26 February 2015

Calling All Non-Native Bilingual Parents!

For the past few months, I have been thinking about how grateful I am for our bilingual blessings. I love that my kids can communicate in both German and English. I love that they have embraced the German culture as their own. I love that they are so proud of the fact that they can speak German. I love that they are learning a little French and I especially love their excitement when they hear a French word and exclaim: He, das ist Franzoesisch!! (Hey, that's French). I just love how they are so aware of language and culture. And I love how those languages and cultures have enriched our family, opened our minds and hearts and given us a unique and fun identity.

That being said, I was thinking about the many, many people who speak foreign languages but who have not passed that language on their children...maybe they didn't think it was possible, maybe the thought had just never even crossed their minds or maybe they were afraid that it would harm their kids. Whatever the reason, I really think that many more people would seriously consider embarking on a non-native bilingual adventure if they only understood just how do-able it actually is and that you don't have to speak a language perfectly to pass it on to your children. Because, in the end, some second language exposure is better than none at all.

Well, this brings me to my latest project. This project has two parts: The first is two provide a web presence that is dedicated to non-native bilingual parenting and which will provide information, resources and motivation for families who are interested in raising bilingual children in a non-native language. The second is to somehow connect the many non-native bilingual parents throughout the world. I think of how much I would have appreciated some guidance and reassurance back when we were starting this whole bilingual adventure. I would love to feature some of these amazing families as well as some of their informative blog posts and articles.

So, if you're reading this post, please check out the new Non-Native Bilingual Parenting website. Tell me what you think. Let me know what's missing or what should be changed. This website is for all of you!! If you want something posted on it, let me know. If you want me to add some links, let me know. If you have a great blog post that you would like to repost on this site, let me know. I would love to collect our shared experience and lessons learned into one place. My goal is to provide a place that links all of us together because I believe that our group is a unique and special family.


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Non-Native Bilingual Parenting

12 February 2015

Learning Their "Native" Language. My American Kids in ESL.

I've been interested in finding out just how our "German experiment" has effected my children's English language abilities. Since both my husband and I are native English speakers, I still think it's quite interesting that our children are enrolled in the ESL class at school. I am intrigued by the fact that English is their second language. It's not like they haven't been exposed to English. They have been exposed to English since birth. We live in the United States. Everywhere we go, outside the home, everyone is speaking English. All of the adults and teenagers in our home speak exclusively English to each other. So, needless to say, there is LOTS of English spoken around our three youngest children. It's spoken around the dinner table, as we do our chores, as we sit around and talk. But, like I've mentioned before, we (all the adults and teens) speak only German to our 3 little ones. And they speak only German to us and to each other. You would think that with all that English exposure, that they would have a complete grasp of the English language. But interestingly enough, they don't. In fact, up until they started socializing outside the home (age 5), their English was extremely limited. When I spoke to them in English, I often got blank stares. But once they reached the age and maturity where social interactions with friends became important enough, they were finally motivated to actually start learning English. Up until that point, they had no need for English and, thus, they mostly tuned it out. However, now that they see the need for English, they are picking it up very quickly. In school, all three of them are enrolled in ESL class and they are making steady progress.
In the video below, I'm working with Simon on some homework that he brought home from school. I like that some of these exercises actually allow me to gauge the kids' English ability. Sometimes, I start assuming that they know way more than they actually comprehend. It's not until I ask them specific questions, like "What does 'crowded' mean?", that I realize that their English still needs work. I'm glad that they are enrolled in ESL at school. I'm glad that we have them attending public school. And I'm glad that we are now reading way more English books at home. It's all making a difference. But mostly, I'm glad that we have maintained our language boundaries and that German continues to be our home language, I'm thrilled that they are continuing to improve in German.

So, rather than being overly concerned about their lagging English ability, I'm confident that they will pick it up very quickly. They are very motivated to learn and there is no stopping motivated kids!! They can learn anything (and any language) they set their minds to.  

04 February 2015

German Homeschooling Update

So, we're now into our second month of part-time German homeschooling. What is part-time German homeschooling? Well, we're sending the kids to school three days a week and keeping them home on the other two days (I still can't believe how lucky I am that our public elementary school has been so amazing to work with me on this). On the days that we're at home, I homeschool the kids in German (and French).
  • I bought a German 1st grade curriculum (which I absolutely love) and that curriculum is the basis for our homeschooling. I have the teacher's manual, the reading book, the workbook and some other items. I just ordered the "Sachbuch"--which I'm super excited about. 
  • I also bought a French curriculum (intended for German elementary students). My French is very limited, so I'm basically learning right along with my littles. It's pretty fun. I had about 4 semesters of French in college about 25 years ago. Needless to say, I had forgotten most of my French. But I'm surprised at what is coming back to me, as I introduce the kids to the basics. I like like that this curriculum has lots of songs. The kids and I sing them all the time together.
  • I supplement with fun crafts and ideas from Kindersuppe.de. I love this site. You have to pay a small fee, but have access to tons of fun German educational craft ideas. 
The kids seem to be keeping up just fine in school. I guess, this only applies to my 1st grader, Jonathan, because he is the only one who technically is missing school in order to stay home on the days that the two Kindergartners already have off. There were a couple of occasions where he wanted to go to school instead of stay home. I think he worried about being "different" than the other kids at first. But, we came up with a fun points program to earn a visit to our local children's museum and ever since that, he's been much more excited about staying home and doing the work to earn the points. 

The other wonderful thing about homeschooling in German is that many of the same skills that we're working on as we learn to read and write in German also apply to reading and writing in English. The alphabets are different, yet similar. I'm amazed at how they know to pronounce certain letters one way in German and another way in English. Yes, there is some confusion, but it's relatively minimal. The positives far outweigh any issues we've had.
We spend a lot more time reading books,
both English and German.

One of my favorite things about our "German School" days is that I have some extra time with my babies in the morning. We read more books together and we cuddle more. They also get more time to play. Just yesterday, after we finished our school work, I sent them outside with an old broom and told them to clean up the tree house. Well, I didn't see them for 3 hours after that. But I heard lots of happy, energetic, and fun sounds coming from the trees. And, best of all, they all needed a bath because they had played so hard and had gotten so dirty. 

I still feel like I should pinch myself to make sure this isn't a dream...it's just so close to perfection! I am so, so pleased with the way things are working out. I'm so glad that they can go to school and improve their English. I really enjoy my 3 days a week to get things done at home. And I love that I get those other 2 days to really focus on teaching my babies. Life is good.
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.