Saturday, January 30, 2010

First German Word!!

Yay! We made it! Kaya's first official German word came today: Mehr (more), coupled with the baby sign of tapping her hands together in front of her! A few days ago, she'd been saying more of a "mo" sound when implying that she wanted more food, leading me to think that she'd learn to say that word first in English. But alas--it goes down in the books as her first German word (other than Mama, that is, which is really both), and there is much rejoicing!!

Bier anyone? =)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moving beyond Baby Talk

The other day, as I was on a walk with Kaya, I started to talk to her about things other than what she's doing or seeing (I OFTEN ask her what she sees, or what she wants, or what she needs, and do a lot of narrating of her actions). Through my feelings of frustration and fear, I realized that some of these overwhelming feelings might stem from the repeated creation of sentences and use of words that simply don't come naturally to a non-native speaker: stick that on there; put that in there; slide that open; stack the blue one on top of the yellow one, etc. At least these terms aren't coming naturally to me, so I end up feeling awkward and experiencing self-doubt as to whether I'm saying things properly. So, I started to talk to her about topics that I do know about--things like college, and the subjects that one studies there, and the fact that one day she might go there, but that we need to save up money for that because it's already twice as expensive as when I was in school. I let one thought take me to another, and another and another, and my sentences flowed along with my thoughts--and the positive feelings followed.

This was enlightening for me, and gave me hope that one day, when conversation flows in both directions between us, the conversation will "feel" incredibly different than it does now, and I won't be so overwhelmed by the idea of having a relationship in a foreign language with my baby.

Baby steps. =)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Language Development in the First Year: German, English and Baby Sign

A New Sound!!

Last night, Kaya uttered her first "V" sound, which for us is really exciting because it was in response to my saying "Wasser" (water, pronounced like Vahsah) to her--a word she's been hearing for at least 6 months. This is VERY exciting for us, because at this point, her English output (word production) is greater in English than in German. I think this is due primarily to the fact that the sounds in the words she knows are easier sounds to produce in English, and are those that she has been producing for a long time ("d", "ai", "ah", "m", "b").

Language Recognition
Up to this point, her vocabulary recognition is higher in German than it is in English, due to the fact that she hears German all day from me (when speaking directly to her), and isn't spoken to much in English until her dad gets home around 5:30. So, during the week, she gets an average of 8 hours of German input a day, and about 2-3 hours of English. On the weekend, she gets an equal amount of input in both English and German, since both of us tend to be with her in equal amounts. This makes for about 80% German input, 20% English.
  • German Input Recognition (words she clearly identifies, but doesn't produce): 25-35 words--(Wasser, mehr, Essen, Banane, Cracker, Fertig, Fan, Baum, Baeume, Puppe, Hund, Luftballon, Komm, Hol, Steh auf, Wo, Tiere, Lampe, Stern, Licht, Affe, Schnulli, to name a few)
  • English Input Recognition: 10-20 words (hard for me to list many out because this is Geoff's territory)
I recognize, as well, that there are SO many more words that she understands that we say, but it is more challenging for us to identify them as understood because they are more abstract in nature (like "let's go," or "I'm coming" or "do you want"). There are also too many of them to list. Being as unscientific as I'm being with my data, it's kind of silly to analyze some of the data and not others (though I find myself wanting to do it anyway!).

Language Output
So, in regards to her language production at this point, she says two words clearly:
  • Mama--she started saying "mamamama" at 6 months while crying. She said "Mama" and pointed at Mama when asked where Mama is at 8.5 months of age.
  • Dada--she had been saying this sound since at least 6 months as well, though it was more of a "daidaidai". At one year, she clearly says Dada and will point to and look at Dada when asked who he is.
Other "words" that she says are a bit less clear:
  • "dah" for dog.
  • "buh" for book or Buch.
  • "muh" for more or mehr.
  • "lai" for light.
Baby Sign
We've also been using sign language with Kaya with some key words. Geoff uses the sign with her and speaks English. I do the same in German. At this point, she is clearly able to sign:
  • mehr/more
  • fertig/done
  • stillen/nurse (milk)
  • licht/light
  • fan/Fan (thanks for the reminder, Sara! Yeah, I made up this sign! But she's good at it!)

I can imagine some people thinking that it just seems ludicrous to be teaching her three languages. I realized this as I was adding the piece about sign language. Thought I might clarify that the baby sign is to help ease our life for the next few years so that she can more easily communicate words that she is still unable to say with her mouth--the whole point of baby sign. We've seen the benefits already, and are loving them!

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. =)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To speak or not to speak...

Today was a challenge in the language department for sure. By tonight, I was ready to give up the whole German speaking endeavor with Kaya, feeling more overwhelmed by the terms I don't know and the new formulations that sound awkward to my ears. Things like, "slide it out and dump it" simply sounds weird to me, because when did I ever say THAT while I was in Germany?! "Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy..."--didn't find myself saying that on my two years abroad in college, either! And it's terms and phrases like that, that I find the greatest emotional challenge with, because they aren't so easy to just look up in the dictionary or online. All the little words too--ab, auf, an, darueber...

I've been told that my German is very good. I thrive on those occasions when I'm mistaken for a German. Despite that, however, my self-doubt in those moments of new sentence formulation is huge.

But today, actually, that wasn't the biggest challenge for me. It was wondering, fearing in fact, that my awkwardness at times with the language will get in the way of the connection that my daughter and I have. That, and worrying that my speaking a language with my daughter, that my husband is just learning, will create a space too big to fill with foreign language.
I haven't given up yet, though. It was a close one, tonight. Very close. I don't want to. At all. But fear is big. Very big. And it gets the best of me sometimes.

I know what a big gift to Kaya this will be if I can follow through with helping her acquire a second (even third!) language. That keeps me from giving up. That, and ALL of the German books I have for her, the CDs, and the sense of pride I have in this process. That last part, the pride part, is hard for me to admit, esp. here, to people I may not even know, but it's real. It's there. I love German. I love being trilingual. I recognize that it's a true advantage, a true gift, to know more than one language in this country. I want that for her, not necessarily more than anything else, but my desire is HUGE.

With immense support from Geoff, my husband, I decided to keep going with this process until Kaya can talk more. I know how wonderful it felt when it became crystal clear that she understands German--more words than she recognizes in English. I can imagine it will be even more motivating once she's speaking it, too. I can only hope. Cuz this is hard right now. =) Thank goodness for George Saunders, author of Bilingual Children. He's my biggest inspiration. Without a doubt.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday, My Sweet little Kaya!

Today is my daughter's 1st birthday, and it's amazing to me how meaningful that feels. As a non-parent, non-mother for all the years before this one, I would look upon others' birthdays, and see most of them as passing days, thinking simply thinking that, 'Everybody has a birthday.' Granted, I actually love the idea of birthdays, and do my best to recognize people on theirs. But never have I felt this intensity, this meaningfulness and depth that I feel today, the day of Kaya's birth.

Now that I'm older, and more interested in pairing my life down and ridding it of the superfluous, I love the idea of doing meaningful things on meaningful days. So, when I was reading an email this morning (a response I received from a woman after I had been doing "research" on raising babies bilingually), I felt inspired to start this blog--in small part for me, to better process the highs and lows that I have through this process; in small part for others out there, wanting to read and connect about the idea; and in large part for my daughter, Kaya, so that I will have the greatest chance of being successful in giving her the gift of bilingualism.

I see this blog as a place for me to share the details of this process, in which I speak German with her and Geoff, her Dada, speaks English. Living in Portland, OR, I have no concerns that she will acquire English with ease. A second language, on the other hand, is harder to come by in this country, with most schools starting second language study after the brain has already lost its greatest ability to acquire language. For this reason (among others), I have chosen to speak German with Kaya, a non-native language for me. In my mind, this blog will serve as a place to write about the mini and the grandiose, the challenges, pitfalls and huge successes that acompany any endeavor.

Should you be someone doing the same, or simply someone with any interest whatsoever in the concept itself, please feel free to contact me. I'd love to hear from you.

For now, it's time to attend to the babe, but with my next post, I look forward to detailing the past year, in regards to language acquisition and progress.

Thanks for listening! Tamara