Intensive German Course in Aachen

14 March 2019

Silas from ESPS took the opportunity to improve his German over the summer of 2018. With support from the Study Abroad GLobal Experience Bursary, he completed a course at Sprachenakademie in Aachen.

Silas Edwards, European Social & Political Studies

Whenever I think back to the July I spent in Aachen studying German at the Spraachenakademie, the first thing I’ll remember will be the smell of chocolate. For luring behind my block of flats on Roermonderstraße stood an enormous Lindt factory, which filled the air with the tangy taste of chocolate during the weekdays.

I walked through this chocolate haze early each morning to arrive at my lessons, which took place between 8:30am and 2pm in the centre of town. The walk was particularly exciting on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I would stroll past the market sellers setting up their colourful stalls in the main square before the Rathaus. However, quickly learning the importance of punctuality in Germany, I could never linger too long. July in Aachen was hot, and during lessons the windows were adjusted endlessly in the hope of discovering that magic compromise between the noise of outside and the suffocation of an airless room.

west of aachen

But despite the heat, the enthusiasm for learning inside the classroom was remarkable. Lessons with our energetic tutor, Katerina, were fast-paced and enjoyable, consisting of a wide variety of teaching methods including class debates, group presentations, reading exercises, listening tests and grammar revision. Meanwhile, since German was the only common language among my classmates (who came from as far afield as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Mexico, Colombia and Thailand), the learning process never stopped in the breaks, as we did our best to chat over coffee using clumsy sentences and exaggerated gestures. 

After lunch in the student canteen, I tended to meet up with the other students on the course to sit in parks or explore the town. These 180 other students came from over 70 different countries, with ages ranging between 18 and 35 and all spoke German to varying levels. This contact with people from all over the world was one of the most exciting aspects of the course, and it was fascinating to learn directly about the societies they came from and to find them all so friendly. 

national belgian day

Often, the Spraachenakademie would organise additional activities including trips to local attractions or film screenings. The best of these was the ‘International Abend’, when everyone was encouraged to bring a traditional dish from their country and to choose a song for us to dance to. Not having a huge deal of cooking equipment, I brought along a bottle of gin, tonic and a packet of limes to proudly represent my nation’s gastronomy. Meanwhile, the music quickly homogenised into a long stream of Kazakhstani dance tracks. 

At the weekends I met up with a close friend from university who lives in Mainz, and it was amazing to spend time with a native speaker who could introduce me to all the best pastries in the local bakery. One weekend we travelled to Brussels together, little more than an hour away by train, and spent an incredible weekend exploring the Belgian capital during Belgium’s weekend of national celebration.

Alongside the exciting discovery of a foreign country and the friendships I formed with people from all across the world, my time in Aachen without doubt delivered an enormous boost to my skills and confidence as a German speaker.

There is certainly no better way to learn a language than to be fully immersed, allowing the learner to build on previous knowledge at every moment rather than helplessly struggling to recollect what was taught in last week’s lesson. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a similar placement to another student, and I feel incredibly fortunate as a student at UCL that the Global Experience bursary was in place to enable me to spend a month of my summer in such an enriching and life-enhancing way.