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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.

Language Boundaries

I have been amazed that my three youngest still speak German to each other. By this same age, my older children had switched to speaking English to each other (although they continued speaking German to us). But this younger batch speaks almost exclusively German. However, this year, with Jonathan in Kindergarten and the twins having more play-dates with their English speaking friends, they all want to know how to communicate better in English. They are aware that their English isn't up to par with their peers. I've even overheard them talking about how "schwer" (hard) it is to speak English.

It's interesting to see the language boundaries they've set for themselves. The other day, we were walking home from the bus stop with neighbors and I asked my 6 year old (in German) how his day had been. He quickly responded, "Nein, nicht Deutsch". (No, not German). Clearly, he had decided that one of his language boundaries was that among school friends, he would only speak English. Our home and family has always been regarded as a purely German speaking area for the younger children. But within this German-speaking boundary, they have established a few English areas. They have established imaginative play as a time when they often (not always) speak English at home. I don't interfere, because they need a time to practice English. And so far, the English is well contained within the boundary of the game.

The following video is an excellent example of how they "play" in English but "communicate" in German. They are all playing a Dr. Suess A,B,C game with my help. This game can't very well be played in German because the letters stand for different objects (F for fork), which don't work in German. So, they have dubbed it an Englishes Spiel and play it in English.

You can hear (at least I can hear) that they have more of a "foreign" accent in English than they do in German. They are playing the game in English, but discuss the rules and questions they have in German. Simon starts out by saying "Jetzt ist dein dran" using the English syntax "Now it's your turn" instead of "Jetzt bist du dran." Often they have to ask me what a word is in English. Jonathan asks me what the letter is in English. He also calls the ice cream cone Eis (which is the German word for icecream). Simon struggles with the word put, he keeps saying "Tut you foot in a elephant", instead of "Put your foot on the elephant". Of course, he's thinking about the German word tun.  I also think it's interesting that when Jonathan doesn't know the word for kite, he refers to it as dragon. The German word for kite is Drachen. The German word for dragon is Drache (which is very similar). It's interesting to see him make that connection.


M. Prasad said...

I am loving your blog. I love languages and have taken courses in Spanish for 7 years and German for 3 years. I have always wanted my future kids to be bilingual. Luckily for me, my husband comes from a family that speaks Hindi. Unfortunately, Hindi is not their first language, English is their first language. I'm thinking it would be good for my kids to be bilingual in Hindi, but I will need to learn how to speak Hindi (and my husband would have to brush up on his skills).

I love all of the background information you are giving and showing the cognitive development of progress with you and your immediate family.

I have TONS of questions about your experience. I'll just go ahead and list them here.

Where there times when you wanted to give up speaking German to your kids? If so, what kept you motivated to hold a firm ground?

How did your kids' first school teachers react to your children who didn't know English as their first language? Did you have to do anything specific to get them integrated into the school system? What would be your advice to people if they encounter difficult situations with school?

Would your older kids be interested in writing a guest blog post for the rest of us to see what their perceptions are about being bilingual?

What did your extended family members have to say about the language choices? Did they ever offer unwanted advice or criticism about your choices? If so, how did you handle that?

Again, I am loving this blog and am excited to keep reading more posts!

Nina Shurts said...

Mandi, thanks SO much for your questions!! This gives me a lot of ideas for some future posts. I will try and get to each and every question as soon as possible. Also, I LOVE your idea of having some of my older kids post their perceptions of their bilingual upbringing. How fun that you are thinking of learning Hindi! I have a good friend who studied German growing up, but her husband knew French. Since his French was better than her German, they decided to raise their kids French speaking. She started learning French when she was expecting her first and has now raised all of her kids French speaking. I'm working on getting her to share her amazing story on the blog!!

M. Prasad said...

Your friend who raised her kids speaking French sounds like something I would encounter if my hubby and I teach our kids Hindi. I am still reading your blog and like what you recently posted about Jonathan and Kindergarten. I am soaking up your blog like a sponge!

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