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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.

German with Big Brother

Just a few months ago, our fourth-oldest, Dallin, came home from serving a 2-year mission in Brazil. During that time, he didn't ever use his German. However, he became quite fluent in Portuguese! When he left for his mission, the three little ones were still speaking only German with each other and with all of us. In fact, 2 years ago, they spoke almost exclusively German at home. Since that time, they have slowly switched to speaking more and more English. They still speak German when reminded, but they have become more comfortable with English.
It was fun to see that Dallin hadn't forgotten all of his German and that he was still more comfortable communicating with his little siblings in German than in English. On several occasions, I caught Dallin and the boys playing Legos together, and of course, I was thrilled to hear them conversing in German. Even though they don't always speak German, I'm so glad that they still "can" and often "do" speak German.
I also found that there was another perk to having Dallin spend two years in another country, learning a third language: He came home even more interested in improving his German. And I actually think that learning Portuguese (along with all the Portuguese grammar), helped him to better understand German grammar. Granted, he has forgotten quite a bit of his vocabulary, but I watched it come back very quickly as he spent time talking and playing with his little siblings. It will be fun to see how all of this pans out! I'm just always happy when I see that German is still a special language that the kids use when they are bonding.

Starting Out: First Sibling Interactions!

I thought I'd throw in another video from the good old days!! Watching this brought back lots of memories from the beginnings of our non-native bilingual parenting adventures. I remember that when the kids were first born, that it was hard to speak to them in German. It felt unnatural. However, as we persisted, it became more and more normal. This video is taken when Ben is two years old and just starting to talk. It's fun to see that he is talking to his little siblings in German even though they can't even speak yet. One of my favorite parts of our non-native bilingual adventure has been watching my children interact with each other in German. And one of the reasons, I love this video, is because it shows one of the first times the Ben is really talking to his siblings in German. Plus, I thought it was pretty cute that as he was trying to take off his shirt, he decided to leave it on his head and pretend to be a doggy. 
Karl and I tried hard to speak only German to the kids when they were little. We did not always succeed, but by starting when they were super small, we were able to establish German as "our" language. In time, we became very comfortable speaking German to the kids. Those who are native Germans will be able to tell that our German is not perfect. But, we decided to persist...even with our imperfect German. I decided early on that an imperfect second language would be better than no second language at all! :)

Then (above) and now (below)!

Redefining the "Baby Language" and Allowing Kids to Grow Up

So, we have had an interesting language set-up in our house for the past decade: When the three youngest children joined our family, the older children and my husband and I decided to only speak German to them, so that they younger ones would learn German just like the older ones did. However, at that point in our family, the older kids were mostly speaking English to each other and to us. My husband and I have always spoken English to each other and by the time the older kids were teens, we spoke mostly English to them. But, even though we spoke English to each other, all of us were very diligent about always addressing the younger children in German. And the younger kids only spoke German to us and to each other.

This was the language situation in our home for at least 8 years. However, recently, the younger ones have been speaking more and more English. At first, it was only with each other, because they knew that if they addressed me in English that I would ask them to switch to German and that I would only answer in German. The older kids also tried to continue to speak in German to them, but it has been more and more difficult.

Recently, I had an insight as to one of the reasons why the little ones are no longer speaking as much German (the minority langue) to us. I think it has to do with getting older and wanting to be one of the "big" kids. Their whole life, they have observed their older siblings (who are their favorite people in the world) speaking English to each other.
They adore their big sisters and brothers. And all this time, they have noticed that the big kids speak English to each other, but German to them. This used to be fine, but now the little kids are getting old enough to want to be a part of the "big-kid-club". I think they see German as the baby language and they no longer want to be considered "the babies." They want to join in the English conversations that the older siblings each other as equals. They want to feel like they are old enough to be addressed in English!

So, that said, what can I do to help encourage them to keep up with their German? Well, I'm still trying to figure that out. This summer, we had some of our young adult kids home from college, so the little kids were constantly around them and they were always wanting to speak English to them. However, just a few weeks ago, we sent the last of our "big kids" off to college (see picture). So, now, it's just my husband and me and our three little kids. With the older kids gone, there isn't as much social pressure to speak English. I'm hoping that we can continue to have times when we speak more German.

I've been thinking about this new language development in our family. And I think it's only fair, now that the little kids are older, that we come up with a system that doesn't make them feel inferior or not included. So, perhaps, when the college kids come home, we can try to ALL either speak German or All speak English. As far as that goes, maybe I can try to speak German to my husband more often, too. Our former system served us well for the many years, but now we need to reevaluate our bilingual goals and come up with a system or language routine that will continue to foster growth, language, and family unity. I still don't know exactly what that looks like, but I do know that we want everyone to continue to learn and love our target language as well as feel connected to each other, because, really, that's what non-native bilingual parenting is all about!!

How it all began...with Baby Ben!

I came across this little snippet from almost 25 years ago. It reminded me how far we've come in the last 25 years. I remember having no idea if our little German experiment would work. Ben was our first child. We were college students at the time and dirt poor and so we only owned a handful of German books. But we read them a lot. We loved the picture dictionary books. The book that I'm reading to him in the video really helped us all to improve our German vocab.

My little Baby Ben is turning 25 this year and he is still fluent in German. When he calls home, he talks to his little siblings in German. In this video, he is saying some of his first German words. It was fun for me to find this video of my sweet little baby Ben and to remember our early years of non-native bilingual parenting. During these years, we were still very unsure of ourselves. We weren't sure if we were going to mess up our kids or if we'd succeed. But I still remember the thrill of hearing Ben respond to us in German. It was so exciting for us.

The following video is only a year later, and Ben's vocab and his ability to communicate have increased tremendously. By this age, he spoke almost exclusively German to us. The whole non-native bilingual parenting thing was still so new. Each day, we seemed to be forging into unknown territory. It's interesting how much easier and more comfortable we got as more and more kids came along. It just makes me so grateful that we stuck with it and continued, even when we weren't 100% sure of the outcome. And, it's just so fun to look back and see the beginning stages of our non-native bilingual experiment!!