Thursday, July 15, 2010

Benny's German adventure

"Benny the Irish polyglot" and his C2 exam results and analysis. In his own words:

"In a few short hours I’ll be flying into Berlin where I’ll be spending the next 3 months! The next mission is of course German. My mission will be to convince Germans that I’m a Berliner by the end of June, and to sit the Goethe-Zertifikat C2: Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung examination. The level required for this examination goes way beyond fluency; it is for Mastery of a language...

"The C2 level exam: "Think “very hard” & multiply that by a thousand".

More here

Benny's prior experience with German:

- "FIVE years of studies," "the familiar story of a wasted academic background"
- High school exit exam (which requires cramming)
- A two-month visit to Germany

Comment: High school German is around 500 hours of instruction and not "years of studies".


ORAL Result: 60/80 (75%: ‘good’ grade)
WRITTEN Result: 52/70 (74%: ‘good’ grade)
GRAMMAR Result: 43/70 (61%: ‘satisfactory’ grade)
READING Result: 25/50 (50%: would just be ‘pass’ grade due to ‘good’ in written)
LISTENING Result: 15/40 (37%: not a pass)"

"There were five different aspects to the exam. Based on four of these aspects I “passed” the exam and have a C2 level in German in these parts, doing better in certain sections than I originally thought I would! However, I did not pass one aspect: Listening comprehension. Because you must pass all of the five sections, the overall result is not a pass and I will not be awarded the C2 diploma."

Comment: What's "not a pass"? :) His conclusion is that he "almost passed", which I suppose is a good philosophy.

Writing: "This nice result was a bit of a surprise as writing is usually not something I focus much on... If you can speak confidently and correctly, then you simply transfer it to written format... The only difference is that I removed casual empty-softeners (like, you know, isn’t it?) and conversational connectors, which would make speech sound more natural, but not work in written form.

Comment: There is a big difference between speaking and writing but the two active skills certainly support each other.

Grammar: "I just barely got within the safe pass grade both in German and in Spanish. I still remember the Spanish result was precisely 80%. One tiny slip up and I would have failed the entire exam! I don’t like to focus so much on grammar and the rules of a language: speaking ‘perfectly’ is definitely way less important than speaking confidently. People who focus on this perfection will never actually reach it since they still aren’t confident enough to speak."

Comment: The grammar part does not test the terminology or explicit knowledge of grammar rules.

Result: 25/50 (50%: would just be ‘pass’ grade due to ‘good’ in written)

"This part was the only surprise for me, as I thought I had passed it safely, but I actually did quite poorly...

Despite the title, reading a lot does not necessarily help. I read enough for the purposes of this exam and I wouldn’t have increased my focus on reading if I were to resit it."


"I read enough for the purposes of this exam." "reading a lot does not necessarily help."

What does this mean? He spent three months in Germany running around like one of those duracell bunnies and according to his own log he began reading books (while studying) one month before the exam. His suggestion is that anyone trying to pass this part of the exam should not read but study vocabulary:

"What I would have done differently: more focus on vocabulary study, to be more precise. My answers were likely ‘correct’, but not good enough."

He was supposed to find synonyms for words taken from a particular context. Only some words can be matched in a given context. Reading is indispensable. And this piece of advice comes from "context is the KEY" guy.

Listening comprehension
Result: 15/40 (37%: not a pass)

"My biggest mistake here was (as mentioned above), presuming that to prepare for the listening exam, I simply had to listen to a lot of German. Ever since I arrived, I have had the radio on almost constantly, mostly on news and discussion stations. I somewhat paid attention and definitely got the general gist most of the time, and all of the time in the last month.

This did not actually help me for my listening exam....

Other learners swear by passive listening all day long as a means of learning a language. I was already sceptical about it, but now I’m convinced that it’s not a practical use of time (at least for me). If you like listening to the foreign language, then listen away, but don’t think that you are actually learning much. Listening while washing the dishes or driving a car will give you important exposure, and this is important to get a ‘feel’ for the language to make it sound less strange. But it is not necessarily improving your actual level of the language; definitely not your ability to produce, and not even so much for your ability to understand... Unless you are actively involved in the audio, you can only improve your level if you give it all of your attention, or if you have the ability to efficiently split your attention so that it is getting crucial focus...

What I would do differently if I were to sit this again: be 100% focused on listening when preparing (not doing anything else at the same time) and try my best to get as many details as possible out of the audio, rather than just feeling good about myself that I got the ‘gist’ of it."

Comment: blaring the radio for a couple of months while doing other things is not a good preparation for any exam. It's also a bad argument against passive listening or simply listening (and paying attention). Passive listening (with or without multitasking) requires time and is usually combined with other types of activities (especially when the learner is still struggling to understand the gist).

More on his C2 German exam here


irishpolyglot said...

Thanks for the analysis! I still stand by my own conclusions though - I'll expand more on it in future posts ;)

Keith said...

This is a good summary post of the original.

reineke said...

Hello Benny

Thanks for commenting. I'm looking forward to your posts.

frenkeld said...

The thing about reading and listening the way they are described here is that both appear to have been done in an "extensive" mode, by just letting it come at you instead of digging into a text or listening to an audio clip multiple times with a transcript.

The extensive approach can work over the long term, but it is not a quick way to get there, so if you are cramming for an exam, an intensive approach to both reading and listening may be a better use of your time. An even better solution may be to stay away from a language exam one isn't ready for until one is.