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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.

Thoughts on Raising Children in a Non-Native (and therefore imperfect) Language

There are regular bilingual parenting issues and then there are non-native bilingual parenting issues. Those of us who are attempting to raise our children in a language which we do not speak natively will naturally have additional questions, fears and feelings of inadequacy. One of the most common fears, and one that I remember facing when I first started out on our bilingual parenting journey, comes from our imperfect knowledge of the target language. And, no wonder! How can we even think of teaching our children a language which we ourselves haven’t yet mastered perfectly?  It’s a valid concern and it’s one that many parents, who wish to raise children in a foreign language, share. It may seem like an insurmountable barrier to some. 

So often we think that we have to be an expert at something before we can teach that skill to others. But that is just not the case! Just think about real life. If I want to teach my child manners, do I need to have a certificate from a leading etiquette school? Or can I assume that I know enough about manners to teach my children the basics. Granted, I may even teach my children some incorrect manners. For instance, I may teach them to use the salad fork when they should have used the dessert fork…BUT should I let my imperfect knowledge of manners stop me from teaching any manners at all? Of course not. Won’t my children be far better off by learning a few manners, even if some of them might not be exactly perfect, than if I threw in the towel and decided to just not teach them any manners? This same reasoning can be made for most skills and habits that we teach our children. I may want to teach my children to do housework. Does that mean that I need to be perfect at keeping my house clean? Do I need to know all the ins and outs of custodial cleanliness? Or can I suffice with just teaching them what I know? One amazing fact remains when it comes to raising children. Not only can I teach my children something that I know, but I can even help them to become better at something than I am. With the right training, my children can develop even better manners and be even better housekeepers than myself. Yes, of course, we should teach by example. But once our children surpass us, we can still help them learn things, even things that are outside of our own ability. We do this through our encouragement, our efforts in making sure they have the right materials and our finding and placing experts in their path. The bottom line is that you absolutely do not have to be the expert in everything that you teach your children. 

How wonderful that parenting usually starts out with a small, helpless infant, whose knowledge of the world is extremely limited. Surely, we know a little more about the world than our tiny little baby. And that should give any parent a little boost of confidence. The main factor to remember is that we don’t need to have a perfect knowledge of something, we just need to know a little more than the person we are teaching and as that person learns, it’s up to us to learn right along with them and to be the wind beneath their wings. 

Yes, I make LOTS of mistakes in German. And, yes, my children also make LOTS of mistakes in German. But, not once have my kids chastised me for attempting to teach them a language that I didn't speak perfectly. On the contrary! Rather, every single one of my eight beautiful children continues to express gratitude for their ability to speak German, even if that German is flawed and imperfect. My motto has always been: An imperfect second language is better than no second language!

My sweet missionary daughter and her companion, at a Christmas market near Frankfurt.
 Even though I taught her imperfect German,she has still been able to communicate just fine--from the minute she arrived.
In fact, she is often mistaken for a native German.  She'll be the first to admit that an imperfect second language is better than none at all. 


Jenna Dilts said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement! I've been learning Serbian, which my husband already knows fluently after his mission there, and I've been contemplating how to teach it to the children. It's going to be more challenging with the difficulty of obtaining anything in Serbian here in America, though... I am seriously considering sending my husband back to Serbia with a shopping list, ha!

Jenna Dilts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lanonativa said...

I totally agree with you! Spanish is my mother tongue but I talk to my son in English. I am afraid of making mistakes when I talk to him, I guess he will make the same ones, but I am improving my English everyday and he will too, I am not his only input. Small mistakes shouldn't stop us from giving our children the chance to speak another language fluently.

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