Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Speak regular": Where we're at with German

He'll still eat German food.

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

Ok, so this is one of those confessional posts. I wanted to give an update to our bilingual childrearing (German and English), but it's not a happy update.

For various reasons, we recently pulled Mikko, now 4 years old, out of his twice-a-week language immersion preschool (German and Spanish). In the few short weeks since, he seems to have forgotten all German. I'm sure this can't be true, but he's giving a good imitation of it.

Most distressingly for me, he gets frustrated and annoyed if I speak to him in German. So I get to hear things like this:

"I don't know that in Spanish, Mama." (He gets the names of languages mixed up.)

"Speak regular, Mama." (Oh, this kills me.)

"Don't speak English, Mama." (Did I mention he gets the names of languages mixed up?)

I'm trying to make sure he doesn't say "speak regular" around people who speak … um … irregularly. Er, I mean, in a different language. It sounds (hilariously) offensive even to this monolingual's ears.


So I'm reevaluating where I want to go from here. Even though Alrik is just four months old, I feel like he might be my helpmeet going forward. From stories I've heard from other multilingual families, I know that usually (always) kids will speak the majority language to each other. But Alrik can't speak yet, so Mikko doesn't know that! For now, I feel like if I persist in talking to Alrik in German, Mikko might want to be in on the action.

And, I do truly suspect he still knows more German (aka Spanish/English) than he gives himself credit for.

What I don't want to do is start making German a chore and a burden to him. So I think I'll try to find new ways to make it fun. I was just going with matter-of-fact up till now (same as with English), but maybe some fun injection is what we need to get past this resistance.

Here are some of my ideas:
  • Sing at least one German song every day. Mikko loves songs and wants to learn lyrics. He loves "Grün, grün, grün sind alle meine Kleider," so I'll start with that one. He likes to shout out which color I should sing next, and he comes up with some silly ones that I have to improvise to.
  • Listen to German music on our iPod in the car. I get lazy about bringing it out to the car and keeping it charged (it's old). And some days I just don't feel like listening to "Ich bin dein Gummibär" fifteen times in a row. I must get over this aversion.
  • Read at least one German book every day. This should be a no-brainer to go along with bedtime story time, but we're not good at doing much of anything on a schedule. I need to put a stack of German books by the bed so I always have a good one handy.
  • Subscribe to a German children's magazine or buy some activity books. Mikko loves doing the activities in his High Five magazine and Puzzle Buzz (both offshoots of Highlights magazine, with subscriptions paid for by Grandma), and I realized having some sort of easy, preschool-level puzzles in German would be just the thing. Yes, I could make some, but when is that going to happen? Let's be realistic here. Someone once recommended a German children's magazine that looked similar to High Five, but I got scared about the thought of ordering a subscription from a different country. (Am I the only one who would find this threatening?) I might just have to deal with the uncertainty (shipping charges? foreign transaction fees? writing customer service in German for help?) and give it a shot. I also see that Alphabet Garten has some magnetic and sticker books, which would be a hit. I tend to be very cheap about this sort of thing and try not to spend money on books, like, ever, but I might have to suck it up in this situation. (Fortunately, I can afford to at this point; I just don't like to.)
  • Buy or play a German game. This should have occurred to me before now as well. I should look to see if I can find some fun and simple games to purchase or create. I see Alphabet Garten has some card games that could be fun.
  • Look again for German kids DVDs or streaming shows. I think this is relatively impossible, due to piracy laws. But I guess it's worth a look around now and again. I really want something that's not a language-learning DVD but just a fun cartoon, TV show, or movie aimed at kids. Sometimes we are able to find something fun to watch on YouTube, so I'll look again there for some videos that fit his age and interest levels.
  • Speak to Alrik exclusively in German when Mikko's around. I want to see if peer pressure sets in early.
  • Continue speaking to Mikko in German but allow for some wiggle room. I've found myself explaining key vocabulary to him in English as I talk ("die Zahnbürste — your toothbrush," I'll say), since it relieves the stress he's feeling at (apparently) not understanding me. At times I feel like this is "cheating," but I really do want to honor his discomfort and not freak him out. Language is supposed to be about communicating, after all! I also feel like it makes things less tiring for me to allow myself to speak some measure of Genglish rather than forcing myself to speak either perfect German or not at all. I had worried about the impurity of such an approach, but I figure saying a sentence half in German won't confuse him any longer about what is the German part and what is not, and I'd rather get some vocabulary out there even if I can't figure out the grammar in the moment.
  • Make some German playdates. I have historically been so shy about getting together with people, but these past few weeks have seen a playdate BOOM. Sam and I are passing out our digits left and right. It's actually really helped that Mikko's not in preschool anymore, because we're feeling the need to socialize at the same time that our schedule is really wide open. I need to seize the momentum and meet up with some German families, either in group get-togethers or, later, one-on-one. I will go to the Seattle Kinderstube site and figure out what's going on that we can participate in.
  • Incorporate German culture in pleasant ways. I've been doing this just because I like to anyway, but I'll keep it up. Yesterday we went to Bratz Gourmet German Food in the University District (in the photo above), which is just like an Imbiß (snack bar) with yummy, yummy Currywurst, Jägerschnitzel, Pommes-Frites (natürlich), Bretzl, usw. When we go downtown to Pike Place Market, we always stop in at Bavarian Meats for some meaty treats plus some imported goodies. We celebrated Nikolaustag last year and I can look for some new ways to celebrate German holidays.

To those of you who have dealt with any similar snags before, please do share your wisdom in the comments! Even if you're not currently on a bilingual journey (or it's been smooth sailing!), I'd love for your input on what would make language learning continue to be fun for a preschooler so we don't lose the progress we've made so far, now that I don't have preschool to support us. (Note that I haven't yet figured out what to do about continuing [real] Spanish yet, either…)

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Nev said...

Ohhhh I didn't know you knew German. And is that because you are German? Well, I am and I am having a hard time trying to keep speaking German to my 14 months old but am getting better.

For breakfast we watch some German stuff on the laptop (We use RTL Now..not the best tv channel I know but we love Unsere erste gemeinsame Wohnung ;p). I also love listening to MDR 1 Radio Sachsen (which is where I am from) and they play a lot of Schlager. Hehehe.

The husband doesn't speak German and before we had her wasn't keen on me speaking German to her but there's no way she's growing up without it. Her Oma and Opa don't speak English.

Anyway.. I love this and am very interested in your progress. :)


Ali said...

I'm a Canadian living in Germany, and we are a bilingual fmaily as well. My problem is getting the kids to speak more English. Now that my oldest has started school and is taking English, she sees the advantage of knowing English and is more eager to speak it, but my 5 year old isn't that interested.

If you look on youtube, there are Sandmännchen videos, those are nice 10 minute cartoons. I could also send you some magazines or books if you want

Becky said...

My two-year-old loves, loves, LOVES Die Seite mit dem Elefanten. It has games, songs, 1-2 minute cartoons featuring der Elefant und der Hase, and the 25 minute show "Die Sendung mit dem Elefanten" that they change weekly on Sunday. I love it too!

Angela Toucan said...

Dora the explorer come in various languages on each DVD (or at least it does here in the UK) they nearly all have a Spanish version. Dora doesn't speak German yet unfortunately.

I'll ask my mother-in-law when I see her at the weekend if she's got any suggestions for you. I've lost count of how many languages she speaks but German is her second and she currently teaches languages to kids in central Europe.

Jamie said...

Random, but did you know that there is at least one other Hobo Mama out there? ( Seems to have much different parenting philosophy from yours...

Anyway... We are a little iPhone/ iPad crazy in this house. And by "we" I mean my husband. I don't know if you are outfitted with these miracle devices (heavy sarcasm), but if so, are there apps in German that Mikko could play?? I think that my son would do just about anything to get his hands on daddy's toys, so maybe Mikko would be into it too? As negative as I am being towards them right now, there are some educational games and it might just be the thing...

I would be interested to hear more about why Mikko stopped preschool. We have a 3 year old who is in "school" even though I am home and doesn't really have to be there. I was working full time, but now am not- he actually wanted to go back, so we've put him back in, but at great expense! I'm not sure it's really necessary and would love to know your thoughts at some point. Thanks!

Sylvia@MaMammalia said...

I say this from experience from my own childhood...I would suggest speaking whatever languages you want your children to learn at home. All the time. Everyday. Not as play, not as a lesson, but as a way of life. That's how humans acquire language. Home life is the best immersion "school" there is!

I was bilingual when I learned to speak because I was born abroad and my mother is a non-native English speaker. By the time I was school age, we returned to live in the US and eventually my parents only spoke English at home. THAT was a big mistake! The story is that I said, "NO, we speak mommy there and we speak daddy here." It was foolish for my parents to take me seriously. I can still understand most Portuguese, but I have always deeply regretted that we didn't speak it at home. Moral of the story: don't listen to a 4 year-old's language preference. Just speak the languages you want him to learn. He'll learn them all eventually, and one day he'll be grateful you gave him the chance!

Momma Jorje said...

Does Mikko like to help? My plan is for Sasha to help teach Spencer sign language. I've seen videos of kids doing this in their own sibling play time!

You could possibly (or maybe not, if you think the basis to be rude) point out that it would be like a secret family language since it is rare to find people that speak German. So that if you all get good at it, you can talk to each other and be SPIES because no one else will understand you! (make sense?)

Um, just a game idea that popped into my mind... kind of like I Spy, but using German. You could use it when grocery shopping! Maybe do your shopping list exclusively in German?

How messed up is it that I want to write more (you know us and our long comments!), but just don't have anything else to say? :-P

And my capcha "word?": blogen. sounds like German for BLOG to me. lol

Nikki ( said...

I've been really enjoying reading about your linguistic adventures with your kids! My husband is German and I'm American (we live in Germany) and I'm expecting in February, so we are about to enter our own version of this adventure ourselves. But I wanted to recommend a German children's show to you: Janosch's Traumstunde. Really great children's program, the author is one of my favorites--so much so that I started collecting his books for myself long before we ever considered having a child.

Oh! Something fun just occurred to me, though I don't know if you'd be into it. I can get loads of German children's books at the fleamarket here (including the aforementioned Janosch of course), but what I'm lacking is access to cheaper English children's books. Would you be interested in an exchange? Like you find some books at a yard sale or library sale or whatever and send them to me, and I send you a package with German books and fun kids things? I love sending packages and the idea kind of sounds like a really amazing version of pen paling. Don't know how often the comments get looked at on old posts, but if you see this let me know! If not, perhaps I'll try to contact you via other channels as this idea has me feeling really excited. Best of luck!

Cassie said...

I love this post (well not that he isn't wanting to speak German), but I think bilingualism is such a huge advantage for children. My son is half mexican and it is so important to me for him to speak spanish.
I loved your list of ways to incorporate it into everyday life.
Just found your blog and I am excited to start following you!

lauren said...

I know this post is a bit old, but you can often find German versions of English kids programs on YouTube. For example, my daughter LOVES Micky Maus Wunderhaus (micky mouse clubhouse) and it has a lot of songs. There are a ton of episodes on there, usually in 2 10-minute parts.

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