Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How do you find the time to teach your kids German?

Busy moms, busy dads, busy kids.
Playdates, homework, piano lessons, story hour. Our lives are so full of activities and commitments, it seems like there's hardly any time left for German. But if you speak German yourself, even if you're not fluent, a tiny bit of planning can ensure you can easily make sure your kids get a nice dose of German immersion in their day.

Parents who have been speaking German with their kids for a while know the secret.
You don't teach them; you just carry on with life. You don't sit your kid down and say "Now it's time for German! What's the past tense of haben?" No - instead you say "Was willst du zum Frühstück essen?" If your kid gives you a blank stare, you hold up the eggs and the cereal and say "Eier oder lieber Cereal?" The kid will get the message and will either point or perhaps (joy of joys!) respond in German. If he answers in English you can choose to either just accept his answer or repeat it for him in German - "Sag 'Ich möchte Eier, bitte.'"

Just pick a time of day to start with - breakfast, car rides, dinner, bathtime - pick one time and try to speak only German at that time of day.
Your kids will quickly pick up vocabulary and get the jist of what you're saying. If you start out with short periods of time, they won't get tired and start complaining.
Your German times can be whenever you want.

Here are just a few guidelines:
1. You should speak only German if possible.
Plan for a time or activity that you are comfortable discussing in German. Perhaps brush up on some vocabulary beforehand.

2. Use gestures and facial expression to communicate meaning.
Try not to revert to English if your child doesn't understand you. Instead pantomime a bit or rephrase into simpler German if necessary to communicate your message.

3. Don't expect your child to respond in German.
This will come with time. Just focus on communicating to him in German.

4. Speak a little slower than usual.
New words can be difficult to pick up (especially the long ones) so you may need to slow down a bit and enun-ci-ate clearly.

5. If your child is cooperative, you can offer him words in German to repeat.
You may find that he uses them spontaneously later. This works best with kids from about 20-28 months when they are willing to repeat things.

6. If your kids are older, let them know you're going to have "German time."
Make it a fun time that they can look forward to.

7. Make it non-threatening.
Don't correct their mistakes. Don't insist that they speak German. Praise their efforts.

8. Don't worry if you make mistakes.
Just keep talking. It's good for kids to see that adults can make mistakes, too. Feel free to correct yourself if you realize you've made a mistake but don't make a big deal of it.

9. Remind yourself to do it every day.
This may seem obvious but how many times have you gotten through your day only to realize that there was something important you forgot to do! Hang up a little German flag in the kitchen if your German time is at breakfast or put a note on your bathroom mirror if it's at bathtime. Do something small that will help trigger your memory so you don't miss out. If you spend an hour speaking German every day, your child will have heard 365 hours of German by the end of the year! That's as much as several classes worth. It will add up quickly.

10. Keep track.
If you're just starting out, this step is critical. Establishing a habit like speaking German with your kids will take time. If you can do it every day for a month, even for just a half an hour, you'll have a better chance of maintaining and growing the habit. To help you build this habit, use my download (see below) and give yourselves a big green checkmark every day that you practice. Then when you've collected 20 or 30 checkmarks you can celebrate!

To help you get started and keep track, I've created a handy download.
Download Auf Deutsch, Bitte, fill it out and post it where you'll be sure to see it when you need it.

Once you get into the habit and add more and more immersion time, it will get easier and you will no longer need to keep track and it will be automatic. It may be tiring at first but it will get easier and easier.

The great thing with this method is that it works with kids of all ages and you don't have to do it all day long.

This method can have immediate results.
I tried this process with a little girl (28 months old) I was watching the other day. She had never heard a word of German but when my son brought me a book, she sat down with us to listen, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a very simple picture book with short sentences - the same kind of book she would like in English. As I read to the two of them, I pointed things out and asked them simple questions. "Wo ist der Ball?" "Da! Ja, Du hast ihn gefunden." "Da ist das Pferd." Very quickly, she picked up several words and easily repeated them and pointed to them in the book when prompted. We only spent about 10 minutes reading but I think that she understood a great deal of what I was saying. She did look at me a bit strangely at first but accepted that I talk a little funny.

Won't my child be confused if I start speaking German all of a sudden?
No! Children's brains are incredibly quick to adjust and they will try to make sense of what's going on. It's just like when your child was learning English as a baby and toddler - the progress can go amazingly fast. If you provide context through body language and facial expressions, plus following the guidelines above, your child will be very quick to pick up on the German.

This method mimics the total immersion your child would get if you traveled to Germany.
This is also the same process that babies and young children use to acquire their mother tongue. They listen to what is going on around them and try to make sense of it. By following the guidelines above, you can help them acquire conversational German without sitting down at a desk to learn it.

Try it yourself
So if you're wanting to pass German on to your kids and are wondering how to find the time, download Auf Deutsch, Bitte!. Try out this method and watch the immersion time start adding up. Viel Spaß!

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