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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 11:41 GMT
Fussball and beer drinking
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News

Steve Shirley
A corner forever England...
England football fans heading to Germany for the World Cup are getting free language classes. So how are the verb conjugations going?

"Meine Hobbys sind: Fussball sehen, Bier trinken und schlafen."

England fans are sometimes renowned for their language but rarely for their linguistic skills.

Yet within minutes of beginning the class, some with no previous knowledge of German can say: "My hobbies are football, drinking beer and sleeping."

Language lessons at school were rarely so honest, but this is German with a touch of the football terraces.

The Goethe Institute in London is teaching fans heading to the summer's World Cup a basic grasp of the language.

Tor! Goal!
Abseits! Offside!
Die Blamage: Disgrace
Die Spielverzoegerung: Time-wasting
Wer wird Weltmeister? Who will win the World Cup?
Schiri, bist du blind? Are you blind, ref?
Shiri, wir wissen wo dein Auto steht! We know where your car is, ref!
And there isn't a past participle in sight during the two-hour, fortnightly class, which starts with the standard exchange of pleasantries - hello, how are you and so on.

Then it's more familiar territory for football fans.

It will take more than Was ist deine Lieblingmannschaft? (What's your favourite team?) and Wer ist dein Lieblingsspieler? (Who's your favourite player?) to erase the bitter memories of missed penalty kicks and Gazza's tears. But it's a start.

Three Lions

A chorus of "Nein!" greets the suggestion in class that Manchester Utd is the best team, which is an accolade - in this non-partisan atmosphere - given overwhelmingly to Brazil.

Indeed among 25 people of all ages and nationalities, it's hard to find anyone who's going to be among the 100,000 England fans believed to be heading to Germany.

Sitting close to a Scot, who will be watching on television to cheer on England's opponents, is the Three Lions contingent, represented by an England-shirted Steve Shirley, 52, from Essex.

He's attended every qualifying game and he's waiting to hear if he's got tickets for the finals. And he's full of enthusiasm for the class.

I have to support Germany in the World Cup because China aren't there
Lihong Shao, who has a German partner
"It's excellent," he says. "I like languages and try to learn a bit wherever I go. Usually I start off with 'hello', 'goodbye', directions and 'two beers please'. 'Zwei Bier, bitte'."

In one corner of the class there are three people who all have German partners.

"We talk about how annoying Germans are," jokes Lihong Shao, 29.

"And we're very popular when we get home. He's very supportive and he's wanted me to learn for many years and this is a good opportunity."

German class
"Now this time shout it out!"
The lesson continues with some German geography - in relation to World Cup venues, of course.

Then it's time for some cordial phrases to direct at the referee - Gelbe Karte! Schiri, bist du bloed? Shiri, wir wissen wo dein Auto steht! (Yellow card! Are you stupid, ref? We know where your car is, ref!)

And for the rousing finale, they are shouted, led by the energetic teacher Katja Wostradowski.

She thinks adding fun football language is not just about having a laugh, it does aid learning.


But some pupils see a serious objective in bridging the cultural divide.

"This is an opportunity for 100,000 England fans who are going to a country they have probably never visited before," says Jeremy Killingray, who is from Peterborough.

Scoreboard in Munich 2001
Don't mention the 5-1 thrashing
"They don't go there for holidays because of history and fear and it's an opportunity to break that down.

"It's time people understood the modern Germany. A lot of people used to go there before the world wars, when there were strong royal family links."

The 43-year-old, who has tickets for Australia versus Croatia and Tunisia versus Ukraine, believes the World Cup can challenge the misconceptions borne from events during the 20th Century.

"A lot of people will get an experience of Germany which will surprise them very much - trains running on time, a warm welcome and English speakers."

And maybe a few fans will be able to answer in the native tongue.

Hear England fans learning German


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