Carol Windfuhr has been teaching people new languages for three decades. She has worked as a freelance instructor since 2007.
Carol, tell us a little about yourself and how you came to start your business teaching languages?
I am a native New Yorker who grew up in Switzerland; my father was from Bern, but spent ten years in the States for work. He met my mother in New York, where they got married and I was born there. I was raised bi-lingual and experienced at an early age the benefits of speaking many languages.
My dad’s work brought us back to his native town, when I was only three. After having spoken German with my grandma in New York who was a refugee from Austria, and never really learned the English language, I was spoken to in English by my mom, and mostly in Swiss German by my father. Since I am an only child, my parents decided to send me to a private kindergarten, so I could be with other kids on four afternoons a week.
In those days, kindergarten in Switzerland didn’t start till you were about 5 or 6, so I had to go to a special private one, where mainly French was spoken. So, just by being surrounded by French speakers, I picked up words and phrases, pieced everything together and was a tri-lingual pre-schooler.
I went through my basic schooling in Switzerland and later on decided to study acting in NYC. Much to my parent’s dismay… My father would have preferred me to become a multilingual secretary or translator…
I did get a diploma to teach English as a second language in Switzerland, and was offered a job at an English language school, when I was 19. I didn’t take it, mainly because I didn’t think I was experienced enough to teach…
A very European trait, this self doubt, and thriving for perfection, when learning by doing sometimes gets you exactly where you need to go …
I see this in my students time and time again. They are scared to speak, because their English isn’t perfect. “If it were, you wouldn’t need me,” I usually tell them. And I encourage them to “go ahead and make a fool of yourself, that’s why I am here, to help you perfect your skill.”
Most of them speak English better than they admit. Motivation and positive thinking here in Germany (it was like that in Switzerland, where I grew up), is still only starting to be the approach that teachers use to help students achieve their goals. I am different, I am a positive thinker, motivator who tries to point out the good and urges my students to go on, and explore the language, that it is a process. Nobody is perfect, and being able to express yourself in a foreign language entails that you speak it, speak it, speak it.
I’ve been teaching since the 80ies, when I lived in New York, and had to support myself. When I came to Cologne (for my husband’s job) in 1999, I worked for a language school, where I taught German to foreign students and English to Germans.
I’ve been working independently as a freelance coach and teacher since 2007. I continue to assist people in business with their everyday English and have specialized in coaching executives who need to handle all kinds of business related situations in the global village. I prepare students who need support in training for exams and young professionals who have to do presentations in English, or job interviews. I also encourage and motivate women who want to get back to work, after having spent a few years at home, raising children.
I have taught courses for academics from all walks of life, who during the recession in 2008/2009, lost their jobs or where sent into early retirement. Many of these people re-invented themselves, established new business ventures, and had to re-learn or improve their (school) English, in order to prevail on the very competitive job market.
I helped people brand themselves, write their resumes in English, answer the typical job interview related questions (in English), and in general, just be more fearless and self confident.
I also have, for the last one and a half years, taught children (starting under the age of three) English. By doing what I experienced … namely being surrounded by language and culture. “Total immersion”, I call it. And in that case, it is with songs, nursery rhymes and repetition of simple phrases in context. Never a drill, always a playful approach.
The key to my teaching is fun. I want people to feel at ease in the Anglo culture, teaching them the ins and outs – to my best ability and bringing out the best in them. My goal is to feel out what the particular group or person needs, and I tailor my courses accordingly. My goal is to make them feel comfortable, giving them room to explore and make mistakes. Practice in role play and with case studies that apply to their fields of work. I encourage people to bring in what they need to have worked on in their daily operations and together we try to find solutions and improve their skills.
Which language do you think in? Which language do you like the best and why?
I mainly think in English, but dream in several foreign languages, such as German, French and sometimes in Italian. I tend to feel most comfortable in English, but love all the other languages that I speak as well. I find English the easiest to maneuver in … the language that comes to me most spontaneously and the one I express my emotions in. Probably because my mother spoke it with me, when I was a child.
In your opinion, what is the best method for learning a foreign language? Please explain.
I believe that the best method for learning is total immersion. Being surrounded by the language. Speaking, reading, watching the news. Reading articles and books and surfing the net in the language that you are learning, or watching a movie (eg. in English with English subtitles) is best to learn a language effectively. Going to the country where you have to speak it. I tell my students to book courses in English speaking countries. It is a great way to learn.
Of course it is best to learn a language at a very early age, because it is believed that early learners store the new language in the same part of the brain as their mother tongue. I have been working with children under three, and have had wonderful results.
I myself was brought up speaking English, German and Swiss at the age of three, and it’s been a great advantage.
What is the hardest thing about learning English? Swiss?
I think English seems easier at the beginning, but what I have experienced (with mainly Germans that I teach now) is that the tenses and idiomatic expressions in English, the finesse of the English language are hardest to perfect.
Swiss (German) is a dialect and almost impossible to learn when you are older, since it’s a spoken language and there aren’t any set grammar rules. Plus the pronunciation and intonation are really hard.
German is a hard language too. You have three genders (der, die das), and four cases (Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ and Genitiv) and if you don’t know the gender it is hard to connect with the cases…
What are some of the main differences between living in Germany and the United States?
There are so many differences about living in Germany … Germany has strict rules when it comes to work life. There is much more job security and protection of the individual. Hire and fire as it exists in the States would never be possible here – or so far hasn’t. It’s changing a bit in the private industry, but employees still are protected by rules and strict work regulations. And, in many cases, workman’s council and the unions. Germany is a very social State and health care is a given. Everybody has to have insurance. The standard of living in Germany, for the middle class, is still much higher than in the States. That too is changing …
Germans also have from 24 to 30 (working) days vacation which gives them the freedom to travel. Many companies at the end of the year give generous bonuses.
People in Germany are still able to save and they are using their credit cards less than Americans. Situations where someone would max out their credit cards as we often see in the States, wouldn’t be possible, as the cards are bound to the bank account, and you have to pay back the full amount of your charges at a set date each month.
Although there are far more (young) people in debt, than have been in previous years, (people can overdraw their bank accounts, or get loans, fairly easily too), there still isn’t and never will be the situation as we see it in the States, with multiple personal bankruptcies and people with high, lifelong dept.
People are over-insured in Germany. Germans have insurances for almost everything …Life, apartment, you name it, they have it.
Germans don’t get married as easily as Americans. You often see a couple with three of four children, but unmarried. That stems mainly from (in my opinion) a false notion of wanting to stay free. They don’t want to have the State, church dictate what you should be doing. Many Germans do get married in church (often because their families wish that), but are overall much less religious than Americans.
State and church are less separated. The chancellor, Angela Merkel, belongs to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union).
(Bank) Holidays celebrated, are mostly Christian holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.
Germans love their cars! It’s very important to take good care of them … so you can re-sell them after about two years.
Germans love deals… when it comes to food, clothes and holidays. They call them “Schnäppchen” (a catch or a steal).
Germans are less flexible then Americans. They are harder to get to … they are harder to become friends with. But once you have them it is for good.
They are less gracious and charming than other nationalities. They aren’t good at complimenting you, nor are they very at ease with small talk at parties. That is often something they to learn, also for business situations, lunches, dinners etc.
They are straight forward, not as diplomatic as Americans can be, but honest.
They call a spade a spade …
They don’t have the same sense of humor as us … some might say they don’t have one…
They love their bread, their cars (I said that), their holidays abroad, their coffee and cake on Sunday afternoon, their BBQs, when the first sun rays hit us (like this weekend
All this said, there is of course, more rigidity. People are bound to their contracts. You have to give notice at least a month to three month prior (works both ways), to let someone go or for the worker to be able to change jobs. I think Americans are more flexible and resourceful, because they have learned to be. They embrace change and new situations, moving for a job and innovation more easily. There is more mobility and the desire to try new things, because you have less (security) to lose.
What is different about Cologne Germany and the rest of Germany?
This is a very difficult question, as I don’t really want to generalize… I think Cologne people are very open minded and more welcoming to foreigners than maybe other cities. They are a bit more like Mediterraneans, more “laisser faire” (to live and let live). Cologne is very multi cultural. But then again, so is Berlin. So trying to compare Cologne to the rest of Germany would be like comparing apples to oranges …
Munich, Hamburg and Düsseldorf are more business oriented and a bit more rigid and snobby, but they are attractive places to live as well.
Berlin is a little what New York was in the 80ies. The art scene is hopping. The fashion scene, the restaurant scene … but it also has the historic points that are interesting. Capitol before and during the War, then part of it belonging to the East … makes it attractive and an interesting place to visit and live. Not too many jobs there, I here…
Tell us about The American International Women’s Club of Cologne and your involvement. What are the membership guidelines?
http://www.awccologne.org/ I have included the link to the website of the American International Women’s Club of Cologne. There you can find all the answers and more …
My involvement was mainly in the charities committee. Although, I have also taught various members German in the past.
I helped fundraise and bring in projects to be supported, such as
http://kinderhilfekambodscha-ev.org/en a program that houses children in Cambodia, who lost their parents to AIDS and are now raised by other family members, (some also with the HIV virus) and or are in the facilities that are described on the website.
We also support a school for nuns in Tibet, and have raised funds for the Ronald Mc Donald’s House in Cologne, as well as providing a bus for battered women, that goes to the inner city areas, where these women live, but are too scared to go to the facilities provided by the city, and we enabled a children’s hospice (for family and children with terminal illnesses) to have clowns come in on a weekly basis, for one year. http://www.kinderhospiz-balthasar
These are only a few of the many charities we actively support.
Our main goal is to help women and children in need.
Each year we have a gala, where funds are raised for hospitals, hospices, schools or homes, in and around Cologne. Our focus is on the local charities, as Cologne is our home, and we wish to give back to the community we live in.
What future projects are you working on?
I want to continue working with people of all walks of life … teaching children what I know, and perfecting my abilities to be a good coach.
I am looking into various possibilities of improvement, travel and possibly writing a book or blog on subjects that I know most about. More I don’t wish to disclose at this moment.
I also would like to go more into style coaching. Dress for Success. Dress during Motherhood, Dress for Work, Travel, Leisure etc. Style coaching as I offer it on my website.
I want to travel to one place each year that I haven’t been too.
Challenge myself to do something that is hard and maybe a bit scary.
Go back to doing yoga and meditation regularly.
Thank you Carol for agreeing to appear on our site.
You can learn more about carol’s services at http://www.carolwindfuhr.com/