We have been in Ireland for about three months now, and every time I speak to my closest German friend, I notice words slipping away. I was “home” this weekend, so I am feeling better about that again, but it is amazing how quickly it happens.
When we arrived in Ireland in August, our youngest, who was almost two, spoke mostly German. He had started in German Krippe in February of that year and was speaking it all day. His dad speaks German with him as well, so his only English tended to come from me, and sometimes from his older sisters, who mixed languages with the best of them, but were more likely to come out with English than German after seven years in Heidelberg. He did have some English, and understood everything I said, but his first tendency was almost always German.
When I got back from Heidelberg on Sunday, my husband mentioned that we really need to focus on the little one’s German as he was starting to lose it. I had been laughing last week about his sudden strong Irish “R”s, which are even more pronounced than the American ones. But Jan said he was only saying the names of things in his books in English, even if Jan asked him in German. We had thought about switching to the minority language at home approach to bilingualism when we moved to Ireland, but I find it very difficult to switch to speaking German with my children. It just feels unnatural. That leaves Jan to provide it all. They are also going to daycare and Montessori here, which is obviously in English. They talk to Oma and Opa several times a week and watch most DVDs, even Dora, in German, if at all possible.
The other approach to bilingualism is called one parent one language. We have been using this approach up to now, because I was home more with the kids in Germany and there were more people who spoke English to the kids than just us. The older ones spent their first three and five years in the US, which also helped. They used to fight in German, and still do. The problem is, in Ireland, we only know a few people who speak German, so it is hard to keep up their skills unless we do it. I may have to bite the bullet and start speaking German at home.
I am not so worried about the language skills of the older two. They spend a lot of time communicating with friends in Germany, via Skype, Facebook and Schueler VZ. In the age of Internet, as we all know, the world has become smaller. They chat with their friends on video, message them on Facebook, and post on each other’s walls. The funny slangy German they use with the dialectical spellings puzzles me and makes me laugh at the same time. I think if they spend a couple of weeks out of the year in Germany they will be fine, although it may be that their vocabulary does not expand at age level due to their lack of immersion.
In the end, we will have to see what happens. I will continue to make more effort to speak German to the kids, especially the little ones, even if it feels unnatural. I will make sure we are reading storybooks in German and speaking to Oma and Opa on Skype as often as we can. I will keep you posted!