28 September 2016

Bilingual Success? Yes, but imperfect and still a work in progress!

Now, let me just say that I never had a bilingual goal of raising children who speak perfect German. That would be quite unrealistic, since neither my husband nor I speak perfect German. The most we could hope for would be children who could speak our own level of German. But, even that would be asking a lot, since I actually lived in Germany for some time and studied it in college...and they never have. So, what were/are our goals and did we meet them?

Our goals were to give them the German language and culture. Personally, I wanted my children to be able to identify with my idyllic childhood in which I spent 5 years living on a German Bauernhof (farm) in Bavaria. I wanted them to love the German Christmas traditions. I wanted them to grow up knowing that the world was bigger than their backyard and to understand that there are different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking and different ways of speaking and that they are all good. I knew that their German would be imperfect. I knew that they would make grammar mistakes (many of which they would learn from me), but I also knew that I'd rather give them my imperfect German and everything that goes with that, than not give them any German at all.
Now, having already done the "bilingual parenting thing" once, I actually have set my sites just slightly higher for this second batch of kids. I am hoping to help the younger children reach a higher level of German literacy than we reached with the older children. I would like to actually teach them formal grammar and help them learn how to read and write in German.

So, have we been successful? According to my own definition: YES. Our older children, who have already been raised can actually speak German. They can understand almost anything. They can express ideas and make themselves understood. They each have different levels of German. Some of them are naturally more gifted in language than others. Their pronunciation ranges from decent to quite good. Their German is far from perfect. They make grammatical mistakes all the time. If they were to take German in college, they would struggle with the grammar, but they would be able to out-speak and out-comprehend many of their classmates. And I feel certain, that they would be able to learn the grammar quickly, given the opportunity. They will probably have to "unlearn" some incorrect things that they learned in our home, but that's OK.

So, if success is defined by having perfectly bilingual children who speak both languages equally well and native-like, then, no, we haven't been successful. But if success is defined as setting and reaching goals and giving your children a wonderful gift of culture and language that will forever be a part of them, then, YES, we have been successful. In fact, the first time around was so amazing and successful, that we decided to do the whole thing again. And if that's not a sign of success, then I don't know what is.

22 September 2016

My Little German Babies are starting to become more American...

It happened this summer! I always knew it would happen. I didn't even expect it to last this long. In fact, I've been quite amazed that it has lasted as long as it has. What has happened? Well, my kids are starting to talk to each other in English! Yes, my babies are slowly switching from German to English. They still can and do speak German very often. The biggest change, and this is the same change I saw in my older kids, is that they are starting to use much more English with each other. They still speak to me in German and I still speak to them in German, but among themselves, they are speaking more English. To me, that is a very telling sign that their primary language is slowly switching from German to English.

I knew that their primary language would switch to English. Eventually, it just has to. These kids live in an English speaking society and all attend an English speaking school together. They also have siblings and parents whose native language is English and who speak English to each other. The fact, that the three little ones have been speaking only German to each other for this long is actually quite amazing.

My plan is to continue speaking to them in German.I will also continue to encourage them to use German with each other, although I won't get too bent out of shape when they use English. We will continue to watch German movies and read German books. We'll also continue with our part-time German homeschooling. We have many German routines which will not change, even as their primary language changes. I know this because when my older children switched from German to English, the German routines remained, such as bedtime stories in German, family prayers in German, etc.

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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.