Growing Up Bilingual
On this page, I hope to get some of my older children to write about their perceptions of growing up in our bilingual household. This first entry is by my 19 year old daughter, Michaela. She's currently in her first year of college:
Growing up German J
So my mother asked me to write a quick guest entry for her blog about what it was like growing up bilingual… that’s my whole life story she just asked me to fit on one page... Challenge accepted.
For parents reading this blog and thinking about following my mother’s footsteps I would strongly encourage it. I LOVE knowing a second language.
I have to be honest… knowing German in elementary school gave me some serious bragging rights. I busted out some German words and instantly kids thought I was cool. However, it did cause some confusion because as a 6 or 7 year old I didn't quite grasp the concept of knowing German as opposed to being German. So, obviously I told the other kids that I was from Germany. I was talking with my roommate, Sydney, the other day and we were discussing this same topic when I mentioned that some people still thought I was actually German. She stopped what she was doing and exclaimed, “Michaela! I didn’t know you weren’t actually German!!! Oh my gosh! My whole life is a lie!!!” So… I suppose I never got around to correcting that…
For all you mothers out there who are reading this blog, I want you to understand just how grateful I am to know German. Of course, it is hard to put into words because I didn't know any different as I grew up. But I can now appreciate the added depth it gave my life. I had a whole new level of cultural understanding that I would have missed out on. In particular, I especially loved that we celebrated many German Christmas traditions. I will always cherish my "German" Christmas memories: Waking up on St. Nikolaus day and looking for my plate of goodies, lighting the candles on the advent wreath each Sunday, and, of course, singing all the beautiful German Christmas carols.
At home my siblings and I would do our “Deutsche Hausaufgaben” or German Homework. Like any little kid when it comes to school I don’t think I jumped for joy when we had to do it. However, I do know that I liked doing German Homework more than English homework. One of my fondest memories was listening to mom read German books/stories as we lay in our beds. This was a magical time for us kids, as well as very educational. It was a time when we could relax and imagine the Grimm Fairy tales coming alive or Räuber Hotzenplotz trying to attempt another mischievous scheme. For me, at least, I know that I would think in German as mom read the stories and be carried away in the fantasy of the tale. My favorite German character was Pipi Langstrumpf (Pippi Longstocking). I loved all of her many adventures. I would often play by myself pretending to be as strong as my childhood hero vanquishing all my foes with long stockings and pigtails.
One aspect that differentiated us from other kids growing up is that we would always watch different shows than everyone else at school. While my friends watched Arthur we watched Benjamin Blümchen. This wasn’t a huge issue but it was hard to connect with other kids who didn’t understand what we were referencing. Going through grade school, all the kids new that Kiana and I spoke German. Being labeled as “German Girl” for me wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, I took a lot of pride in being able to speak German and being different. There are too many stories to tell in one post but even at such a young age I think a part of me understood that knowing a second language set me apart.
Within the family, having German has been a lot of fun. I think it gave us a sense of belonging, another bond that tied us together. In my early teenage years (before the 3 little ones were born) we had switched to only speaking German in traditional settings (meals, prayers, etc.) and when we didn't want other people to know what we were saying. A friend of mine commented the other day saying, “I always know when your mom is mad at you because she switches right to German”. I laughed and agreed seeing how we had stopped using German for simple communication, but still used it when we needed to communicate privately. But after the 3 little ones were born we began speaking quite a bit more German at home again.
If I have one regret it is not keeping up with my German more than I did. My junior year of high school I took an online German course because my high school did not offer German. I realized just how much I had let my German go. My grammar was atrocious and I couldn't communicate as well as I wanted to. It is something that I want to improve upon and get better at. Right now I am considering living in the German House at college (in a special foreign language complex). I loved speaking German at home and I want to have that atmosphere around me while away from home.
Overall the impact of growing up German has been wonderful. I have found that my understanding of culture and language has grown immensely. I am not afraid to be different and I love learning about different cultures and I think my background has helped me appreciate different ways of thinking. I would conclude by saying that speaking German was not a hindrance to my education but rather an open door to new and fresh perspectives.