I've been thinking lately about my language goals for my son and me. I'm trying to raise him bilingually in German and English while not being a native German speaker.
And I feel like I keep trying to beat this into myself, but ... I really need to be intentional about it. Attending a German-immersion preschool two days a week is an excellent start for Mikko to become familiar with understanding German, but I really want both of us to improve at speaking German.
The latest update from the preschool teachers is that he's had a verbal explosion, something we've seen at home as well. Mikko is 2.75 years old, will be 3 in June, and he's really done everything at his own pace (read: slowly), including talking. I wasn't worried, because there was nothing wrong. His hearing had checked out (much better than mine, I'm afraid), and he was signing up a storm. I knew some kids just take longer than others to get their feet under them, verbally speaking. (What a terrible metaphor that just was. Now I'm picturing feet under a mouth.)
Anyway, when his teachers started raving about how much he's been talking at Schule lately, I made the mistaken assumption that some of these utterances were auf Deutsch. Ah, no, they informed me — it's all in English. But that's normal! they reassured me. And I know it is. I've seen even the older kids of the school (4 and 5 years old) who have native German parents speak only English and have to be reminded (constantly) to speak German by the teachers. (They do this only with the older kids.)
But just because it's normal doesn't make it ideal! I have felt self-conscious ever since first moving to Germany when I was 10 about how bad my German is. I hate speaking it with native speakers, fearing that they're silently criticizing me, that I'm murdering their beloved language before their eyes. I really, really want my son to be able to speak German confidently and boldly. Notice I didn't say "perfectly" or even "fluently." He can get to whatever skill level he wants to.
I just want him not to be afraid.
And I think the place to start? Well, duh, with myself, of course.
I need to get over this fear. I think if Mikko sees me speaking German myself, with abandon, that he will feel like he has a partner and can join in. I much prefer speaking German with other non-native learners, because I know we're all on the same team. I'm hoping to create my own mini-team of Mikko and me, but that means doing some things that (a) might scare me at first and (b) will inconvenience me a little.
And all this means: I need a plan.
I have been reading umpteen good articles by Sarah Mueller over at Alphabet Garten about making a language plan for your family. Her tips can work for your family no matter what language you're being intentional about, including sign language. Here are some resources she's put together to help (you, me, Mikko, everybody!):
- If you sign up for the Alphabet Garten newsletter, Sarah will send you the free, downloadable book Creating Your German Immersion Plan: How to plan for bilingual success in your family. As I said, I think it works for any language. It will help you identify your starting point, your goals, and ways to get where you want to be. It's especially useful with older (school-age) children, because you can incorporate them into the decision-making process.
- Create your concrete action plan at The Taking Action Forum and then update daily or weekly with your progress. This will give you public accountability. If your family doesn't speak German, maybe you can find a similar forum in your target language where you can start a thread like this.
- Have you considered abandoning German because of a bully? (Hint: The bully is you.) Read this if you're feeling discouraged by your lack of skill or your lack of progress.
- I will continue to speak German on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as well as to and from Schule (and whenever else I feel like it). I find that the more I speak, the more I find it comfortable. It's just the remembering that's the challenge. Well, that and the fact that my vocabulary is terrible. Which brings me to point #2:
- I will practice improving my own German for 15 minutes each day. That sounds doable, right? I've found a site called Livemocha that offers free online lessons (in a variety of languages) using video and audio, as well as a community of native speakers willing to review other people's work. In other words, I review people's attempts at English, and someone else reviews my German. I haven't tried out that function yet, but it sounds rewarding. The lessons themselves are very basic, but you know? I can really use anything to reinforce my grammar and expand my vocabulary, so I'm going for it. I'll see how far I go with the free version and then figure out what I want to do from there.
- On German-speaking days, I will play only German children's music (particularly in the car) or children's books-on-tape (exclusively in the car, since that's the only place we still have a tape deck!), and I will read only German books for bedtime stories and throughout the day. This means preparing my environment to have all the tools handy. Audiotapes stay in the car, but I should grab the iPod before I go and cue it to my German section. I have some German books by the bed, but I should get out others.
- Don't believe I'm serious? Here's my public action plan on the forum! Now I'll have to admit it when I fail succeed gloriously!
- Here's more of the scary part. I need to speak German to actual Germans, and I need Mikko to witness this fearlessness (ack ack ack — just writing this makes me nervous). I'll start with speaking only German to his teachers at school. Baby steps, right? Deep breath. Then I'll consider going to one of the Kinderstube playgroup events that have real Germans at them. Ack ack ack. If you live in Seattle and you speak German, let this be my advance plea not to laugh at me. Danke sehr in advance.
- Don't tell Sam, but I'd really like to take a trip to a German-speaking country again. (Oh, crap, he reads my blog, doesn't he? The secret's out.) The problem is, it means money (eep) and flying a bazillion hours with a toddler (double eep). We're trying out a family plane trip this summer to the East Coast, so that will be my test on whether to even dream this, for the near or distant future. (Maybe, in addition to the English airport books, this would help?) I find it's a lot easier to immerse yourself in German when, um, you don't have a choice! And one thing that's really missing from my non-native German is the culture part of the language. I do what I can, but being within the actual culture would do so much more!