If you’re been to the cinema here, you’ll know the seats come in two types and prices – neckache and non-neckache. Neckache is the first rows from the front, and to be at the back you’ve got to pay more. I’ve not seen tiered seat pricing in other countries. It’s a pretty horrible system when you consider that instead of just watching the film on your laptop, in your bed, you’ve gone to the effort of putting on your coat and shoes, leaving the house, going all the way to the cinema to pay to sit in an icy cold, dark room to watch a movie that won’t even end properly with a nice conclusive “happy ever after” like it did in the old days, because now everything has to be a trilogy, and then a prequel trilogy, and so on until you notice it, you’re sitting down to watch Spiderman 417. Really cinemas should pay you for making all the effort to actually visit them, rather than charging you extra to sit in the back, but I’ve wandered off my original point…
Why I really like going to movies is because it’s one of the rare times I have the pleasure of watching my German girlfriend break a rule. For a fleeting moment we’re not our normal lame selves, but are transformed into retentive, suitably depressed, tax paying Bonnie and Clydes. Why? Because we never pay for the expensive seats. But we always sit in them. Feel free to be greatly shocked now…
In the beginning, it was not easy to coax her to the back. In fact, she flat out refused. There was a system. Germans respect rules and systems, which is the point of this step and what you must learn. In this case, it’s a very capitalistic system, but a system and the rule nonetheless. A rule the majority of Germans follow. I have no doubt that if the average German entered a Kinosaal to find it completely empty, except for one other person who was sitting in their prescribed seat, they’d checked their ticket five times, and then asked them to move.
Then I came up with a plan. When asked where I would like to sit by the ticket seller or when reserving online, I began picking the far left corner of the front row, which annoys her so much, she’s willing to break the rules and come with me to the back in a premium seat. It does result in me getting hit several times, which I consider merely an acceptable cost of doing nefarious business. She accompanied me to the back with great trepidation. As if we were not merely defrauding the cinema of couple of euros, but defrauding the European Central Bank of millions in an elaborate heist involving safe crackers, gymnastic midgets and exploding pens. Once seated at the back, she refuses to relax until about half way through the movie when she’s absolutely certain the seats we’re in will not be claimed by any rightful owner.
Until then she visibly squirms in her contraband seat every time the doors open, looks in genuine physical pain, and repeatedly says “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you”. I am not sure what she means by that. I’ve no time to think about it, since I’m busy staring straight ahead and enjoying the movie from our vastly superior and neckache-free seats.
English is not about what you say, but how you say it. German is both, but more the former. So what Germans say tends to be direct and prepared with minimal ambiguity. Ruthlessly efficient, if you will. In English, for example, if you want someone to do something for you, you do not merely go up to that person and ask them to do something for you. Oh no. That would be a large faux pas of the social variety. Instead you must first enquire about their health, their family’s health, their children’s health, the weather, the activities of the previous weekend, the plans of the upcoming weekend, the joy or sorrow related to the outcome of the most recent televised football match, and only then, finally, can you say “by the way”, after which you can begin the actual point of the conversation, before reinforcing that you feel guilty for having to ask, and only it it’s no trouble, but would they be so kind as to possibly do this little thing for you. You will be eternally grateful.
Germans do not dance around the point in such elaborate, transparent displays of faux friendship. They just say “I need this, do it, by this date”. Alles klar? then walk off. Once you’ve practiced regularly getting to the point, you may find the way to be short but very enjoyable.
As for saying what you mean, Germans have rightly realised that sugar coating is best reserved for cakes. If I’m having one of the my momentary delusions of grandeur, I know I can always rely on my German girlfriend to bring me swiftly back down to reality by saying something like “Get over yourself, we’re all born naked and shit in the toilet”.
Every nation has done things it should be embarrassed about. Dark acts in its history. The Germans are no exception. You know of what I talk – the German language.
Deutsch is mostly an incomprehensible jumble of exceptions. A dungeon designed to trap foreigners and hold them hostage, repeatedly flogging them with impenetrable and largely useless grammatical devices, whose only merit is to state in very, very explicit detail who has what and what is being done to whom, by whom.
The bad news is that for you to fully blend with the Germans, you’ll need to learn their language. In principle, it’s not that hard. It works in two stages: learning vocabulary and learning grammar. Learning vocabulary is fun. Most words are even similar to English thanks to our shared ancestry, so you’ll zip along for a while making great progress and really enjoying wrapping your tongue around such delights as Schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittel, Haarschmuckfachgeschäft, Muckefuck and Streicheleinheiten.
Then, confident at all the little snippets you’re already accumulated, you’ll start learning the grammar, the putty that builds your mutterings into real, coherent German sentences. This is where you’ll start to feel cheated. German grammar is nonsense.
English, at least linguistically, has always been the biggest slut in the room. Giving and taking from other languages. It tries hard to make you like it. It keeps itself simple. My pet theory is that the Germans, despite their committed efforts, were not as successful as the English in their world power plays. So, unlike German, the English language has been forced, historically, to bridge the cultural and linguistic divides that lay between us and the countries we were conquering (sorry, colonising). Over time, we’ve had to smooth down the rougher edges of English, which is a poetic way of saying kicked out all the hard bits.
English has been forced to evolve in a way that German has not. Which is why German has retained the grammatical complexity of Old English, while English got busy dumbing itself down for the masses.
Take genders as an example. Present in Old English, but long since removed to everyone’s relief. Sadly, still stubbornly present in German in the form of der, die and das, yet they are assigned utterly arbitrarily. Sure, there are some sort of vague guidelines about how word endings can suggest the gender, and some groupings, e.g. all days of the week and all months are der. That’ll help you with maybe 30% of nouns. This still leaves 70% that you’ll have to learn by heart so you can decline correctly. You can also decline to learn them if you like. See what I did there? Oh, how I amuse myself. Anyway…
You’ll waste much time memorising genders (PRO TIP: never learn a noun without its article, going back later and adding them in is very time-consuming and inefficient). Yet, without knowing the gender of the nouns, you can’t accurately decline the endings of the sentences’ nouns and adjectives. Which is utterly pointless anyway and does next to nothing to increase comprehension. Without it, though, you’ll say very embarrassing things like “einer grosser Wasser”, instead of “ein grosses Wasser”. I know. Gringeworthy.
Of course there are far harder languages to learn than German. That’s not my point. English also has its stupidities, like its staunch commitment to unphoneticism. The difference is that English kind enough to be easy in the beginning, then it ramps up slowly and encouragingly, with minimal grammar. German just plonks you down in front of a steep mountain, says “Viel Spass” and walks off as you begin your slow, painful ascent.
When I first started learning the language, which mostly consisted of me getting nowhere and just sitting around bitching about it, I was gently reminded by a friend that some of the smartest things every written were authored in this language. First you need only to respect it, later you can learn to like it.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Although this quote by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is already more than a hundred years old, it is especially relevant again in today’s world. Languages open doors for you in many ways. How best to learn languages and what role stays abroad play in this.
The language portal “Ethnologue” currently lists around 7100 spoken languages worldwide. Anyone who speaks only one of these can quickly feel small and insignificant in the face of this large number. However, speaking just one or even several foreign languages can be a great advantage in numerous situations in life. Not only can you make yourself understood abroad, but knowledge of foreign languages can also be an enormous advantage in a professional context. Those who master foreign languages are in demand in many professions. Good examples of this are the catering industry, the IT sector and the retail trade.
The importance of languages in the era of globalization is particularly topical and is becoming increasingly important.
Igor Botchkarev, founder and CEO of the VOX Language School, provides information about the special relevance of foreign languages in today’s world: “The importance of languages in the era of globalization is particularly topical and is becoming increasingly significant. Languages are not only an instrument of communication, but also an important component of human personality, because our identity is mostly expressed in the act of speaking.” According to the expert, the constantly changing professional world directly influences the importance of language skills: “At our time of specialization in every conceivable profession, the role of multilingual communication is increasing enormously. A good specialist can no longer be a lone wolf, but must bring his or her efforts to bear in interaction with a wide variety of company departments in a very often multicultural context.”
Language learning made easy
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But this does not apply to learning a foreign language, as expert Igor Botchkarev reveals: “To learn a language successfully, there are few simple rules to follow. The prerequisite for a successful learning process is a properly chosen internal motivation.” But learning a language is much more than just cramming vocabulary: “Next, you have to understand that you can’t learn to speak without actually speaking a language – just as you can’t learn to play a musical instrument without playing it. Because what we’re actually practicing when we play the guitar is the connection between the brain and the muscles in our forearm that are responsible for the corresponding movements. When we learn to speak, the exact same thing happens: We train the connection between the brain and the articulatory muscles, which is responsible for speaking.”
The prerequisite for a successful learning process is a properly chosen internal motivation.
According to popular opinion, children learn languages more easily than adults. But why is that? According to Igor Botchkarev, in adulthood it’s simply a matter of the mind: “The difference between children and adults in language learning lies mainly in the psychological limits that get in the way in adults, which disable the imitative tools once mastered.”
The Role of Time Spent Abroad
Stays abroad are particularly popular among young people, for example as part of a gap year after graduating from high school. But to what extent do stays abroad really contribute to learning a foreign language? Igor Botchkarev says: “When learning a language, the brain needs to be flooded with information so that it understands that the language is now an inseparable part of reality and starts to help you integrate it. This is best done abroad, where you are surrounded on all sides by the language, accordingly, a stay abroad is a great way to make rapid progress in a language.” In addition, he provides another valuable tip for learning foreign languages: “Just don’t be shy and have fun imitating.“
But to what extent are stays abroad actually useful? “Stays abroad make sense in that in a language area you get many more points of contact with the linguistic reality and opportunities for imitation, so that you can build up your new linguistic identity more quickly,” explains Igor Botchkarev. However, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of living abroad for a long period of time, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from home. Consequently, the question arises: Why going abroad? You can learn languages just as well in your home country. That’s true, but learning a foreign language at home can have a significant disadvantage, as Igor Botchkarev reveals: “When you learn the language at home, there’s a danger that you focus too much on writing, comprehension and grammar. Then you still have to learn how to speak. It’s quite important to focus on active speaking and pronunciation from the beginning, whether at home or abroad.”
Foreign Languages as a Professional Door Opener
Those who master foreign languages generally gain an enormous professional advantage. “Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine everyday business life without different languages,” clarifies Igor Botchkarev. “When you speak a person’s language, you are suddenly a part of their culture and consciousness. When you speak the same language, it’s a perfect icebreaker and an access door to faster and more complex interaction, which definitely brings many advantages in the professional environment.” So if you want to boost your resume, learning foreign languages is a good idea.
As fate would have it, he came to Switzerland with his family as a sixteen-year-old boy. From being silent to starting to speak he developed and refined his own method of learning foreign languages – far more effective than what we are used to from school time. He is ready to share it with all those who, finding themselves in a country with an unfamiliar language and culture, dream of learning to express themselves and understanding those around them.
Igor Botchkarev – the young, promising, intelligent and charming director of the VOX language school – is convinced that it is possible to go further and integrate into the society in which one is lucky enough to find oneself in a short period of time.
Some of the basics of foreign languages were laid down for him in his childhood: he studied English at a school in Krasnodar for many years, and just before his move to Switzerland he managed to master the basics of German and learnt a little French – he was lucky to have a talented teacher. However, Igor had no conversational practice in either language. He learnt to pronounce foreign words, starting with “Grüezi”, in Winterthur, Switzerland.
After a few months in the country, the bright youngster spoke German and was given the opportunity to enter a secondary school as a guest student. At secondary school he opted for the classical languages stream, where Latin was the main subject. This became the basis for his studies of languages from the entire Romance group. French and Spanish were easy and very enjoyable. Six months after his arrival he was already speaking Swiss German, and after graduating from secondary school, he even started teaching it to foreigners. Language learning became increasingly compelling and allowed him to experience the joy of meeting and communicating again.
However, there were inevitably some funny missteps at first. Once, to keep up a conversation about the weather, Igor decided to say something more interesting to his Swiss companions than simply “there are many clouds in the sky,” and did not immediately understand why the others laughed after he uttered the phrase “das Wetter ist so schwul heute!”. (translated from German this means “The weather is so homosexual today”. Correct would be “das Wetter ist so schwül heute” – The weather is so humid today).
His growing passion for languages eventually led him to the University of Zurich, where he studied French philology and Spanish studies, concentrating on the typology of world languages and comparative linguistics. Now Igor Botchkarev speaks 6 languages, and his immediate plans are to give a course on learning several languages at the same time and a course on how to learn languages properly on your own.
AN ENTREPRENEUR IS BORN, AND A BUSINESSMAN BECOMES A BUSINESSMAN
They say an entrepreneur has to have a certain mindset. This is Igor. He got into business in the second grade. At the very beginning of the nineties, three friends and some similarly savvy kids started distributing TV programmes to flats, selling them ten times the price of what they were buying at Soyuzpechat (СоюзПечать, former Soviet kiosk chain selling magazines and newspapers). They earned more than their parents and spent almost everything on ice cream and sweets, having had enough of them for the rest of their lives.
The children’s next business success came with the “Sowing” ritual on 8 March. They went around the flats imitating sowing: “Sowing, sowing, sowing, congratulations on March 8, open your chests, hand over your stumps!” The event was a great success and there was no competition. This was followed by car washing, catching fish in the rice canal, drying them and selling them in front of the beer hall; then unauthorised refuelling of cars on the city streets. In general, they did everything they could with ingenuity and audacity. In Switzerland, his entrepreneurial skills were strengthened. First, Igor opened a biotech firm to clean up industrial heat exchangers in sugar factories, and later several online clothing shops.
In the process of realising his ideas, however, he realised that he was missing his language passion and his desire to share his work and experience required some kind of outlet. He started to develop his family’s small language studio in Winterthur. Soon a partner with IT experience joined, and things began to take off. He became director of VOX in 2008 in parallel to running two other businesses and studying at the University of Zurich in the fields of French philology and Spanish studies.
Nowadays, Igor increasingly focuses on implementing his method in the school’s teaching system, training the teachers, monitoring the quality of the lessons and making methodical and professional corrections. He makes sure that their team includes only the most talented linguists with good education, knowledge of articulatory phonetics, syntax, morphology, historical linguistics, and who understand and know the structure of language like a multiplication table.
Parallel to these tasks, he and his partner work on the formation of a strategy and the organisation of the digital and the customer relations departments.
There are now more than 60 teachers in the VOX team. The most important quality that Igor controls when hiring is an excellent command of the language system, a passion for teaching and a developed sense of empathy to empathise with the students‘ emotional state. After all, whoever tries to start speaking a foreign language is confused by every language ever learnt, and is like a child learning to speak.
And while a child’s fear of making a mistake is not yet known, an adult’s fear of being misunderstood or looking foolish is much more difficult to overcome. “My son is growing up with three native languages: Russian, French and Swiss German,” says Igor, “so you can hear things like: ‘Gäschter I saw this truc in the street and s’gliche has grand-papa and grand-maman‘. That is, ‘Yesterday I saw a thing in the street and grandma and grandpa have it too.’
“At school, too, an unexpected error can slip in, and you have to know how to react to it properly. Swiss learning Russian often get the emphasis wrong. A pupil in class: “Yesterday I peed the answer to a question” (Here two Russian words are confused, which are written the same, but pronounced differently: напИсать – to pee and написАть – to write). And a Russian-speaking fellow I know, being unable to pronounce the Swiss word “Grüezi”, replaced it with a consonant of his native language – “cucumbers” (Here, Russian word огурцы is mean, which is pronounced like “ogoortzee”). Everyone understood him, and he enjoyed his ingenuity. More to that, Russian-speaking students learning German find it difficult to pronounce place names like Chur, Seebach, Ebikon.
“The influence of the native language is hard to eradicate,” continues Igor, “so one of our students constantly called her Italian classmate Paolo ‘Paola’, because in Russian the unstruck ‘o’ is pronounced as [a], which really hurt Paolo’s male ego. After all, “Paola” is feminine in Italian. With tears in his eyes. “I’m not Paola, I’m Paolo,” to which the girl replied nonchalantly: “Well, that’s what I said: Paola”.
NOBODY IS PERFECT
Igor Botchkarev believes that if you do not speak, then it is difficult for you to learn to speak. Through conversation, a connection is created between the brain and the muscles that make the sound. It’s like learning to play the piano: you can’t learn to play just by listening to Chopin tapes or even memorising notes. Only by playing can one learn to play, and speak – if speaking, starting with imitation of what has been heard.
“If you are complex about your pronunciation,” the director of the language school shares his advice, “learn a couple of sentences by heart with a native speaker, make an audio recording of the phrase and practise its pronunciation, ideally, until it matches the pronunciation of the native speaker. This will become the foundation for further improvement of speech. “
And if “the tongue does not turn“? Igor believes that in this case, a simple repetition of what the student heard will help, even if the meaning of the radio program or podcast the student must listen to is not clear. Five or, even better, ten minutes of daily training can work a miracle: the muscles of the tongue, lips will develop to pronounce unusual sounds. “It’s like twine, like a gymnastic bridge: you gradually stretch and stretch the muscles, until you sit down or get into the correct position. “
In multilingual Switzerland, nobody cares what you say. In the land of polyglots, they treat your efforts with understanding and respect and, when talking, concentrate on understanding and supporting, not catching in illiteracy. “Don’t worry about mistakes, don’t be afraid of them,” Botchkarev recommends. – Errors are the norm; a person learns only from his mistakes! “
Having visited the VOX language school for a lesson (by the way, an excellent location – within walking distance from the main station in Zurich) and met some teachers, I was fascinated by the sincerity, burning eyes, interest in my work and professionalism. And I signed up for a course of simultaneous study of Italian, Spanish and French.
Csaba was one of the most successful students at VOX. He learned German from A1 level until B1 level with the TELC German exam passed in 6 lessons of 60 min of individual lessons at VOX. We shaped a highly individualized program for him that matched exactly his learning way, and it produced really amazing results.
VOX is about individuality; we take responsibility for students’ struggles in any learning area and shape tailored solutions that lead them efficiently to speaking a new language. We consider motivational, psychological, and linguistical aspects in preparing this program. That’s also why we limit our group size to a maximum of 5 participants for offline language courses and 3 participants in online courses. Because only like this, we can ensure that a teacher has enough time to take responsibility for resolving each learner’s issues and not just leave them alone with their problems.
Also, the students have time to train their articulatory muscles during the lesson actively. One cannot learn to speak without speaking because when you learn to speak, you need to train your motoric memory, which is tightly connected to active speaking. If you only learn through listening, reading, and writing, you’ll never be able to start speaking. You will only be able to understand, read, and write passively…
It all started with Russian. In the beginning, Pawel said that he is not gifted for language learning because he is rather talented in maths. After the first Russian course at VOX and a successful experience, he also took a German course. Then he said that he understood how the VOX method works and decided to start learning Arabic by himself and took an Arabic course at VOX much later to consolidate his acquired knowledge.
Metalevel of language learning at VOX
It’s all about each student’s individual needs at VOX. Whether it’s linguistic or any other struggle, we take language learning in its totality to shape a highly individualized learning experience for any learner.
Why are VOX language courses different from others?
We program learner’s subconsciousness with short, catchy operational thoughts that lead to correct speaking. We focus on active speaking and pronunciation because it’s an integral part of the successful speaking learning process. The nice pronunciation will help to form a new strong personality in your learning language. At VOX, you don’t only learn the new language, but you discover how to learn languages in general.
It is important to consider that the bigger your group is, the less time you will have to actively speak and the less time the teacher will have to address your personal needs. Ideally, the group size should not exceed 5 people and the teacher should balance the attention given to individual students. For online courses, this is even more important. In this case, the groups should be maximum 3-4 people.
As one cannot learn how to play an instrument without actually playing it, one can also not learn how to speak a language without actively speaking it. The teacher should always distribute the active speaking time between the participants of the course, so that nobody’s active speaking time is neglected. If your teacher does not maintain this balance and students have to fight for the right to speak, please always discuss this point with the teacher and insist on your personal right to speak a fair amount of time during the course.
3. WILL THE COURSE BE ADAPTED TO YOUR INDIVIDUAL NEEDS?
Very often, courses follow a highly rigid structure and do not integrate students’ individual needs in class. Normally, there is not enough time for personalized learning, as group sizes are too large. Nevertheless, always express your personal targets and needs for the course and change the teacher or the school if you do not receive personal attention from the teacher.
4. WHAT IS THE QUALIFICATION OF YOUR TEACHER?
It is very often the case that schools hire native speakers with a very broad didactical education, namely a course which was attended for only a couple of months. Unfortunately, most of these teachers do not have direct access to their linguistic system and cannot provide students efficiently with this knowledge. If you would like to increase your chances of getting a high quality course, ensure that your teacher has an university education in linguistics. Teachers who studied languages this way do not struggle with explaining the linguistic system of a certain language to their students without loosing time.
5. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO COMPLETE ONE FULL LEVEL?
A lot of schools subdivided their language courses into 3-4 levels such as A1.1, A1.2, A1.3 etc. This is mostly due to the fact that courses appear cheaper this way and once you start, you stick to your group. Schools with small groups of max. 5 students do not have these subcourses as you learn naturally faster in smaller groups. Of course, the course is more expensive this way but you also learn the language in much more depth.
6. IS THE ONLINE COURSE OF YOUR CHOICE BASED ON FACE-TO-FACE TUTORING?
Nowadays, a lot of platforms exist which offer you access to linguistic material and exercises. They indeed cost a lot less than face-to-face lessons. However, the disadvantage lies in the fact that this kind of learning only fosters passive knowledge. If you only rely on this method, you might understand a lot, accumulate a huge vocabulary but you will not be able to speak. There is no better option than learning active speaking under the supervision of a linguist with a university background.
7. CAN YOU CHANGE THE TEACHER IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG?
If you have already enrolled in a course and you do not feel a 100% content, you can simply ask to change your teacher or the group. In a lot of schools, this is everyday business. You are the king of your lesson and you should invest your money in a course which helps you achieve your goals. Do not be afraid to claim your right of getting a service which matches your expectations.