Raising a Native “Shpeaker”

My daughter Vera is now a few months older than two, and like many parents, my husband and I have been marvelling and taking delight over her speech development. Like so many German Way readers, we are doing our best to raise her multilingually and have gone the route of one parent one language (OPOL).

Unsurprisingly, Vera’s first words were in English, her mother’s mother tongue, followed by a smattering of German. Progressively though, her dominant language has become German.  She attends a German day care (Kindertagesstätte/Kita) every morning, so along with speaking with her father, she gets a lot of input auf Deutsch. And not unusually, she mixes her languages frequently. When she discovered infinitives, she made up her own. I offered to cut her food for her, and she responded, “Cutten!”

More recently, she announced, “I like it nicht,” and likes to say things like, “Everybody gehen!” We are not worried about her Denglish believing that it will all sort itself out as she develops, and we have been reassured that this is all normal.

I wasn’t ready for this one though: When asking for wipes, she said, “vipes!” or when expressing amazement, “vow!” and when singing along to a nursery rhyme, “Baa baa black sheep, have you any vool?” I knew when she started to sort her rubbish correctly at sixteen months (disposing cookie crumbs in the compost bin and the plastic wrap in the yellow sack) that she was a real German girl — but so Tschürmenn?

4 thoughts on “Raising a Native “Shpeaker”

  1. Jane, my daughter does the same. We had “vipes” as well around here. And also “Cookie haben” and “Livi nicht get it!”. It’s funny. My mom started using German verbs after our last visit. My favorite “No heia! Schlafsack off! Downstairs”

  2. Dear Jane,
    I had to laugh at you fabulous post ! How cute ! Don’t worry. It is perfectly normal for kids to mix languages until the age of 4 ! However, we as parents MUST never mix them but be a language role model for them (same goes for other relatives, friends, teachers, nannies etc). As long as you don’t start saying “vipes” and “vow” you are all right. Don’t laugh, my husband regularly repeats our daughters “language inventions” thereby reinforcing them :-(. He finds it just funny and doesn’t realize that for her it is a confirmation that her constructions are acceptable real words.
    But the old principle “what goes in comes out” totally applies here. Just keep modeling the language correctly and your little one will pick it up eventually.
    For years I have been leading a support group for parents who want their children to grow up with more than one language. We discussed many language challenges and even more great ideas, experiences and solutions. If I can help with anything, I’d love to.
    Kind regards,

  3. Sarah – we joke as well that my parents were learning more and more German from Vera after spending two weeks this month with us: essen, trinken, and noch mal. They started to not be able to understand her when she used English or Korean!

  4. Hi Silks, thanks for your comment and offer to help. We do our best to remain disciplined although like your husband, it is sometimes hard to resist some of those cute word combinations or made up words (not necessarily unique to multilingual kids).
    I try not to come across as too fascist, but what I find challenging is getting the two grandfathers to stick to Korean. Both are first-generation immigrants and use English or German more readily. Funnily, it isn’t so much a problem for the grandmothers.
    The big trend here seems to be two German parents (i.e. non-native speakers) trying to raise their kids multilingually by speaking English with their kids. Do you have any assessment of the success rate of this method?

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