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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.

Toggling Between Languages

Sometimes it's hard to remember what our bilingual situation was WAY back in the 1990's. I was under the impression that my kids were speaking mostly German to each other until my oldest started school. But after paying closer attention to some of our home videos, it seems like the kids started speaking English to each other well before before Ben started Kindergarten, even though most of our family communication was still in German. At the time, Karl and I mostly spoke German to the kids and they usually spoke German to us. And when we were together as a family, the kids usually spoke German to each other. But when the kids were playing on their own, they spoke English to each other.

I found a great video that shows how the kids toggled between languages in our home. At the time of this video, Ben is 4 years old and Michaela and Kiana are 3.  In the first scene, Karl is reading the kids their nightly story in German. This is our family time and you can hear that everyone is conversing in German. Kiana shows of her "Ariel" sweater in German.  Ben and Karl talk about the book in German. Michaela complains in German about not being able to see the book. Everyone is speaking German.

The next scene is filmed the very next day. Here I caught the kids playing with each other in English. They don't even know I'm filming. (I thought it was so cute how the girls are playing with their graham crackers. Kiana's cracker is named "Better" and Michaela's cracker is named "Broken"). The video shows how the children's language boundaries for German and English was "German with Family" and "English with siblings" well before Ben entered Kindergarten.

One of the reasons, I believe, that my older children switched to speaking English earlier than my younger children, was that I started introducing English at home at much earlier age. I started getting worried about their English development. I listened to an "expert" tell me that they wouldn't develop any language natively. So for a short while, we used more English at home with the kids. I realize now that this was a mistake. I should have stuck to my guns with the German. Once you introduce the community language, there really is no going back. With our second batch of children, I have been much more confident and consistent with German and the result has been that we've been able to keep them speaking mostly German for a much longer time. Even though my younger children often "pretend play" in English, all of their real communication is still in German. I'm curious whether their German as teenagers will be better than that of their older siblings. I guess only time will tell.


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