Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Non-native German with Hugo

Sarah interviews Laura Hoyer who is speaking non-native German with her two-year old son, Hugo.

Sarah: Hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to do an interview with me. So you have a two-year-old, right?
Laura: Yes, he just turned two in March. Hugo.
Sarah: Same age as my Jack pretty much…
Laura: Well, I have to say, I love your website! I don’t know what I would do without it.
Sarah: Really? Oh, fantastic!
Laura: Yeah, because before it, I guess you’d have to order it somewhere else, right? But yet you have it all there, it’s so organized, I love it.
Sarah: Oh, thank you! That’s fantastic. How long have you been a customer?
Laura: For two years. My mom found you actually. I don’t know how – she lives in New Jersey also and I think it was something to do with a New Jersey link or maybe you were in the paper… I don’t know what it was, but she found it, and she did the first order, and then I’ve been addicted ever since.
Sarah: Oh, wow, that’s so cool! Yeah, it’s undergone a lot of changes and we’re working really hard to kind of take it to the next level and really serve, especially people like you who are not native German speakers. I think that’s where we try to bring a lot of value – just to help you make things easy to find books that are going to be great and exciting, and you don’t have to wait for the stuff to come from Germany.
Laura: Exactly. And you give a good description, too, so it’s just easy. Easy shopping.
Sarah: Wow, that’s great to hear.
Laura: Yeah, I love it.
Sarah: That’s what I’m going for.
Laura: You’re doing everything right, so don’t worry.
Sarah: Oh, wow, well thank you. There’s always room for improvement, but thanks! So you said that you speak some German, your mom’s from Germany, is that right?
Laura: Right, so she watches him two or three days a week, and she speaks almost all exclusively German.
Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic!
Laura: Yeah, so then I do half and half. You know, when I’m tired, I just give up. But my husband, he doesn’t speak any German at all. But I have to say he’s learning so much just from hearing me speak to him, having to read the books to him and everything. So it’s funny – he’s picking up a lot.
Sarah: Wow, that’s cool. So did your mom speak German to you growing up, or like half and half?
Laura: Not really. A little bit, and then, I have a younger brother, and when he came along, she didn’t do anything anymore really. I don’t know why, but yes, she didn’t, so she’s definitely making up with it with Hugo.
Sarah: Well, so how did you learn German then?
Laura: I guess it started with my mom a little bit, and then, in school. And then, even after school, then I joined like a little speaking group and reading group. It was small, there were only about four or five other people in there, so it was great. And I did that all the way up until Hugo was born. So that was the way I got my German exposure. And now that I don’t have that anymore I really notice. It takes a while to learn it, but then it goes away so quick.
Sarah: Right, definitely. Was that like a weekly thing or monthly thing?
Laura: Yeah, once a week. Once a week after work. Yeah, it was really fun. We’d have a bottle of wine, and we’d talk about – it was pretty much a reading group, you know, like a book club, let’s say, but in German.
Sarah: So you tried to conduct the whole thing in German, and you had a book that went along with it.
Laura: Yes. The leader of the group was from Germany. You know, she taught it pretty much as a class, too. She’d correct us during our conversation. I’d like to get back to it again one of these days, but I just don’t have the time now.
Sarah: Right, you’re working a couple of days a week?
Laura: Yes, I try to keep it part time.
Sarah: So how does Hugo respond? Does he answer in German?
Laura: Yes, he does mostly in German, but also in English too. But you can tell he understands it all, even when he answers in English. He definitely understands.
Sarah: Wow, that’s fantastic. What was his first German word?
Laura: “Nein”, of course! (laughing)
Sarah: (laughing) “Nein”
Laura: And it’s still a favorite word …
Sarah: Jack’s favorite word right now is “Wow.” He does that all the time – “Wow” – I guess I must say that a lot.
Laura: Maybe he’s easily impressed. That’s good.
Sarah: Yeah, I guess so. Maybe I’m kind of animated I guess when I’m looking at stuff, little kids are like, I might say that a lot.
Laura: You don’t realize that until they repeat it back to you, right?
Sarah: I definitely heard myself there. It’s all over his speech, it’s so funny.
Laura: They’re little parrots, right? They just repeat everything.
Sarah: One thing that I had done with the older kids too, but I hadn’t done it so much with Jack… If they said something in English, I’d just ask them to repeat it in German.
Laura: Oh, that’s a good idea!
Sarah: If he says, “Look at this!” Then I’ll say, “Ja, sag’ mal – ‘Schaul mal, Mommy’ ” – and then he says it right back to me. He’s in this really receptive parrot stage, so that’s really cool to hear him use the German words and then sometimes he tries to use them again.
Laura: I’ve noticed that too. With Hugo.
Sarah: So why did you want him to speak German? What are your goals, what are you hoping for?
Laura: Well, I really just wanted him to be familiar with another language. Because I feel that then down the road it will be easier for him to learn another language. Plus, I figured it would be nice if he understands and can communicate when we visit our relatives in Germany, you know. And I figure, it’s the best time to get started when they’re young.
Sarah: Absolutely. It’s so much harder when you wait.
Laura: Yes, and it’s really working out.
Sarah: Really?
Laura: I wasn’t sure if it was going to work but I started from the very beginning from when he was a baby and I’d read books to him in German, so I don’t know, so far, so good.
Sarah: So do you speak German with your mom, then, when the three of you are together?
Laura: We try to. So then he hears that too. But it is kind of difficult sometimes, because my German is not so great, I stumble a lot, and I make too many mistakes. And then, like you said, he’s a parrot, he’ll repeat the mistake. Then my mom will come over and say, oh, no, that’s not right.
Sarah: You kind of have to back up a little bit.
Laura: That’s definitely the challenging part, but I’m trying to keep with it, you know.
Sarah: So that’s been your biggest challenge?
Laura: Yes, definitely my biggest challenge.
Sarah: Getting to the same level that you want to be at.
Laura: And then, I’m a little worried – what’s going to happen, you know, in the future, but we shall see.
Sarah: Yeah, well, and if you have your mom, too, then she can keep you on track. He’ll hear from her, too. I’ve heard that if kids have one model of a good accent and proper grammar, then they’ll pick out the mistakes. He might start correcting you in a couple of years.
Laura: I’m sure he will. A little blow to the ego, right? (laughs)
Sarah: Exactly. (laughs) Keeps you humble.
Laura: What about your kids too, are they all at the same level? For their age?
Sarah: Well, we’ve found that as they got older, more and more English is sneaking in.
Laura: I’ve heard that from a lot of people, that it’s hard, because of school.
Sarah: We’re homeschooling too, so I don’t know if that’s helping in some ways, but in other ways, it’s a hindrance. I have to talk to them in English when I’m talking about math, or our curriculum is in English so … I’m actually working to try and find ways that we can start to do more formal German because we’re really lacking in that area right now. We haven’t talked about grammar or spelling or anything like that.
Laura: So you haven’t found a good book for that? For their age group?
Sarah: Um, there are lots of good books, I just haven’t really started using them. I like to just really read real books. Look for whatever we’re interested in, we’re really into nature right now, so we’ve got lots of bug books, bird books, stuff like that. We try to read those kinds of things and pick up that kind of vocabulary.
Laura: And then you hope the grammar follows.
Sarah: Right, exactly. And I think we will probably do formal stuff, maybe starting next year. My eight-year-old will be nine by then.
Laura: That’s probably a good year to start.
Sarah: We’re just trying to formalize it a little bit more. Right now, it’s a little bit less structured than I think I want. Actually we have some new things we’re working on with Alphabet Garten to have more lessons, but with a theme, so kids can learn more. Our next topic is going to be a trip to Germany, so we’re going to have lots of things surrounding that – you know, what would you do if you took a trip to Germany, and looking at maps, and talking about the culture and the customs.
Laura: Oh, that’s really good. That’s also a nice on-going project, too.
Sarah: Right.
Laura: Yeah, that is exciting. I love how you’re doing outdoor stuff because spring is in the air, right?
Sarah: We’re outside all the time, it’s so fun. So, you know, there’s always room for improvement, right?
Laura: True.
Sarah: They do understand quite a bit, and they speak to the two-year-old in German, which is nice. They know that’s what he understands better. So if they really want him to respond, then they’ll say, “Nein, mach das nicht!” I’ve also heard some people, they’ll tell their older kid, when the baby is born, “The baby does not understand English, so you have to speak German to this baby.”
Laura: Oh, I like that!
Sarah: Yeah, then they grow up speaking only German, especially if they have a really strong base, they grow up only speaking German amongst each other. So that’s a useful trick to do.
Laura: I can imagine. There is a little girl in our class who only speaks German. And she hasn’t even really heard much English yet. So she’s really lucky in that way. Because you hear that once they start school or they join activities, then the English comes naturally.
Sarah: Right. Well, you want it to come eventually but you want to postpone it as long as possible
Laura: Yeah, definitely.
Sarah: To get the German a chance to take hold, really.
Laura: I have to say, those books have been so useful. Hugo loves books so I only buy books in German. He gets gifts that are in English, but when I buy them, I only buy in German. And so he relates to characters and he repeats what was read to him, so it helps him, and it actually helps me, too. I mean, it’s improved my vocabulary. For words that I would never even think about using before.
Sarah: Which are his favorite books? What kinds of books do you read?
Laura: Oh, his favorites. He has so many favorites. Recently, I just bought Eins, zwei, drei, Tier – do you remember that one? He loves it, he has it memorized, that’s how much he liked it. So in the car, we go through it, you know, so it’s kind of fun. You know the very first one, Erste Bilder, Erste W├Ârter book? Right from the beginning, and he still loves it. Because he likes to compare the pictures in the book to real life. And the Mini Lesemaus series – he loves those. Also the Max series, we have a few of those.
Sarah: Let’s see – Max und der Schnuller. Yeah, those are so cute.
Laura: Yeah, they’re very cute. Oh, what’s the one with Jakob?
Sarah: Schlaf gut, Jakob.
Laura: That’s also a favorite. There’s so many, but that’s definitely the top hits.
Sarah: Excellent. So you guys just read those over and over again? Pick up the words from there.
Laura: Yes, it’s just amazing how quick he picks it up. I don’t know, just how he relates to it in real life. But you know what, I haven’t tried the DVDs yet because he just recently pays attention to TV – he never had any interest in it at all. So that’s going to be next on my list, I think. Getting a few DVDs.
Sarah: Now do you have a multi-region DVD player?
Laura: No, but I saw that you did, so I’m thinking I might as well get that one.
Sarah: It’s nice because if they’re going to watch TV eventually anyways, then they might as well watch in German, right?
Laura: Yeah, exactly. Oh, and also, speaking of DVDs, we recently discovered Sesame Street. I got those little Sesame Pixi books that you have.
Sarah: Aren’t they great?
Laura: Yes, those are really good. And he loves them. So yeah, any more Sesame Street, that would be great.
Sarah: There’s like a new Big Bird movie which I’m going to get. There have been some other Sesame Street ones but they went out of print. But there is a full length Big Bird movie. So that one should be coming. [Note: the German Big Bird DVD is now available.] There are a lot of Sesame Street fans out there.
Laura: They’re completely clued in to the kids. The first time he saw it, he was into it.
Sarah: You said that when you were shopping, you love the website. Did you have any hesitations initially about ordering?
Laura: Oh, no, I didn’t at all. But then again, like I said, my mom ordered first. And she passed it on to me.
Laura: When I placed my first order, no, I didn’t. And like I said, it was really easy to find, I went right to the board books, and the age group. And it was easy to scroll through.
Sarah: Did you have a hard time deciding which ones to buy?
Laura: I guess, at first. But now I’m so familiar with it, but it was a little overwhelming at first. And also, what’s really good for a baby? But now that he’s older, it’s definitely easier. But sometimes I glance at the other categories to see what’s ahead.
Sarah: Right, lots of good stuff coming up. Let’s see, now, you said he’s going to German school too, right?
Laura: Yes, on Saturdays. He loves it; they sing, do little dances, and they do crafts. He has a great time. That is also good for me as well. All the other mothers or grandmothers, fathers that are there, most of them are native speakers, so that is great for me to learn too.
Sarah: So you’re getting to use your German there too.
Laura: I think we’re lucky that we have this German school so close.
Sarah: Here’s a good question - do you have any advice for someone starting out – maybe again not a native speaker, a little hesitant about whether or not they can do this with their child – do you have any words of advice?
Laura: I just feel that when they’re so young they’re so receptive, and I feel that even if you don’t have a huge vocabulary or your grammar is not so great that anything you do know you can teach them and they will pick it up. And even if you aren’t, I see with my husband, he reads the books, and he picks things up. So even if you aren’t a native speaker or you’re not that fluent, there are still things for kids to learn.
Sarah: Absolutely. Well, is there anything that we could offer – anything that would be useful to you in terms of helping to either learn more German?
Laura: One thing that’s been good already is the list you put of what to do when you’re disciplining them, that was really good. I picked up some things in there. Anything like that. And I also love the flashcards, just keep on adding to that.
Sarah: Okay, absolutely.
Laura: That was really helpful. Or anything you find that you say a lot during the day.
Sarah: Yes, I like the lists, I need to do more lists.
Laura: The lists are great. Oh, and I told you the Mini Lesemaus is the favorite around here. Have you gotten feedback from anyone else on that series?
Sarah: Yes, everybody loves that one. It’s a total hit. It’s probably one of the favorites, because it’s so sturdy, and you have the words isolated.
Laura: It’s just the right length for their attention span.
Sarah: I think the size of the books is pretty good too.
Laura: Yeah, that’s true. You know, the Sesame Street Pixis, they’re almost too small.
Sarah: Yeah, the Pixis are paperback, a little more destructible. So what about CDs? Have you guys listened to any CDs?
Laura: No, we haven’t actually. You know, I should look on your site and see what you have.
Sarah: Those are so fun, and so easy, because all you have to do is listen. And then you have it on in the car and you listen to it, you know, ten times, and it just sinks into your head.
Laura: That’s great. Well, I hope I gave you enough information.
Sarah: Absolutely. Like I said, I’m so glad you like the site!
Laura: Yes, it’s great.
Sarah: Thank you for your time.

Bilingual Families Wanted!

We are always looking for new families to interview! Even if you are not a native speaker of German and don't consider yourself to be bilingual, we'd still love to chat. It's quick, painless, and lots of fun! Plus, we'll send you a free book for participating.

If you'd like to be interviewed on our blog, please send an e-mail to thea (at) .


Anonymous said...

Wow, it's great that your little one Hugo, is picking up so much German, and you're very lucky to have you're mom speak exclusively in German to him 3 days a week. That should be a huge help. My husband (German) and I are trying to raise our 21 month old to speak German, and we both thought how great it would be if we could have a german speaking nanny 3 days a week as opposed to daycare with English speaking teachers. Unforutnately, my mom is not German and his mom is in Germany. I think that your Mom is great for both helping out and supporting you and Hugo in speaking German.
What I find a huge help are the audio books (cds). I put them on in the car while I am driving with my daughter, and she loves them. I truly recommend ordering those. Sarah has a good selection on her website. I understand about the low attention span with the tv, as I encountered the same problem until Big Bird came along on Sarah's website. I must say, my little one absolutely loves it, and watches it over and over again. It's actually the only dvd that keeps her attention, so I'm grateful for that. But try the audio books for the car and even while he is playing in the house.
Good luck,
Barbara Jean

Laura said...

Hi Barbara Jean,
Thanks for the tips!!! I love to hear what works for other kids. Yes, my mom is a huge help and I couldn't do it without her!