Greg asked me to write a short post about how it was like to grow up in Austria and learning English. First, I want to introduce myself a little bit. My name is Anna. I come from a tiny village in Upper Styria, where there are probably more cows than people. At the age of 18 I moved to Graz where I began studying for my Bachelor of History with English and History as my teachable courses.
I started learning English in primary school at the age of 9. It was not a big deal. We had one additional class a week, where we ‘talked’ in English. I remember that our teacher used to give us English names, so the teacher called me Anne which was okay, but some classmates, whose real names were Johannes or Hans-Peter where then referred to as ‘Joe’ and ‘John’, which I still think is hilarious. I did not learn a lot back then, but when I started lyceum (something like high school) English became more important. Most of my exams had to be written in the language. At the time I did not like it very much. Lyceum in Austria is divided into four years of lower classes and four years of upper classes. After the lower classes, I could choose to stay at the lyceum and study English further or move to a different high school that was concerned with business, technology, agriculture or vocational studies. I chose to stay at the lyceum.
During the four years of upper classes, I realized that I loved English and started taking additional classes on a voluntary basis. In one class we were prepared for the First Cambridge Examinations (exams for non-native speakers) and through this we were able to take part in translation competitions. At the age of 17, I won a bronze medal, which I am still proud of to this day.
In my last year I decided that I wanted to become a teacher. I spoke to my English professor who told me that I should be able to study English for a teaching degree from a ‘Hauptschule’. This is a school where students that cannot attend a lyceum, go to (something along the lines of a community college). I hope I don’t sound too unappreciative. My brother went to a ‘Hauptschule’ and he will be graduating from an agricultural college this year. Going to a ‘Hauptschule’ does not mean that you will never have the chance to take A-Levels (end of high school exam, like SATs in the US). Sometimes teachers there are even more concerned with their students than at a lyceum! Although I applied for teaching degree from a ‘Hauptschule’, I decided to study at the University of Graz and study a teaching degree there. (The Austrian education system is a bit complicated!)
When starting my studies, I realized that I had to work harder to be on the same level as my counterparts. I started to watch English TV and read much more in English. In my second semester I met some girls from America and Australia. This made me really started to appreciate speaking English and being able to make friends with people who do not speak German. A year later, a girl from Toronto moved in with me in the same dorm I am still living in today. English quickly became the language spoken at our flat. Afterwards, I had a girl from Albuquerque living with me, followed by a girl from Kentucky. I am not sure we would have been friends if my English had been worse. From these girls I learned how Anglo‑American cultures differ from the Austrian. It’s been a long process!