friday youtube party 1

I was recently writing an email to some family members who were under a lot of stress.  I wanted to help, but I’m kind of far away at the moment, so I gave them what I sometimes need to improve my mood:  distraction.

Yep, distraction.  If I’m in a funk, homesickness or otherwise, I’ll go write out my frustrations for a while, but after a few minutes, I just find myself writing the same things over and over.  I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I miss home.

That’s when I know to do something completely different.  Get out of my apartment and go for a walk, or If the weather is bad or if it is late in the day, I read one of my favorite blogs or go searching for random stuff on Youtube.  Sounds weird, but it helps.

So when I emailed these family members distractions, I sent them a ready-made Youtube lineup.  Need a distraction yourself?  Here are the videos I sent:

Halloween was recently.  I wish I could have seen this middle school science class in person!

What’s a Youtube party without the Old Spice Man?

…and Grover as Old Spice Man?  Awww.

Two words: Extreme. Ironing.

Europe’s The Final Countdown, on cello:

(And the original Final Countdown:)


each word a thousand times

I have heard that when learning any language, if you are exposed to a word 1000 times, you know that word well enough to use it without having to think about it very much. You own that word. Some words require fewer than 1000 exposures, and some more, but the average is apparently 1000. I’m not sure how researchers were able to follow people around long enough to judge how long it took them to learn new words, but judging how I feel about a lot of the new vocabulary I have been learning these past few weeks, 1000 times sounds about right.  Not that I count or anything.  (disclaimer:  I actually have no idea and am just going off of what I heard.)

my well-worn dictionary

Assuming the 1000-times figure is correct, I think I can tell approximately how many times I have heard words I am learning.  Here’s my guess as to my word-learning progress stages:

1-10 times: I have trouble pronouncing the word because it is unfamiliar. I would not think of using it in a sentence, spoken or written, because it is not familiar enough yet.  If I have to read the word aloud, I will have to concentrate pretty hard if I want to not mispronounce it.

11-200 times: This is the embarrassing stage in word-learning. I know the word for this person, place, thing, idea, action, descriptor, etc. exists, but when speaking or writing, I often need a lot of time to remember what the word is. If I don’t happen to have a dictionary handy, expect me to say “uhhhh…” when trying to remember the word, because it’s figuratively speaking just on the tip of my brain.

201-500 times: I can think of the word more quickly now when I need it, but I am still likely to mispronounce it or misspell it. If the word in question is a noun, I might get the gender of this word correct half of the time. (German nouns are all either feminine (die), masculine (der), or neuter (das), by the way. The gender determines adjective and pronoun endings and sometimes differentiates between entirely different meanings of a word.  Such as die Leiter = ladder, der Leiter = leader.)

501-750 times: By this point, I can generally think of the word when I need to use it, but will occasionally still slip up. Common spelling mistakes (mixing up ie/ei, using the wrong pluralization, forgetting an umlaut (the little dots over ü, ö, ä)) are still likely. I might remember the correct gender 70% of the time. Maybe. I am still likely to mix up words that have the same spelling but different genders.

751-999 times: The word starts to come to me naturally, without me having to think “what was such-and-such auf Deutsch again?” I generally get the spelling consistently correct by this point, and with verbs, I am familiar with how the spelling changes as it goes from past to present to future tenses and in-between. I will still mess up on the noun gender occasionally because noun genders are hard to memorize.  At some point in this interval, I start to really own the word and become more confident in its use, to the point of being able to define it both in English and in German if I am asked.

1000 times: I don’t have to think about the word to use it in a sentence, and I know the meaning (or at least the meanings to which I have in some way been exposed). There may be alternate definitions to learn, and I may not know all of the prefixes and suffixes associated with the word, but when I do run across that kind of variation, my knowledge of the base word makes understanding the meaning of the modifications much easier.

Learning a language is hard, but I am thankful that I already posses the ability to think in German. Not all the words I would like to use always come to mind immediately, and I will probably always find it easier to think and express myself in English than in German. But German is getting easier. When out interacting with the world, I try to seize onto every bit of German I can find; if I hear a word in the streetcar or see it on an advertisement or newspaper, that’s one more time I have been exposed to the word. Which gets me that much closer to the magic 1000. One tiny little step at a time.


Ever since I arrived in Germany and realized that yes, the waiting is over and yes, I really am studying abroad now, I’ve been struck by the thought:  why?  Why am I here in Germany instead of at home?  This is a great opportunity, but a huge commitment.  Some of the times I have had homesickness or culture shock I considered packing up, buying a flight home, taking a semester off, and finding some way to do my last two semesters at VT instead.

But I finally realized that part of my uncertainty in being here–should I really be here?–was that I had never come up with many concrete reasons why I was coming in the first place.  So I wrote out a list of things I will accomplish this year by studying in Germany.  There’s probably more than this, too.  Feel free to add any you think of to the comments.

things I am pretty sure I will end up having to learn in my year here, in no particular order

  • Learn to be more tolerant of other cultures (now that I am learning what it is like to live in a foreign country)
  • Learn to appreciate the differences between cultures
  • Learn how to live in a city and to find my way around a city, including both foot transportation and public transportation
  • Learn how to focus on my goals and not get sidetracked
  • Learn how to pay with Euros without having to look closely at every coin to tell how much it is worth
  • Make friends
  • Learn more about who I am as a person
  • Become fluent in German
  • Learn to stick to my beliefs while living in a largely-agnostic society (though there are Christians here, and I have found a church and a Bible study, praise God!)
  • Become more unique and independent
  • Learn how to budget
  • Get my bachelor’s degree, and get plenty of fodder for writing personal statements for grad school applications
  • Learn to focus even while homesick
  • Learn to stay connected to home while away
  • Learn the importance of being near family and friends (ok, already learned this in the last 2.5 weeks, but I now appreciate how nice it is to live just four hours from my parents at Virginia Tech.  And in the same time zone.  Germany, in comparison, makes contacting them a complicated dance around mealtimes, work/class hours, and the time zone difference.)
  • Learn how to persuade people to come visit me 🙂
  • Learn how to be more decisive and confident
  • Learn to explain things more concisely (since I’m always having to translate my thoughts on a subject into German, and even though it is getting more natural, it is exhausting, so I am becoming less verbose.  In German, at least.)
I’m sure even more good can come out of this year.  I’ve already grown as a person, and I’ve only been here a little over two weeks.  Any other ideas for goals or things that I will learn while I’m here?  Leave them in the comments!

list: nine fun things to do while waiting for lion to finish downloading

Lion.  King of the OSes.  Rawr.Those of you who know me well know I like Macs.  I’ve been pretty pumped about Mac OS X Lion for the last few weeks, and since it was finally released on the App Store today, it is currently downloading on my computer.

Yep, downloading.  No DVD’s this time.  The installer is around 4GB, and I only started the download around an hour ago. So, for the next six hours and three minutes–no, make that five hours, forty-two minutes–no, actually six hours and 38 minutes–whatever–I wait.  And make lists, such as

nine fun things to do while waiting for lion to finish downloading 

  1. Blog.
  2. Go to Wal-Mart and see how many of the 101 Fun Things to Do at Wal-Mart you can accomplish. (
  3. Organize the icons on your desktop and in your downloads folder. Marvel at all of the strange things you downloaded over the past few months/years. (Strangest downloaded file I have found so far: Fingerpinger (, a fun little app that tracks your fingers on your Mac’s trackpad and makes noise.)
  4. Walk around the neighborhood practicing your roar.  This is Lion, after all.
  5. Dig through old logs in the Console app (Applications>Utilities>  Did you know that software updates use a utility called “shove”?  Well now you do.
  6. Sync those fancy cloud apps one last time.  Gotta make sure that your Wunderlist and Dropbox and Evernote data is actually on those big servers in the sky.
  7. Public Service Announcement Bonus Item: BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVE.  Like going to the dentist, it may not be as fun as organizing your desktop icons, but it is good for you.  Apple makes great operating systems, but things can still go wrong.
  8. Make cookies (the edible kind, not the internet kind), then go up to your roommates and do your best Cookie Monster impression.  OM NOM NOM.
  9. Make lists.

Comment to add your suggestions to this list!

DISCLAIMER: I did not do all of these, and I don’t condone doing offensive/bad things at Wal-Mart. Or anywhere else, really.  Do those at your own risk.  Or just go bake cookies instead.  Everyone likes cookies.