Saturday, July 02, 2005

A strange mix of German and English

You may think that since we run a German children's bookstore and since our kids are surrounded by wonderful German books, our kids would rattle off in German all day long, right? Well, unfortunately it's not quite that simple. But then, who said life was simple?!

German with Mom
I speak to the kids in German about 75% of the time. Niklas (5) usually responds in English - his English vocabulary is huge and he just can't find the words in German quickly enough to express himself. He can, however, have a very nice conversation in German and his accent is excellent. He loves all his German CDs, books, CD-ROMs, and DVDs. Although I try to stick to German, I revert to English when it gets too complicated! I'm not a native speaker and it's just too difficult to talk about space travel or bugs or Scooby Doo or many of the myriad of other topics that come from my 5 year-olds busy mind during the day!

I have made an extra effort to speak 100% German to Max (16 months) since he was born and as a result, his German vocabulary is larger than his English vocabulary. He is an early talker, already saying "trinken, essen, Ei, Mama, Dada, Wasser, Ball, Balloon, up, hoch, sitzen, and bye-bye," among others. His "ja" is perfectly pronounced! I'm sure the balance will shift as he gets older and as he interacts with others more but for now, I'm able to give his German a head start.

So it may seem a little odd to strangers on the playground to hear me addressing my little one in German and then my older son in English. But it's a pattern that works for us for now. I see both my kids making progress with their German and that shows me we are on the right track!

A standard piece of advice for bilingual families is to keep it consistent, no matter what your pattern happens to be. So while our pattern may be a little unconventional, it is consistent and the kids know what to expect.

I hope that we will be able to take an extended vacation to Germany sometime and give the kids a chance to socialize with German kids. Until then, we'll just keep reading and talking and popping down to the basement warehouse when we need a new book. I started Alphabet Garten because I couldn't find German books I loved for Niklas and the effort has paid off in so many ways!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bet it's a lot of work if you're not a native speaker.
I moved to Canada from Berlin when I was 4, so technically German is my first language, but we weren't forced to progress with it. My daughter is now 5 and wouldn't respond in German (although it's all she ever heard from me)until we spent 8 weeks in Berlin last summer. It took about 2 weeks (for a while I was afraid she would convert all the German kids in the playground to English speakers since they were so intrigued by her words!), but then she seemed to have thrown the switch and assumed a perfectly pronounced German vocabulary. I think she just needed to hear KIDS using the language her Mama uses to make it Ok. After we returned, the English was slow to come back. I guess her brain had made a complete switch also, to the point where there weren't even a mixture of words, just German. Her friends at home were concerned they would never understand her again!
1 month later, she was beautifully bilingual. Now her English-only father gets instant (and accurate)translations of anything she and I discuss and I get heck if I speak any English with her.

I hope you get to spend time "over there" with your kids. I bet it will take little time to catch on. Good Luck and thanks for providing access to the great resources!
Karin J