Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our Talker at Two

I went in to Kaya's room tonight, a few hours after we'd put her to bed, thinking I'd go in to cover her up. Instead of a sleeping toddler, however, I was quite surprised to find our little girl sitting up against the side of her crib, Schnulli in mouth, reading a book in the dark, silently. It was so sweet, yet curiously strange. She usually plays for a while in her bed, finding great pleasure in pushing the button on her sound machine to light up the swinging monkeys and the cascading waterfall. And she usually uses this light to read the book that she insists on having with her in bed. On top of that, she generally makes all sorts of noise while she's awake in her bed, babbling about all sorts of adventures she's had throughout the day, or requesting various things to perfect her environment: Tuer auf, Tuer zu, Licht an, Licht aus, Baby in Bett, Baby weg, Decke an, Buch in Bett...[door open, door closed, light on, light off, baby in bed, baby away, blanket alongside (meaning to say 'on'), book in bed] But reading silently in the dark? The scene was so surreal, and such a surprise to me, yet I suddenly felt this overwhelming love for my daughter. How wonderful that she's awake in her bed, at 2, reading a book! I can't help but envision years down the road when she's 7 and still doing the same thing (though I suppose that would be along the lines of identity projection, huh?!). I caressed her cheek from behind, and she spit out her Schnulli. She pointed to a cat on the page, that I could barely see in the darkness, and said, "Katze," with a giggle in her voice. I pushed the monkey button, feeling like MY parents, so that she could have light by which to read. She turned the page, pointing out the "Ente"[duck], again with a smile in her voice. I can't get over how sweet she is. I know I write all the time about not boxing her into an identity, that she is who she is in the moment that she is being it...yet I can't help but see her as the sweetest thing ever (at least in these moments when she's being so SWEET!).

For the past few months, actually, I've often found myself saying to Geoff, "I can't believe how cute she is!" Tonight, for example, she was lounging on the stool next to me as I was lying on the couch. I asked her, in German of course, if she wanted some milk, and she replied with an eager, "Yeah". "Frag deinen Dada, den Milchmonster, ob er dir Milch holt." [Ask your Dad, the milk-monster, if he'll get you some milk.] She 'ran' towards the kitchen, almost prancing high-kneed, excited for her bedtime treat. When she got to Geoff, she said, in the most calm, gentle voice, "Milch, bitte" [milk, please]. After he got up to get her milk, she waited patiently in the kitchen for him to pour it for her, and once she had it in her hand, she left the kitchen, saying "Danke, Dada" [thank-you, Dada]. Geoff and I were floored, and looked at each other wide-eyed. Did she just say please and thank-you on her own, in German?!? Is this my dream come true?!

Kaya and I played this game for a few days, perhaps a few weeks ago, where she'd say "Danke" [thank-you] and I'd respond with "Bitte" [you're welcome] in a different tone of voice each time. We'd both giggle, and it was a great way to teach her a bit about 'manners'. Granted, it gets a bit confusing in German, since "bitte" means both 'please' and 'you're welcome'. I'm not confident that she's grasped the latter meaning, but I'll take former! All in due time.

So, in the above milk-story, you may have noticed that Kaya spoke German to Geoff. About 5 months ago, in October, when Kaya was 20 1/2 months, I wrote about how she had just learned to differentiate between which language to use with me and which to use with everyone else. I found it fascinating that this was happening so early. Now, she's definitely in a different phase. She still seems aware that we each speak a different language with her, but is less selective in which language she uses with us. Geoff told me that she speaks German about 25% of the time with him, though he speaks only English with her. My best guess is that she speaks English with me about 60% of the time, depending upon the situation. After she gets back from having spent the night at her English-speaking grandparents' house, for example, she speaks about 80% English with me. When we're reading certain books, she will tell me what things are in English if I ask her "Was ist das?" [What is that?], but if I give her a choice, "Ist das ein Hund oder ein Affe?" [Is that a dog or a monkey?], she will respond in German with one of the options. (On a side note...I've been noticing lately that her choice is the often 'wrong' choice...I was doing a little experiment with her tonight and noticed that she often answers with the second choice that I give her, regardless of what the item is. I was actually surprised that she was answering 'wrong' because she has correctly identified and talked about the animals that we were identifying...maybe the either/or question is too confusing for her at this stage?? Any experts out there want to chime in on this one?) When I'm feeling relatively impatient, or even full of language doubt, I'll ask her in German to tell me where various things are. Not only does it help me stay afloat emotionally in those moments when I need the boost, but it helps her with the German input so that she's more likely to produce the German next time I ask her.

So anyway, the initial point that I was making above is that she has been less selective with us and will mix and match her words, and even her sentences, quite regularly these days. Tonight, for example, as she was 'cooking' with her new mini-microwave, she was very excited that both the cup AND the grapes fit, and excitedly proclaimed, "Es fits!" [it fits] As she was playing with her croquet set, she was talking about the "gelbe one" [yellow one], referring to the yellow ball. She does this a lot, actually, ("blaue one, gruene one" [blue one, green one]) which makes sense because in German, in order to say, 'the yellow one', you just need two words: "Der Gelbe". 'One' is included in the word 'Gelbe' when it's capitalized and thus serving as a noun. Sometimes she mixes a phrase or sentence because she doesn't know how to say the word in the other language. Like with this phrase, "Neue Microwave" [new microwave], she has heard the German term, but isn't to the point where she uses it on her own yet. Similarly, she's been saying, "Need a Teller," [need a plate] as she's 'making' us food in her "Neue Kueche" [new kitchen]--I've never heard her use the term for 'need' in German, though I've said it and repeated it to her many times.

This morning, as I was lying in bed, I decided to pick up a pen and write down nearly everything that Kaya said in the span of 15 minutes or so. I've been wanting to create a 'snapshot' of her language, and figured this would be a good way to do it. Video would be great, too, except she's very aware of when there's a camera in her face, and doesn't say the same things or act in the same way that she normally might. She noticed, at one point, that I was writing things down as she was speaking...but it wasn't enough of a distraction to keep her from doin' her thing. So, for those die-hard Kaya fans (and other curious readers!), here's an honest picture of the mixing that happens with our bilingual two-year old:

While looking in one of her books:
"Apple on da Katze" [apple on the cat]
"Katze auf dem Table" [cat on the table]

After tiring of that book and wanting a different one:
"Noder one" [another one]
"Get it"
"read a book"
"Aweinah, aweinah" [alleine = alone]

Instead of bring back a book, initially, she brought back her rainsuit:
"Kaya's coat"
"dawe" [there]

Wanting to remove the hair that was sticking on her milk cup:
"Haare weg" [hair away]

After finding a book on the floor and beginning to read that one:
"Bird in dem Baumhaus" [bird in the tree house]
"Hahbing a picnic" [having (a mix between having and 'haben') a picnic]

After I scolded the dog to quit eating whatever she was eating:
"Was eating Kensa?" [What is Kensa eating?]
"Was eating Kensa in dare?" [What is Kensa eating in there?]
"Was she eating Kensa?"

After nearly falling backwards from bumping her head on the bedside table:
"ohmost faw" [almost fall]

While putting money in the piggy bank on the floor, after the books had fallen over on the shelf:
"Zaehne broke" [teeth broke]
When I asked her what she meant, she said it again. When I asked her if she meant that the teeth were broken, she said "Yeah," which is often what she says when I guess the meaning correctly. Still not sure what she meant here, though. This is certainly a challenge with the dual-language's often hard to guess which word she is saying and in which language she is attempting to convey it.

Upon looking up and noticing that her empty milk cup was on the bedside table:
"Milch weg" [milk away]
She likes us to put her milk away, even the empty cups, when she's done with them.

While looking under the bed and noticing a train sand-toy:
"Zug in dem Bett" [train in the bed]
"Zug a dem Bett" [train ? the bed]
She has yet to produce the word 'unter' [under]. When I asked her if the Zug was 'unter dem Bett', she said "yeah." When I asked her to say "unter", she said, "runter...runter.......unter", clearly more comfortable using the word 'runter' [down] than the new term 'unter'.

She continued talking about the train with:
"pay dat" [play that]
"wheels on dat" [wheels on that]
"Rayder on dat" [wheels on that]
"Monkey on dat" [monkey on that]
When I asked her if the conductor was a monkey or man, she replied:
"Mann....Affe....Mann...." []
The guy does really look like an ape, she's got a point.

Then, she finally noticed that I was writing:
"Mama fweibt" [Mama schreibt = Mama writes/is writing]
"Kaya mawen" [Kaya malen = Kaya color/draw]

And then, knowing it was about time to feed her so she could to go next door for the morning, I asked her if she wanted to go see her Tante Jamie [aunt Jamie]:
"Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen." [Jamie go]

And with that, she ran out of the room, refused her breakfast, demanded to keep her pajamas on, and would let me do nothing else but bring her next door to play.

Ahh, the beautiful life of a two-year old.

Thanks for looking at our snapshot. I enjoy sharing it with you.
Would love to hear any stories that you may have, too, of yours or ours! Feel free to add them below!

p.s. For those analytical types after my own heart: of the 26 utterances she made above, 9 of them were mixed German/English (35%); 8 of them were completely English (30%); 9 of them were completely in German (35%). So, when I said above that I was guessing that she spoke 60% English with me, internally it seems as if I was counting the mixed terms as well. And whooda thunk that my oh-so-scientific experiment would match my subjective estimation?!


  1. Hi Tamara,
    So great to read about another mum doing and blogging (we always need the blogging!) what I am also trying to do. I am a few years and one more child down the non-native bilingual journey and like you, I've had my doubts about the future, so I love your sentiment about focusing on the present (as my children always do!). Right now, it's going great! Both children are active bilinguals and I still get a huge thrill hearing my 6-year-old daughter chatting away to her monolingual French friends, then switching instantly to English for her cousins.

  2. Your daughter is really sweet indeed. I can't believe she was reading in her crib!
    By the way, I think her language shows that you're doing a good job with her. Well done.

  3. I do a lot of the "either/or" questions with Griffin, especially when he's been saying things to me in English that I know he knows in French. While he generally picks the right word when given the choice, I have often wondered what role my intonation in the question plays in his choices. Other times, he deliberately chooses the wrong answer because he thinks it's funnier!

  4. Hi Tamara

    Serendipity definately brought me to your blog this morning.

    I have very recently embarked upon the non-native adventure myself and vascilate between confidence and doubts. This morning I awoke extremely doubtful as to whether I could do this and whether i should carry on.

    I had set up my own blog earlier in the week to try and inspire me and keep me on the positive path. So i Googled it on my cell to try and read it whilst in bed this morning. I didnt find my blog... but i did find yours. I have started reading from the begining and feel bouyed once more.

    I have been extremely suprised by how up and down you can feel on the non-native journey. This morning when i was doubtful, to just happen upon your blog and read about your initial doubts too - somehow that made me feel stronger and focussed once again. So thank you.

    I will be following your blog from now on.


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