© Martin Jehnichen

How do you actually say “stay healthy” in German?

As the largest of its kind, the Potsdam Science Park in Potsdam-Golm has become an indispensable part of the map of scientific research and development in the state of Brandenburg. But here, work is not only done in the field of gravitational physics or plant physiology, but language lessons are also given. This is a short report about the language school in the heart of the Science Park, about the lessons that are given here and about its students who learn German and English here. And it is a report about the changes that now affect all our lives and do not stop at our language courses.

Let’s start with a look back at the days that seem so strangely distant to us today, even though until recently they were simply our everyday life: In the heart of Science Park Potsdam, there is a language school at GO:IN I. Employees of the numerous scientific institutions learn English here, because that is the language that can – and must – be used to communicate with its residents and scientists from all over the world in this part of Golm. Indispensable is the lingua franca of our time for the success and prosperity of this place and so also for all those who work here within the scientific operation and the now numerous associated companies and help to keep the Science Park running and growing.

But since the Science Park is the Science Park and there is still a world outside the institutes and research facilities, you can also learn German at this language school. Here I work together with other German teachers and I admit: It is a very rewarding job. The students we teach here in small groups, usually twice a week, are usually scientists from all over the world. Many of them also live in Golm or Potsdam. They may not necessarily need the German language for their work, but Golm, even though it keeps growing, is small and there is also a life beyond the institutes and laboratories, a very everyday life with timetables, supermarkets, offices and forms and many other things that make up life quite naturally. Whoever has lived for a longer period of time in another country with a foreign language has probably made the experience that one can perhaps “survive” there with English but hardly “experience” the country, its culture and its inhabitants. And who knows, maybe one or the other would also like to live and work in Germany for a longer period of time.

Again and again I find that my work is grateful. The language students want to learn the language – they don’t have to – and I am constantly learning new things in the language courses: My students are mostly natural scientists – biologists, chemists and physicists. For me, who comes from the humanities and linguistics, this results in a multitude of wonderful possibilities to broaden my own horizons. For example, if I have a question about the Einstein idea of space-time, I know who to ask!

But this work is also grateful because everyone can learn a lot from the other person about the respective home countries. What languages are spoken there, what is the everyday life of people, what holidays are there and why? And what better way to exchange ideas than language lessons! Here are so often heard questions like “What is your name?,” “What is your mother tongue?” or “What are you by profession?” more than just language exercises for the very first lessons. Rather, they are the beginning of an exchange and getting to know each other, which deepens with the growth and expansion of linguistic skills.

When the topic “Food and Drink” is discussed in class and it was homework, writing down and introducing a cooking recipe from the home country, I often joke, I can publish a cookbook called “In 80 Food Around the World,” pretending that I am a gourmet who has experienced all corners and corners of the world and who would have brought the best recipes from his travels.

Of course, we also teach grammar and phonetics, sentence construction and vocabulary in our courses. But the heart of our joint work is always the human-to-human conversation. And it is precisely here that the coronavirus has forced us to stop, to put down a full-blown brake. Of course, given the situation and the measures taken in the meantime, we cannot continue teaching without further ado. After a moment of “perplexity,” as most people may have experienced, we decided to continue. After about a week we were able to resume the courses with the help and support of all participants. For this, we are now entering the digital space: On a platform for video conferences, we now meet on the web and get back into the conversation without having to leave our own four walls. We can learn and teach again, talk and look ourselves in the eyes and sometimes in the kitchens and living rooms. The lessons continue and it is good to deal with something else for an hour and a half, to focus attention on something that has nothing to do with infection rates, baseline restrictions and uncertainty.

There is a kind of normality, a regularity in the daily routine, which has been so confused. We adapt as best we can. We learn not only German, but also how to deal with such a situation and make the most of it. I think and hope that our courses will also help our students, the scientists. For them it is in many ways heavier than for us: far from their home, the family and the friends they are here with us, some only for a few months. Their home countries are also affected by the coronavirus, in some cases it rages with dramatic consequences and we cannot really estimate the extent of this today.

It is good that we continue, that we discover new possibilities of teaching and learning and that we face the whole in our own way. But if I should be honest: I look forward to the day when we can meet again in the course room at the GO: IN Golm Innovation Center, sit opposite each other and experience our everyday lessons – from person to person.

Until then: Stay healthy!

Text: Andreas Lipinske