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Trying tumblr August 29, 2010

Posted by Paul Rees in blogging.
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As you can see I don’t post often here. I’ve decided that future posts will be on Tumblr: http://www.madamlive.net See you there.

How to get started on Twitter January 27, 2010

Posted by Paul Rees in twitter.
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I often am asked “what is Twitter?” or “how do/could I use Twitter?” While I don’t consider myself any kind of expert this is what I have found useful.

  1. Go here https://twitter.com/signup and register for Twitter. Make sure you do write a short bio (I think mentioning your interests is best) and upload a picture of yourself. People are more likely to respond if there is a photo and a little information about you.
  2. Don’t forget to checkout the Twitter help pages http://twitter.com/help/start. This is boring I know, but here you will at least learn about various Twitter terms, such as “retweet”.
  3. Download and install Tweetdeck on your computer http://tweetdeck.com/beta/ This software makes twitter easy and fun to use. This works on PC or Mac. You can also use Twitter from http://twitter.com, but the features are very basic.
  4. To get started use Twitter Search http://search.twitter.com/ and search tor keywords related to things you are interested in. If you find someone talking about what you are interested in “follow” them. Following is like friending in Facebook. People then often follow you back. This means they are likely to read what you post to Twitter in future.
  5. As you follow people their postings or “tweets” will show up in Tweetdeck. Respond to what people say if you have something to say; this is how you will start to connect with people.
  6. You can also search for your friends from other networks here http://twitter.com/invitations/find_on_other_networks
  7. I have collected a lot of bookmarks about Twitter. See here  http://delicious.com/madam3181/twitter to learn more about what Twitter is and how to use it to your advantage.

Remember establishing a presence on Twitter takes some time and a little effort. As a guide, I think if you use it almost daily and read and respond to tweets regularly you will build up a useful band of followers in about 2 months.

Five things March 17, 2009

Posted by Paul Rees in Uncategorized.
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I know Bexxi from Twitter. In a blog posting Five more things… she wrote “If you’d like to leave a comment on this post, I’ll be happy to nominate five things that I associate with you, which you can then expound upon in your own blog (or we can find some other solution, if you don’t have a blog Also, if there are other things you associate with me more strongly than these things, I’d be intrigued to know and would be happy to comment on those.”

Even though she doesn’t know me very well I asked here to list 5 things for me. She came up with this intriguing list:

  • Green Sauce in Frankfurt
  • Frustration with learning German
  • Goatee beard
  • Peter Gabriel (just because you look rather like him IMO)
  • Apple products

Green Sauce in Frankfurt

This is a reference to my last trip to Germany in September 2008. On my way back to Australia I spent a couple of days in Frankfurt. Here I met up with another person I know from Twitter, Peter Jakobs. Peter is also a friend of Bexxi’s. One evening Peter showed me around Frankfurt, including taking me to a restaurant he described as being typical of the region. Here I was introduced to Green Sauce, a dish I had never heard of, let alone eaten, before. Coming from Melbourne where we have (I thought) just about every style of food imaginable I was happily surprised to discover something new.  I thought the Green Sauce was weird, but I liked it.

Frustration with learning German

Oh well that is certainly documented here! Come May this year I will have been learning for two years and still I can’t string a sentence together. I recently wrote to someone that German is something that I am having fun while failing. That about sums it up. I have come to the realisation that I don’t have whatever it takes to be bilingual, that is, it’s never going to happen. That’s the fail part. The fun part is meeting people and I am going to continue using learning German to do that. It’s also worth mentioning that while overall I feel that I have failed with this endeavour, I am pleased that I have very slowly learned to understand German. I still have a long way to go, but I think that after a few more years I will get there.

Goatee Beard

I’ve had this look for a few years now. At 51 looking good isn’t an option, but I try to make the most of what I have with minimum effort. In that context a beard works for me.

Peter Gabriel

Nobody has ever compared me to Peter Gabriel before. Here’s a link to some pictures of him. I’ll leave it for others to decide if Bexxi is on to anything. Personally I can’t see it.

Apple Products

Bexxi will have seen all my posts on Twitter about the iPhone and the MacBook and the associated banter with Peter Jakobs. The truth is I am not an Apple fan boy.

I like the iPhone because it enables me to have the Internet everywhere. Sure other products can do that, but I like the way the iPhone does it. And I do acknowledge that it does it imperfectly and has quite a way to go to be a fantastic product.

Late last year I also switched to a MacBook for my home computer. I simply “had it” with Windows Vista. I used a perfectly good HP notebook that ran like a dog with Vista. It required a lot of support. I spend all day supporting others with their computer issues and I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time at home supporting my own system. I wanted something easy and I got that with the Mac. The PC guy from the Mac commercials sums it up well. It goes something like this, “Ask not what Vista can do for you, but what you can do for Vista.” I also have to say that the MacBook is the best looking computer I have ever owned.

Planning for Berlin in summer 2009 March 3, 2009

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People who follow me on Twitter will know that I have booked an airline ticket to Germany so that I can spend the summer in Berlin. The primary purpose of this trip is to improve my German language skills (such as they are :)

I intend to enroll at a school at attend class for say four days per week as well as, of course, having close to three months of full on exposure to the language.

I am also going to use this opportunity to make some short trips elsewhere in Europe. Although I have travelled to Europe five times I am not well travelled. I have only visited Germany (3 times) UK, London (4 times) and Italy (2 times, many years ago).

I have started to look for somewhere to live in Berlin. This is not an easy process. There are a number of websites that one can use to look for accommodation. However it seems to me that the best ones are only in German. That is no surprise really.

This task has highlighted just how poor my German skills are, even after almost two years of learning. Those websites might as well be in Chinese. They use a technical vocabulary that I am not familiar with; some words are not even in the dictionary. I can hardly read anything! Very disappointing and frustrating.

Luckily my German friends have come to the rescue and offered to help. I am going to need it. Can’t do this one on my own.

German in Germany October 9, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in Berlin, german.
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It has been over two months since I have written here. Since the last posting I travelled to Germany for most of September. I was mainly in Berlin, although I did have a day trip to Hannover and looked around Frankfurt just prior to my departure for Australia.

So how did my German go? I have already been asked this question many times. There are two answers.

Understanding, ie passive skills, were good. I was surprised and impressed with just how much I could understand. For example at one of the hotels the staff there spoke to me in German and I could understand just about everything and at the Qantas check-in a Frankfurt I could also handle the process in German. I spent a lot of time with my friend Stefan and he spoke to me in German most of the time. I have to admit that I couldn’t understand everything, but I always got the general idea. I even found a couple of times the words registered without having to translate them into English. I guess that’s what it’s like when you can actually speak the language. I came to the conclusion that for someone who has been learning part-time in an English speaking country for less than two years I am doing quite well with understanding.

Speaking, ie active skills, are still poor. I simply don’t have the confidence to speak German. The words necessary for simple conversation are there in my head, but I can’t sort through the grammar points and word order fast enough to actually say anything. I did have a couple of situations where I had to speak German, once asking for directions and once with a taxi driver who couldn’t speak English. To my surprise I was understood and could understand. So although those conversations were difficult, they did actually work.

The most frustrating thing in Berlin is that most people speak at least reasonable English. I found that even if I tried to speak German, when people realised that I spoke English they would speak to me in English. I had expected this to happen. I did find however that if I addressed someone with, for example, a convincing “Guten Tag”, I would get a response in German. I was particularly pleased a Frankfurt Airport security when I noticed the security guy speaking to the English speakers in English, and the German speakers in German. When it came to my turn I greeted him with “Guten Arbend” and he proceeded to give me instructions in German (fortunately I could understand the instructions). So I figured I must have passed for a German speaker.

I won’t go on here about what I did on my holidays. I’ll just mention that through Twitter I met up with some nice people. Timo Heuer in Hannover, Chuck Smith and his girlfriend Judith, and Jesse Skinner in Berlin, and Peter Jakobs in Frankfurt. I have also posted some of my photos to Flickr, there are photos from Berlin and a few from Hannover.

Digital immigrant August 4, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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This post is going to stray a little from my usual theme of learning German, although it is related to that activity.

I have been chatting online with a young, friendly German man Timo Heuer. He is a self-described digital native and he has called me a “digital immigrant”. I had not heard the term digital immigrant before, however it does appear to have some currency.

While chatting to Timo I started to consider what it would be like to have grown up in a time where personal computers and the Internet had always existed. I then recalled my father telling me as a child about the days before television. This was unimaginable to me. Television was such an important and integral part of my childhood. I thought that living in time without it must have been an unbearable hardship.

Then I started to think about how my life had changed for the better since I have acquired technology. Today, for example, I can take a picture with my iPhone and within seconds it is on the Internet available for anyone in the world to view and comment on. Before technology I would have had to wait, sometimes days, for that photo to be processed at the lab. If I wanted to share it with anyone I would have needed to go back to the lab and have the photo reprinted. Then I would need to write a letter, include the photo and post it. When the letter was received the recipient would then need to write a letter and post it to comment on my photo. If the recipient was overseas, this process would have taken about a month from the day the photo was taken until I received the comment.

Imagine what the time consuming and labour intensive process I have described above must seem like to a digital native (digital natives feel free to comment).

Technology has also removed the sense of isolation I used to feel from the rest of the world (remember Australia is about a 24+ hour flight from Europe). I recall as a teenager and young adult reading magazines from the UK. It all seems so far away and remote. What was happening in the UK was certainly something that I could watch from afar, but never actually participate in. In the old days even the cost of international phone calls was prohibitive.

Today I feel quite connected. Obviously there is the instantaneous flow of information via the web, but for me it is more personal than that. Now I can communicate one-on-one quickly and cheaply with individual people anywhere.

For me, technology has enhanced the experience of learning German. I now have access to all manner of learning materials. More importantly I now can meet German native speakers online. This enables me to practice with a wide variety of people. It also has the unexpected bonus of the opportunity to make real, quality friendships with those people. Through friendships I have learned more about the German culture than I had anticipated.

So yes, I guess I am a digital immigrant… and I am not going back to the old country.

No more classes for 2008 : conversation only July 26, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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A fellow student of German asked me in an e-mail if I was going to continue with my German class when the current term ends in two weeks. Here, a little edited, is my reply.

I have decided not to do the next term of the class this year. I am definitely not giving up learning German, however I have decided for the remainder of the year to focus on conversation practice and vocabulary expansion.

Of course I have the trip to Germany in September, but I have reached a point in my everyday life where I now have a growing number of German friends, locally and online as well as the meet-up group to practice with. It is not unrealistic for me to say that if I applied myself I could have conversation practice 3 to 5 times per week. Towards the end of the year I plan to do a couple of refresher sessions with a tutor on the grammar. Then come 2009 I will enrol to continue with classroom learning.

I came to this decision because it is clear to me that the class is not a useful vehicle for me to learn to converse. In saying that I am not laying the blame for that failure on anyone other than myself and my style of learning. Interestingly, some of my German friends have encouraged me to take a rest from the class and concentrate on conversations. For me the class has become an intellectual exercise, something like learning to break a code. I do that in English and never really get the feeling for the language necessary to speak it. Nevertheless the grammar is important and I will definitely return to it next year.

Exposure July 20, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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I regularly scan Twitter using http://search.twitter.com/ for tweets about “learning German”.

I discovered a tweet by Josh, a self described “language geek”, and through that his interesting blog Language Geek. In particular I found his post More Exposure, Less Study relevant to me. I was prompted to write a comment on my feelings about this dilema. For the record, I am posting that comment here.

I am starting to think that exposure really is the key. I’ve been learning German since April 2007 and I have put a lot of time into studying it and listening to it.

However after all that effort I can’t actually say very much in German. I am happy with my level of comprehension relative to the amount of time I have been learning.

My problem is that my head has gotten so caught up in the complex grammar that speaking now seems to be close to impossible. I mean, when trying to speak, by the time my head has processed the grammar, the moment is lost.

I am travelling to Germany in September (for a big exposure) and I am seriously considering taking a break from active and formal studying after that trip. This is not giving up, rather an attempt to clear my head and actually learn how to speak. During this break, I would focus on conversing with my German online and offline friends, and attending German speaking social functions.

Children learn to speak by exposure. As an adult learning by exposure is a much slower process, complicated by a brain that is now wired in English. Time to accept this and re-wire :)