The Crew – L to R:Tommaso, Me, Harry, Matteo, Lena, Kyoto, Margareta, MungWa, Igor

It was the Canadian woman who was the deciding factor. I was at the front desk at Tandem Munich language school talking to the receptionist, trying to determine if this school was the right fit for me, when the Canadian woman with Asian features interrupted us to tell me that she had attended several language schools in Munich and thought Tandem far surpassed the others. Someone, I don’t remember who, suggested the Canadian woman was a “plant” employed by the school for just this purpose – to be brought from the back room when a potential customer seemed wary. We all laughed at that.

Munich is awash with language schools. I have seen at least six others advertised on subway walls and kiosks around town. Many are considerably cheaper but I have no regrets. I have studied at Tandem for five weeks and tomorrow will be my last day. While I haven’t achieved my wildly optimistic goal of being able to comfortably converse after five weeks, I can’t fault the school. Nor can I fault myself. I have really poured my heart into this endeavor and have undoubtedly made considerable progress. As any fool could have told me, though, five weeks just isn’t long enough to master a language.

For five weeks, three hours a day, Andi and Margarete, my teachers, have been stuffing German in my ears while I have been feverishly scribbling notes and patiently memorizing vocabulary cards. With so much going in my head, it is a little disappointing how little intelligible German comes out my mouth. Oh well……

The Tools of My Trade

Andi and Margarete are first-rate teachers. Andi is high-octane, full of interesting anecdotes, and has an uncanny talent for making himself understood to students with limited understanding of German. I think his secret is in his hands; they’re always acting out what he says.

Margarete’s forte is her knack for establishing rapport with each student. She does a great job of transforming the details of grammar from tedious to interesting. I really appreciated how she was able to make conversation a significant part of each day’s instruction.

Keep in mind that classes are conducted only in German – which isn’t surprising since students at Tandem are such a polyglot bunch. Classes are small. At one point, our class consisted of only two students and the teacher. Now we are eight:

Me, American, retired stone wall builder
Tommaso, Italian, PhD candidate in law.
Matteo, Italian, unemployed information technologist
Harry, Finn, ship’s engineer on a ocean-going tanker
Lena, French, recent high school graduate
Kyoto, Japanese, nurse
MungWa, Chinese, some kind of student (I didn’t catch her specialty)
Igor, Russian, language teacher

I would characterize our classes as serious and light-hearted at the same time. Each of us, after all, is paying for this instruction out of our own pockets. Even so, the combination of Andi and Margareta’s cheerful natures and the camaraderie that has developed over the last few weeks makes for some light-hearted moments. Today, for example, the subject of “aged” whiskey came up. Remembering that Igor had mentioned that vodka is his drink of choice, I asked:

“Igor, does aging improve the taste of vodka?”

Igor replied “In Russia, vodka never has a chance to age!”

And then there was the role-playing exercise we did where Tommaso was the customer and Harry was a travel agent:

Tommaso: “How much does a flight from Munich to Rome cost?
Harry: “I can offer you this flight for twenty Euros.”

Harry’s ridiculously low price was greeted by laughs of astonishment from the class. At this point, Andi chimed in: “Is that the price with or without a pilot?”

I guess I’ll never know what the other Munich language schools would have been like. I have been more than satisfied with my Tandem experience. I don’t care if that Canadian woman was a plant; Tandem was a good choice for me.