Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Community Language in the Lead (28 mos)

I swear I write more when my desk is a mess. I sit down to clean it, distract myself with blog comments that I have yet to respond to, and lo and behold, I'm inspired once again by my love of writing and connecting with my new-found blogging community.

So, hello again. It's nice to be back!

I've been m.i.a. lately for a couple of reasons. I recently started this book called The Householder's Guide to the Universe, which got me all excited about, yup, you guessed it: 'house-holding'--staying home, growing food, cooking it, and storing it away. All these years, I've been resisting the wife-label, being afraid of what it means about me if I stay home all day and then cook dinner for my husband who has been at work all day. All of a sudden, I LOVE the idea. Not that I haven't enjoyed being home with Kaya--I have, without a doubt. I love tutoring in the evenings part time--without that "escape", I'd be struggling, for sure--but what I've loved about staying home in the past was not having to get up and go to work at 8am, with a lesson plan prepped. I've loved the freedom of being a stay-at-home mom, the freedom to choose OMSI or the park or a hike or nowhere, whenever I feel like it. The idea of having to do laundry, having to cook dinner, having to play that dutiful wife role, kept me in state of rebellion...and had Geoff cooking dinner on many evenings, doing laundry in his spare time, and me feeling guilty because he's out there earning the majority of our income AND taking care of the house and family. Well, all of a sudden, there's passion in place of rebellion. I'm in love with gardening, with baking, with cleaning toilets. OK, definitely not the last one--and I still can't find it within me to dust regularly--but after reading this book, followed by the author-recommended "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades", I'm so eager to be home, to grow our food, to learn how to store it, and essentially, to do all of these things as part of my mission to save our struggling little planet.

And the other reason for my long absence: Kaya has been speaking mostly English for the past 20 days, and admittedly, I'm still not very inspired to write when she's speaking English, as cute and endearing as some of her phrasings are...

But I'm inspired now!
The rain is here. Kaya is sleeping. And I'm determined to re-connect.
And as much meaning as watch myself make out of her English-tendency, I'm telling myself that it's all part of the journey, whatever language she chooses in whatever moment she chooses it. I continue to tell myself that it doesn't mean anything about me that she's speaking so much English, as much as I fear that people are going to see it as failure. I'm sure there are a few of you out there (myself future-self included) wondering what language she's using for her tantrums these days.

I haven't been using my handy-dandy little magic-phone recorder lately, but there are a few one-liners that I keep playing over and over in my head. Yesterday morning, as we were driving to our German playgroup, I was thinking about the fact that I want to talk to her more, and I could start by describing the situation around us and what I see.

"Wir fahren in Stau," [We're driving in a traffic jam] I told her. "Es gibt viel Verkehr auf der Strasse." [There is a lot of traffic on the street.]
She processed for a few seconds, then responded with "What means dat, Mama?"
"Das heisst, es gibt viele Autos wo wir sind. Siehst du sie alle?" [That means there are a lot of cars where we're driving. Do you see them all?]

In the moment, I remember feeling bummed out a bit: my daughter isn't understanding the language I'm choosing to use with her. How am I supposed to foster relationship under those conditions?! I definitely was making it about the German, not about the fact that she's 2, and still learning about everything in her environment, in both languages. I can tell myself, now, that she asks questions in English, too. But it definitely takes effort for me to get myself 'back on track'.

Fact of the matter, as I said above, she's speaking primarily English these days. There have been about 2 days, in the past 20, when she's spoken about 70% German with me (I was dying to write on those days!). There were also a few where I'd guess she was speaking about 30-40%. Generally, though, I'd estimate her German usage with me to be about 5-10%. She's stopped speaking much German at all with Dada and her grandparents, as well as with others in the community. Basically, she has key words and phrases that she uses with me almost exclusively in German (though when I take a moment to think about them, none come to mind!). Where she used to ask "Buch lesen", she now says, "Read a book, Mama." Where she used to say only"Katze" in my company, she often chooses "cat" instead. Today, for example, while we were reading a book, she got excited when she saw the "cats!" under the flap. I tried blogger-Sarah's suggestion of creating a language game to encourage her to switch languages:

"Du siehst Elefanten darunter?!" [You see elephants under there?]
"No, cats," she said, calmly.
"Oh, Affen!" [Oh, monkeys!] I replied, faking my understanding.
"No, caaats," she said, a bit louder and more pronounced.
"Oh, du siehst Hunden darunter!" [Oh, you see dogs under there!] I said this time.
"Cattts!" she said, quite definitively this time around.

I wasn't having the same success that I've had in the past, where she'll switch terms after I ask her a few times. So, I tried our old favorite:

"Was sagt mama dazu?" [What does mama say for that?].
She stood up and turned around on the couch, clearly getting a little restless and tired of the game. "Cat," she said, seemingly confident in her response.
Noting my lack of 'success', I tried one more time, "Was sagt mama zu cat?" [What does mama say for cat?]
She paused, kept looking ahead while facing backwards on the couch, and said some word that wasn't even remotely close to "Katze", the term I'd been seeking. One more time, I repeated my last question and then, after a long, 5-second pause, she said, "Katze!" Katze, Mama. Katze, Katze, Katze. Can we get on with just reading the damn book already? (Kaya, in 4 years...!)

I've been telling myself that "without some serious change in habit on my part (like talking and reading to her a hell of a lot more often), or a change in her environment (Germany in October!), there's no way that her German skills are going to catch up to her English ones." When Kaya speaks English, we can pretty much understand 95% of what she's saying. She enunciates very clearly, and often repeats herself until we respond, if she's talking to us. It's the opposite in German. She does repeat herself, but her sounds are more jumbled and slurred, at least with those terms that are new for her. Lately, when I can't understand what she's saying, I switch my brain to German input mode, wrack my brain for what I just said to her in German, repeat her phrase aloud, over and over, and then, if my brain has worked faster than her patience level, we can move on to the next concept and continue in our communication. It's tiring, for sure.

Here comes the part where I 'should' on myself...
It seems like I 'should' know, as a language teacher, that this could be just a phase. It seems like, as a blogger with such a supportive community and a year full of blog entries, I could tell myself more often that this is just a phase and there's no reason for concern. It seems like I could even pull up the recordings on my handy-dandy magic phone from the book I read two weeks ago that inspired me to remember that there's no sense in worrying at this stage of the game--mixing is normal until three and a half.

Yet I worry a bit, regardless.
It's the beauty of the brain, right? It's like its natural tendency is worry and fear, and the path of effort is peace and serenity.
I'm confident that with continued practice, it will be otherwise.

I wonder if Katzen worry.

Kaya just woke up from her nap, and as tempted as I am to sit here and continue to write, I'm also determined to spend some time with her before heading off to tutor for the evening. This post is growing overly long, anyway. I made my point, got back on the horse, and hope to be back again soon, writing about one of the many other topics that I'm eager to address!


  1. First of all, welcome back :) I'm trying to get back on the blogging horse myself....
    Congratulations on your new perspective of house-holding. It is something to come to terms with, I think. I kind of like the (albeit old-fashioned) term of homemaker. After all, I don't just stay home and play the roll of mom. I take pride in all the things I do to make our house a home for our whole family. It doesn't mean I like all the jobs I have to do :) Although it shocked the heck out of me when I recently realized I actually like doing laundry now!
    As for your worries, I'd like to propose a possibly radical idea. I wonder if it really is natural to worry? Or is it just what we've been taught in society? I've tried in all my roles as a parent not to worry. It's impossible to achieve all the time and takes a whole lot of practice. But what I've noticed is that things seem a whole lot harder when I do worry; and we're all a whole lot happier when I don't. The more I can be in the moment with my son and enjoy him, the more he thrives. When I try to push him into learning something new, he pushes right back against it. But when I let him learn things at his own pace, he's so successful! (hm, I think I just found the topic for my next blog entry)
    I hope that is helpful to you. As you yourself said, you already have plenty of reasons not to worry! (Of course, my little one is a bit younger than Kaya, so I may need remind of all this when he starts rebelling against German!) Oh, and I don't think Katzen worry :)

  2. Long time overdue, but I want you to know that when I first read this, (on my phone, early in the morning, in bed) it made me so happy. Thank you so much for sharing!!


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