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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.

Define Success

I think I have a unique bilingual parent perspective. Currently, I am poised between my two batches of children. The first batch (5 kids) have pretty much been raised. My oldest three have already left the house. If they are going to progress in German, it will be on their own...my job is done. Even the two teenagers that are still living at home are pretty much "done" when it comes to learning German. If they want to learn more German, they will take classes or go to Germany. They've learned what they can from me.

The second batch, however is still a work in progress. We're still deep in the bilingual trenches. The wonderful thing about raising a second batch of bilingual children is that, this time, I have no worries or doubts. I've done it all before and I know what worked and what didn't work so well. I also know where I need to improve. I'm not so worried about the younger children's English development, because we found that the first batch learned English just fine--in fact, some of them are quite gifted--so we are pretty sure that our younger batch of kids will be speaking English with native-like fluency before long. It's comforting to have been down this road before. I've defined our bilingual goals, I know what methods we are going to use and I feel confident that we're achieving our goals (more or less).

Now, let me just say that I never had a bilingual goal of raising children who speak perfect German. That would be quite unrealistic, since neither my husband nor I speak perfect children. The most we could could hope for would be children who could speak our own level of German. But, even that would be asking a lot, since I actually lived in Germany for some time and studied it in college...and they never have. So, what were/are our goals and did we meet them?

Our goals were to give them the German language and culture. Personally, I wanted my children to be able to identify with my idyllic childhood which I spent on a German Bauernhof in Bavaria. I wanted them to love the German Christmas traditions. I wanted them to grow up knowing that the world was bigger than their back yard and to understand that there are different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking and different ways of speaking and that they are all good. I knew that their German would be imperfect. I knew that they would make grammar mistakes (many of which they would learn from me), but I also knew that I'd rather give them my imperfect German and everything that goes with that, than not give them any German at all.

So, have we been successful? According to my own definition: YES. Our older children, who have already been raised can actually speak German. They can understand almost anything. They can express ideas and make themselves understood. They each have different levels of German. Some of them are naturally more gifted in language than others. Their pronunciation ranges from decent to quite good. Their German is far from perfect. They make grammatical mistakes all the time. If they were to take German in college, they would struggle with the grammar, but they would be able to out-speak and out-comprehend many of their classmates. And I feel certain, that they would be able to learn the grammar quickly, given the opportunity. They will probably have to "unlearn" some incorrect things that they learned in our home, but that's OK.

Now, having already done the "bilingual parenting thing" once, I actually have set my sites just slightly higher for this second batch of kids. I am hoping to help the younger children reach a higher level of German literacy than we reached with the older children. I would like to actually teach them formal grammar and help them learn how to read and write in German.

So, if success is defined by having perfectly bilingual children who speak both languages equally well and native-like, then, no, we haven't been successful. But if success is defined as setting and reaching goals and giving your children a wonderful gift of culture and language that will forever be a part of them, then, YES, we have been successful. In fact, the first time around was so amazing and successful, that we decided to do the whole thing again. And if that's not a sign of success, then I don't know what is.


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