Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer break coming soon

We're closing for summer break on Monday, August 4. If you'd like to order this weekend, please do so by Sunday at noon.

Any orders placed after noon on Sunday will be shipped on Monday, August 17.

Happy summer, everyone!

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.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why you must study German every day to become fluent.

If you have young children, you can probably cook dinner one-handed while balancing a baby on your hip, supervise a mischievous preschooler, and listen to a CD, all without breaking a sweat. Simple right? You do it every day, and without too much fuss. Your childless friends probably wonder how you do it all. But think back to when your first child was a newborn and everything took hours and required absolute concentration. Bathing your first newborn probably required at team of 2-3 adults and coordination rivaling an Indy 500 pit stop. And forget about finding the time to take cook a real dinner.

Learning to manage life as a new parent is exhausting and not just from lack of sleep. You're learning a whole new set of skills. This learning requires lots of practice before it becomes second nature.

In the same way, learning a second language requires lots of practice before it becomes second nature.
Of course you already knew this. No one expects to learn a new language overnight. But did you realize that how often you study is as important as what you study?

Daily practice is absolutely critical when learning a new language.
In some form or other, you must study daily in order to make your learning "stick." Whether it's reading, doing grammar exercises, having a conversation in German, or writing a letter, you absolutely must exercise these new German skills your brain is learning on a daily basis.

When you first learn a new fact, word, skill, etc., your brain ingests that information but after a while, it can only take so much and it starts to protest. That's why you get tired at the end of a German lesson or after reading a particularly challenging book. You don't need more sleep; you need to stop. Your brain is "full." And of course you're not going to remember or understand everything you just learned. But when you encounter the same concepts, words, and nuances the very next day, they're no longer new to you. Your brain recognizes them. "Hey! I've heard this before!" And this time the word, fact, or skill doesn't tire you out so much and you understand it a little better. This sense of familiarity makes German seem almost easy. When you wait too long to get back to your study, you'll start over at square one.
Your brain won't recognize the material as familiar and you'll go through the same struggle you did last time trying to memorize or understand a concept. Making your brain start back at square one is very tiring. Without daily practice, those new words that you were starting to remember, that grammar concept you thought you had mastered, or the verb you conjugated perfectly at the end of your last session is now a distant memory.

Daily practice isn't always easy.
Sure you'd love a few days off from being a new parent - imagine sleeping more than 3 hours in a row! And while you may leave the baby for an afternoon, you know without thinking twice that experienced parents are the result of hours and hours of dedicated and often thankless work and you cannot postpone your parenting duties until you are completely refreshed. The show must go on and through trial and error, parents figure out what works best and life settles down.

So, too, you may not want to open that German book or listen to that audio or go to class day after day. Hey, everyone needs a break now and then, don't they? Well, yes, sure but you can have your break when you're done studying . If you study a half an hour a day, you can take the rest of the day to allow your brain to digest the information you've learned and gear up for tomorrow's session. This means weekends, too! We're not talking about marathon training here! And once you've tried this for a while, you'll see the tremendous benefit you get from daily practice.

Getting started is the hardest part.
This is always the truth, isn't it? Whether it's getting out of bed early on a cold morning, giving a speech in front of a crowd or taking that jog, getting started is always the hardest. Once you're moving (or studying), it's not so bad and you're usually glad you did it, or at least glad it's over.

Daily practice is the secret to real progress whether you're a beginning German speaker or already very advanced.
This is why college language courses are usually scheduled for 4 or 5 days a week. This is why people who "dabble" in German a little here and there will eventually get bored or frustrated and give up. This is also why if you have made a commitment to improve your German, you need to practice every day!

Once again, don't forget:
1. Daily practice is essential.
2. Getting started is the hardest part.

If you want to learn German, be sure to add the critical ingredient of daily practice to your German study. Just like as a parent, you will gain skill with practice. You may be surprised at how fast you outgrow the beginner stage. And maybe you'll find out that you're zipping through your German lessons and German is fun!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why you need to tailor your pace when you read aloud

I used to drive a red 1996 VW Golf. I loved that car. What I loved most about that car was the manual transmission. Having the control to rev the engine in 3rd gear or downshift around corners was so much more fun than driving an automatic with its almost unnoticeable shifting.

Nowadays I drive an automatic, but I still find the need to control and fine tune my speed. My reading speed, that is. This concept of up- and downshifting is especially useful when reading aloud.

Kids will give clues when they need a change of speed.
Have you ever started reading a German book to your child only to be interrupted 50 times with "Ich verstehe nicht" (I don't understand), (I don't like this book) "Ich mag dieses Buch nicht," or (I'm hungry) "Ich habe Hunger." What your child is really saying to you is that you need to change your pace. The way you're reading the book isn't fitting his needs at that time.

Fit the reading to the child.
Just as you consider the child when you're selecting a book, you need to consider the child when you're setting the pace. Don't just read on "automatic." Get ready to shift. If you've got an antsy toddler on your lap, you will read differently than if you have a spellbound youngster who is glued to the page. Of course - you already knew that. But are you adjusting as needed during the reading?

If you follow these simple guidelines, you will find your reading sessions more enjoyable and more productive and have your kids asking for more.

Wiggle worms need to be actively involved.
If your listener is young and not likely to sit still for long, you're likely already choosing bright and colorful books to keep his attention. In addition, help keep him engaged by using different voices for the characters, asking him to find things in the picture or just turn to the next page for a change of scenery. He will reward you with more interest in the book and the reading session.

If he starts to fidget, the language may be too difficult for him.
In this case, you may choose to stop and explain a word or a concept or you may point to something in the picture that will help your child understand what's being said.

Simplify when needed.
There are no "read-aloud" police! Feel free to substitute simpler words, paraphrase, or skip entire sentences if the book is too challenging for your child. You can always read more at the next session. It's better to allow your child to enjoy a story and have a feeling of closure than to be frustrated and not want to listen in German the next time.

When you see the child's attention starting to drift, ask them a question to bring their attention back to the book. Ask them to find something in the picture or ask them about a character in the story. Ask them what they think will happen next.

Kids can listen and play at the same time.
Some kids may enjoy building with Legos or coloring while listening to stories. Some kids may be able to be moving all around the room and still pay attention to the story. Don't assume that they're not listening if they aren't sitting still. You may find they remember more and listen longer when they are engaged with an additional activity during storytime.

Stop before they tire out.
It is critical to stop reading before a child is over-extended or unhappy. You may find a few shorter reading sessions per day are more enjoyable than 1 long time. If you're reading a longer book and your listener is still engaged, you may choose to stop at a particularly exciting part to build suspense and keep her excited for the next time you sit down together.

You can use these techniques with kids of any age to make reading in German more enjoyable.

So next time you're reading to your kids, remember to pay attention to the "terrain" and speed up or downshift as needed. The ride will be so much more fun for you and your passengers!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stocking your library without breaking the bank

If you've made German a priority for your family, you'll want to offer your children books and other media (CDs, DVDs) to support their learning. But German books can be expensive and it can be a bit intimidating to select something on a budget. Here are a few ways to get the most bang for your buck (or Euro).

Consider your home library an investment
First and foremost, understand that a commitment to a foreign language is going to require an investment in books. Most libraries don't have a selection of German books for children and so you'll probably have to build a home library yourself. Make sure that the quality of your library matches the priority you've set on bilingualism.

Plan for re-use.
If your preschooler demands to hear Der Buchstabenbaum 10 times, you've cut the cost / read to $1.34. If you play a Conni CD in the car twice a week for a month, the cost is negligible. If you have more than one child, you can pass on the books from one to the next.

Select quality over quantity
A few excellent stories published well-made books will provide you more value than a pile of cheap books that no one wants to read again.

Not all German books are expensive.
You can always find books and smaller titles that are under $30. This is comparable to most English books. This is comparable to most English books.

Consider compilations and collections.
While these books are more expensive than smaller volumes, you get many times the reading material. For instance, Das Grosse Buch zum Lesenlernen contains 4 stories and 110 pages compared with the individual Lesemaus zum Lesenlernen series which is half the price but contains 1/4 of the stories. Plus, compilations are usually hardcover which increases their durability.

Make sure the books you buy are ones that will interest your child
A favorite book will be read over and over and treasured by a child. Buying books in your child's favorite topics will help make it more likely that you'll pick a winner.

Request gift certificates
If you tell friends and family that you're building a German library, they may be glad to help you out with gift certificates for your children's birthdays.

Yes, furnishing your German library does take careful consideration and an investment of money.
But if bilingualism is your goal, than you're sure to find it an excellent use of your money.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are your language goals sinking in the swamp of lost opportunity?

This year I fully intended to grow a vegetable garden.
Visions of juicy ripe tomatoes, crisp green beans and cool cucumbers filled my head. I perused the seed catalogs and checked out the large inventory of gardening paraphernalia in the garage. Winter turned to spring and spring turned to summer - what July already? Where had the first half of the year gone? And, you guessed, it, I was no closer to a vegetable garden than a lone potted tomato plant.

It's not hard to see where I went wrong.
I neglected to plan out my garden. All the dreams in the world won't plant a garden. It takes a little planning, preparation and timing to make it happen. The same is true when raising a bilingual family. If you don't plan your way to bilingualism, you may find time has slipped through your fingers and it's a lot harder to accomplish your goals than you expected.

Why should I plan?

To articulate your expectations, hopes and dreams.
When you say you're raising a bilingual family, what does that mean to you? Do you want your child to be able to converse as a tourist in a German-speaking country? Do you want him to be comfortable with German friends and family? Do you expect to move back to Germany in the future? Should he be able to read and write in German? Bilingualism has different levels and each family will have it's own set of goals. If you haven't thought about your goals, you may realize you're on a path that won't satisfy your expectations.

To get each parent's goals in the open.
If you haven't thought out and planned for your family's bilingualism, than how can your spouse know what you're working toward? When each parent participates in the planning process, you can work together to find the best expectations for your family. When everyone is on the same page, it's much easier to prioritize and budget for any materials you need, make decisions about schooling and plan overseas trips.

To see any gaps and fill them in.
It's a lot of work to raise a bilingual child and the more support you have the better. If there isn't a local community, you can plan upfront to substitute trips, German lessons or extra German language books. If you're not planning, you're just hoping that things will work out and you may be missing important work that you'll need to help your child progress toward your goal.

To give yourself and your family the best chance to achieve your goals.
If you write down a goal, you're more likely to make it happen. The act of writing it down makes your brain give it a whole lot more attention. When a goal is "on your radar screen" you'll be a lot more likely to work toward it.

OK - so how do I plan for bilingualism in my family?
Goal-setting and planning can be as simple as a conversation about hopes and dreams and a few sheets of paper. Pinpoint some language goals you'd like to see for your child's future. Consider reading, writing, conversation. How fluent would you like your child to be and can you realistically get them there? Then think about how to get there. Is there a German school nearby? Can you make regular trips to Germany? Do you have enough German books and CDs? Is there a German playgroup nearby or can you start one?

You should end your session with a few action items. Assign dates to them and give them top priority.

You may want to keep the notes from your brainstorming and planning session in a binder. You should update your goals and action items yearly. It's also nice to write up a progress report for your child every year or so. It will surely be fun in the future to look back and see how things have progressed.

But I hate to plan!
It can be intimidating to think about planning out such an important aspect of your family's future. But your plan doesn't have to be written in stone and you can always change it along the way to suit your needs. Remember, your plan is supposed to help you, not stress you out. In fact, this is another important benefit of a plan - it may bring up unrealistic expectations. If your goals and plan are causing you a lot of stress, you should revisit your plan and make some changes.

Think about it. If you are going on vacation, you don't just get in the car and drive in any random direction. No - you pick a destination, map your route, buy your tickets and pack your bags. Neglecting planning out your family's route to bilingualism is like going on vacation without a destination. You're likely to get lost.

How can I plan so far ahead?
You can only take your best guess. You don't have to write out a detailed plan for the next 15 years of your child's life. Your plan should fit your family and suit your needs. It can be as specific or as general as you want it to be. It will certainly change over time. But if you neglect to make a plan at all, you may not achieve your goals and you might not even realize it until it's too late.

1. Planning forces you to articulate your goals.
2. Planning gets parents on the same page.
3. Planning gives you a greater chance of success.
4. Look for gaps and fill them in.
5. Revisit your goals and plan yearly.

Planning now saves time later and rescues your goals from the swamp of lost opportunity.
This time next year, I plan to be harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes. My garden planning will begin with plenty of time in the winter. But my planning for language goals has already begun. I want to give my kids the best possible chance at bilingualism that I can. How about you? Are you planning for bilingual success?

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 Bäcker, 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.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Giving my children the bilingual advantage.

I've been speaking to my children in German and English since they were born. The reasons for this are many. My husband immigrated from Germany and we wanted our children to understand and embrace their roots. Their grandparents don't speak English. These are really important reasons. But beyond this aspect of culture and heritage, is the cognitive advantage bilingualism will give my children.

Being bilingual teaches kids to be more flexible in their thinking
Bilingual kids are familiar with two different sets of grammar rules (even if they don't explicitly understand them). They are used to perceiving more subtle differences and nuances than monolingual children and are found to be more aware of meaning and structure in language since they experience so much more language input. A monolingual child only has to deal with one set of sounds when she's learning to speak. Bilingual kids will eventually have to differentiate when to use a German pronunciation for a word and when an English one is required. All this boils down to a higher level of flexibility and awareness that kids may extend to other areas of their lives (math, logic, etc.).

Bilingual kids can see that the world goes beyond just the United States.
Children who speak more than one language inherently understand that there is a wide variety of people in this world and not everyone speaks English. Their bilingualism may make them feel a bit different at first but many kids soon realize that their knowledge of two languages is something special.

How can I help my children become bilingual?
The best thing you can do is to start as early as possible. An early start helps establish habits you'll be able to carry on as your children grow. If you already speak German (or another language), you have a huge headstart, but it's not an absolute requirement. Many parents decide to learn a language right along with their children. You can create an at-home immersion environment with books, CDs, DVDs in German. If there are other German-speakers in the area, find out about social opportunities, join a German school or join (or start up) a German playgroup.

How do I know that this will work with my child?
Well, it all depends on your own circumstances and the level of immersion you'll be able to provide your child. Children have been growing up with 2 or more languages for thousands of years! It's not a new trend and it doesn't require expensive software or advanced study. If you or a family member is bilingual (or even has some compentance), start conversing in German, reading books, listening to music. Let it grow from there.

Won't learning two languages confuse my child?
Children have an amazing ability to learn languages almost effortlessly. You see it in a language explosion of a monolingual child from ages 2-4. It seems they they learn new words and phrases every day! Some children may mix their languages together for a time and others differentiate from a very early age. Even if a child mixes languages, it doesn't mean that the child is confused. It just means that perhaps he couldn't think of the right word in the target language so he substituted what he did know. For most kids, this sorts itself out on its own. I recently interviewed a mother of bilingual toddlers and she noted that her children have always used the "correct" language when speaking (German with her, English with her husband).

Consistency is key
The most important thing to do is to be consistent with your language usage. If you choose to speak German 100% of the time with your kids, than try as much as possible to stick with that. Some families speak German at home and switch to English when they're out and about. Others speak German at breakfast and then switch to English for the rest of the day. Whatever you can do to ensure regular German input on a consistent basis will help to move your children along the road to a greater knowledge of German.

You won't regret it!
So to help kids think "outside the box" and gain a greater understanding of the world around them, help them to become bilingual. You'll be giving them a lifelong headstart in so many areas while providing connections to the past and other places. It is a great investment of time and energy but I guarantee that you won't regret it.

For more information on bilingual parenting, see 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child, available from Alphabet Garten.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Announcing a Trip to Germany!

Have you been wishing for a trip to Germany this summer but it's just not in the cards? Well, why not join us instead?

No, this is not a real trip - this is a virtual trip that you take with your kids right in the comfort of your own home on your own time, and for way less than the cost of a plane ticket.

Grab your books and get ready to depart.

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 Wörter 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) .