Your child is a native English speaker in the German school system. So now what?
Many of us expats are raising our kids multilingually. In many of these cases, our children are native English speakers. We’ve been told that this is a great thing to do, and I for one have been feeling good about our commitment to the one parent, one language method working out. My kids are indeed bilingual.
Haus house Maus mouse. The road to biliteracy might not be as expected. PHOTO: Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons
I wrote in my previous post about various toys, books, and CDs that might help kids to retain the German language they’ve acquired while living in Germany. The reason for my thinking of this topic was inspired by a conversation I had with Ann Belle of Belle NRW when she was getting ready to move her German-speaking Kindergarten-aged kids back to America. Six months later, she’s built on this list and added a number of concrete tips that are definitely worth sharing. Thank you, Ann, for generously sharing your resrouces with the German Way! Continue reading →
About two weeks ago I found myself sitting in a school office with my husband and 4-month-old in her most respectable onesie. We were applying for a spot in next fall’s class and doing our best to look like an upstanding family they would want in their KiTa.
I’ve been meeting many more expats now that I am living in the heavily populated Rhineland/Ruhr region of Germany. These expats range from old timers/lifers to newbie/temporary assignees. As any expat can relate to, the newbies are grappling with learning the German language: some try private tutelage, others secure places at the local VHS, while others make the deep plunge for the Goethe Institut in Düsseldorf. Most of them ask me about my level of German and how I learned. I admit that it was a quick ascent to fluency for me, and I know that I was fortunate to not have problems with the German language as an expat woe. (I was instead confounded by the local Swabian dialect while living in Swabia.)
A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park
“It’s the Christmas Man,” my two-and-a-half-year-old son cheered, pointing to the large inflatable red-clad figure bobbing in the wind outside a men’s clothes shop. In these first unseasonably barmy days of early December, we were yet to talk about the intricacies of Christmas, beyond the odd explanation of holly-bedecked shop windows and the singing reindeer-head installed outside our local shopping centre. The name of the man who would bring presents had certainly not been discussed. So how did he know about Father Christmas, and what was this name the “Christmas Man”?
One of the joys of living in another country and having your children grow up in a bilingual environment spending half, if not more, of their time speaking a language that is not your own is that they are constantly learning things you could not possibly have taught them. The Christmas Man (I should mention at this point that Germans refer to Father Christmas as the Weihnachtsmann – it’s direct translation being, therefore, the Christmas Man) was just one example in a list of many, which includes animals, nursery rhymes, foods and songs. Mostly, these instances delight and intrigue me. My German is good enough to understand the meaning, whilst still being enriched with a whole new level of childhood vocabulary one cannot learn sitting down with a grammar book, or spending a year here as a carefree exchange student. And beyond the words, I am constantly fascinated by my (and all) children’s outstanding capacity to absorb and manipulate new information minute by minute. Continue reading →
Not long ago, a German friend gave me a stern warning that I was in danger of teaching my children that all things German are bad. I was perplexed at this perspective, for it certainly doesn’t reflect how I feel.
“If you tell them negative things about Germany, you will eventually build a mindset in them which is negative to their own culture,” she explained.
My only response was to laugh, because not two weeks prior to this conversation, my mother had accused me of having an anti-American household.
“I feel as though you are rejecting your culture, and your family along with it,” she had said.
Almost the entirety of my adulthood has been spent abroad. It may well be that I have rejected parts of my own, American, culture and it may also well be that I am occasionally critical of my host culture. In fact, I’m sure both of those are the case. How is a bi-cultural, bilingual family expected to deal with cultural differences? With humor! Continue reading →
It was inevitable. Our German was bound to get worse upon departure. The first year, mine seemed to remain intact. I was still feeling pretty German, and I spoke German almost daily with our German preschool teachers, with other German-speaking parents, and with our German babysitter. Sometimes even with my German husband. We’re in the second year though, and after spending the Christmas holidays with my non-German speaking family, I finally felt that the Yanks had won. Throw on top of that, a struggle to integrate a third language (Korean), and the quality of Deutsch in this house has worsened. Continue reading →
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.