Monday, July 27, 2009

When kids respond in English, why not play the goof?

"Alle meine Entchen, schwimmen in den See, schwimmen in den See,
Köpfchen in das Wasser, Schwänzchen in das Bett."

At these last words, your child will probably take great delight in correcting you. "No, Mommy - Schwänzchen in die Höhe!" This is your cue to insist you are right and make further "enhancements" to the song. You make it even sillier. So then you sing "Alle meine Hunde, sitzen in das Auto, sitzen in das Auto, Nasen in meine Tasche, Schwänzchen auf den Boden." (or something equally funny and obviously falsch).

What is going on here? This is a quick instance of "playing the goof."

If your bilingual household has a large proportion of English in it, your child may respond mostly in English.
This is ok - if she is responding to your German, even if it's in English, it's an excellent sign that she understands what's being said. You should congratulate yourself on having made it to this point. However, if you've been at this stage for a while and you'd like to hear more German from your child, you may want to actively encourage her. After all, if she understands so well, she should be able to start actively using German. Sometimes kids need a little push.

That's when it's time to play the goof.
Playing the goof means that you take something very simple that they already know and mess it up. For instance, you sing "Alle meine Entchen" like I wrote at the top. Or you take a familiar poem and change a word or two. The more ridiculous, the better. You make it very obvious and invite them to correct you.

This game isn't just for songs. You can also do this by using the wrong word in a simple request. You can ask "Gib mir bitte die Katze" while pointing at the butter. When your child insists that the cat is on the floor and you're pointing to the butter, you again feign ignorance and insist that your child is pointing to a horse, not a cat. You get the picture. Some kids will find this game hilarious. And this is a good time to gently insist that they correct you in German. You can put a silly spin on this, too. "Wie bitte? Hast du Nase gesagt? Nein? Katze? Ich kann dich nicht verstehen."

How does playing the goof encourage kids to use German?
First of all, it makes them feel smart. This is important for a kid who may be a little insecure about speaking German. She knows the correct word and she probably won't hesitate to use it. This is a bit of an ice breaker for the reluctant German speaker. Plus, it's fun to correct Mom or Dad. Between school, music lessons, or sports, kids get corrected all the time. They like it when the tables are turned and they get to be the expert.

When you play the goof, everybody has fun.
Don't discount the value of fun when teaching your kids German! The more times you can find quick ways to have fun with the language, the more interested your kids will be and the more they will enjoy themselves.

Just don't overdo it.
Sometimes you will miss the unspoken signal that the game is over and your kids will roll their eyes at each other. Then it's time to leave the game for another time. You (and they) know they love it and will be very happy to giggle again later at how silly their mother is and how much German they know.

So be on the lookout for your next opportunity to play the goof. Your kids will love it and they won't even realize they're learning! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go sing a silly song.

1 comment:

Emily C said...

I do this all the time with my 2-year-old, as it can really help with cooperation as well as language skills.

He's much more amenable to putting his pants on if I ask him if they belong on his head, nose, belly, etc.