20 May 2014

German Storytime at the Library

Last week I got an email from the German American School of Portland about a German Storytime at a local library as part of their international storytime week. I must have given the school my email when I was attending a Christmas Market event last December. I have been trying to find other German speaking children with whom my kids can interact. So, now and then, when I hear of German events, I will attend them to see if we can find some other German speaking children in the area. 

The kids were excited for German Storytime. They thought it was neat that we were going to hear German stories at the library. The lady who told the stories did an excellent job. She was extremely engaging and had the kids on the edge of their carpet squares. She didn't read books, she told (and acted out) the stories. Even my little Simon, who tends to be very bashful in public settings, was excited and blurted out responses to her questions. While she was telling the story, my kids would often look back at me with a "knowing nod". It was their way of saying: "Hey, mom, this is our language and I understand this. How cool is that?" Our fun German experience was over too soon. Afterwards, I found a couple of the moms to see if anyone was interested in forming an informal playgroup. 

09 May 2014

Still Speaking German after a week of English Immersion!

So, what effect did our "English Immersion" week with our English-speaking cousins have on our German household??? English All Week

Well, I'm pleased to announce that we literally bounced right back. It was actually quite interesting. My brother and his sweet wife got home after the kids were all in bed. In the morning, as the cousins came storming down the stairs to greet their parents, I realized that there was a noticeable shift in dynamics. Now that my brother and wife were here, their children were no longer under my charge. They now belonged to their own (English speaking) family again. That meant that our family went back to being a German speaking family. In fact, as we were eating breakfast, I noticed Simon and Jonathan having a squabble on the floor (that's nothing new), but the interesting part was that it was in German. They hadn't spoken German to each other all week. Even they felt the change. They understood that our "family" was back to it's normal size and that things were getting closer to normal.

I whipped out my phone and recorded the boys arguing in German while the rest of us were all visiting in English and eating breakfast. I guess, it surprised me to suddenly hear German again. They hadn't spoken German all week. But now that the dynamics had shifted, they immediately reverted back to "normal."

While we visited with my brother's family, we went back to our regular "guest" language routine, where we speak English to our guests and often speak German to each other. After we said our goodbyes and my brother left, little Simon came running up the stairs and exclaimed: "Jetzt koennen wir nur Deutsch sprechen!" (Now we can speak only German!) And with that, we all naturally switched back to German. It was as simple as that.

The reason that we're able to continue to keep our German so strong is that we are following our unwritten language rules and boundaries. The kids understand that their choice of language is governed by these rules. They speak English under certain circumstances and within certain boundaries, but all other times, we revert to German. Boundaries are what make it all work!!!

07 May 2014

English all Week!

So, for the past week, we have been watching my brother's four children while they were in Hawaii. It has been a lot of work and a lot of fun. The best part was seeing all the wonderful interactions and bonding. I loved seeing all the boys sword-fighting in the attic; the girls playing in the meadow; all the kids playing in the tree house and riding bikes. I loved listening to all the giggles and cute discussions at bedtime. Everyone got along so well. There was no fighting or quarreling, just happy kids.

Of course, the cousins don't speak German, so our household became English speaking for the past week. There was hardly any German spoken for the entire time that the cousins were here. We pretty much became an English speaking household. All of the adults (Karl and I and all the older kids) parented all the younger children in English. They spoke English to each other and to us.  It's a little different than when we have English speaking friends over since all of our routines are in English this week: the morning routine, the family scripture and prayer time, the meals, and the entire bedtime routine...all in English. My kids have spoken almost only English to each other and to us. In fact, they've actually been learning new English words and phrases that they hadn't been exposed to yet. Since we always do bedtime in German, they had to ask me about some of the English words associated with bedtime and meal time. They have spoken very little German the past few days.

Now the big question is: Will they revert right back to German as soon as the cousins leave or will they continue to speak English? I guess only time will tell. My hope is that since we haven't broken our "language boundary rules" (that it's OK to speak English when we have guests that don't speak German), that we will be able to slip right back into German as soon as the guests are gone. As long as we don't speak English to each other when we are alone as a family, then hopefully, the kids will recognize all the English speaking this week as the exception to the norm rather than a shift in how we normally talk to each other. I'll update next week.

If you are raising your children in your non-native foreign language, PLEASE take the survey. Click on the top right tab. Thank you!!

Bilingual Baby Dream Team

Going on 20+ years of raising our bilingual babies...
I'm so grateful for a sweet husband who was willing to give this whole experiment a try and and that he was willing to speak German to our kids, even though his German exposure had been limited to a few semesters of college German. It's been one of the most fun and rewarding things we've done. The fact that our family speaks German has given us our own identity and helps the kids feel like they are a part of something special. And anything that helps your family feel special and connected is a good thing.