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!!

1 comment:

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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.