Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why German (as opposed to Spanish)?

During the year before Kaya was born, I gave an immense amount of thought to how I would raise Kaya bilingually. Clearly, it wasn't going to be IF, it was surely a matter of HOW. For months, I exacerbated as to whether to go with Spanish or German, and actually settled on Spanish for about a week. The idea didn't sit well, though, and I changed my decision back to German for a three primary reasons:

1. My heart is in German. I love the language, the culture, the German-speaking nations, Europe in general...I don't feel at all the same about Spanish.

2. German will be hard and expensive for Kaya to learn if she doesn't learn it from me. Spanish, on the other hand, is everywhere, including in a very strong immersion program very close to our house.

3. My roots are German. I am from a line of Schnettlers and Kiefers. Nothing like learning one's "heritage" language.

When I made my list of reasons to raise her bilingually in Spanish, the list was literally 4 times as long...let's see if I can remember some of the most salient reasons:

1. Geoff, my husband and Kaya's dad, knows some Spanish. He has studied it a bit, uses it a bit at work, and has a true desire to know more. Speaking Spanish to Kaya would be the perfect opportunity for him to improve his Spanish.
2. Tons of resources available in the community (schools, libraries, playgroups, signage, etc)
3. My step mom is Ecuadorian. It would be a GREAT connection for them to have.
4. I could give her a jump in her second language and solidify it with a local immersion program at Portland Public (Beech Elementary, or one of the other 2 Spanish immersion programs)
4. Spanish will surely be helpful in finding employment, with all of the Latinos we have in the Portland area.
5. Resources are cheaper than German ones--schools, books, etc
6. I've been learning Spanish longer than German (this feels like a lame reason at this point, but it was on the list)

I have the distinct recollection that there were 12 reasons on our list originally, but now that I've chosen German and have been using it with her for her whole life, the other reasons escape me. But the point is, I chose German because of reason #1--"My heart is in German"--I knew that without THAT, I'd have no chance of sticking with it, much less finding success in the process.

So, with Kaya's birth in January 2009, I started speaking German to her all the time. My step mom told me that it takes 3 weeks to form a habit, so as awkward as it felt in those first hours and days and weeks, I told myself that I'd stick with it for at least 21 days. Once I had that much time invested, it was easy for me to keep going, esp. since I wasn't really saying a whole heck of a was mostly a matter of growing comfortable with the words coming out of my mouth and passing over my ears. I could go on and on about the comfort level process, but I'll save that for another time and another post.

For now, suffice it to say, I know I made the right choice. I've found plenty of affordable resources (read: German American School, garage sales, and Powell's Books); Geoff is learning German along with Kaya and making some efforts to learn the language on the side, too--he only needs to be able to understand it, we've decided, since I'll be the one speaking to her; I have family in Germany, too, just more removed than my step mom (very distant cousins!); I've found an affordable German preschool option and I'm now more excited about a different elementary school option than Spanish immersion; and German will be similarly as useful for Kaya when she is job will just lead her down different roads than Spanish would. And to me, that's what this endeavor is all her as many roads as possible to choose from when she's ready and wanting to choose.


  1. A German preschool? Oh, how cool! I'm jealous--nothing like that in French around here in Northern Colorado.

    And you say "I've made the right choice"--that sounds absolutely right. Bravo!

  2. Sarah,
    Yeah, I do feel very fortunate to live in the blooming "metropolis" of portland, or. I feel like we've got it all here...or at least anything I've wanted from a city I've been able to find here, including three German playgruops (ok, so one of them is in Vancouver, WA and the other I've only heard mention of, but still!).

    Thanks for your continued interest and inspiration!


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