Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Internal Language Battle continues

I have been noticing lately how competitive I feel sometimes regarding the language in which I hope Kaya will learn particular words. That sentence is SO complicated, both grammatically and emotionally--it deserves much explanation.

I have read that multilingual children often have certain words that they will only say in one language or the other during the early stages of learning. Kaya, for example, has learned a number of words in each language, none of which she produces in both languages. She can understand most of the words in both, but produces only in one. 'Dog', for example, is a word she only says in English, though she understands 'Hund' just fine, too. 'Ja' (yes) is always stated in German. And so forth.

I find it strange, in a way, that I find myself hoping that she will acquire more words more quickly in German than in English. Strange because she's my daughter, and I would think that a mother would be happy with ANY language that her child were to acquire (minus the obvious obscenities and such!). This is what I tell myself, anyway, the words that I use to 'beat up' on myself when I feel this way.

The reality is, however, that because I am the only one speaking a minority language to her, I naturally fear the consequence of that minimal exposure. But I think bigger than the fear is an overwhelm that I feel as a result of a mental connection that I make between how "well" she acquires German and how strong our emotional connection will be. I recognize that such thinking patterns make no sense at all, that they are merely projections of my fears and insecurities as a mother, as a child with attachment issues. But regardless of the reason, regardless of the irrationality of it all, it certainly adds a degree or three of complication to this whole bilingual "project".

I have been having more doubts lately that sound a bit like this:
Is my German good enough?
Will I be able to keep this up?
What happens when she's 3 and wants answers to EVERYTHING? Will my German keep up with hers?
I feel that I am sacrificing some of our relationship to follow through with raising her much is too much? And is it worth it to me? Do I have bigger fish to fry and can I deal with all of these challenges with German in the mix??!

Sometimes I think I'm just going to abort mission, especially when I use phrases like 'abort mission'--I know some idioms in German, but not nearly like I do in my native language, of course, esp. as I spend more and more time outside of Germany. I feel sad that I can't 'play' with the language with her in my native language, and have as much fun with the language with her as I might want to at times. This is where the sacrifice comes in, I think. Does it really matter, though, that I only have two ways, on the tip of my tongue, to describe how the squirrel moves across the grass? Is it good enough to look up more words and add words later?

I think so. For now, it's gonna have to be, because I'm stickin' to my plan to stick with my plan until she can talk. Granted, she CAN talk right her one word, single baby-sign, arched-back and whining way (at times!). But I'm stickin' it out until there's solid conversation between us, or at least until it becomes obvious to me that this 16 months of doubt and excitement has been worth it for at least one of us! =)


  1. Hi Tamara,

    I think we can all relate, including those of us who are native speakers!

    I've been on a bit of a rampage myself lately about whether it's all worthwhile, but when they open their mouths and all of a sudden say something they've never said before, your heart just melts and makes it all good again :)

    Kaya is still so little, but she understands, so you must be doing something right!

    Good luck!

    PS: I found you a while back through Google Alerts :)

  2. I totally relate to your fears. I have been experiencing those same thoughts lately, too. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm glad that I'm not alone in my questioning! ~Melissa

  3. Tamara,

    In the midst of all your self-doubt, let me be one voice that says that what you are doing is amazing, and you should be so proud just for attempting it. Keep having fun with it ... Kaya is lucky to have you for a mommy :)

  4. 'Smashed Pea',
    Thank you so much for your input. ALWAYS so helpful to hear comments from others on this road, even native speakers. I checked out your blog and look forward to reading more soon.
    I'm curious about those google alerts...would love to know more!

    It helps me to feel like I've got cohorts, too...hence the blog! =) Thanks so much for chiming in.

    And Nicole,
    I love ya, buddy. Your confidence in this process helps me IMMENSELY.
    I gotta call you right now. =)

  5. Hi Tamara,
    just wanted to add some more encouragement to what others already told you - give it a bit more time, you will be amazed what you little one will be able to say and how she will be your constant motivation in refreshing and improving your German once she starts speaking in sentences.
    Our girl used to say 80% words in German (what I speak to her) and only 20% in Russian (what my husband speaks) at her one-word stage. Then there was this one moment when she started to really separate two languages and thus learn more words in her minority language that she realized she NEEDED to communicate with her father. Now we all enjoy playing games like "Mama sagt "Fisch" und Papa sagt ...?" and she gets almost all of the words right.
    Dein Aufwand wird nicht ohne Frucht bleiben, du machst es wunderbar! :)

  6. Don't be dispirited, you are giving your child one of the greatest gifts you can give, to speak more than one language natively is something that is given young or never.

    And not being a native speaker isn't an issue, I'm the product of a non-native speaker and I have friends who are natively bilingual or trilingual from non-native environments - there are plenty of parents who communicate in a language that is native to neither of them and consequently their kids pick it up natively. And as a native speaker, you can always polish to perfection in a way a non-native speaker can't.

  7. Your list of doubts sounds SO very familiar. I have asked myself the very same questions, both when Griffin was Kaya's age and still now that he's almost 2.5 and starting into the "why" phase. Rather than calling them "doubts," let's just think of them as a way to remind ourselves of what a remarkable gift we're giving to our children and how willing we are to challenge ourselves!

  8. Irina,
    vielen Dank! I really appreciate the encouragement to continue being patient...I have been telling myself that the light at the "end" of the tunnel will be here soon enough: the day when she is so CLEARLY speaking German that it inspires me anew. We're getting there...little by will be here before I know it, I'm sure! I also really appreciate hearing the details of your stories...AND I haven't forgotten about that assessment. It WILL happen. I swear! =)

    Leaning tower,
    Thank you SO much for your comments, too. It's immensely helpful to hear from someone who is a product of a non-native language experience. =) I look forward to reading some of your posts soon. It makes me smile to be reminded of the benefit we have as non-natives. Thank you for your interest here!

    So nice to hear from you again. Haven't been in the "public language arena" much lately, but I'm finding more time again, so I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on your blog, soon! Thanks again!


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!