moved past much of the everyday alienation and inaptitude that I had suffered when I first came to Germany, without any German, years back. It’s been good to have a fleeting, linguistically impotent trip to France to broaden my perspective and remember not to take things for granted.

As for the meeting itself, it was informative, well received and, mercifully, in English.

englishman abroad, work

New Opportunities

Oh, sweet it is in academic groves –
Or such retirement, friend, as we have known
Among the mountains by our Rotha’s stream,
Greta, or Derwent, or some nameless rill –
To ruminate, with interchange of talk,
On rational liberty and hope in man,
Justice and peace.

– William Wordsworth. Book 9, Residence in France, 400-406. The Prelude.

The MariLANG project has officially ended and with it my work producing test items for learners of Maritime English and seafarers. I joined the project fairly late into it, most of the work had already been done by people much more talented than me, but I learned a lot and produced a fair bit of work that I’m proud of. I also wrote a chapter of what will become the official book, so I’ll finally see my name in print! Albeit in a rather dry, academic tome. I also got to travel with the project, twice to Southampton and once to Kenilworth, to meet partners and receive training.

Next week I’ll be off again, this time to Bordeaux, to attend and contribute to the kick-off meeting of another EU project – The TRAILs project. Whereas MariLANG sought to make an ESP test for mariners, TRAILs is more concerned with the training of LSP teachers/practitioners (ESP included). I’ll be presenting my guidelines for the identification and analysis of LSP teacher training in the EHEA to other project partners and soliciting feedback, before finalising them and working with the other partners to implement them into our research. After that, it’s two years of research into best LSP teacher-training practices with a few trips abroad here and there for meetings. Ultimately there will be the provision of a summer school to operationalise the pedagogical concepts we’ll all have come up with, surely, by then.

But first thing’s first, off to Bordeaux. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it…