"Learn German on vacation in Austria"

by Melody Moser, Daily Herald (USA) , 14. Januar 2007

So to speak -
Take a language-school vacation in Vienna

Vienna, Austria, 8:15 a.m. I bid Auf Wiedersehen to my roommate Francesca, grab my notebooks and rush outside. On my way to school I pass Vienna’s spectacular St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and despite the threat of April snow, I look forward to this afternooon’s tour of the city.
I hear the clip-clop of a Fiaker, its alabaster horses led by a bewhiskered fellow who nods his bowler-hatted head at me as he passes by. A shop owner calls out to me in German as I stop for coffee at a café on the elegant Kärtner Strasse, and I am able to respond.
I’m not an ordinary tourist who knows just a few words in German – I am a language tourist.
I catch the red and white Tram D at the Opera house, switching at Schwarzenbergplatz, where the equestrian statue of Prince Schwarzenberg solemnly overlooks one of Vienna’s grandest squares.

At Rennveg, I exit, carefully stepping over a Cocker Spaniel lying next to a gentleman who is reading Die Presse. The school is a two-block walk up a sloping hill, across the street from the formal formal Belvedere Palace gardens.
In class, our teacher, Barbara, asks me, “Was bist du von beruf?” What do I do for a living? I have to think. “Ich bin computerprogrammiererin.” I stumble over the bulky word. Barbara smiles and asks Hoi Ping, a Taiwanese girl sitting next to me, “Wie alt ist Melody?” Hoi Ping gives me a shy smile, then says, kindly, “Sie ist zwieundzwansig jahre alt.” Translation: She is twenty-two years old.
We all laugh, then play a game identifying pictures of Austrian road signs, some real, some not, and joke at the “usefulness” of learning the German translation for a road sign that means “here one can photograph penguins.”

The students in my class range in age from 22 to 41, and come from a cornucopia of countries – Mongolia, Kazakhstan, England, Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Japan. I am the only American.
The students’ reasons for learning German in Vienna are as diverse as their nationalities. Tomohiro, from Japan, wants to study music at the University of Vienna; Amara from Mongolia, is adding German to the five languages she already speaks. Pip, from New Zealand, wants to communicate with her Austrian relatives. Sarah, a ski-instructor from London, would like to converse with the family of the Viennese boyfriend she met on the ski lift in Kitzbühel. And Svetlana, from Kazakhstan, wants to move to Vienna to be with the Austrian boyfriend she met while on vacation in Turkey.
Actilingua Academy offers students of all ages the opportunity to learn German in historic Vienna, a city renowned for its music, art and architecture. It is a city where Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven lived. It is a city where street musicians play Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" on the violin and young people tote cellos on trams.
“Most people who want to study German think of doing so in Germany rather than Austria,” says Dr. Ernst.

“But in Vienna,” he continues, “you not only learn pure, correct German, but can experience one of the world’s greatest cities of art, music and culture.”
Actilingua was founded in 1988 after Austrian Barbara Ernst travelled to Florence, Italy to do her dissertation and take an Italian language course. She enjoyed the course so much she decided to start a school in Vienna, which she runs with her husband, Roland.
For accommodations, I chose to stay in Kolpinghaus, a student residence off Gentzgasse, an avenue dotted with shops, cafés and vibrant flower stalls. The residence, populated by dozens of international students attending several of the city's schools and universities, is clean and safe, reasonable quiet and its location, about 35 minutes from the school, allows me to learn my way around Vienna by tram and U-bahn.
The school’s fee covers daily language classes in grammar and conversation; activities such as lectures, volleyball games and pizza parties; and accommodation with a host family or in a student residence. For a small cost there are also excursions to Vienna’s cathedrals, palaces and wine taverns, cycling trips along the banks of the Danube to Klosterneuburg monastery, or excursions to Salzburg or Budapest -easy to do on one's own, but more fun with a group of international classmates.

After class, I ride the trams around around Vienna's Innere Stadt, practicing my German with people I meet. I wander narrow, cobbled streets and gaze at the Baroque splendor of The Hofburg; I tour the quirky Uhren Museum, or Clock Museum, and relive my childhood in the Doll and Toy museum. I take the U-bahn to Schönbrunn Palace and admire the symmetry of the gardens. One night, I play dress up, and go with a Japanese classmate, Mayumi, to Vienna’s celebrated Opera House where we watch a ballet from a frontrow balcony seat. I even venture into the Vienna Woods one day, when a heavy rain pours down upon the verdant trees that dangle branches over a babbling brook.
Sometimes, during excursions, I stop at Vienna's renowned Sacher Cafe and sample sachertorte, an exquisite chocolate layer cake topped with a layer of apricot jam under a thick, chocolate coating. At Naschmarkt, Vienna’s lively open-air market near Karlsplatz, I nosh on fresh vegetables and the softest dates I’ve had since visiting Morocco. And when I need to do homework or study, I relax in Vienna’s legendary coffeehouses, where a tuxedoed waiter serves me Apfelstrudel and I can linger as long as I like.
The real advantage of a trip like this, besides the obvious benefit of knowing a few sentences in the language of the country you’re visiting, is the opportunity to continuously practice that language, as well as get off the tourist track and live like the locals.

While most tourists breeze through the city and gawk at the sights, a language student has a purpose for being there. For students who stay with a host family, as many of my classmates chose to do, the view of Austrian life begins the minute they arrive at their temporary home and are greeted in German by their new family.
By the second week, Vienna has begun to feel like my home. Some days, as I walk through the city, I run into my classmates. I see Mayumi window shopping on the Kartner Strasse. I see Sarah and her boyfriend at the movies and notice my guilt at watching the movie in English subside. And to my surprise, my German is improving. One nippy morning, at Naschmarkt, I find myself asking for fresh dates in German without stumbling. It is getting easier.
Suddenly it is the last day of class for Mayumi and me, the only students leaving after two weeks. Others will stay for a month or more. As we exchange e-mail addresses with our classmates, we both feel a bittersweet sadness at leaving our new companions. I realize that by choosing a language-study vacation I not only learned about Vienna fromt he locals, but also made friends from all over the globe and learned about their cultures and countries as well.
On the train that carries me away from this magnificient city, I open my backpack and the picture of the penguin sign flutters to the floor. The man sitting opposite me reaches down to pick the paper, smiles and hands it to me. “Ahh, hier kann man die Pinguine photographieren.” Translation: “Ahh, here one can photograph penguins.” I understand him, and we laugh.