28 July 2014

German Language Boundaries at the County Fair

Jonathan and Simon help with grooming
I have written quite a few posts on this topic, but I am continually amazed at how ingrained our unwritten language rules/boundaries are. This past week, we put those boundaries to the test a few times and it was interesting to see the kids' response.

Watching the steer show with friends
Each year, we spend a week at the county fair. Our older kids are in 4-H and I'm a leader of a 4-H club. In the past we've had market lambs, market pigs, market goats and market steers, as well as chickens and dairy goats at the fair. The kids also enter many static exhibits, such as artwork, photography, baking, creative writing, etc.

Kandra shows her market lamb
They love their big brother
Dallin with his market steer
Because we're at the fair all day, every day, we are, of course, surrounded by English. One of our unspoken rules is that it's OK to speak English when we're in the company of English speakers. So, needless to say, we spoke a lot of English with the kids this past week. We still often speak German when around other English speakers, but, the kids know that it's acceptable to speak English as well.

One of the days, Karl (husband) and I were walking through the fairgrounds with just our family members. We had the three young ones and one or two of the older kids with us. Usually, this would be a time when we would only speak German, because there were no one else with us. As we headed over to the ice cream booth, I asked the kids in English if they wanted ice cream. Right away, Simon objected, and said "Du sollst nur Deutsch sprechen" (You should only speak German). I was amazed, that with all the English that we had been speaking, at how aware he was that we had broken our unwritten language rule. He was very aware that we were not in the company of other English speakers. Yes, they were all around us; but he could tell that this conversation was a private family conversation. My question was not intended to include anyone outside the family. Even though he's only 5 years old, he very well understood that a language boundary had been breached and he called me on it.

Now with my older kids, I started breaching that rule way too often (addressing the kids in English when we were in a family setting), and because of that, our family language switched to mostly English much earlier than it has with our younger kids. In fact, with the younger set, our German has remained so strong because we have made such a concerted effort to really stick to our rules. We're trying very hard to keep the boundaries in tact, so that the childrens' German will continue to develop to a higher level than the older kids achieved. I guess, we'll just have to wait and see what our linguistic future holds, but for now, we'll just stay on our present course. It seems to be working.

21 July 2014

Countdown to Goodbye! Life is Good.

I can't believe, we'll sending our Michaela off to Europe in just over 30 days. Michaela's Mission Call Video We won't see her for 18 months. That's a long time to say goodbye to one of your babies. Will we miss her? Yes, we will. Do we still want her to go? Yes, we do! Why? Because this is a dream come true for her. She has wanted to serve a mission for the LDS Church her entire life. Is she prepared? YES! She has been preparing for this since she was small. She is so excited to serve her Savior and to help others to feel His love. She has spent the last few months, since she's been home from college, studying her scriptures, the missionary manuals, and taking care of all the travel logistics (passport, visa, etc). She's been studying the German language her entire life, but these last few months, she has really upped her intensity. She has been studying grammar like never before...and it's slowly starting to make more sense to her. It's fun to see the grammar finally start to click. Just today, she pointed out that "Wir gehen ins (in das) Haus hinein" and that we use "das" because it's accusative! Yay!! I think she's getting it!! She constantly comes to me with grammar questions and it's so fun to see her intense desire to really learn.

Apparently, her German is good enough that she tested out of the language training in the Missionary Training Center (MTC). They had her call in and do a phone interview, after which they told her that she would be training with the other native German sisters and that she would only be in the MTC for 2 weeks instead of the usual 6 weeks (required when you're learning a foreign language).

We started a blog for her and she did her first post today: Miss Michaela On A Misson! It's hard to think that we only have just over a month left. Her little Simon is already missing her so much. He and Michaela have such a special bond. It will be very hard for him and for Clarissa and Jonathan, as well. But they  understand that serving a mission is a good thing. They are so proud of their oldest sibling, Ben, who is currently serving a mission in Wisconsin: While in Wisconsin. They pray for him every single night; they talk about him and they draw him LOTS of pictures, which we mail to him regularly.

We are so excited for all the fun adventures that Michaela will have in Germany. We're happy that she gets to make some wonderful memories in a country that is dear to our hearts. It will be fun for her to learn more about the local culture and to get to know the wonderful people. It makes me excited just thinking about it. There is just so much to be grateful for! Yes, life is good!!

16 July 2014

Chickens, Swings, and Summer! Big kids and little kids speaking German together.

I absolutely LOVE summer time. I love having all my kids home from school. This summer is particularly fun, because my college freshmen twin girls are home for the summer, too. We sure missed them while they were gone this past year. The little kids are so happy to have their big sisters home. Michaela and Kiana have been like "other mothers" to them. In fact, the little ones usually run to one of their sisters when they need something, instead of coming to me. They ADORE their sisters. It is so much fun having both older and younger children and seeing the love and joy that exists in their relationships with each other. I can honestly say that nothing brings me more joy than witnessing the sweet love that the kids have for each other. 

Another fun bonus that has come with having a later set of children (there's almost a 9 year gap between the older kids and the younger ones), is that the younger kids have inspired the older ones to really work on their German again. Before the younger ones were born, the older kids had pretty much stopped using their German at home. We had a few German routines, but most of our home language had switched to English. When the younger ones came along, we all decided we would speak only German to the little ones. It's been fun to observe the improvement in the older kids' German ability. They don't speak perfect German, but they get lots and lots of practice at home. In fact, often, my little 6 year old Jonathan, will teach his 17 year old brother, Dallin, a few words. 

I came across this video the other day. Michaela and Kiana had taken the video camera out to the pasture swing. Jonathan, had just caught one of his chickens and brought it up the hill to show his sisters. The reason I like this video so much is because I'm not in it. This video shows how the big and little kids interact when I'm not around. Michaela is taking the video, and because she is out playing with the little kids, she is only speaking in German. If we hadn't had our second batch of kids, Michaela and Kiana would not have been sitting out in the pasture having German conversations. All that wonderful German speaking would never have happened!! Anyways, I'm just feeling grateful for my children today and grateful that we decided to raise them in our non-native German language. 

15 July 2014

Rock Paper Sissors!

I think it's fascinating how the kids will pick up games, words and songs in the dominant  (community) language...yet they still continue to communicate in the minority (target) language. This video shows Clarissa and Simon in the back of the car. We're on our way home from church, which is an English speaking environment. At some point at church, they must have picked up the game "Rock, Paper, Sissors." Maybe one of the other children in their Sunday school class taught it to them. I don't know how they learned it, but I was intrigued by the fact that they played the game in English, but still continued to use German when communicating. When Clarissa gets frustrated with Simon, she talks to him in German...but then immediately goes back to playing the game in English. It's a lot like the post Language Boundaries where the kids were also playing an English game and communicated with each other in German. I just find this so fascinating. I'm amazed that they continue to stick to German with all this English surrounding them. I attribute this phenomenon to solid, habitual language boundaries. Children will choose to communicate in the language that feels most natural to them. Rarely, can you make them continue to speak in a language that feels unnatural or forced. The key is to raise them from birth in the target language so that it feels as natural as possible. And, hopefully, they'll prefer to speak the target language for many years to come.

14 July 2014

Language Learning During Everyday Living

So, the other day, my little 6 year old Jonathan was working on emptying the dishwasher. It was his job that morning. He's my little analytical engineer. He loves to figure out how things work. Anyways, as he was emptying the dishwasher, I noticed that he kept stacking the clean dishes in ascending or descending towers. He would take the items out of the dishwasher, line them up in order of size and then he would analyze his work. Then I  noticed that he was working on comparative and superlative adjectives in German. He would start on one end and say: "Biggest, bigger, big..." I pulled out my phone camera because he was just being so cute about it.
I was impressed with his desire to really learn the correct words. He got them a little mixed up at first, but I could tell that he really wanted to get it right. It was fun to see the little gears turning in his head as he put the words together with the meanings.
As I watched him, it occurred to me that this kind of learning is "real" learning. Of course, it's something that you could also learn from a textbook in German class, but this was just a little more "real". I thought about how I had at one time considered sending the kids to the local German/American private school. I didn't send them because, firstly, it was way too expensive and, secondly, I felt like I could give them just as much or even more German at home with me. These kinds of experiences also continue to persuade me to consider some sort of homeschooling. I get glimpses of the fun learning environment that we can create in our home and I also get excited about having my sweet babies with me all day long and watching them learn, grow and develop. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do as far as schooling goes, but we will, for sure, continue to speak, teach and learn German at home--for as long as we can.

11 July 2014

Home Language Boundaries: How our family uses German and English side-by-side

I came across the following video and thought that it did a great job of portraying the typical language use in our bilingual family. It really shows how both English and German are usually used in our family. In the video, the big and little kids are decorating our Easter egg tree together.

It's very apparent in the video that the little kids speak almost only German to us and to each other. The little kids hardly ever use English in a family setting. They are much more comfortable with German. It's their "family language". The big kids (including me) speak English to each other and German to the little ones. The little kids are not phased at all that we speak English to each other. Surprisingly, our English usage has not, in the least, affected their choice to speak only German. I've often wondered about this. I've always been amazed that they have heard English spoken their whole lives, yet, until last year (when Jonathan started Kindergarten), the three little ones could hardly speak any English. They hear English in the community, when we're shopping, at church, when friends come over, etc....yet, they still speak only German to each other and to us. This amazes me. I think that this attests to the importance of having boundaries and really sticking to them. When the boundaries are well defined and when you rarely break the "rules", it is so much easier to foster bilingualism. I know this, because with my first batch of kids, I broke the rules much more often. I had been told by a "professional" that because I was not native German, that if I spoke only German to my children that they would have problems learning either language well. This "professional" told me that they would not have "any" native language. That made me nervous, so I started speaking more English to my older children when they were still young. I still continued with the German, but I often switched to English. Because of that, they started speaking mostly English years ahead of my second batch of kids. With our second batch of kids, I came into this whole bilingual parenting adventure with much more experience and confidence. I knew that the kids would learn English just fine on their own. Their English would not suffer (in the long run). Knowing this has helped me to stick with our rules and has given me the confidence to plow ahead with our non-native bilingual parenting adventure.

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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.