Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to teach your kids about German culture even if you didn't grow up there.

What do fireworks on the Fourth of July, baseball games, knock-knock jokes, the Pledge of Allegiance all have in common? They are all very typisch American things, and all things that you might not understand or fully appreciate if you didn't grow up in the United States. Cultural things like this allow us to have a shared experience even with a person we've just met.

A language learned without some cultural aspects is like a pancake without the baking powder.
It may have 99% of the right ingredients but without this key aspect, it will be flat. In the same way, if you want your children to fully understand the German language, you must also teach them German culture. Kids need to learn that learning German is not just another way of speaking - it's intertwined with a whole different world. Germany and Europe are different than the U.S. They have different values and norms. Kids need to know a bit about Germany's history within Europe, that pretzels are much loved in Bavaria, and about how stores and restaurants have much different hours than in the U.S. Things like this make a place so much more interesting for us and make the language come alive.

Culture is a tricky subject to teach, especially if you don't know a lot about it yourself.
If you've only spent minimal time in a German-speaking country, chances are good that you don't know a whole lot about German culture yourself. The good news is that you can seek it out and learn it together if you keep your eyes open and make it a priority to learn.

Holidays are a great place to start.
Food, music, crafts, activities - holidays are ready-made cultural learning experiences. You and your children can immerse yourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of traditional German activities. Take the time to ask a German relative or immigrant about their memories of a particular holiday or event.

When reading books, look out for cultural differences that you can point out to your children.
Even if you something is new to you, you can point it out and discuss it, perhaps making a note to research a bit later. The Lesemaus series is a great place to look for culture. In Ich habe einen Freund, der ist B├Ącker, you learn about all sorts of baking and many traditional German baked goods are mentioned. The corner bakery is as common in Germany as a convenience store in America. These little bakeries are everywhere! Pretzels are produced piping hot on the hour. School children pick them up on their way home in the afternoon. This is a topic you can discuss with your children.

Keep an eye out for the opportunity to point out German culture
You may discover an aspect that is completely new to you, yet that is common knowledge to many Germans (and Swiss and Austrians) and have that much richer of an experience for it.

Would you like a headstart in discussing culture?
Our Trip to Germany Unit Study is a great way to introduce culture to your children. Books, lessons, activities, and websites are all coordinated in this extended unit study.

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