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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