Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Our blog has moved!

Don't worry - there are lots more articles about German, bilingual families, and learning to read at our new location. Please visit us on our new blog at http://www.Alphabet-Garten.com/wordpress/

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Live like a German! An interview with Bettina Kraft (Transcript)

Note: this is the transcript of an audio interview which you can listen to in MP3 format.

Sarah Mueller interviews Bettina Kraft, co-founder of Live Like a German.com about how a unique kind of German vacation can further your family's German.

Sarah: Hi, this is Sarah Mueller from Alphabet Garten, and today I’m talking with Bettina Kraft of Live-like-a-German.com. Hi Bettina, thanks for your time this morning.

Bettina: Thanks for your time, Sarah.

Sarah: Can you tell us a little bit about the “Live like a German” concept? Give us some background on what that means.

Bettina: Yes. Well, about two years ago my husband and I were sitting in our apartment in Germany and we were trying to figure out how to rent our apartment there. And at the time, we only used it once or twice a year, and we always had friends who were interested in going to Germany and we would always marvel and rave about what you could do. So we started building up this website. And the only apartment we had was our own, promoting our own apartment on the site. The site was pretty good, and sooner or later, we started having more inquiries through the site and because we only had that one apartment, people starting asking “Well, do you have things in Bavaria?” or in other destinations. So we started building these partnerships with owners in Germany who have apartments and slowly but surely added them onto our site. We’re constantly still growing. Our goal is to cover the entire area of Germany, every village, metropolitan area, or city so we can offer that onto our customers on the site.

Sarah: Oh, that’s so interesting! So you work, actually, directly with the owners of the individual apartments, then?

Bettina: Yes, we do. And we also added quite a few packages to our website that a lot of our owners actually put together for us. So we’re collaborating with a lot of owners on those packages as well.

Sarah: What kind of things belong to a package? How does that work?

Bettina: There are different packages that we offer. It could be a Christmas Market package or a castle tour and what we do is we use the expertise of our apartment owners for the area, and sometimes they do little tour guides, tour trips, they offer all kinds of different things, be it a trip on the Rhine river or something like that. So we use their expertise and put it into a package as well as, of course, their apartment.

Sarah: So people can actually get a personalized tour, or they can get to know the area?

Bettina: Exactly. We have these personalized tours and we have these customized tours so the customized tours are more or less pre-customized – pre-designed for the vacationer, there’s not a lot of give on these tours. But then we also offer these personalized tours that we pretty much put together to the needs of the person traveling to Germany. So we interview them, we ask, “What do you want to get out of this? How much time do you have? What do you want to do?” So I do a lot of those too, where it’s just put together with the customer, we tailor it to exactly their needs.

Sarah: Tell me, what does it mean to live like a German on vacation? How is that different from just going to Germany and I guess, you know, visiting the beer hall in Munich, things like that. How is this different?

Bettina: Well, it is different. First of all, it’s a more personal experience because you are going to live in an apartment that has been set up by a German family. There’s a lot of German culture, German designs in these apartments, German way of living. And we always encourage them to you know, visit the local markets, the local restaurants, the local bakeries, the butcher – you know, the typical things you would do in a village or in a smaller town. And to kind of mingle with the locals. That’s pretty much what that means, to “live like a German”. There are different things throughout the year, and other things you can do in order to get that German feel while you’re on vacation.

Sarah: That sounds like so much fun! That sounds like such a great way to go to Germany and get the whole language exposure and get way more out of it than you would if you were just going to a resort.

Bettina: We definitely encourage that, and there’s a lot of information on the website in regards to how you can do that.

Sarah: How can families who wish to improve their children’s German benefit from this kind of vacation? Do you find that they manage to speak a lot more German, interact with the other people around them?

Bettina: Yes, I mean, if you have kids that know some German or you want them to learn German, this is definitely the way to go. You can always find a play area or go to the city and just enjoy and interact in, I don’t know, an ice cream parlor or something, with local German-speaking families. And then, on top, as I can say from our own experience, we always put our children in German Kindergarten or a German school. It always has worked out so far, especially in the smaller villages where people are willing to help you out, you know, improve your German language skills, especially those of your children. So we’ve done a lot of that. I think that if you’re open to speak the language you can definitely get in touch with people and experience that.

Sarah: So your kids have actually gone to German Kindergarten when you’re over there?

Bettina: Yes.

Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic! How does that work, is it like a half day thing that they go to in the morning?

Bettina: Well, it depends. So far we’ve had really great experiences with the locals, we’ve had the kids for five to six hours sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on your child of course. But they always had a blast, and it’s so different from your typical Kindergarten here. There are a lot of awesome things they do, different programs, a lot of holistic things and sensory things, and a lot of things that they do that I’ve never seen in American Kindergarten so far. On top of, of course, the language benefits. And then our oldest son has been regularly, every year, been going to school in Germany as well. He actually skips a grade there and goes to the upper grade. Of course, he has a friend there too, but he’s totally able to do that because we kept him on top of his German language skills. Of course, the improvement of the language while in school and in Kindergarten is so immense and within two or three days they speak dialect.

Sarah: Wow!

Bettina: But they do that. I mean, they’re such sponges and they pick up the language so fast again and all the special words the kids use there.

Sarah: That’s amazing! So your son was actually able to attend Grundschule? Is that where he went?

Bettina: Yes, exactly.

Sarah: Wow, and the school just let him attend for a couple of weeks?

Bettina: They did. They were very nice about that and I think that’s the thing. If you build this relationship with the apartment owners, be it in any village or city, they’re so willing to help you out with these kinds of things. We can definitely arrange something like that for your kids.

Sarah: That would be fantastic! That’s like a dream come true, I think, for a lot of people, to be able to completely immerse their children in that environment. That’s something that people try to recreate here a lot – with the German Saturday schools or maybe an immersion school. But to actually go over to Germany and do it, that’s like the real deal.

Bettina: It is, it is. It’s been a really good experience, I’d have to say.

Sarah: Let’s see… are most of your apartments in the smaller areas? What’s the best kind of environment to interact with the locals?

Bettina: That’s a hard one. I just think you have to be open and go out there and talk to people, the markets and festivities are definitely great. Just go and talk to people! I think people are very welcoming to Americans for sure. They just love Americans, and they’re always willing to talk. Just put yourself out there and start talking! There are definitely markets, and you know, I think there are a lot of ways to do that. Go out there and start speaking the language and you’ll see that people want to interact with you.

Sarah: So you find people can go to a big city if that’s what they tend to like, and they can find people to interact with.

Bettina: Absolutely.

Sarah: They can tailor it to their taste and it doesn’t really matter where they go.

Bettina: I think so, yes. There’s always people that like to chat and are interested in foreign people coming, and you know, I know a lot of Americans want to know about history and such things. What better way then to just grab a person who’s local in any area – be it a village or a big city – and just start talking and asking questions.

Sarah: Oh, it sounds like fun. Very cool. Do you have any ideas about what people could do to prepare beforehand to get the most out of this kind of vacation? Other than, of course, if they were going through you, they would arrange things and organize, and plan things out beforehand, but is there anything else that you find people like to do before they go to get ready?

Bettina: Well, I think it definitely helps to know a little bit about, you know, customs. A lot of things that I’ve sent my customers are this is how you tip, this is how you drive the autobahn, just small things like that, and then, on top, of course, just get as much information about the destination you’re going to as you can. Definitely, our site is really good when it comes to that. There are a lot of resources on that. Just start reading up a bit on the customs, and how you can immerse yourself in the best way. Of course, when it comes to flights and such, there’s high season and low season, and there are some good companies that sell cheaper flights to Germany than your typical United.com or any other major airline. There’s definitely some research that can be done in terms of that, too, to stay on a certain budget.

Sarah: Oh, that’s another thing I wanted to mention. Somewhere on your site it says that your apartments actually end up costing quite a bit less than you might pay.

Bettina: They do. We actually calculated that they are 30-40% less than a hotel and you have way more amenities in an apartment. It’s basically, you know, living at home away from home, because you can pretty much do what you want in an apartment when it’s an adequate size. Especially when it comes to families with children, you have so much more freedom in an apartment.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely, instead of being in one little hotel room. So the apartments come with cooking things and sheets and all that kind of good stuff?

Bettina: Yes, most of them do have a full kitchen, some have a smaller kitchenette. That’s something we always add as information on our site, yes.

Sarah: So it’s like a better vacation for a better price, then?

Bettina: I think so. Yes, definitely, definitely a better vacation.

Sarah: Wow, well, we’re going to have to look into this for next year. This sounds like an excellent opportunity. Well, can you just end by telling us maybe some of the great experiences that some of your clients have had when they get back and talk with you?

Bettina: Yes. So far, knock on wood, we only have great, great feedback from our customers that went. I have to say, most of them were really – they loved how people interacted with them and were interested in what they are doing. Above and beyond to make them feel comfortable and explain where to go and what to do, so we have a lot of fun stuff when it comes to that. Most of our customers rave about the quality of our apartments as well. They are all really good quality, really nice places and locations. So we did get a lot of feedback on that. Actually, there are testimonials on our website if anyone wants to look up on that. We’ve had really good feedback.

Sarah: That’s great. And you’re also on Facebook, is that right?

Bettina: We are on Facebook, yes, we are on Facebook. We’re steadily growing on Facebook, which is just absolutely great. It’s an awesome way to stay in touch with all kinds of customers and just Germany followers and fans who crave foods or destinations or just want to chat about all kinds of things. It’s a great way to do that.

Sarah: Yeah, right. I’ve become one of your fans, and I love to get the updates – even daily, you have some kind of an update about a new recipe or something going on in Germany, so…

Bettina: Yeah, we’re trying to do that. It just constantly keeps the conversations going. There’s so much flow and ideas and we have so many Facebook fans that collaborate with us now – they write articles or just add really interesting information to our site, and we of course value that immensely. Facebook is the way to go; it’s a great resource.

Sarah: Yeah, I really like to get on there. We just started our own page there so we’re starting to build up a fan base.

Bettina: Well, I’m your fan.

Sarah: Well, I appreciate that.

Bettina: Sure. I think you have a great idea there too, with your Alphabet Garten, I have to say, it’s awesome.

Sarah: Thank you, thank you, yes. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of interesting things going on on our site too. I think that there is a lot of overlap, so I think people will enjoy hearing about your side of things.

Bettina: Absolutely.

Sarah: You know, most people learning German are going to end up in Germany at some point so definitely a lot of synergies there.

Bettina: Yes, I agree.

Sarah: Let’s see, I think that’s all I have for now, but I really want to thank you for taking a little bit of time this morning to speak with me. I know that our listeners are going to be interested in the concept. Oh, and let’s see, once more, the URL for your site is www.live-like-a-german.com, is that right?

Bettina: That’s it, yes.

Sarah: Okay, and you’ve got travel guides and recipes and tons of beautiful pictures and all this vacation planning.

Bettina: Right, to get you ready for your trip. Get you inspired.

Sarah: Right, exactly. Well, and I hope to chat more with you in the future. Maybe we can set up another interview.

Bettina: Yes, that would be great.

Sarah: I think that’s all I have for now.

Bettina: Great! Thank you Sarah!

Sarah: Thanks so much! Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Live like a German! An interview with Bettina Kraft

I'm excited to bring you an audio interview with Bettina Kraft of Live Like a German.com I talk with Bettina about how a unique kind of German vacation can further your family's German.

Happy listening!

P.S. if you'd prefer the transcript, you can find it here.


Note: I'm working on getting this to work as a podcast, but I'm not quite there yet... :)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Why won't my child speak German?

If your child has had some measure of German but still speaks very little, you are likely frustrated and discouraged. Your child may be frustrated as well, although he may not show it. If you spend some time identifying the reasons behind his reluctance, it will be easier for you to make a plan to help coax him out of his reluctance.

Some potential reasons for reluctance to speak German


Not enough exposure

Start using “German diet” approach

Make a plan to integrate more age-appropriate German

Keep offering input

Irrelevant topics not of interest to the child. Child isn’t motivated or interested in communicating.

Make a plan to integrate more age-appropriate German

All one-way exposure (only DVDs and audio; no conversation)

Find new sources of German

Playgroups, make a plan


Consider the confidence wave

Insecure in his abilities (“It’s too hard!”)

Start using “German diet” approach

Keep offering input

Thinks German is only for adults; doesn’t have any German-speaking peers or role models.

Find peers or role models (books); plan a trip to Germany

German used mainly for discipline and not for positive communication.

Make a plan and reverse this pattern. Make German a positive aspect of life.

Doesn’t want to be embarrassed around peers

Emphasize positive aspects of bilingualism

Has been embarrassed by previous attempts to speak German, either by family or other kids.

Make a plan and reverse this pattern. Make German a positive aspect of life.

I encourage you to investigate the articles linked on this page for help in encouraging your child to start speaking German.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How labels can help your kids become readers

No, not the kind of labels that say your kid is smart or has ADHD or is below average. I’m talking about actual little signs with the names of things that you post around the house. If you go to a preschool classroom, you may see labels on the shelves and other areas – “Block Corner”, “Train”, “Dress-up”, etc. Perhaps there’s also a picture or stick figure drawing illustrating the label. These labels do help to keep the space organized (aren’t preschool classrooms wonderfully organized?), but they also help to encourage beginning reading. Kids see the sign, they see what toys are there, and if they know a few letter sounds, they can associate the word with whatever is in that area.

If you’re encouraging a beginning reader in German, or in English, you can use labels around the house as part of your strategy to teach your kids.

What should I label?
You can label anything around the house – toy areas, dresser drawers, categories on the book shelf, the contents of kitchen cabinets. Of course if you’re encouraging bilingualism, you’ll write them in German. You probably don’t want to label the entire house for fear of driving your spouse crazy. Instead, keep it a bit lighter, perhaps putting up a few labels in the kitchen, playroom or your children’s rooms. You can do it very simply with some scratch paper and tape or you can get fancy and print up colorful labels on cardstock. Your kids may even want to help you make the labels, thereby offering more practice with reading and writing!

Why do labels help beginning readers?
1. Labels offer reading opportunities in bite-size chunks.
Reading one or two words is very non-threatening and not overwhelming. It’s approachable. A colorful label calls out to a child “Read me!” If you make the print large enough, it will be easier for young eyes to make out the letters.

2. With labels, kids are learning from context.
They’ll know if they got it right. It’s easy to tell what the word should say. A child can correct himself if he reads it incorrectly. Learning from context is so much more effective than someone else telling him he’s wrong – if he discovers an error himself, he’ll be likely to try and figure out where he went wrong and fix it. “Oh, that’s a B, not a D so this is the Doll Corner.”

3. Labels are low pressure.
A child doesn’t have to worry about getting something wrong. It’s not like a story where they will be frustrated if they can’t read a word. Plus, if they’re not interested, they can simply ignore the labels and life goes on.

4. Labels offer the factor of repetition.
When your child sees and reads a word several times a day for a few weeks, that word will gradually become a “sight” word for him and he’ll be able to read it instantly when he encounters it in other places.

Don’t make the mistake of over-emphasizing the labels…
If your kids don’t want to read them with you, don’t push it. If the baby rips them down, try again in another spot. Labels are just another tool in your toolkit to bring your kids to a knowledge of written German. Some kids may never even glance at them twice while others may go through the house working to read every one of them.

Once your kids are reading individual words, you can progress to notes and signs.
You can post “Bitte wasche Deine Hände!” (please wash your hands) in the bathroom, “Rucksack nicht vergessen” (Don’t forget your backpack) on the house door or put little notes in your kids’ lunches. When kids are learning to read, it’s almost like it’s a secret code for them and they’re thrilled to join the club. They will love to play this game with you. This practice is an excellent way to connect with your kids and offer them a little extra reading practice.

Actually labels aren’t just for beginning readers...
When you label a drawer or a cabinet, it’s likely it will be properly used by all family members (notice, I didn’t say it’s guaranteed!) You can train your children to put things away in the correct place and labels are an easy way to keep drawers and cabinets organized. You may decide labels aren’t just a temporary phase for your home and their usefulness will carry on long after your children are skilled readers.

1. Use labels to help beginning readers.
2. Labels offer bite-size learning opportunitites.
3. Labels are low pressure and offer repetition.
4. Don’t overemphasize labels.
5. Progress to longer notes and signs.

So borrow a technique from the preschool classroom and put up some labels around the house. Your new readers will benefit from it and you all may have a little fun in the process.

This post is part of our Learn-to-Read in German series.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Toddler triplets are bilingual from the start. An interview with Jessica Gearing

Sarah interviews Jessica Gearing, native German speaker and mom to 2 year old triplet boys.

Sarah: You have three little boys, triplets, is that right?

Jessica: I do, three boys, they’ll be two next month.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. It sounds like you have your hands full!

Jessica: Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun too. It’s a really great time for them.

Sarah: Yes, I can imagine, they must be getting more independent and moving through the baby stage.

Jessica: Absolutely, changes are really happening quickly and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Sarah: Can you tell me a little bit about your family?

Jessica: I was born in Berlin, and I came to the States when I was a little girl with my parents and we spoke mostly English in the home. So I forgot a lot of my German for a while. And I picked it back up, and I speak German to the boys, and my mother does. She spends a lot of time with us. And my husband speaks English to the boys. He does understand German and is picking up more and more, but primarily he speaks English and our family language is English. My husband and I speak English together. But I am only speaking German and my mother’s only speaking German.

Sarah: And how are the boys reacting? Are they speaking at all yet, actually? It’s kind of early, I guess.

Jessica: Yes, yes, they are speaking. It seems like every day they speak more and more words. You know, in the beginning, when they started talking, it seems like the words that they picked up first and the words they were the most confident with are words that are the same in English and German. Like “ball” and “baby” and “teddy” and things like that. Those were the words they really took to at first. But now they’re speaking German words to me and English words to my husband. It seems like there are some words that they only say in German and there are some words that they only say in English. And I’m not quite sure why. Like they always say “Baum” instead of “tree” and they always say “turtle” in English – maybe it’s too hard to say it in German, I’m not sure what the connection is, but it’s exciting!

Sarah: So do you find that they are already differentiating between English and German? That they know they should favor English with your husband and German with you? Do you think they make that distinction?
Jessica: Yes, I do.

Sarah: Wow, that’s fantastic!

Jessica: Maybe not to some degree, maybe they’re not, but the early words they picked up. Like the word “no”, they would say “no” to my husband and “nein” to me. They always say “Bauch” to me and “belly” to my husband. I think they know. I really do, I think they know.

Sarah: That’s amazing! That they’ve already differentiated. And do they speak German to each other?

Jessica: You know, I think they have another language going on with each other. (laughs) I’m not quite sure. I have heard them say German to each other but I’ve also heard them talking to each other in English. I’ve heard them say to each other “Don’t touch”; I’ve heard them say “nein” to each other in German. But I still think that they’ve kind of got their own little language going on.

Sarah: Yes, I’ve heard that’s common with multiples. They have that kind of a bond. That must be fun. Tell me why did you want them to learn to speak German?

Jessica: Well, I think there are lots of benefits to being bilingual of course. But I can tell you that for a personal reason, my grandmother died last year and it came very quickly and when she died, I felt like the German inside of me died. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely.

Jessica: When this happened, it became very important to me that I keep our language alive and that I keep the culture alive and I really grabbed a hold of it and made it a very strong priority and that it’s an important part of our family. Of course, my mother was very supportive and my husband too. So I think that’s probably the most important thing. I want to keep that cultural connection there with the heritage.

Sarah: That’s a really nice way to honor your grandmother, too.

Jessica: Thank you.

Sarah: I’m sure your kids will have that understanding as they grow up that it’s a connection they have to the past. It’s beautiful.

Jessica: I hope so. Of course, we still have family and friends there and I would like them to be able to communicate when we travel and be comfortable, but I think it was her death that really made it so important to me.

Sarah: That makes sense. Kind of like the spark for you, I guess.

Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Sarah: What have you found to be the biggest challenge in speaking German with your kids so far?

Jessica: I think resources are always a problem. We’re very dependant on your store and wherever else we can get books and things like that. My children don’t watch television, and so we’re really dependant on books and materials like that. Besides my mother, we don’t have anyone nearby that speaks German. And so far it’s not really a challenge but I believe it will be in the future, as they start becoming more of the, being a bigger part of the culture of the United States and the English influences will be pretty strong I’m sure.

Sarah: That’s a recurring theme. Trying to find enough. You struggle to keep up and try to maintain a little bit of a balance, especially when they’re young. You want to give them a good foundation.

Jessica: Right. I think that’s why it’s important that we’ve been speaking German to them since they were born. I hope that I can get the best foundation possible before they start school and keep it at as alive as possible.

Sarah: Absolutely. What were you hoping for them in terms of their future and speaking German? Have you thought about how far you would like to see them come? In terms of their fluency?

Jessica: Well, I hope that they will be very fluent. I hope for complete fluency. I hope that when we travel they will be comfortable and be able to communicate themselves well. Absolutely, yes, I definitely want them to be fluent.

Sarah: Sounds like with your mother there you have a really good support system even though it’s just the two of you, but you at least have her so they know it’s not just you that speaks German.

Jessica: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s very good for them to hear that. She spends so much time with them, speaking and singing and playing with them. I don’t think they’ve ever heard her speak anything except German.

Sarah: I have another customer who does that. She says “I’ve spoken German to my grandchildren from the minute they were born” and they speak German back to her. They totally do. They might know that she speaks English, but it’s certainly not something that they would ever dream of doing with her because that’s just the way it is.

Jessica: And she has such a special and different relationship with them, being a grandparent as opposed to being a parent. Her time with them is all about love and bonding and talking. For us, we are disciplining as well and we’ve got rules that need to be followed all the time. But when she’s there it’s such a warm atmosphere for them. I think that they love that about her.

Sarah: That sounds excellent, that’s so special. Is she close by to you?

Jessica: Yes, she lives nearby. Oh, and listen to this, they were born on her birthday. Isn’t that fantastic?

Sarah: Oh, really? That’s really neat! Lots of connections with their Oma.

Jessica: They call her Omi, but… it’s been great.

Sarah: Oh, that’s very sweet. Let’s see, what else would I like to ask – you mentioned that you’ve shopped before with us. Did you find what you were looking for? Were you pleased with what you found?

Jessica: We’re very pleased with your store. We like the selection. Of course, my sons are very big fans of picture books, they love reading, and the picture books are very important to us right now. We also purchased the flashcards off your website and they are really great flashcards. (Note: the flashcards have gone out of print. We are looking for a replacement.) The pictures are fun and bright and they are very good words you would use often. We’re very pleased with them. We buy all of our books – except for the books that family and friends send to us or that my mother gets when she is in Germany – from you. We buy everything from your store and we’ve always been happy.

Sarah: I’m so glad to hear that. What’s their favorite book or CD?

Jessica: Their favorite books are definitely the Max books. They love Max books. They just think they’re so funny.

Sarah: They are, aren’t they?

Jessica: They just love them! And they just crack up. It’s wonderful.

Sarah: It’s easy to identify with him because he’s a typical two-year-old.

Jessica: Yes, and a two-year-old boy! They love him. My favorite book that we’ve bought from you is actually the Fingerspiele book. I know it’s common to play time and time again and find things to do for different seasons and times of the year. It’s a lot of fun. They love it!

Sarah: So you’ve taught them the Fingerspiele too.

Jessica: Yep.

Sarah: Oh, fun. Excellent. They’re too young for school, so I won’t ask you about that.

Jessica: They will go to Samstagschule when they are three.

Sarah: Oh, really, do you have one nearby?

Jessica: Yes, we do. We have the German school just a few blocks down the road. We’re very fortunate to have that there.

Sarah: Oh, excellent. That will be perfect for them!

Jessica: We’re looking forward to it. And it will be nice for them to be with other German children as well.

Sarah: Absolutely. How long have you known about Alphabet Garten? How did you discover us?

Jessica: I think we discovered you during my pregnancy on the computer. A few years, I guess.

Sarah: I’m so glad to hear that. Well, do you have anything else that you would like to add? Our interview series has been really popular. I’ve gotten tons of interest, and each time I do an interview, I love talking to people because I get this new perspective. You know, everyone has some of the same things in common but it’s really fun to hear how each particular family is doing this and what their situation is. So I’m wondering if you have any comments for people in a similar situation as you.

Jessica: I think consistency is very important, and trying to keep it fun. I think the boys are just sponges right now, so it’s very easy for them to learn and to repeat words. When I was pregnant, I read a book called The Bilingual Edge and I’ve since passed it on to another family so I’m not sure who wrote it, but it was very encouraging, very supportive. You know, I was very worried about making mistakes, you know, my grammar is poor – it was very supportive and very encouraging. It said not to worry about making mistakes. It gave a list of all the benefits and, you know, pointers. It was great.

Sarah: So that kind of gave you the extra motivation.

Jessica: Absolutely. I think it’s very important to raise children bilingually and I want my children to be compassionate and empathetic and it’s important for them to understand there’s more to the world than just our little area that we live in. We can’t afford to take them all over the world to see it, but I think that language is a good way to do it. You know, so that they can be cultured children as much as possible.

Sarah: Excellent. Sounds wonderful. Sounds like you have a wonderful, fun house. Lots of laughter and love.

Jessica: Thank you! We do! It’s a good time right now. It really is. It’s a lot of fun. They haven’t entered any terrible twos, so…

Sarah: Oh, when that happens you might have a different tune (laughs)

Jessica: (laughs) It’s wonderful, it is. Things are going very well. We’re very fortunate.

Sarah: That’s excellent. Gosh, to hear that from someone who has triplets, that’s saying a lot!

Jessica: Thank you, but you know, I have a great support system, too. My husband is very involved and of course, my mother is a very big part of our lives, so it definitely helps.

Sarah: That helps a lot. I’m sure it must be challenging.

Jessica: Oh, at times, definitely, definitely. But they are happy and healthy and you try to keep that in there. And they’re fun.

Sarah: Fantastic, that’s excellent. That just sounds wonderful.

Jessica: Thank you!

Sarah: You’re welcome. I just really appreciate your time this afternoon. I know that my customers are going to be really interested to hear a little bit about your story.

Jessica: Thank you. I’m definitely honored and flattered that you wanted to talk to me.

Sarah: Maybe we could follow up in a year or so, we could hear what’s going on with the triplets at three.

Jessica: Oh, I would love that! Absolutely. I’m sure they’ll be talking a lot more by then. Oh, and congratulations on your business. It’s really a wonderful store for all of us.

Sarah: Thank you so much!
Jessica: Congratulations and best wishes to you!

Sarah: Thank you, it’s definitely a labor of love. Like I said, after doing all these interviews over the past few months it’s gotten me really excited about just working with people and going a little bit further and seeing, you know, how can we help. How can I help you and what kinds of things can I do to support the work that you’re doing. We’ve got some big plans underway and we’ll see how it goes.

Jessica: That’s great. And it’s great for us to see that we have that support out there. It always seems like you’re – you know, when I visit Alphabet Garten, it’s not just about selling books, there always seems to be tools, and phrases, and the interviews, it’s very exciting. It’s very nice.

Sarah: That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re just parents like you are, so that’s the goal. I’m glad you picked up on that.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Sarah: Well, it was a pleasure chatting with you! I really appreciate it.

Jessica: Thank you.

Have you started your Trip to Germany yet?

We started using our very own Trip to Germany unit study today. Unit 1 was actually released several weeks ago but we've just now started school work so it seemed like a good fit to coincide with our fall activities. I thought it might be fun to share how we're using this study in our own home.

I'm reminded all over again what a great job author, Sarah Menkin, has done on this unit. We had so much fun! All three of my kids (ages 2, 5, and 9) participated and were excited to be "studying" German as a subject. Up until now we've just lived it (and not nearly enough, but that's the subject for another post...). So now we'll include it as a school subject and hope to get started reading and writing in German as well.

Sarah has it so well organized - I was able to grab the books, open my binder with the lesson plan and go. We reviewed some common phrases, tried to teach Jack some colors and numbers, and talked about the Kölner Dom and Brandenburger Tor. The kids thought it was very cool that I have actually been to the Tor. Oh, to be 18 again!

I'm not super-crafty but as you can see below from our very serious model, we were able to manage the flag-making activity and we now have 3 very nicely done German flags for our notebooks.

Are you doing the Trip to Germany study? Tell us in the comments how it's going or leave a link to your blog if you have one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When teaching reading, DON'T teach the letter names.

How do you say “B”? You probably said “Bee”, right? Of course – that’s the name of that letter. And how do you make the sound of B? Every reader knows its “buh.” It’s easy for you, as an adult to automatically remember both of these details about the letter B. It’s not so easy for a child learning to read, it’s this second piece of information, the letter sound, that he needs to learn. Teaching him the letter name, “Bee,” just adds confusion and should be postponed until later.

If you are teaching reading to young children, whether in English or German, you should always start with letter sounds, not names.

How do I teach reading using letter sounds?
When you teach letter sounds, you simply refer to a letter by it's sound, not it's alphabetical name. So for B, say “there’s a buh”. For K, say “here’s a kuh”. For children ages 2-5, you never need to say a letter's "name." Put letter names completely out of your vocabulary for the time being. I would even go so far as to suggest that you do NOT teach the alphabet song, unless you're going to sing it using sounds, not names.

Letter names only confuse the learning to read process
It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but that's just because most people were taught to read by learning letter names first. When a child learns a letter name, then he has to "translate" from the name to the sound in order to sound out a word. It's a very inefficient process for the brain to perform. He sees the word hat, has to recognize the letters by their names, then has to remember that H says "huh", A says "a" and T says "t" and finally recognizes the words as "hat." Of course it happens faster and faster as he gains experience but if he has any trouble at all making these associations, he'll be tripped up and his learning may stall.

When a child learns letter sounds directly, he doesn't have to take the intermediate step of associating letter name to sound.
He sees hat, and can immediately think "huh a t", then blend the sounds together into "hat." It's a much more direct process for him. His brain only has to remember 1 thing for each letter, not both a name and a sound.

The bonus to this method is that many letter sounds are the same in English and German!
So once your child can read in one of these two languages, he'll have a head start on reading in the other. Most of the consonants sound the same in German and English (B, H, D, P, K, R, C, F, M, N, L, T, X). The same is not true of the letter names - they are all different.

But most schools start teaching letter names!
That may be the case, but it doesn't mean it's pedagogically the best method. The reading program we use in our homeschool teaches using this method and is in use in thousands of schools and homes around the country. While using this method with my oldest child, my middle son picked up the letter sounds and was easily able to sound out short words by the age of 4. He received very little instruction - he just was around as I was teaching letter sounds to his brother. He put the rest together by himself.

How will my child learn the letter names? At what point should I teach names?
Once your child is reading easily, you can teach letter names, in English and in German, probably in the course of a few days. Children do need to know letter names if they are spelling something out loud or reading abbreviations, for instance.

This method won't turn your child into a reader overnight.
Learning to read is a complicated process. Your child still needs to learn the letter sounds, be able to remember the first sound by the time he reaches the last letter, and understand how to blend them together. It's a pretty complicated task for a 5 year old, if you think about it. But at least with this method, you're using the most direct path to reading for your child. Why introduce additional confusing factors if you don't have to?

Your quick takeaways:
For a direct path to reading, teach sounds, not letter names.
This method works for English and German.
Learning to read is complicated. Some kids need more time than others.

So try and retrain your instinct when talking about letters with your little one. Leave the letter names for later. He needs to learn his letter sounds and let them become automatic before spending time learning letter names.