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About This Blog

This blog is for anyone interested in raising their children in a foreign language--meaning a language which neither of the parents speak natively.
We have used the approach where both parents speak the target foreign language (in our case, German) to the children. Neither of us is a native German speaker, yet we have spoken German in our home for the past 20 years and have 8 German speaking children. In this blog, we hope to share our successes, our lessons learned and a few of the insights that we've gained along the way.

Teaching Grammar! Starting with the basics: Der, Die, Das!

The one thing I've struggled with as I've raised my children in my non-native German is teaching them correct grammar. My own grammar is faulty and I often see them making the same mistakes that I make. One of the most difficult obstacles for us is learning the correct gender of nouns. Even I struggle with this on a regular basis. It's one of those things for which you develop a "feel." And when you don't live in a German speaking country, surrounded by German speaking people, it can be much more difficult to develop that "feel" for the language.
German has three genders: Masculine, feminine and neuter. And unless you know the correct gender for any given noun, you will never pull off a grammatically correct sentence in which that noun is used! So, before we learn much else, we need to work on genders!
I came up with a gender game for the kids. I have a bunch of small flash cards with pictures one side and the noun (along with the gender) on the other. For example: On one side of the card is a drawing of a cow and written on the opposite side is "Die Kuh." (the cow).

I laid all the cards on the floor with the picture side up. If one of the kids picked the picture of the cow and (without turning the card over and checking) guessed that it was "die" (feminine), then they got to sort the card with all the other feminine nouns. If they got it wrong, they put it back in the pile. I really enjoyed this game, because it really gave me a feel for what words they know and which they don't. I was glad to see that they got more right answers than wrong answers. I'm anxious to play this game with them on a regular basis. I think I'll change it up. Instead of putting the wrong answers back in the pile, I'll have them each keep their own pile of wrong answers. At the end of the game, we can review the cards that they got wrong.


Finding Friends that speak the Target Language!

We stumbled across the sweetest family a few months ago. Both the mom and dad are from Germany and they have two darling kids. We invited them over at Christmas time for our annual Adventsingen and it was so fun to see my little Clarissa hit it off so well with their daughter, Zoey. Clarissa is always thrilled to have a girl to play with...since she is constantly surrounded by her two brothers.  And, the fact that this little girl speaks German, makes it even more special.

Just last week, we had our new German friends over again for a little Easter Egg hunt. All the kids were very eager for the hunt to start. Although my boys were a lot older than little Jon, they still helped him find some eggs. The kids loved hunting for their eggs and also seeing all of the animals.

Once again, the girls played so well together...and spoke only German! They boys spoke German to Zoey, too.  My kids have had very few interactions with other German speaking children. In fact, we only know of two families in our area where where the kids actually speak German. But this is the only family where both parents are actually German and where German is the primary language spoken in the home. It was fun to watch my kids interact with Zoey and little Jon and see them use their German language with someone besides each other.

In the video below, Clarissa and Zoey are sitting at the counter eating their Easter eggs and talking about the fun day they've had.

It's important for the kids to see that other children also speak German. I think that they sometimes get the feeling that they are the only German speaking kids around. Also, when they interact with other kids in the target language, they pick up more natural "kid language." But the best part of all of this, is just finding a new friend!


Almost Home!!!

This post isn't so much about language...but then again, maybe it is. I just wanted to share a letter I received from my daughter, Michaela, who has been serving an 18 month mission in Germany for our church. She has less than two weeks left before she returns home. We haven't seen her since she left in August 2014. And we've only been able to talk to her on the phone 3 times since she's been gone. (what do LDS missionaries do) But we receive weekly emails and letters and we know she is in good hands and that she is learning and growing and serving. She has shared with us my many, many times just how grateful she is that we decided to raise her (and the rest of our kids) in our non-native German (Bilingualism Blessing my Grown Babies). Because she was already fluent in German (because of our decision to raise our children German-speaking), she was able to hit the ground running (so to speak) and she has been able to truly connect with the people on her mission.

In her most recent letter--written only days before she comes home, she shared some beautiful insights about connections. She has been spending lots of time connecting with refugees. Some of this connecting has come because of her language abilities, however, the most meaningful connections have come from her ability to love, to be transparent and honest and accepting. Her bilingualism has opened many doors, but it is by opening her heart and bearing her soul that she has been able to truly touch and change lives.

Here is the link to her beautiful letter:
We All Connect on our Broken Edges

This mama is getting pretty excited to have her bilingual baby home in her arms!

Mixing Languages: Borrowing Loan Words

OK, since my last post was about the fears of passing our mistakes on to our children, I thought I'd blog a little more about imperfect language...or in this case impure language:
One of the phenomenons I'd like to discuss and one that happens frequently when raising children in a language that is not spoken in the community, is that you often get a little bit of language mixing. By this, I mean that when we are speaking the target (or minority) language, we  often end up using "loan words" that we "borrow" from the community (or majority) language. This is a very common phenomenon and is not necessarily bad. For those interested in this, there is an excellent article found on Multilingual Living.com: Loan Words and Borrowing: A Kind of  Code-Swtiching?

I've been noticing a lot of this borrowing in our family. The sentence below is a prime example of borrowing. My little 6 year old Simon said this to me the other day (all covered in water). I immediately wrote it down--because it was so cute, and because it was such a good example of what happens so often in our home.

Mama, schau! Ich tue Wasser auf mich, weil ich will pretenden dass ich sweaty bin.
Translation: "Mom, look! I'm putting water on me because I want to pretenden that I'm sweaty."

In this instance, Simon couldn't think of the German word for pretend, so he just inserted the English word into the German syntax and "germanized" the word by adding an "en." It's quite an amazing feat for a 7-year old, if you think about it. The German word that actually belongs in that sentence is spielen and has an "en" ending, which is why Simon added the "en" onto the word pretend.

After giving it some more thought, I realized, that very likely Simon does know that the German word for pretend is spielen. However, spielen is a much more general word than pretend. Spielen can also mean simply to play. And it is possible to play with out pretending. So perhaps he used the word pretend in an attempt to communicate more precisely. Maybe, he wanted me to understand that he wasn't just merely playing, but was pretending to be something he wasn't.

There are many reasons why we often use loan words from different languages. Sometimes, we simply don't know a specific word, so we replace it with it's translation in a more familiar language. Other times, it just takes too many words to words to communicate a thought that in a different language might only take a single word. However, like with Simon's example, sometimes one language simply has a better word for a given situation.

We use language to communicate. It is a tool. And because it is a tool, we almost always use the the most efficient and the most readily available words. Sometimes, we just can't think of the word in the target language and we're simply too lazy to figure out what that word is. It's much easier to just insert the word using a more familiar language. Call it laziness or call it brilliance. I tend towards the latter.

Yes, sometimes, I worry that my kids use a little too many English words in their German. And if I know the correct German word, I will often correct them and have them repeat the German word back to me to help them remember. Other times, I just let it go and I say to myself: Imperfect German is better than no German at all!