11 August 2014

Bilingual Bedtime Stories - Books are Boundaries

At night, we gather the little ones for their nighttime routine of bedtime stories. We always read a scripture story first. My favorite scripture stories are from the Kinderbibel by Anne DeVries. 
The children are enthralled by these bible stories and they are perfect for reading aloud. Even the older siblings enjoy reading the stories to the kids. The older kids love them because I read the very same stories to them when they were little.

What I find linguistically interesting is how the children have drawn their language boundaries when it comes to books. We have mostly German children's books, but we also own quite a few English books. At first, I didn't want to read the English books to them, for fear that it would "contaminate" our German speaking home (ML@H). I worried that if I started reading English books, that the kids would then start communicating with each other in English. They would hear me reading in English and would assume that English is an OK language use at home. And I know from experience, that once they switch to English as their main communication language, the German becomes more and more obsolete.

Well, it turns out that books are in and of themselves a language boundary. They are a controlled exception to the rule. The book is a boundary or barrier which contains the English and prevents the English from seeping out and contaminating our German speaking home. The book gives us the license to use English and still makes it natural to switch (code switch) back to German when we close the book. It's quite amazing. 

In the video, I start out by reading a German bible story. The children ask questions and make comments about the story in German. I then pick up an English children's book. As I read in English, the kids participate in the "wishy washy weeeee" (English) part of the book. But they tend to make their comments and ask their questions in German. There is even a point, when I ask a question about the book in English and Jonathan answers in German. The kids understand where the language boundaries are and they understand when it's acceptable or "normal" to speak English and when it's acceptable or "normal" to speak German. 

I am amazed at the effectiveness of establishing language boundaries and rules and then sticking to them. The children will always use the language that feels more natural to them. If they have always used the target language (in our case, German) in a given situation, then it would feel unnatural for them to use the community language (English) in that same situation. But if you break the rule for them, then they will naturally follow and that will open the proverbial floodgates of the community language that you have been trying so hard to keep in check while you focus on the target language. 

03 August 2014

Is French Feasible or Futile? Thoughts of Trilingualism

With our older children, we tried introducing French a few times. I checked out some French audio tapes from the library and I had a few French children's books that we would read now and then. Why French? Well, my sweet husband speaks French. He served a two year mission in France for our church when he was 19. I took two years of French in high school. I also took a few semesters in college. I am NOT fluent. I can understand basic words and grammar. I can say things like "Je m'apelle Nina." I think if I studied it again that a lot would come back to me. But since I haven't tried to keep it up, I have forgotten almost all of my French.

Anyways, so why am I blogging about French? Well, I am somehow convinced that I could give my kids the equivalent of two or three years of high school French. I don't expect them to become fluent or to speak native-like. However, I do believe that they have the potential to acquire much better pronunciation if we start at a young age than they would if we waited to introduce the language until they were teenagers. What are other reasons why I might want to introduce French? Well, why not?? I can speak some French, so why not pass what I know on to my kids. In fact, I can learn right along with them.

How do plan on doing this? Well, I'm not exactly sure yet. I've been showing them French children's videos since they were little. I have French apps on our phones and tablets, which the kids love to play. We have some French books and a daddy that speaks some French. I think that is enough to get started.

I have been mulling the whole French thing over in my head for a year or two. I realized that if I really want to push French, that I will probably end up pulling my kids out of school part time, because there just isn't enough time after school to really learn a language. I have some awesome ideas about that, but that will have to wait for a later blog post. All I know, is that I want start soon. They are at an age where they are just soaking so much up. I don't want to miss this precious developmental stage in their lives.

I find myself searching the internet often for any French material I can find. I'm also looking for a fun children's French curriculum that we can use. I'd prefer one designed for native German speakers who are learning French. If anyone has any ideas or recommendations, please share them in the comment section below.

As you can see in the video below, the kids already are enjoying French. They are fascinated by it. Being bilingual, they understand the concept of different languages and that there are different ways to express yourself. So, I think their little minds are very open to the idea of a third language. Maybe we'll start something like "French Fridays" and use that day to really focus on French. I'm getting super excited about the whole French thing. There is so much technology available to help me out. See my Technology Post.

The video shows the kids watching a cute French YouTube video. They had been playing outside in the pool. When they came in, I had it playing. They were sucked into it and didn't go back outside. I loved that they immediately started imitating the words and sounds. They thought it was neat that the French alphabet sounded more like the German alphabet. As I watched them, I realized that I need to continue to feed them French. I'm excited to find out where we'll end up on this new linguistic venture.

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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.