23 October 2017

Starting Out: First Sibling Interactions!

I thought I'd throw in another video from the good old days!! Watching this brought back lots of memories from the beginnings of our non-native bilingual parenting adventures. I remember that when the kids were first born, that it was hard to speak to them in German. It felt unnatural. However, as we persisted, it became more and more normal. This video is taken when Ben is two years old and just starting to talk. It's fun to see that he is talking to his little siblings in German even though they can't even speak yet. One of my favorite parts of our non-native bilingual adventure has been watching my children interact with each other in German. And one of the reasons, I love this video, is because it shows one of the first times the Ben is really talking to his siblings in German. Plus, I thought it was pretty cute that as he was trying to take off his shirt, he decided to leave it on his head and pretend to be a doggy. 
Karl and I tried hard to speak only German to the kids when they were little. We did not always succeed, but by starting when they were super small, we were able to establish German as "our" language. In time, we became very comfortable speaking German to the kids. Those who are native Germans will be able to tell that our German is not perfect. But, we decided to persist...even with our imperfect German. I decided early on that an imperfect second language would be better than no second language at all! :)

Then (above) and now (below)!

16 September 2017

Redefining the "Baby Language" and Allowing Kids to Grow Up

So, we have had an interesting language set-up in our house for the past decade: When the three youngest children joined our family, the older children and my husband and I decided to only speak German to them, so that they younger ones would learn German just like the older ones did. However, at that point in our family, the older kids were mostly speaking English to each other and to us. My husband and I have always spoken English to each other and by the time the older kids were teens, we spoke mostly English to them. But, even though we spoke English to each other, all of us were very diligent about always addressing the younger children in German. And the younger kids only spoke German to us and to each other.

This was the language situation in our home for at least 8 years. However, recently, the younger ones have been speaking more and more English. At first, it was only with each other, because they knew that if they addressed me in English that I would ask them to switch to German and that I would only answer in German. The older kids also tried to continue to speak in German to them, but it has been more and more difficult.

Recently, I had an insight as to one of the reasons why the little ones are no longer speaking as much German (the minority langue) to us. I think it has to do with getting older and wanting to be one of the "big" kids. Their whole life, they have observed their older siblings (who are their favorite people in the world) speaking English to each other.
They adore their big sisters and brothers. And all this time, they have noticed that the big kids speak English to each other, but German to them. This used to be fine, but now the little kids are getting old enough to want to be a part of the "big-kid-club". I think they see German as the baby language and they no longer want to be considered "the babies." They want to join in the English conversations that the older siblings each other as equals. They want to feel like they are old enough to be addressed in English!

So, that said, what can I do to help encourage them to keep up with their German? Well, I'm still trying to figure that out. This summer, we had some of our young adult kids home from college, so the little kids were constantly around them and they were always wanting to speak English to them. However, just a few weeks ago, we sent the last of our "big kids" off to college (see picture). So, now, it's just my husband and me and our three little kids. With the older kids gone, there isn't as much social pressure to speak English. I'm hoping that we can continue to have times when we speak more German.

I've been thinking about this new language development in our family. And I think it's only fair, now that the little kids are older, that we come up with a system that doesn't make them feel inferior or not included. So, perhaps, when the college kids come home, we can try to ALL either speak German or All speak English. As far as that goes, maybe I can try to speak German to my husband more often, too. Our former system served us well for the many years, but now we need to reevaluate our bilingual goals and come up with a system or language routine that will continue to foster growth, language, and family unity. I still don't know exactly what that looks like, but I do know that we want everyone to continue to learn and love our target language as well as feel connected to each other, because, really, that's what non-native bilingual parenting is all about!!

15 July 2017

How it all began...with Baby Ben!

I came across this little snippet from almost 25 years ago. It reminded me how far we've come in the last 25 years. I remember having no idea if our little German experiment would work. Ben was our first child. We were college students at the time and dirt poor and so we only owned a handful of German books. But we read them a lot. We loved the picture dictionary books. The book that I'm reading to him in the video really helped us all to improve our German vocab.

My little Baby Ben is turning 25 this year and he is still fluent in German. When he calls home, he talks to his little siblings in German. In this video, he is saying some of his first German words. It was fun for me to find this video of my sweet little baby Ben and to remember our early years of non-native bilingual parenting. During these years, we were still very unsure of ourselves. We weren't sure if we were going to mess up our kids or if we'd succeed. But I still remember the thrill of hearing Ben respond to us in German. It was so exciting for us.

The following video is only a year later, and Ben's vocab and his ability to communicate have increased tremendously. By this age, he spoke almost exclusively German to us. The whole non-native bilingual parenting thing was still so new. Each day, we seemed to be forging into unknown territory. It's interesting how much easier and more comfortable we got as more and more kids came along. It just makes me so grateful that we stuck with it and continued, even when we weren't 100% sure of the outcome. And, it's just so fun to look back and see the beginning stages of our non-native bilingual experiment!!

25 March 2017

Encouraging Target Language Use Through Our German Home School Days!

In order to help the kids continue to immerse themselves in German, I pull them out of their regular school about one day every week (or once every other week) and home school them in German. Like I've mentioned before, my kids' primary language is slowly switching from German to English. This is inevitable, since we live in the United States, my husband and I are native English speakers, all their friends speak English, and they attend an English-speaking public school. So, naturally, their primary language will eventually be Englsih. In fact, I am quite surprised at how long we were able to keep German as their primary language! They only started increasingly speaking English at home in the past 9 months! It is not my intention to "fight" the English that is creeping into our home, but merely to continue to encourage as much German as possible. I want to give them opportunities where it feels comfortable and natural to speak German (our target language). Our pseudo-German-home-school is one of those opportunities. As we work on German work sheets and read German books, the kids naturally start speaking mostly in German to each other.

14 February 2017

Reaching Higher Levels through Educational Software and Home Schooling!

We are continuing to "part-time home school" our three youngest children. I keep them home from school one day each week (more or less). On that day, usually it's a Wednesday, we do German lessons. I have a German 2nd grade curriculum that we work from . We also work a little on math and, often, I have them work on their regular school (English) homework.

I especially like that our German curriculum comes with some helpful software. The following video is of my Simon working on creating sentences in German. He has to put the phrases in the correct order to either create a statement or a question. It's so fun to see the kids learning so much. They aren't quite up to a native German 2nd grade level, as they often don't understand certain words. But by working through the German school curriculum, the kids continue to improve their German past the level that they would achieve by merely speaking German at home with their non-native German-speaking parents.  For non-native bilingual parenting to be successful, we need to expose our children to as many outside resources as possible in order to help them continue to progress in the target language.

Thank goodness for Technology Post

12 February 2017

Long Distance Target Language Relationships

With half the kids grown up and moved out, it always makes me so happy when I see the older kids interacting with their siblings who are still at home via phone, skype, and text--especially when that interaction is in our target language: German. This afternoon, I caught Simon on the phone with his older sisters Kiana and Michaela. One of the reasons I recorded the conversation is because I thought it was interesting how the older kids still speak only German to their younger siblings. Yes, English often creeps into the conversation (as it did in this recording), but usually the kids return to German.
I feel like we're at the point of maintaining our German to the best of our ability. The little kids have switched to speaking more English with each other, but they definitely still communicate in German as well. The older kids almost always speak only German to the little ones and the little ones respond in German. Because the younger kids have always only spoken German to their older siblings, it's much easier to maintain the target language in that relationship. I know that, eventually, they will switch to English. But for now, I'm grateful that they are willing to continue speaking German to each other. It's great practice for the older kids as well as the younger ones!

03 January 2017

It's not about perfection! Bilingual Parenting Goals for the New Year!

I try to have an honest blog. Raising kids is not easy. And raising kids in a language which you do not speak natively can be downright hard at times. But I know it can be done. I'm not the perfect example of non-native bilingual parenting. I know there are plenty of families who do a much better job than we have done. But neither we, nor any other family, is going to do it perfectly. Each family has their own struggles, their own unique personalities, their own histories, and their own situations. No one is going to have a perfect family and no one is going to do a perfect job of raising bilingual kids. It's just not possible.
But, we can all do our best--whatever that is. It's January...a time to evaluate and set goals. I have plenty of goals swimming around in my head. Many of these goals relate to our non-native bilingual parenting attempt. January is a good time to think about how far we've come and where we want to go. I'm grateful that we have made the German language a part of our family identity. I'm often amazed that I have 8 kids who all understand and speak German (even if they don't do so perfectly). This week, I've been thinking about my goals in all areas of my life. There's a lot I would like to accomplish this year. Many of these goals are much more important than my children's foreign language development (for example, my family's spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being). But our bilingualism IS still very important to me me. If it weren't, we wouldn't have 8 bilingual kids. And it's important to have goals. Without some sort of goal, we don't have any direction. So that said, here are some of my non-native bilingual parenting goals this year:
  1. Continue to talk German to my kids, even when they speak English to me.
  2. Continue to do our German school once a week (where we learn to read and write in German)
  3. Continue to read German chapter books to the kids every night.
  4. Have the kids read from German books every day.
  5. Continue to expose them to French (have a French lesson at least each week)
In addition, I want to make sure that the kids have fun and continue to value their ability to speak two languages. Rather than force the kids to learn against their will, I want to take each of their unique personalities and characteristics and find a way to help each of them reach their own potential. 

Speaking of funny personalities, here's a cute video of my attempt to take a picture of my three youngest in their Christmas jammies. You can probably guess which one requires extra patience and a more active approach to learning....love these kiddos!

Good luck to all of you and your non-native bilingual parenting goals in 2017!!!

As you can see, we're still speaking mostly German to the kids.
Video translation: Just me and my husband encouraging the kids to stand still for 1 second so we can take a single picture :).

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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.