Author Archives: Wendy McCollum

Writing Exercises


This course has provided me with ample opportunity for various writing exercises. These are great practice, especially when I’m given a subject I would normally not choose since they necessitate new vocabulary.  My devoted teacher proof-reads my work and tells me what needs correcting but makes me figure out the way to fix it.

I love writing in my own language. I love how words fit together and create pictures and sounds and feeling.  Writing in German is not yet something I have grown to love. Right now it is just work. It takes me an hour to write what would take minutes to write in English. This is frustrating at times. I still need to return an email to a friend which I keep putting off because I know it will take so long. Besides allowing for procrastination, writing in German is easier for me than speaking. It gives me time to look up words I don’t know and think about things like correct verb placement and other proper grammar. Even so, I think my instructor used all of her red ink on my paper!

When I speak I feel like I have to concentrate so much on finding the right vocabulary that my grammar is almost never right on the first attempt. Depending on the patience of the person I’m talking with, I’ll stop and correct myself when I catch it or ask for the right form of the word. There are a few people who are a perfect balance between trying to understand me without correcting every mistake (of many) and still helping me learn to speak correctly.

So on I press.  Perhaps one of these days it will feel easier.

Reading Practice

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I always try to make German part of everyday life and incorporate it into my daily activities. I read the advertisements as I ride public transportation and walk along the streets. Sometimes I pick up a free newspaper and read an article or two. It was in one of my son’s books that I first encountered the preterite form of verbs. In doctor’s offices (which I have found myself in often lately) I will pick up a magazine and try to read an article. I don’t always understand everything, but I hope that somehow the mere seeing of the words and their forms and their places in the sentence as I read will cause them to be ingrained in my memory.

My favorite type of reading, though, is children’s books. This is convenient for me since I have small children who like to be read to. Reading out loud is another good way to employ more senses in learning. Young children’s books also have the advantage of being repetitive and having only a few sentences on a page with large pictures to accompany them to help you figure out what is happening.  One of my most recent favorites is “Wo ist Mein Hut?” by Jon Klassen. It is about a bear who’s lost his hat and asks different animals if they have seen it. My son likes the Lasse board books. If you have children, they can get a library for free from the Bucherei. If not, you must pay a small yearly fee for the use of the library. Or you can visit the children’s section of a book store and read a short book or two.

Happy reading!


Art and German

On Sunday I went with my husband and one of my sons to visit the Albertina. I enjoy art and quiet afternoons that I can leisurely look at paintings. I am always amazed at the detail and precision that I so often find in the realistic paintings–the individual strands of hair on an animal, the emotion in a face that is so minute in the over-all painting but still significant enough for the artist to paint it in detail, the folds of fabric in a garment and velvet that looks so soft you want to touch it. I love colors and simplicity in some of the more abstract paintings. I appreciate that there are pieces of art that are so simple that I can hear the surprise and confidence of my son as he looks at a single colored square painted on a solid colored canvas and declares that he could paint something like that. And, to be honest, there are some pieces I don’t properly understand or appreciate.

This trip I discovered a new benefit of (and excuse for) spending a few hours wandering around an art museum here in Vienna. It is an excellent place for practicing the declension of adjectives and learning new vocabulary. For example, one of my favorites this trip was Der Blaue Kuh. Then there are others like Die verwunschene Gegend, Innerer Bund, and Mann in suprematistischer Landschaft. The whole museum is like a giant vocabulary list. So when you are tired of pouring over your course books, take a stroll through an art gallery and pick out a few favorite pieces to get to know. You can expand your art knowledge and practice your German at the the same time.

If you feel really inspired, then you can come home and paint your own art. Be sure to give it a nice descriptive name so you can decline the adjectives!

Spring-Time in Vienna


I moved to Vienna in the fall. I enjoyed the colors of the leaves as they changed as I walked in parks and along the river. Fall has always been my favorite season-the cooler temperatures, the changing leaves, the festivities of evening camp fires and Trick-or-Treating at Halloween with my children and walking the woods at Thanksgiving. I never thought I could love a season more than fall. But I have fallen in love with spring-time in Vienna.



Perhaps it is the combination of adjusting to a new place and new culture alongside of winter that made me so hungry for spring. The winter was gray and dark and cold. I did get the pleasure of enjoying the later sun-rise (which I now miss even when I am up at 5:40) but besides that there was a great absence of color in the winter. When I lived in Minnesota the winters were long (and truly cold), but we would get a fresh new layer of snow quite often which dazzled in the sun for the few hours of day that it shone. By the end of this winter I felt like I needed all things to be new, and Vienna’s spring has fed my soul. Never before have I rejoiced so in the buds of the trees and the new leaves of tulips poking their points out of the earth. The daily walks to the U-bahn and bus stops have been full of glory as I watched those buds unfurl and new leaves and flowers burst forth. I altered my route so I could walk right alongside of the tulip beds and drink in the reds and oranges and yellows and pinks. The intermingled days of cooler weather have only made me appreciate the warm days all the more.


I have to say I am missing the seas of tulips that have now passed, but I am waiting with anticipation to see what flowers are coming next as we move out of spring and into summer. Perhaps summer will surprise me even more.

A New Class, A New Place

This week I started back again at DeustchAkademie after a two month break. I took some time off while my mother-in-law was visiting.  We had a fantastic time and I got to see a great deal more of Vienna, but I found myself needing to brush up on my German grammar a bit before starting back to class.  Since I took more than one month off, I had to take a new placement test.

I learned there is also a DeutschAkademie office on Zieglergasse in the 7th district of Vienna, which is a short walk from my flat. Now, instead of riding two trains to get to class I don’t have to ride any.  The new office is smaller, but very nice and my experience so far has been pleasant. The classrooms are well lit with natural light. In fact, I think the first day when it was sunny we didn’t even turn on the light. Our classroom has two whiteboards to write on and plenty of room to move around the tables when other people are sitting down. And in case you get sleepy in class, the coffee machine is close by.

I have begun B 1.1 and we are working on relative phrases adjectives. Our sentence structures are becoming more complex and it is difficult for me to keep it all straight. I find it easier on paper than in conversation. But already the biggest benefit I gain from DeutschAkademie has taking place. After spending the mornings in German I find myself all day trying to think in German and use what I know to construct different sentences to use in everyday life.

To new beginnings!

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Today after class we had a party and our teacher Daniela explained the Austrian traditions around the Christmas holiday. Advent comes the beginning of December and lasts until December 24th. To mark the passing of Advent there is a wreath with 4 candles. Each Sunday in December you light one more candle, so on the first Sunday you light only one, the second Sunday two, and so on.  Children (and perhaps grown-ups too) also mark the passing of the days with calendars that have a door to open each day in December behind which is a treat of some type.

Santa Claus doesn’t come to Austria and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is not here either, but Nicholas does on December 6th and brings candy to children. You better be good though because the night before Nicholas comes, Krampus comes and kidnaps and beats with sticks children that have been bad!

On December 24 in the evening is Christkind. It is not until then that the Christmas tree is brought in and decorated. It is also the time when presents are brought. A bell is rung to signal to the children that they can come in and receive their presents. Afterwards there is a small dinner of fish soup.

On December 25, 26,27…Lots of eating and drinking and playing and being with family takes place.

The rest of us shared some of our holiday traditions as well. In the Philippines they eat long foods (like spaghetti pasta) to give long life to those eating. In Spain gifts are not exchanged until January 6th, which is Epiphany (the coming of the Magi).

We held out longer than we normally would in America to put up our Christmas tree (mostly because they just opened up the markets for them last weekend), but we didn’t wait until Christmas Eve. I always enjoy putting the ornaments on. They are filled with memories of friends and family. Each of us, including my husband and me have our baby’s first Christmas ornament. There is one from our first year of marriage and one my sister-in-law gave me when I was expecting our first babies. There are ornaments my children have made. We added a new one for this year: Our first Christmas in Vienna!


Finding My Way


One of the newest things about life in Vienna for my family was the transition from driving everywhere we went in our car to relying solely on public transportation and our own two feet to get us where we needed to go.  The first few days we didn’t venture far from our temporary apartment. We walked a bit and found the grocery, an Italian restaurant, a market. We laughed when we saw a sign reading, “Papa Joe’s Cafe.” That is what we call my husband’s grandfather. It made us think of home.  My husband started work 2 days after our arrival, so he was the first to ride the U-Bahn. Our first Saturday here we rode all together to Stephansplatz to have our first look at Stephansdom, to see the horses and carriages, and to visit a shop that sold Mozart’s chocolate which we had heard about before coming to Vienna and which my boys were eager to try.IMG_8137

It was cold when we first arrived and we had not brought winter coats. With 5 children and 2 grown-ups needing coats I decided to venture out to the Christ Church Shop which sells second-hand clothes and household things. It was my first time to manage public transportation on my own.  I got on the bus, asked directions for the S-Bahn which I somehow managed to miss. I got on a street car that I thought would take me to my destination only to have it come to a stop and be told I had to get off. I asked directions again. I did eventually make it to the shop, 2 1/2 hours later and 10 minutes before they closed. I managed to buy 1 winter coat and some hats and gloves.  The trip home was much smoother and only took about 25 minutes.

Since then I have managed better. I do fine on the U-Bahn. It is so simple and I have this great map for quick reference.IMG_3616

I have learned a few buses that I have used on more than one occasion and a few street cars, but to be honest I tend to walk rather than get on these more confusing modes of transportation. Google maps has been very helpful, though I am glad to say that now I can get most places without having to have my eyes glued to my cell phone screen. There was a time that I wouldn’t dream of leaving our flat without my phone fully charged. Now I know I can get home if my phone dies while I’m out. I know which end of the U-Bahn to walk to to be close to my exit when I get off. I no longer have to read the signs every time to make sure I’m getting on the right train.  And I love not having a car and not buying gas and not having car repairs and insurance and not buckling children into car seats and booster seats. In fact, the only time I miss having one is after I’ve gone to IKEA and my arms feel like they are going to fall off before I get home. But even that is a good thing–it keeps me from spending too much at one time! My youngest likes it too.


Home Remedies

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The other day in class we learned how to make an imperative statement and discussed words for various types of sickness. We asked each other the question, “What do you do for a sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, stomach ache, etc…?”  The exchange of ideas was so interesting as we heard each other, from very different countries and backgrounds, explain what we commonly do for these things.  Here are some of the treatments suggested:

For a stuffy nose (Schnupfen):

  1. Fill a bowl with hot water and put your head over it, covered with a towel. At the same time, put your feet in a bowl of hot water. This caused a bit of confusion followed by laughter since one of our classmates thought she meant this using only one bowl. She clarified it was two different bowls and that this should be done only if you don’t have a fever.
  2. Drink hot water or Tea
  3. Take 3 drops of Niaouli oil, the same oil that is in Vick’s Vapor Rub, 3 times a day. The oil itself is safe to eat; my classmate says he has many times and lived. But don’t eat Vick’s Vapor Rub!

For a cough (Husten):

  1. Drink tea with honey, ginger, and lemon.
  2. Take cough medicine.
  3. Drink orange juice

For a stomach ache (Bauchschmerzen):

  1. “When my stomach hurts, go to the toilet!”
  2. Drink Ginger Tea
  3. Put heat on your stomach

I also learned two very important phrases:

Gute Besserung!  Feel better!


Bleiben Sie im Bett!  Stay in bed! (Though for my children I would not use the formal. I am promised I will learn how to tell them this soon.)

Well-Timed Lessons

We are into the second week of German class. Due to the holidays interrupting and shortening the schedule, this intensive class is more intense than usual, compressing 4 weeks into 3. The extra thirty minutes make a difference. My brain feels a little foggy by the end of class, though perhaps that is due more to my head cold than the length of the class.

I have been surprised at the practical timing of our German lessons.  On the day we learned how to express having a problem with something I had to speak with a teacher about a schedule change. The day I am coming down with a cold we discussed body parts and learned vocabulary dealing with different types of sickness. The day after we talked about making and changing appointments and exams, I encountered the words for these things when talking with my son’s teacher.

These things are so encouraging to me as a student. It inspires and motivates me to keep learning when I see how very practically to my everyday life what I am learning is. I know there are people who manage to live in another country without learning the language of the place that they live, but to me it feels very cumbersome and limiting. I called the kindergarten yesterday to tell them my son was sick. I tried to communicate who I was and why I was calling in German, but they couldn’t understand me so I had to resort to English.  Today someone in class was asking me about my previous work as a nurse, but the words to describe it in German weren’t there.  But one day they will be. I work toward that end.IMG_3676

Die Kirchen

One of the things I love about living in Vienna is the beauty all around us. It is everywhere, both simple and elaborate. Walking through the subway stations, even sometimes on the subway, you can hear people playing music, both familiar and foreign to my ears. There are the formal concerts with stringed instruments and organs and trained singers. There are shops with beautiful window displays of bread or jewelry or clothing and Christmas markets with lights and decorations. There are paintings inside of buildings and out. I always enjoy the stop at Volkstheater with the paintings above the tracks. And there are sculptures and buildings that could keep your eyes occupied for months. Among the beautiful sculptures and buildings are the churches. In our first apartment we walked passed Brigittakirche every day on the way home. I passed by it again today while visiting a friend and it was a welcome site.



The Stephansdom is a wonder to behold. No words or pictures do it justice.



Peterskirche is smaller than the Stephansdom by far, but beautiful. They also have free concerts almost every day.

Saint Peter's Kirche


Karlskirche was one of the first churches we visited.



And this church I haven’t yet identified the name of, but the sun shining through the windows tonight as it was setting was truly breathtaking.


Finally, here is the inside of the church that I attend, Christ’s Church. This is a comforting place for me. The familiar liturgy and the people who speak my mother-tongue but are kind enough to encourage my German make me feel quite at home.

Christ's Church

Christ’s Church

The Joys (and Embarrassments!) of Learning a Language

My fantastic classmates and my instructor, Daniela.

My fantastic classmates and my instructor, Daniela.

I have finished my first full week of the intensive German class and have been trying to stretch myself to think and converse in German.  Yesterday I went with my children to a restaurant for lunch and ordered our food in German. It was a little slow, but I managed to communicate what we wanted effectively enough that everyone got the food they wanted.  At the end of the meal when they cleared away the plates I intended to compliment the food. My brain and tongue got confused though and while I meant to say, “This is tasty.” (Das ist lecker.), I said instead, “Das ist schleck.” (This is bad.) Both I, and to my joy, one of my sons, caught the mistake immediately and I was able to correct myself, but it was an embarrassing moment to be sure and I’m not sure I made my correction very clear. Perhaps our repeated presence at the restaurant will speak to our favorable opinion of the food.

Today in class we listened to a dialogue. It was humorous and I laughed and it was fun to understand. I picked up my son from preschool and had an entire conversation explaining a change in scheduling that she needed to know about. She complimented my German (which was very gracious of her). On the U-Bahn on the way home a lady asked my other son if he would like to sit by the window. He looked at me for understanding and I, without thinking about it or asking her to repeat herself as I so often do, was able to translate for him. At the store when I was checking out the cashier asked me if I had 2 cents to make the change less cumbersome and this too I understood the first time.  These are the joys of learning and I am grateful for the good teaching and classmates I study with.

This weekend I am working on vocabulary. My lack of knowledge in this area is a great impediment and one I hope to remedy steadily.