Sunday, January 24, 2010

Language Strategies

It was brought to my attention that an outside reader (nor many of my friends, for that matter) has no idea what I actually do to foster Kaya's German learning. I thought it might be helpful to mention that which I have been doing to help her learn and me improve my German:

Primarily to teach Kaya German:
  • As implied by OPOL, I speak only German to Kaya most of the time. I'd say about 99%.The only times when I don't speak with her in German is when I'm overly frustrated and don' t have the patience I might otherwise need to speak in my non-native language. I've heard that this is pretty common, and when I discovered that norm, it helped me let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to stay in German ALL the time.
  • I read German books to her, those which I've either ordered online, or bought used at Powells ( Though there are many books available online in foreign language, I've had the luxury of being able to walk right into the store and find the books used at a great price. There are a couple of ways that I've gotten around paying high shipping fees that often accompany overseas book shipments. First of all, I have a friend who often goes back to Germany, and I have both asked him to pick me up some titles at local bookstores, as well as shopped on and had the shipment delivered to his place. I've also been invited to purchase books online through with a group of people who are also purchasing--this drops shipping costs for each person immensely.
  • I look at English books with her, but talk about them (point out pictures, ask her questions, etc) in German. Sometimes, especially lately, I will translate them. This is both fun and frustrating for me--I love looking up and learning the words that I may not know, but it takes away from the "reading" experience that we are having. One of the emotional challenges I've had is the idea that I won't (or am choosing not to) be able to read her some of my favorite childhood stories, like Fox in Sox!
  • We are part of a German playgroup that meets weekly, on Friday mornings, as organized through the German American Society of Portland ( Though we don't make it every week, the relationships that I am forming with the mothers and kids is valuable to me--and the opportunity to practice my German is great, as well. As she gets older, it will also be helpful for Kaya to be around other German-speakers, not only to speak with, but also to help her conceptualize the idea that not only she and I speak German. The kids tend to speak English with each other, but they speak German with the adults.
  • I sing to Kaya in German. I have a handful of CDs with lullabies on them, the best ones even come with a book (I will list those on my CD/Book list). Even though I put these CDs on for her night after night, I find that there's one way that I learn the songs the best: I choose a song that I want to learn, and I put the CD player on repeat. Then, I open the book to that song, and I sing along with the CD until I feel comfortable with the words (often a many night process til I can sing the words alone, without the music). Once I've got that song down, I move on to another song. If I don't do that, I find that my brain works the same as it does in English--I know SOME of the lyrics, but not all of them, and then they aren't available for me to sing them to her by myself.
  • I play games and introduce rhymes to her in German. Similar to above, I have a collection of books and CDs with songs, rhymes and games--the best are those that I can both hear AND read. Again, those books are (or will be) on my list. Listening to German CDs in the car I've found is really great. The songs get stuck in my head, in hers too, and the CD just stays in the player.
  • Currently, I'm working on making her some board books in German from blank ones that I bought online ( I'm thinking that if I can take some of the songs and rhymes that I want both of us to learn, and turn them into books, we'll both learn them faster, and have fun in the process.
Specifically to Improve MY German:
  • I am going to check out the local Stammtisch (conversation group), and see what kind of opportunities that holds for me. There are a couple of them in the Portland area through Meetup.Com. The closest one that has got me pretty excited meets at the Chapel Pub in North Portland ( I notice that many of the members are those like me, non-Germans wanting to practice their German...we'll see how it goes. Either way, I'm excited right now at the prospect of being able to speak German with ADULTS!
  • I listen to books on CD in German.
  • I look up words from her books that I don't know, write them on a list in my black book, and make flash cards from them.
  • I read books (novels) in German. Am not always reading one, but it's something that I enjoy when I do it, but simply go through phases (just like with everything else).
  • I listen to German pop music. Doesn't necessary HELP my German, but it boosts my confidence and my mood at times, knowing I can understand all or most of the lyrics, and happy that I'm enjoying the culture. I really like Pur, Xavier Naidoo, and The Comedian Harmonists, to name a few.
  • I'm part of a Yahoo NVC parenting group that I check in with every once in a while. I also use the terminology from that parenting style to help cremy German vocabulary. ( For those who aren't familiar with it, NVC stands for Non-violent Communication, and is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication. (
I also think it would be helpful to:
  • subscribe to Bilingual Family Newsletter (see Links list)
  • read more regularly in German
  • communicate with other parents about raising bilingual families, particularly non-native speakers
  • research further non-native bilingual family resources
  • instigate more communication with my friends/family in Germany
  • visit Germany regularly with Kaya (optimally every year, but realistically, every other?)
This is all I can think of at the moment. And dinner-time beckons, as does that sweet baby of ours. =)


  1. "visit Germany regularly with Kaya (optimally every year, but realistically, every other?)"

    Be sure there is always a place for you to crash in our house. Stop by any time you want :). We love guests.

  2. Wow, what an invite, what an offer! We are actually coming in October, maybe we can actually take you up on that offer! It would be fun to meet, for sure.
    Maybe you could drop me an email and we could talk about some details, if you're serious about it. !
    how great!

  3. Seriously, you are coming in October. That's awesome. You should totally come. I am dead serious. I'll email you soon. ;)


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