Saturday, May 31, 2014

Adding a Third Language at 5?

As I walked in the door this evening, I saw it on the floor. There was no mistaking it, with the return address from PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Enrollment and Transfer Center. We'd been waiting for weeks to hear if we'd make the lottery for the Dual Spanish Immersion Program at our neighborhood school, and alas, we found out:

We made the cut (!!!??!?!?!?!$&!!@%$^$%^!).

For me, just hours from the news, my heart swims with emotions--excitement, fear, relief, curiosity, eagerness--and my mind swirls with thoughts. Can we trust an immersion program in it's first year at a school? What will adding a third language do to her non-community language (German)? What happens if we end up getting into our 'dream school' part way through the year--and then we don't like it?

When Geoff and I were on the fence about whether we wanted any more children, we agreed that we didn't want to make the decision based on fear (I'm afraid she'll feel alone in the world if she doesn't have any siblings...). Instead, we wanted to make a decision based on inspiration, based on the song of our heart beneath the fear.  Naturally, we want to do the same with this decision, too--a good reminder for me right now, as my mind spins and my stomach tries to talk me into a chocolate smoothie. There's nothing like chocolate ice cream to make everything feel easier in the moment.

So, then, what would my heart say if it could talk?
What would I hear if I listened?

I would love for Kaya to learn Spanish. As I told her tonight, it was the first language that I learned in school, the one I learned before German. The idea of my daughter knowing the same languages that I do leaves me with a cozy feeling.

And my brain is saying the following, too. Naturally, Spanish is a much more useful language to know than German, so there's that. But even if she's only in this Dual Immersion program for a year or less, a program which is conducted 90% in Spanish and 10% in English, I can imagine that the learning opportunity would only be beneficial. Right?

A month ago, we thought we had this school thing all figured out. After having discovered that we were 63rd on the wait list at the school that had me in tears of joy on curriculum night, we decided that we'd enroll Kaya for next year at her current school--a continuing Kindergarten class at her outdoor immersion forest farm preschool (Waldorf inspired). I met with her teacher, talked to the director, and felt great about the decision. And then, Kaya told me one night that she didn't want to go to school there next year. She was ready to be inside more, done with being so muddy and wet, and eager to learn to write--a much cuter, longer tale than I'm sharing now, but curt to stick to the point. She was also tired of being in the car so much, about 25 minutes each direction. And so, wanting to honor our daughter's wishes, we gave it some good thought, and decided to consider other options, optimally closer to home.  

And so here we sit...with three enticing neighborhood options in our laps:
1. Traditional kindergarten option at our local public school, which is rumored to be a good program now (after years of being one of the worst in the city) [$ free]
2. Dual Spanish immersion in that same school: 1 classroom, 1st year, non-existent reputation at this school but solid at others [$ free]
3. Local Waldorf kindergarten with about 6 children, with my friend, in her home [$ the same amount we'd put away for her college if we chose a free option]

Something tells me that you understand my quandary.
I bet you even understand why I'm craving chocolate...

Clearly, I don't have an answer. But what I do know is that I'd love your input. While I've finally learned that I need to get quiet and seek within for my answer, I also feel strongly that data would feel good right now. Are there legitimate fears I can put to rest? Are there valid considerations to weigh on?

As always, I love being on this journey with you--while I haven't had much time to branch out into the blogging world lately, I love that you come here, as it really makes a difference to feel so in community. This video of my new-found source of inspiration makes me think of us--singing our song together, from all over the world, each in our own beautiful place--and simultaneously reminds me to search within, and listen.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Eating, Wash a What?

Last year, I went to this really amazing retreat led by Chozen Bays, a Buddhist mindfulness teacher who is also an M.D. It had such an impact on my life at the time, changing not only the way that I ate, but more importantly, my entire relationship with food. While I've slipped back into some of my tendencies to wolf down my dinner and do all sorts of things while eating (including thinking...), the principles still permeate our lives, and very clearly trickle down into Kaya's world as well.

Most recently, she and I were sitting at the table, eating breakfast before school. In the middle of our table, in and around the rocks surrounding a candle, live our Mindful Eating Reminder & Encouragement Cards--a small stack of cards on a ring that Chozen made to support us in our daily lives after the retreat. From this mini deck, Kaya, Geoff and I will often choose a card that serves as a reminder or inspiration for how to eat more mindfully. It's quite a fun game, actually, as we always choose them randomly, and there's never an obligation to participate. So, on this particular morning, I picked up the deck and randomly flipped it open to a card. We both laughed, as it landed on the same card that had come up for me multiple times in the last 4 days:

When Eating, Just Eat.

Clearly, a sign from the universe that I need to be a hell of a lot more present when I'm eating.

So, there I am, determined this time to hone in and be present. I look at the rocks, chewing my cheerios, swallowing my milk, noticing the multitude of textures and flavors in my mouth. And then, Kaya makes a noise that I can't even begin to explain with text. She was wearing her felted owl around her neck (which her teacher at school gifted her for her birthday), and apparently, she'd dripped some milk on his head. Being my mother's daughter, hearing her concerns about souring milk echoing in my head, I gently reach over, grab her owl from his nest, and assure her that all will be well. Nothing a little water can't cure. As I return from the sink, and sit back into my seat, Kaya says something that left me laughing incessantly:

Mama, du hast nicht gehort zu der Karte. Du hast "When eating, just wash a owl!" [Mama, you didn't listen to the card. You did "When eating, just wash a owl!"]

I couldn't believe how tuned in she was, to the card, to me, to the whole concept--and how she brought it all together into this cute little mixed-language statement. And perhaps, the part that had me laughing the hardest was how it sounded when she said 'a owl'. As you may recall, I come from quite the grammar-nazi family--the language nuances were drilled deep, including the types of indefinite pronouns that need to be used before nouns starting with vowels ('an' vs.'a'). So, while it's hard to explain why I found that so funny, and that I certainly wasn't laughing at my daughter for using the 'wrong' article, it added to the hilarity of the whole situation. I laughed so hard, and for so long, that Kaya kept looking at me sideways, saying nothing but "Mom!", pleading me to stop and wondering why I found it so funny.

One day, maybe I'll share more about the 7 types of hungers about which Chozen teaches (Eye Hunger, Mouth Hunger, Nose Hunger, Stomach Hunger, Heart Hunger, Body Hunger, Mind Hunger), as they are pretty fascinating and have definitely made a huge difference in our family. In fact, soon after I came home from the weekend retreat last year, and had taught Geoff and Kaya about the different types, Kaya made a comment one day at the table in which she told me, quite matter of fact, "Mama, ich habe viel Augenhunger in Moment!" [Mama, I have a lot of eye hunger right now!]  This is after days on end of whining to Geoff and I about her desire to eat: "Ich wiw Essen, aber ich hab' kein Hunger!" [I want to eat, but I'm not hungry!]. She would get very angry, screaming and sometimes crying because we'd tell her that we like her to eat when she's hungry because it's healthier, as opposed to just eating for other reasons (it looks good, smells good, seems good, feels good, etc).

There's another retreat coming up in early June, and while I would so love to go to another one and deepen my practice, I couldn't be happier that Geoff has chosen to go instead. I'm quite curious and excited to feel the ripple effects from a different perspective...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

German is Here to Stay

If this weren't such a passion of mine, and perhaps more importantly, if I hadn't finally been able to loosen up a good bit around this whole topic, I would feel quite embarrassed at my pomp and circumstance from my post the other day, only to be followed by the experiences of the supposed, Day 1. 

So, there I was, lying in my bed that next morning, hearing the pitter-patter of Kaya's feet at she came into my room to wake me. "Wann stehen wir auf...?" [When are we getting up?] she whispered, more quietly than she usually makes herself known in the mornings. Was that German, I wondered, half-asleep, slowly remembering her excitement of the plan the night before. What do I do? Respond in German, as usual, or stick to our 'plan' and overcome the awkwardness of speaking my native language with my daughter?

I chose the latter, with a half-smile on my face, eagerly wondering how she'd respond. She, too, got a half-smile on hers. "Do you want me to speak English with you?" I asked her. She nodded, silently. So, I kept overcoming my temptation to revert to German, pushing through the strangeness of the communication experience. At this point, a few days later as I write this, it's hard for me to remember all the details of our exchange, but what stands out is when she asked me, about 10 minutes into the morning, when we'd start speaking English together--in German. "I am speaking English with you," I responded, slowly, with a smile. This is after I'd spoken a number of sentences with her in both English and German, and her having spoken only German with me. 

I clearly remember looking at the clock about an hour later, making a mental note that, despite her initial excitement, and her comments about her continuing desire, she still had yet to mutter even one sentence to me in English. Similar to days, weeks, and years prior, she was still inserting a word or two here and there, when she didn't have the word in German to use--but as for full sentences, really making that first step towards transitioning to our 'new structure', nothing.

On the way to school, continuing to live in this strange land where mama speaks a sentence here and there in English, and Kaya responds in only German, Kaya says, "Ich habe Angst, mit dir Englisch zu sprechen..." [I'm scared to speak English with you...] When I asked her if she knew why, she said she didn't. I validated for her that it must feel strange for her, likely in the same way it feels for me. When I picked her up after school--a time which can often be a bit emotionally challenging because she's tired and in need of a break--I wasn't sure which language to choose. So, I went with 'business as usual' from the morning, trying a sentence here and there in English, curious to see how she'd respond. Again, German in response. And, similar to our drive to school, she shared with me again that she was scared to speak English with me. Again, I asked if she knew what felt scary. She bit my head off with that one, telling me adamantly, "Ich weiss es nicht! Ich will nicht mehr darueber sprechen, Mama!" [I don't know! I don't want to talk about it anymore, Mama!

What I found so interesting about the day up to that point is that I didn't find myself feeling attached one way or another. Emotionally, I was aware of some relief that I felt, that we have this bond, in this special language, and it won't just 'come apart', just like that. A friend pointed out, a few days later, that it's going to take a lot longer for her to get used to speaking English with me. For sure. As a language teacher, and someone who has started a number of relationships in various languages with people, I know how challenging it can be to switch once you've started--and that doesn't even factor in the mother-daughter emotional bond that exists which naturally contributes to the feelings that accompany the language.

As I'm tucking her into bed that night, after an evening of more of the same (smatterings of English from Mama, only German from Kaya), Kaya says to me, quite calmly and matter-of-fact: " Ich glaube, es geht nicht, Englisch zu ist zu 'weird', mit Dir Englisch zu sprechen." [I believe it's not going to work to speak's too weird to speak English with you.] "Das ist OK," [That's ok] I told her, feeling so much love and admiration in my heart for her ability to just be with what is, and state it as such. "Wir koennen nochmal probieren, wenn wir wollen, wenn es sich nicht so komisch fuehlt." [We can try it again if we want, when it doesn't feel so strange.]

And with that, we kissed goodnight and said goodbye, at least temporarily, to the plan that I actually thought would work (despite all of the evidence I had to the contrary). I wanted it to work--I would love to be able to communicate with each other in my native language at times. And at the same time, I'm relieved it didn't. I am very happy we have this with each other, despite how challenging it feels for both of us at times to say exactly what we want to say. 

But from this whole experience I realize that the German's not going anywhere anytime soon--so, I wonder, why not play around with some English a bit more, at least in those moments when I really want to include others more, or I just want to get something really complicated across to her? Yes, I could be opening Pandora's box to a slippery slope of mixing hell, but it is our life and our relationship, right? We can have our cake and eat it too, to the point that I can support her knowledge and ability in this second language, and simultaneously 'exactify' our ability to communicate as we want in any particular moment?

The next question becomes...what do we do if we actually make the lottery for the Spanish Immersion Program at our local elementary school?!!?

(As always, would LOVE to hear your comments, input, or shared experiences! Thanks for traveling this journey with us!)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Changing the Structure After 5 Years?!

It's been so long since I've written on this here lil' blog that I was surprised that my computer even remembered the address when I typed the first three letters. If it hadn't been for those of you vocal and committed readers, letting me know you're out there, sharing your thoughts in response to my past posts, I probably would have had to go through the effort of typing out every last letter.

On a more serious note, I so appreciate reminders that you're out there. In fact, the most recent note I received is likely the reason that I'm here now.
So, thank you!
I've missed you, dear international community.
And I've missed blogging.

But I'm back. Hopefully for a while, but at least for tonight.
Things are brewin' on the bilingual horizon and I couldn't not share.

As I left Kaya's room tonight, after tucking her in, I hear from her, in her sweet little 5-year-old voice, "Ich hab' dich lieb, sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr viel!" [I love you, very very very very very much!]
A Look of Confidence that Pierces
Oneonta Gorge in the Columbia River Gorge
Heart-melting, without a doubt.
To be quickly followed up with a similarly sweet, "Schlaf schoen, Mami!"

As much as I'd like to wax on a side note about the strangeness of this whole 'Mami' phase, after being called 'Mama' for 4 years, and most recently 'Mom', I will stick to the point that I was originally wanting to make: after the last 3 years of speaking only German with one another, using the commonly known methodology of OPOL (one parent, one language), it is still the language we use to communicate, albeit for a few words here and there that we both throw in when we don't know the term in German.

That makes me really happy!
Especially when I consider the road we traveled to get here.'s about to all change.

As you may know, if you've been around since the beginning, or been curious enough to explore my posts from back then, I've certainly had my moments where I was ready to give up, and gave it very strong consideration. Granted, I never planned on throwing in the towel was more a matter of wanting to lighten the 'burden', the stress of not knowing (particular words, phrases, and more challenging, what the outcome would be), the pressure (of feeling like I should know more, speak better, etc), the fear (would we have enough connection, would she suffer somehow?), the doubt (is all this effort 'worth it'?). I thought about all sorts of different arrangements that I might work to ease my stress, including picking certain days, or parts of days, when we might speak some English with each other. I even remember a time, a few Christmases ago, when I thought we might whisper when we wanted to speak English. That seems so funny now.  But I never 'let' myself try any of those alternatives. As much as I was very committed to her proficiency in German, I was also very afraid of what might happen if I did let up. And, underneath that, what that might mean about me if I did?

Apparently, the intense personal development and coaching training has paid off, for I'm no longer stopped by my fear in this arena (and how great that feels!)...:

As I was lying in bed with her, noticing how many English words she was infusing into her story from her day at school today, I asked her if she liked speaking German with me. "Jaaah," [yeeaah...] she said, wriggling with her whole body and burying her face in her pillow. As our conversation progressed, it became clear to me that she does like speaking German with me, and doesn't want to lose it, but is curious about and interested in speaking English with me, as well.

Me, too.
There has definitely been a part of me, since the beginning actually, that has wanted to have at least part of my relationship with my daughter in my native language--the reason that many, if not most?, bi- or multilingual parents choose the language they do with their children.
I'm no exception.

"Ich habe eine gute Idee," [I have a good idea] Kaya proclaimed, as we continued our discussion, snuggling close in the darkness of her room. "Wir koennten ein Jahr English sprechen, und dann ein Jahr Deutsch." [We could speak for one year in English, and one year in German.] I wasn't sure if she really meant 'year', or if she was going for another time frame--she is still learning the concept of time, and often gets the concepts confused, if not just the words (the bilingual thing definitely confuses the issue). After clarifying with her that she knew what a year really felt like (from the beginning of one school year, to the end, plus a whole summer), she verified that she really did mean 'year', and proceeded to explain to me why she thought this was a good idea. Granted, her reasoning wasn't much more than an explanation of what we'd do, but it was clearly her argument. One year English, then the next in German. Simple as that.

As much as I'm into the idea of exploring options at this point, especially with my fluent 5 year old, I'm not into losing the language, which, I shared with her, is likely what would happen if we took an entire year off from the language. While not initially convinced, she ultimately heard me, enough to listen to my 'counter-proposal': "Wir koennten an einem Tag der Woche Englisch sprechen," [We could speak English one day a week] not quite confident about my idea, but happier with it than the idea of losing our German. She clearly didn't like that idea. "Was?!" [What?!] was her quick rebuttal. "Nur ein Tag?!" [Only one day?] As we lay there, ruminating on this idea that neither of us was so fond of, Kaya chimes in again. "Ich habe eine gute Idee! Wir koennten ein Tag Deutsch und dann ein Tag Englisch" [I have a good idea! We could do one day German, and then one day English.]

What you gotta understand about this idea is how representative it is of how often this happens. Generally, we think of ourselves, as adults, as knowing more than kids, right? I mean, in my case, I've been on this planet for 35 years longer than my daughter, you'd think that I'd know more, and have more (and more unique?) ideas than my five year old. Well, apparently, bilingualism (or maybe it's just childhood?!) trumps my level of confidence, because it happens quite regularly that didn't even cross my mind--even on those topics, like this one, where I've been mulling for 3 years!
Kaya will come up with an idea that

Ingenious. One day on, one day off. The idea might exist in certain parenting books, but not any of the many that I read in her upbringing.

As I mulled this idea over in my head, as much as I loved it, I also noticed myself feeling a bit hesitant about what it might mean for her (our?!) German. She's already mixing quite a bit, particularly on days like today where she spent the last 40 hours in an English-speaking environment. So, I proposed an amendment: "Ich habe eine Idee! Wie waere es, wenn wir an den deutschen Tagen Deutsch sprachen, und an den Englischen Tagen, Englisch mit Deutsch wenn wir wollten?" [I have an idea! What about if we spoke German on the German days, and English on the English days with the option of speaking German if we wanted?]

Her antipathy was clear. That idea was not going to fly.

And with that, she responded calmly, "Ich habe eine Idee! Wie waere es, wenn wir an den deutschen Tagen Deutsch sprachen, und an den Englischen Tagen, Englisch?!" [What about if we spoke German on the German days, and English on the English days?] I know it may not seem so funny on the screen, and it didn't seem funny to her either ("Mama, das ist nicht lustig..." [Mama, that's not funny...she said, laughing along with me], but I found it hilarious that she would propose that, as if so sarcastically to make her point.

So, that's what we're doing.
After 3 years of one method, 5 years of only ever speaking to my daughter in German (with a few explosive exceptions here and there), the structure is about to change. Yes, I'm a bit concerned, as I shared with her, a bit fearful that it might be a slippery slope and we'll never 'get it back' to this point ("Warum hast du Angst, Mama? Es ist mit Deutsch...?" [Why are you afraid, Mama? It's with German...]). And she, too, has her fears, as she shared with me just before I left her room: "Mama, ich habe Angst, dass wir morgen anfangen..." [Mama, I'm scared about starting tomorrow...]

But despite our minimal fears and concerns, we are both excited!
It's wonderful to be in a place, as George Saunders shares in his book, Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens, where I can discuss with my daughter what she wants to do. Granted, I'm still older, with more experience on language proficiency, and what it takes to maintain fluency. But, as I highlighted above, she's clearly got me trumped on some other facets of her idea propagation.

Maybe TRUST is one of them...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fairies and Gnomes Speaking in English

This morning, as I was rushing around the house trying to get us ready for our road-trip, Kaya starts telling me a story. Initially, it sounded pretty similar to much of what she'll say to me, full of passion and interest and a strong desire for me to connect and share her experience. But as I listened further, it slowly began to differentiate itself from other things she'll share. It was a story in German, as is normal with her still in her communication with me, but what began to be very clear is that she was relating not only an experience she had at school (which doesn't happen all that often), but that she was retelling a story that she's been hearing at school lately. A story about a girl who hears Mother Earth calling to her, and what happens with the Feen [fairies] and Wichtel [gnomes] when they heed her calling. Ok, so maybe that doesn't make sense, and I'm outing myself as way more interested in the fact that she was telling me the story, and how than I was in the details (that's the story of my life, actually!).

She was following me around the house as she told me of the adventures of the girl and how she couldn't find the Wichtel and the Feen. As I beckoned her with my hand to come into my room (so as not to interrupt), she continued to her story, adding the song of Mother Earth. But what was different about this part of the story was that it was in English. Not so strange, as we'll often insert words here and there when we don't know how to say them in German. She continued the rest of the 'song' in English, and then, as she went back to narrating in the 3rd person, shifted back into German. Following me into the kitchen, she shared about how the "girl war traurig, weil sie die Gnomes und die Feen nicht finden konnte" [the girl was sad because she couldn't find the gnomes and fairies]. I was a bit surprised at how she was inserting words in English that she knew in German--but felt simultaneously in awe that she was taking the time and effort to interpret this whole story for me into German from English. And then, it hit me. As she continued to tell the story, I realized she was doing all of the narrating in German but all of the conversing in English. Every time the girl or the gnome or Mother Earth would speak, it was in English. But when she was explaining to me what they were doing or where they were going or how they were was in German.

I don't even know what to say that.
Again, I'm in awe.

It makes me feel aMAzed at this whole process, about how the brain works and how she makes the choices she does with the languages she has available to her.

The thing about the English in this story is that in no way was it intended as an 'out' to not speak German, or as a test--which she will do and has been doing more so lately. When our neighbor, Simon, comes over, who understands German but generally speaks only English, Kaya will look at me directly and say something in English, clearly waiting to see how I'll respond. I realize how clear it is to her that I speak German with Si and how he speaks English back--and how that works for him. She is naturally wondering, in certain moments, if that will work for her. Not because she doesn't like speaking German with me--she continues to tell me that she likes that we speak German together--but because she's curious. It goes against what she's used to. To help her with this, I find myself tending to speak English with Si, and when I do, she seems to 'test' me less. I wonder if or when this will change--I would love to support his German, but also find it not nearly as fun speaking to him in German when he speaks back in English. Similar to how I felt about 2 1/2 years ago before Kaya started speaking all German to me.

So, in regards to this insertion of English dialogue, it does feel different, and I continue to find it fascinating. She told me that I could make a video of her relating that story to me, so hopefully I'll make it happen soon and put it here or in another post.

But in the meantime, I'll end on this other gem that she shared with me out of the blue as we were driving to school. As you might imagine, it brought tears to my eyes. And for those of you readers who are newer to our lives and may not know, Nana is my mom who died from Non-hodgkins Lymphoma when Kaya was 1 1/2, about 3 1/2 years ago. Kahlua was our 2nd family dog, who we put down a few years ago because he'd bitten too many people. She loved them both dearly, and hears us speaking fondly of them quite often:

"Mama, weisst du was? Wenn ich an Nana und Kahlua denke, ich sehe sie in einem Feld, mit hohem Gras, zusammen spielen." [Mama, you know what? When I think of Nana and Kahlua, I see them in a field of tall grass, playing together.]

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pirates, Pictures, and Purposeful Integration

Nearly every night, save for those occasions when Kaya is beside herself with exhaustion, we read a book and tell a story before bed. This rings a bell. I think I've mentioned this before. So, from an update standpoint, we still do it. And from a far more interesting perspective, I thought I might share a little twist from tonight's ritual that ended up being quite a fun way to integrate Dada, the non-German speaker, into a German story.

As a backdrop, if you're not as well-versed on our situation, Geoff didn't know more than a few words of German when we started our bilingual journey nearly 5 years ago. Now he says that he gets the gist of about 90% of what we say. Not bad at all for the passive approach, huh, simply being around German and not having to speak it?! (kudos, Geoff!) We used to have all these grand plans, usually including, in some form or fashion, his incorporation of Rosetta Stone to make sure he'd be able to 'keep up'. And that may well be a necessity one day soon, as he hesitantly admits that his understanding is dropping as Kaya gets older, and that he might only understand about 65-70% of what we actually say.

But for tonight's purposes, snuggling on the couch and reading out of Das grosse Bildermaus Geschichtenbuch [The big picture-mouse story book], his level of German was not only fine but quite impressive!

We started towards the back of the book where they have all the pictures with the corresponding words. We went down the list, starting with 'Meer' [ocean] and continuing with Insel and Sonne and Regen. For most of the words, I asked Kaya to tell us what the picture was--"und das ist eine...?" [and that is a...?], to which she would respond with a smile and the accurate word in German. A number of the words were new for her (and me, for that matter, too!), and for those, I would simply tell her--"Das sind zwei Anker." [Those are two ankers.] For some of the words, she knew the English, and would say that, but for the most part, we stayed in German until we got through the list.

Kaya decided, quite excitedly, that she wanted to read 'Die Flotte des Koenigs' [The King's Fleet]--one of the pirate stories in the book. She and Geoff have been playing pirates lately, and it's definitely one of her favorite things to do lately. In fact, the other night, she even told me, "Mama, ich wiw dass du jetzt in die Ahbeit gehst, damit ich Piraten mit Dada spielen kann..." [Mama, I want you to go to work now so that I can play pirates with Dada!], which is quite a shift after the usual tears or dread surrounding my need to work. So, naturally, the pirate story was on the docket.

We've read from similar books before, specifically with the incorporated pictures, but never together with Geoff. So, I thought it might be fun for us to flip-flop back and forth between them as we'd come to a picture. And while it took them a few sentences to get the rhythm down, with my reading the words and them saying the pictures, it was quite fun once we got rolling! Geoff remembered just about every word for all of his pictures, and Kaya would break out in a huge grin when one of us would whisper the word before she'd say it aloud. Her grins ultimately turned into laughter, and we all decided we needed to read the 'Pirateninsel', too. [Pirate Island]

There's one other story ritual that we have at times that similarly makes for quite the integration of languages. While we'll often just tell a story from the innermost reaches of our right brain, sometimes it's kind of nice to have some story fodder. So, Geoff came up with this idea many moons ago in which he opens to a page in picture book (Richard Scary's Wunderbare Welt der Wimmelbilder [Richard Scary's Biggest Word Book Ever] is one of our favorites for this, though the picture dictionaries--like First Thousand Words in German-- are great, too!) and starts telling a story about a character on the page.

The trick is that he doesn't tell Kaya which character is the star, so she has to listen to the development of the story while she looks for the character on the page. Tonight's story, for example, was about a kitty who wanted to sleep because she was so tired (the page, as you may know, is filled with all sorts of kitties, and pigs, and foxes all doing different things in different locations). Try as she might, she simply couldn't find a place to slumber. She tried the first house, but it was too loud because they were laying bricks and bending pipe. The next house was too loud because they were installing plumbing and a chimney. And the next house was getting new windows and a roof. But finally, the kitty found a nice quiet place to sleep on top of the steel structure (?!).

As you can imagine, Geoff told his story in English--while he's learned a lot, it would be quite a feat if he knew how to say chimney and plumbing and steel structure (not even sure I know the latter two!). And as you might guess, when I play, I tell my stories in German, as I did tonight with one about a mean piggy who got pushed into the water by the kitties and was thankfully rescued by a compassionate kitty with a crane. She struggled a bit with this one, which can be quite fun in regards to the hide-and-seek component of the game. Where is the piggy with soggy pants so sad and so saved?

 I do a lot less wondering and worrying now about what our family might be like down the road with two different languages. I used to worry quite a bit, though, struggling to conceptualize how a family could be anything close to cohesive with such a language differential. I do recognize that our situation is a bit unique in that Geoff understands enough to fit in (and then some)--but in moments like tonight, where I'm hyper-aware of the language experience, I definitely appreciate that bilingualism has done anything but pull us apart.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marvin's Adventures in Bilingualand

As hesitant as I am to share this video, in part because of my personal criticism of my own German (for those German speakers out there!) as well as the bird nest in my daughter's hair (who wants to inflict discomfort on their baby when she's sick?!), I think it paints a pretty good picture of a few concepts that might be nice to illustrate at this stage of our bilingual journey. 

First of all, since it's been a while since an update like this, I think it would be good 'for the record' (this one's for you, Kaya!) to share that we continue to speak all German 99.9% of the time. I can remember 2 instances in the past 2 months when I've spoken to her in English, and when I do, it's out of extreme frustration and a few words are enough to get me back on track to German. Similar amounts of English come out of her mouth towards me, though not in moments of frustration--simply when she just doesn't know the word. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm more loose with my English in that regard with her, and from time to time, I'll say the word in English, usually prefacing that I don't know how to say it in German but this is what it is in English.  This video illustrates some of this point pretty well when Kaya is telling me how old Marvin is and says "seven" instead of 'sieben'. This similarly highlights some of the challenges that she has with her language, numbers being one of them. Without having done the research (Annabelle of the piri-piri lexicon might know this, though!?), I'd guess that it's pretty normal for kids to struggle to in this regard--while she knows how to count sequentially in both languages (I'm not exactly sure how high in each, though has def. been playing in the 20's in both, and likely higher in English), it's hard for her to name a number outright in German straight from English. At times she can do it, but 7 seems to be causing her challenges lately. This is something that I see with my language students as well, though...sequential counting comes first, then the skill of being able to name numbers out of order. 

There are a couple of other points that I thought I might highlight with this video, too, specifically regarding the topic of the conversation in itself. Kaya has a whole world invented regarding which of her 'children' and 'friends' know German, English or both. This video was my cursory attempt to get into this world of hers and come out with an understanding of who can do what. I think it's fascinating, this concept, and would love to dig into her reasoning of whence and wherefore. Apparently, as you can read in my transcription below, Marvin (the monkey) is her only 'friend' who knows German.--nothing like creativity!) Actually, to be more accurate, I think Marvin is one of her children (ignore the fact that he's older than she is In fact, as I find out later in the video, he's bilingual too, just like Kaya. This kid, much like myself as a child, has a whole world of 'friends', including the newest to the bunch, Coco (the eaglet). And you'd think with a name like 'Tante Jamie' (Aunt Jamie...who is our German-speaking next door neighbor), that baby of hers would be able to speak or at least understand German. But alas, Marvin is the only one. Not Stella, either, who happens to have the same name as our host daughter from Germany (named BEfore we knew about her, I swear! Destiny?). Nor Hazel, nor Max, nor Kylee.

And for those grammar geeks out there like me (and my sister!), you might be curious to know that, while she sometimes puts her infinitives accurately at the end of the sentences after conjugated modal verbs, and kicks her verbs after appropriate conjunctions, she had a even split in this conversation: once, while talking about baby talk, she puts it in the middle, but when asking me to get her a nose rag, she puts it at the end. And to top off the grammar analysis, she has a tendency to confuse some idiomatic expressions (I think that's what they are!?), like the one in this conversation where she says, "alter dann mir" instead of 'aelter als ich'. I didn't learn that term until 2nd or 3rd year college German, so I can only guess this type of mistake is pretty common for little kiddos in German, too?

So, despite my geeked-out, language teacher analysis, it's pretty easy for me to celebrate the fact that, after about 2 years now, Kaya continues to speak fluent German with me--and teachers at German Saturday School or Sommercamp--and while it does tend to lag a bit behind her English development, I watch it grow. Never really 'catching up', but the spurts happen in both languages, and are pretty clear to me. Which is really quite amazing to me--as normal as it now seems.

I continue to have my phases where I want to give up, or at least give up with this intensity of this OPOL (one-parent, one language) method, as I felt quite strongly 7 months ago. But as with many of the phases I experience in this process, they all seem to pass as I continue to lean on and call on the support of the amazing community I have in my life (that's you!). 

So, without further ado, I now welcome you to take a peek into a few moments of our afternoon as Kaya was home sick from school and excitedly playing with her babies in the swing that we just put up on her bed for them:

Mama: Welche von deinen Kindern koennen Deutsch sprechen? Oder verstehen? [Which of your kids can speak German? Or understand it?]
Kaya: Uh, Marvin. 
Mama: Und die anderen nicht? [And the others can't?]
Kaya: Nein. [No.]
Mama: Oder koennen sie beide, Deutsch und Englisch? [Or can they speak both, German and English?]
Kaya: Er kann Engrisch und Deutsch, und sie kann nur sprechen wie ein Baby! [He can speak English and German and she can only speak like a baby!]
Mama: Ohhh .Babysprache. Das ist eine ganz andere Sprache, oder? [Oh, baby talk. That's a whole different language, huh?]
Kaya: Ja. [yeah.]
Mama: Ja. 
Kaya: Kannst du mein Naselappen holen? (off screen...Was hast du gesagt?) [Can you get my nose rag? What did you say?]
Kaya: Hab 'No highers'. [I said "no highers"]
Mama: No highers? Ich dachte er konnte Deutsch. [No highers? I thought he could speak German?]
Kaya: Ja er kann doch. [Yeah, he can.]
Mama: Kann er beide? [Can he speak both?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.] (looking at me as if to say, Well, YEAH, Mom. Isn't it obvious?!)
Mama: Oh, wie du. Er ist zweisprachig. [Oh, like you. He's bilingual.]
Kaya: Aber er ist alter dann mir. [But he's older than me.] (translated directly, grammatically incorrect)
Mama: Oh, alter als du? Wie alt ist er denn? [Oh, older than you (repeated back grammatically correctly)?
Kaya: Seven. 
Mama: Sieben? [Seven?]
Kaya: Ja. Machst du ein Video? [Yeah. Are you taking a video?]
Mama: Ja. Willst du es sehen? [Yeah. Do you want to see it?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.]

Any input you have, or stories you'd like to share below would be, as always quite welcome and very appreciated!