Friday, September 18, 2009
If you’re encouraging a beginning reader in German, or in English, you can use labels around the house as part of your strategy to teach your kids.
What should I label?
You can label anything around the house – toy areas, dresser drawers, categories on the book shelf, the contents of kitchen cabinets. Of course if you’re encouraging bilingualism, you’ll write them in German. You probably don’t want to label the entire house for fear of driving your spouse crazy. Instead, keep it a bit lighter, perhaps putting up a few labels in the kitchen, playroom or your children’s rooms. You can do it very simply with some scratch paper and tape or you can get fancy and print up colorful labels on cardstock. Your kids may even want to help you make the labels, thereby offering more practice with reading and writing!
Why do labels help beginning readers?
1. Labels offer reading opportunities in bite-size chunks.
Reading one or two words is very non-threatening and not overwhelming. It’s approachable. A colorful label calls out to a child “Read me!” If you make the print large enough, it will be easier for young eyes to make out the letters.
2. With labels, kids are learning from context.
They’ll know if they got it right. It’s easy to tell what the word should say. A child can correct himself if he reads it incorrectly. Learning from context is so much more effective than someone else telling him he’s wrong – if he discovers an error himself, he’ll be likely to try and figure out where he went wrong and fix it. “Oh, that’s a B, not a D so this is the Doll Corner.”
3. Labels are low pressure.
A child doesn’t have to worry about getting something wrong. It’s not like a story where they will be frustrated if they can’t read a word. Plus, if they’re not interested, they can simply ignore the labels and life goes on.
4. Labels offer the factor of repetition.
When your child sees and reads a word several times a day for a few weeks, that word will gradually become a “sight” word for him and he’ll be able to read it instantly when he encounters it in other places.
Don’t make the mistake of over-emphasizing the labels…
If your kids don’t want to read them with you, don’t push it. If the baby rips them down, try again in another spot. Labels are just another tool in your toolkit to bring your kids to a knowledge of written German. Some kids may never even glance at them twice while others may go through the house working to read every one of them.
Once your kids are reading individual words, you can progress to notes and signs.
You can post “Bitte wasche Deine Hände!” (please wash your hands) in the bathroom, “Rucksack nicht vergessen” (Don’t forget your backpack) on the house door or put little notes in your kids’ lunches. When kids are learning to read, it’s almost like it’s a secret code for them and they’re thrilled to join the club. They will love to play this game with you. This practice is an excellent way to connect with your kids and offer them a little extra reading practice.
Actually labels aren’t just for beginning readers...
When you label a drawer or a cabinet, it’s likely it will be properly used by all family members (notice, I didn’t say it’s guaranteed!) You can train your children to put things away in the correct place and labels are an easy way to keep drawers and cabinets organized. You may decide labels aren’t just a temporary phase for your home and their usefulness will carry on long after your children are skilled readers.
1. Use labels to help beginning readers.
2. Labels offer bite-size learning opportunitites.
3. Labels are low pressure and offer repetition.
4. Don’t overemphasize labels.
5. Progress to longer notes and signs.
So borrow a technique from the preschool classroom and put up some labels around the house. Your new readers will benefit from it and you all may have a little fun in the process.
This post is part of our Learn-to-Read in German series.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sarah: You have three little boys, triplets, is that right?
Jessica: I do, three boys, they’ll be two next month.
Sarah: That’s fantastic. It sounds like you have your hands full!
Jessica: Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun too. It’s a really great time for them.
Sarah: Yes, I can imagine, they must be getting more independent and moving through the baby stage.
Jessica: Absolutely, changes are really happening quickly and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
Sarah: Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
Jessica: I was born in Berlin, and I came to the States when I was a little girl with my parents and we spoke mostly English in the home. So I forgot a lot of my German for a while. And I picked it back up, and I speak German to the boys, and my mother does. She spends a lot of time with us. And my husband speaks English to the boys. He does understand German and is picking up more and more, but primarily he speaks English and our family language is English. My husband and I speak English together. But I am only speaking German and my mother’s only speaking German.
Sarah: And how are the boys reacting? Are they speaking at all yet, actually? It’s kind of early, I guess.
Jessica: Yes, yes, they are speaking. It seems like every day they speak more and more words. You know, in the beginning, when they started talking, it seems like the words that they picked up first and the words they were the most confident with are words that are the same in English and German. Like “ball” and “baby” and “teddy” and things like that. Those were the words they really took to at first. But now they’re speaking German words to me and English words to my husband. It seems like there are some words that they only say in German and there are some words that they only say in English. And I’m not quite sure why. Like they always say “Baum” instead of “tree” and they always say “turtle” in English – maybe it’s too hard to say it in German, I’m not sure what the connection is, but it’s exciting!
Sarah: So do you find that they are already differentiating between English and German? That they know they should favor English with your husband and German with you? Do you think they make that distinction?
Jessica: Yes, I do.
Sarah: Wow, that’s fantastic!
Jessica: Maybe not to some degree, maybe they’re not, but the early words they picked up. Like the word “no”, they would say “no” to my husband and “nein” to me. They always say “Bauch” to me and “belly” to my husband. I think they know. I really do, I think they know.
Sarah: That’s amazing! That they’ve already differentiated. And do they speak German to each other?
Jessica: You know, I think they have another language going on with each other. (laughs) I’m not quite sure. I have heard them say German to each other but I’ve also heard them talking to each other in English. I’ve heard them say to each other “Don’t touch”; I’ve heard them say “nein” to each other in German. But I still think that they’ve kind of got their own little language going on.
Sarah: Yes, I’ve heard that’s common with multiples. They have that kind of a bond. That must be fun. Tell me why did you want them to learn to speak German?
Jessica: Well, I think there are lots of benefits to being bilingual of course. But I can tell you that for a personal reason, my grandmother died last year and it came very quickly and when she died, I felt like the German inside of me died. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely.
Jessica: When this happened, it became very important to me that I keep our language alive and that I keep the culture alive and I really grabbed a hold of it and made it a very strong priority and that it’s an important part of our family. Of course, my mother was very supportive and my husband too. So I think that’s probably the most important thing. I want to keep that cultural connection there with the heritage.
Sarah: That’s a really nice way to honor your grandmother, too.
Jessica: Thank you.
Sarah: I’m sure your kids will have that understanding as they grow up that it’s a connection they have to the past. It’s beautiful.
Jessica: I hope so. Of course, we still have family and friends there and I would like them to be able to communicate when we travel and be comfortable, but I think it was her death that really made it so important to me.
Sarah: That makes sense. Kind of like the spark for you, I guess.
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Sarah: What have you found to be the biggest challenge in speaking German with your kids so far?
Jessica: I think resources are always a problem. We’re very dependant on your store and wherever else we can get books and things like that. My children don’t watch television, and so we’re really dependant on books and materials like that. Besides my mother, we don’t have anyone nearby that speaks German. And so far it’s not really a challenge but I believe it will be in the future, as they start becoming more of the, being a bigger part of the culture of the United States and the English influences will be pretty strong I’m sure.
Sarah: That’s a recurring theme. Trying to find enough. You struggle to keep up and try to maintain a little bit of a balance, especially when they’re young. You want to give them a good foundation.
Jessica: Right. I think that’s why it’s important that we’ve been speaking German to them since they were born. I hope that I can get the best foundation possible before they start school and keep it at as alive as possible.
Sarah: Absolutely. What were you hoping for them in terms of their future and speaking German? Have you thought about how far you would like to see them come? In terms of their fluency?
Jessica: Well, I hope that they will be very fluent. I hope for complete fluency. I hope that when we travel they will be comfortable and be able to communicate themselves well. Absolutely, yes, I definitely want them to be fluent.
Sarah: Sounds like with your mother there you have a really good support system even though it’s just the two of you, but you at least have her so they know it’s not just you that speaks German.
Jessica: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s very good for them to hear that. She spends so much time with them, speaking and singing and playing with them. I don’t think they’ve ever heard her speak anything except German.
Sarah: I have another customer who does that. She says “I’ve spoken German to my grandchildren from the minute they were born” and they speak German back to her. They totally do. They might know that she speaks English, but it’s certainly not something that they would ever dream of doing with her because that’s just the way it is.
Jessica: And she has such a special and different relationship with them, being a grandparent as opposed to being a parent. Her time with them is all about love and bonding and talking. For us, we are disciplining as well and we’ve got rules that need to be followed all the time. But when she’s there it’s such a warm atmosphere for them. I think that they love that about her.
Sarah: That sounds excellent, that’s so special. Is she close by to you?
Jessica: Yes, she lives nearby. Oh, and listen to this, they were born on her birthday. Isn’t that fantastic?
Sarah: Oh, really? That’s really neat! Lots of connections with their Oma.
Jessica: They call her Omi, but… it’s been great.
Sarah: Oh, that’s very sweet. Let’s see, what else would I like to ask – you mentioned that you’ve shopped before with us. Did you find what you were looking for? Were you pleased with what you found?
Jessica: We’re very pleased with your store. We like the selection. Of course, my sons are very big fans of picture books, they love reading, and the picture books are very important to us right now. We also purchased the flashcards off your website and they are really great flashcards. (Note: the flashcards have gone out of print. We are looking for a replacement.) The pictures are fun and bright and they are very good words you would use often. We’re very pleased with them. We buy all of our books – except for the books that family and friends send to us or that my mother gets when she is in Germany – from you. We buy everything from your store and we’ve always been happy.
Sarah: I’m so glad to hear that. What’s their favorite book or CD?
Jessica: Their favorite books are definitely the Max books. They love Max books. They just think they’re so funny.
Sarah: They are, aren’t they?
Jessica: They just love them! And they just crack up. It’s wonderful.
Sarah: It’s easy to identify with him because he’s a typical two-year-old.
Jessica: Yes, and a two-year-old boy! They love him. My favorite book that we’ve bought from you is actually the Fingerspiele book. I know it’s common to play time and time again and find things to do for different seasons and times of the year. It’s a lot of fun. They love it!
Sarah: So you’ve taught them the Fingerspiele too.
Sarah: Oh, fun. Excellent. They’re too young for school, so I won’t ask you about that.
Jessica: They will go to Samstagschule when they are three.
Sarah: Oh, really, do you have one nearby?
Jessica: Yes, we do. We have the German school just a few blocks down the road. We’re very fortunate to have that there.
Sarah: Oh, excellent. That will be perfect for them!
Jessica: We’re looking forward to it. And it will be nice for them to be with other German children as well.
Sarah: Absolutely. How long have you known about Alphabet Garten? How did you discover us?
Jessica: I think we discovered you during my pregnancy on the computer. A few years, I guess.
Sarah: I’m so glad to hear that. Well, do you have anything else that you would like to add? Our interview series has been really popular. I’ve gotten tons of interest, and each time I do an interview, I love talking to people because I get this new perspective. You know, everyone has some of the same things in common but it’s really fun to hear how each particular family is doing this and what their situation is. So I’m wondering if you have any comments for people in a similar situation as you.
Jessica: I think consistency is very important, and trying to keep it fun. I think the boys are just sponges right now, so it’s very easy for them to learn and to repeat words. When I was pregnant, I read a book called The Bilingual Edge and I’ve since passed it on to another family so I’m not sure who wrote it, but it was very encouraging, very supportive. You know, I was very worried about making mistakes, you know, my grammar is poor – it was very supportive and very encouraging. It said not to worry about making mistakes. It gave a list of all the benefits and, you know, pointers. It was great.
Sarah: So that kind of gave you the extra motivation.
Jessica: Absolutely. I think it’s very important to raise children bilingually and I want my children to be compassionate and empathetic and it’s important for them to understand there’s more to the world than just our little area that we live in. We can’t afford to take them all over the world to see it, but I think that language is a good way to do it. You know, so that they can be cultured children as much as possible.
Sarah: Excellent. Sounds wonderful. Sounds like you have a wonderful, fun house. Lots of laughter and love.
Jessica: Thank you! We do! It’s a good time right now. It really is. It’s a lot of fun. They haven’t entered any terrible twos, so…
Sarah: Oh, when that happens you might have a different tune (laughs)
Jessica: (laughs) It’s wonderful, it is. Things are going very well. We’re very fortunate.
Sarah: That’s excellent. Gosh, to hear that from someone who has triplets, that’s saying a lot!
Jessica: Thank you, but you know, I have a great support system, too. My husband is very involved and of course, my mother is a very big part of our lives, so it definitely helps.
Sarah: That helps a lot. I’m sure it must be challenging.
Jessica: Oh, at times, definitely, definitely. But they are happy and healthy and you try to keep that in there. And they’re fun.
Sarah: Fantastic, that’s excellent. That just sounds wonderful.
Jessica: Thank you!
Sarah: You’re welcome. I just really appreciate your time this afternoon. I know that my customers are going to be really interested to hear a little bit about your story.
Jessica: Thank you. I’m definitely honored and flattered that you wanted to talk to me.
Sarah: Maybe we could follow up in a year or so, we could hear what’s going on with the triplets at three.
Jessica: Oh, I would love that! Absolutely. I’m sure they’ll be talking a lot more by then. Oh, and congratulations on your business. It’s really a wonderful store for all of us.
Sarah: Thank you so much!
Jessica: Congratulations and best wishes to you!
Sarah: Thank you, it’s definitely a labor of love. Like I said, after doing all these interviews over the past few months it’s gotten me really excited about just working with people and going a little bit further and seeing, you know, how can we help. How can I help you and what kinds of things can I do to support the work that you’re doing. We’ve got some big plans underway and we’ll see how it goes.
Jessica: That’s great. And it’s great for us to see that we have that support out there. It always seems like you’re – you know, when I visit Alphabet Garten, it’s not just about selling books, there always seems to be tools, and phrases, and the interviews, it’s very exciting. It’s very nice.
Sarah: That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re just parents like you are, so that’s the goal. I’m glad you picked up on that.
Sarah: Well, it was a pleasure chatting with you! I really appreciate it.
Jessica: Thank you.
I'm reminded all over again what a great job author, Sarah Menkin, has done on this unit. We had so much fun! All three of my kids (ages 2, 5, and 9) participated and were excited to be "studying" German as a subject. Up until now we've just lived it (and not nearly enough, but that's the subject for another post...). So now we'll include it as a school subject and hope to get started reading and writing in German as well.
Sarah has it so well organized - I was able to grab the books, open my binder with the lesson plan and go. We reviewed some common phrases, tried to teach Jack some colors and numbers, and talked about the Kölner Dom and Brandenburger Tor. The kids thought it was very cool that I have actually been to the Tor. Oh, to be 18 again!
I'm not super-crafty but as you can see below from our very serious model, we were able to manage the flag-making activity and we now have 3 very nicely done German flags for our notebooks.
Are you doing the Trip to Germany study? Tell us in the comments how it's going or leave a link to your blog if you have one.
Monday, September 14, 2009
If you are teaching reading to young children, whether in English or German, you should always start with letter sounds, not names.
How do I teach reading using letter sounds?
When you teach letter sounds, you simply refer to a letter by it's sound, not it's alphabetical name. So for B, say “there’s a buh”. For K, say “here’s a kuh”. For children ages 2-5, you never need to say a letter's "name." Put letter names completely out of your vocabulary for the time being. I would even go so far as to suggest that you do NOT teach the alphabet song, unless you're going to sing it using sounds, not names.
Letter names only confuse the learning to read process
It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but that's just because most people were taught to read by learning letter names first. When a child learns a letter name, then he has to "translate" from the name to the sound in order to sound out a word. It's a very inefficient process for the brain to perform. He sees the word hat, has to recognize the letters by their names, then has to remember that H says "huh", A says "a" and T says "t" and finally recognizes the words as "hat." Of course it happens faster and faster as he gains experience but if he has any trouble at all making these associations, he'll be tripped up and his learning may stall.
When a child learns letter sounds directly, he doesn't have to take the intermediate step of associating letter name to sound.
He sees hat, and can immediately think "huh a t", then blend the sounds together into "hat." It's a much more direct process for him. His brain only has to remember 1 thing for each letter, not both a name and a sound.
The bonus to this method is that many letter sounds are the same in English and German!
So once your child can read in one of these two languages, he'll have a head start on reading in the other. Most of the consonants sound the same in German and English (B, H, D, P, K, R, C, F, M, N, L, T, X). The same is not true of the letter names - they are all different.
But most schools start teaching letter names!
That may be the case, but it doesn't mean it's pedagogically the best method. The reading program we use in our homeschool teaches using this method and is in use in thousands of schools and homes around the country. While using this method with my oldest child, my middle son picked up the letter sounds and was easily able to sound out short words by the age of 4. He received very little instruction - he just was around as I was teaching letter sounds to his brother. He put the rest together by himself.
How will my child learn the letter names? At what point should I teach names?
Once your child is reading easily, you can teach letter names, in English and in German, probably in the course of a few days. Children do need to know letter names if they are spelling something out loud or reading abbreviations, for instance.
This method won't turn your child into a reader overnight.
Learning to read is a complicated process. Your child still needs to learn the letter sounds, be able to remember the first sound by the time he reaches the last letter, and understand how to blend them together. It's a pretty complicated task for a 5 year old, if you think about it. But at least with this method, you're using the most direct path to reading for your child. Why introduce additional confusing factors if you don't have to?
Your quick takeaways:
For a direct path to reading, teach sounds, not letter names.
This method works for English and German.
Learning to read is complicated. Some kids need more time than others.
So try and retrain your instinct when talking about letters with your little one. Leave the letter names for later. He needs to learn his letter sounds and let them become automatic before spending time learning letter names.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
If you want your child to be fully bilingual and biliterate, you will want him to be able to read in German.
Basic reading skills are a necessity if one wishes to travel comfortably in a German-speaking country and if your child wishes to communicate with German relatives and friends or read fun and exciting German literature, he’ll need to go beyond a basic comprehension.
Reading in German can interest and motivate your child to further his German study.
Literary works are usually best enjoyed in their original language. Once you’ve started Tintenherz (Inkheart) in German, you’ll find it just isn’t the same in English. There are many wonderful German authors and when your child can read them on his own, a whole world will be opened up to him. There’s only so much time in the day for read-aloud, don’t you think?
At what age should I start teaching my child to read?
That depends on the child. The most important thing to look for is signs of reading readiness. These signs are the same for English or German. Some children are ready to read at age 4 while some are not truly ready until age 8 (although unfortunately the school system will likely not let them wait that long).
Here’s what to look for:
Your child asking.
This is the most obvious sign. If your child is asking to learn to read, go for it! But be aware that his interest may wax and wane. If he wants to practice reading one day but is not interested the next, don’t take it personally. Many young children express interest, but aren’t ready to put in the effort it takes. You don’t want to squash his enthusiasm by making him work too hard if he’s young and not quite ready. It’s better to stop a lesson early rather than have a frustrated kid on your hands.
Another sign of reading readiness is your child recognizing letters and sounding out words, either in English or in German.
Many children pick up letter sounds through play or pre-reading lessons at preschool. My 5 year old has learned to read in English this way – he’s received almost no instruction – he just absorbed it. If your child is sounding out words in English, he’s ready for German! Go for it! (Just make sure to not overdo it and frustrate him as noted above.)
Your child recognizes his own name.
His name will probably be the first thing he can truly read. It's very exciting for a child to gain this initial recognition. He has cracked the code! He finally understands that those letters actually mean something and he knows what to do with them!
Your child pretends to read books and shows an understanding that we read from left to right.
Should I start before my child can read in English?
If your child has been speaking some German (not necessarily fluent) for 6 months or longer, I highly recommend teaching reading in German before reading in English where possible, as long as he’s showing signs of readiness. If he’s not ready until he’s learning English reading in school, that’s OK too, but you may find a bit more confusion until he gets things sorted out. Again, this will happen differently for each child but some may need several months to a year to get the two languages straight.
Why teach reading in German first?
German, as the second language, will always be a bit disadvantaged, due to the overwhelming influence of English. If you can give German a bit of a headstart, that will help to even things out as opposed to allowing English to dominate even more. I’m not saying that your child has a finite capacity for languages but there are only so many hours in the day. English and German are competing for your child’s attention. Give German a boost wherever possible.
In addition, your child will certainly learn to read in English in school so you won’t have to worry about that. This leaves you free to pursue German with your child. If you homeschool, you can choose the order yourself to best suit your child’s needs.
How can I teach my child?
How to teach reading is a very large topic and one for a future article. Stay tuned for more information on ways to teach reading to your child.
Look for signs of reading readiness.
Go at your child’s pace. Stop a lesson before fatigue sets in.
Start with German if possible.
The world of the written word is an exciting place for a child. When you teach him to read in German, you’ll give him the keys to a new kingdom, one that he can enter for the rest of his life whenever he pleases.
Here are some materials you can use to teach reading in German:
Anlaut-Memo (Card game)
Erstes Lesen (workbook/ stickers)
Das große Vorschul-Paket
Saturday, September 05, 2009
It may seem cliché but babies are truly miraculous in how they change and develop over the course of the first year. This is why the day your baby is born is the perfect time to start a lifetime of bilingualism with her.
When you begin bilingualism during babyhood, you have many advantages over people who start later.
You will build good habits early.
You’ll figure out how you’re going to use German in your home and around your family. This is a big adjustment if you’ve spoken mostly English up to this point. Most importantly, you’ll get in the habit of speaking German to your child. I’ve spoken exclusively German with all three of my children up to about age 2 and a half. In fact, I frequently speak to strange babies in German – it’s just my instinct to speak German to small people! Luckily they don’t seem to mind. It’s a lot harder to start speaking German with an older child.
Babies love to learn.
A baby’s brain doesn’t know what’s important, so it tries to make sense of everything. This results in lightning fast learning. At no other point in her life will she master so many skills and make such enormous strides in development. Once she gets older, she’ll learn to distinguish between things that are important to her and those that are not. At that point, she may be much more resistant to learning the “hard” stuff.
Speaking German with your baby will give you time to establish a good support system.
If you spend a little time setting goals, you’ll see the areas where you may need extra help. Do you have a local German-speaking community? Can you plan regular trips to Germany? Will German relatives come to visit often? Do you have enough German exposure to accomplish the goals you’re planning for? These are all extremely useful components of a bilingual family plan and it’s helpful to have them in place early in your child’s life.
Plus, when you start speaking German with a baby, you have that much more time to reach your language goals.
You may get sidetracked along the way and things may not always go according to plan but if you start with an infant, you have many years available to bring your child to the level of fluency you hope for.
So how is this done?
With babies, it’s super simple. You don’t have to worry about them understanding you or any translating which you might have to do with older children. Just use German whenever you speak to them. As you immerse your baby in German, you may find that your own German improves. If you can’t do it all the time, pick a few times of the day to use German and try and increase from there.
You may find it helpful to spend some time setting goals and consider how you’ll get a monolingual spouse involved.
Playing German music at playtime and reading German books at bedtime is a great way to make things fun and also get you in a German mindset. You may also learn some new words in the process.
You may even find that others around you start to pick up a few German words here and there.
Doesn’t it seem strange to speak to tiny baby in German, especially if no other German speakers are around?
Well, yes, it may feel weird at first. If you’ve committed to raising your child bilingually and you’re not a native German speaker, it may be a little hard to get the habit established. You’ll have a whole new vocabulary to learn. How do you say “How’s my sweet little munchkin?” in German anyway? :) You’ll need to learn some new lullabies and terms of endearment. You probably didn’t learn this stuff in German class or on a trip to Europe! Even if you grew up in a bilingual household, you may have forgotten the German “baby-ese” that is so necessary for little ones.
But babies need to be spoken to, even when they’re too little to understand.
They need to hear language, language directed at them, to help them make sense of the world around them. And if you’re raising a bilingual baby, then you might as well start as soon as possible.
A bilingual example
Jessica Giering has spoken German with her triplets since they were born. They are now interacting at an age-appropriate level in German and English. She says, “it was challenging at first to remember to speak German to them but after a few weeks, it just came naturally.”
The sooner the better.
So don’t put it off until she’s older and has “established” the English language in her brain. A baby’s is biologically wired for languages and you can take advantage of that when you immerse her in German from the start.
What’s the best thing about speaking German with your baby?
She’ll think that everything you say is brilliant! An appreciative audience is always a good thing.