Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Kraut has Come!

This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Natasha Goncharova of Bilingual Russian. Should you be new to the carnival idea, it is a way for those of us who are passionate about 'lingualism' to connect with and learn from others who are similarly eager to build community. For more information, or to participate in future carnivals yourself, check out Bilingue per Gioco.

It's crazy. For probably 4 months now, it seems like I've been blogging about my frustration with my own German--how uncomfortable I feel with it; how good it isn't; and how I simply don't want to live in this language if my daughter won't be living in it with me. All of a sudden, however, over the past two weeks, the focus has finally shifted to Kaya's output, and my German has taken a backseat for this wonderful little ride.

Thank the good spirit of the universe.
It's about time that I quit complaining and feeling like a victim of my own creation.

Two weeks ago today, I started a new method with Kaya, which I will now refer to as perseverance (thank you 'Germanintheafternoon' for that great piece of advice). My previous term, insistence, left me with such a dictatorial feeling--perseverance, on the other hand, leaves me in a much more inspired position, instilling confidence and contentment like never before.

Up until two weeks ago, Kaya had been phasing out her German with me over a period of about 2 months--initially speaking between 40-80% German with me, until ultimately speaking nearly none. When I switched both my method and my attitude, expecting only German from her and guiding her through the process to make it happen, she began to speak more and more German with me, to the point that she's at today. I now accept only German from her, and she gives it to me about 95% of the time. How's that for mathematical analysis from a language major!?

It's amazing to me, and incredibly exciting!!, that over a period of two weeks, we were able to change what had become our habit, and ultimately, my negative outlook on the whole endeavor. How wonderful it is to finally be communicating in the same language as my daughter!

Should you be new to this blog, or perhaps just this development of ours, I encourage you to check out the past few weeks of our blog, starting with our first day of 'Insistence'. In that handful of posts, I've laid out, nearly day by day, the successes and challenges of the whole process, ending with a celebration of "It's working! It's working!".

For this post, however, I really want to be in the moment, and live in this excitement of mine that my Kraut has finally come! (I told you it would!)I know there are many of you out there who know how I've struggled with it for the past long time. I know there are others of you who have struggled with the same thing yourself, and may be wondering if this is possible for your relationship, too. I'm clearly no expert, and my perspective is that every child and every situation is different. At the same time, we're all endowed with a human brain, and for the most part, it tends to find the easiest way through a situation, and do whatever is necessary to be able to follow that route. Until two weeks ago, Kaya had no real need to be able to speak German. Understand, yes. Speak it, no. She was doing just fine speaking English to everyone, including me, and had only to develop the ability to understand everything I said so that she could get her needs met. We had fallen into this pattern where she'd say whatever she'd say in English, and I, in hopes of encouraging her to speak German, would then ask her, in German, if what she'd meant was thus and such. She'd answer, "yeah", and we'd move on from there--her getting her needs met, and me growing ever more frustrated with every passing week of less and less German spoken.

Though it was exceptionally trying at times, especially for Kaya who was used to being able to speak English and move on, she ultimately learned that she wouldn't get what she wanted if she didn't speak to me in German. Initially, it was a challenge for me to know what she knew how to say and what she didn't. There were a few buzz words that I knew she knew, like Hund, Affe, Essen, Wasser, [dog, monkey, food/eat, water] etc. But sometimes, it was really hard for me to know how long I should wait for her to produce the German without feeding it to her, as I'd been doing for months. Over the course of the week, however, it became clear to me when she was frustrated because she didn't want to switch, and when the frustration was from the challenge of formulation. At this point, the frustration is almost non-existent (with the exception of her most tired moments). Instead, she either speaks to me outright in German, or will switch immediately if I either don't respond right away, or ask her politely what she said (Bitte? Wie war das?). Often, now that her comfort level is improving, she'll begin to ask a question or make a statement and will pause in the middle of it while she figures out what comes next. Generally, I'll give her a few seconds to try it herself, and then, like with anything else, I'll coach her through the process before she gets to that point of frustration or giving up.  At that point, I'll say the German and ask her if that's what she means, and then will encourage her to say it herself if she hasn't done it on her own already (as she often will). Sometimes, as she did the other night while some friends were over, she will begin a sentence in German and then start to end it in English, catching herself in the middle to switch:

"Wo ist Johanna goi--geht?" [Where is Johanna goi--going?]

As you may know of German, in order to form a gerund (the -ing form of a verb), you simply use the regular present tense verb (goes), without a helping verb from 'to be' ("is" going). 'Geht', in other words, means "goes, is going, and does go". That grammar difference definitely catches Kaya at times...it's pretty cute to watch her wheels spin when she speaks German from an English vantage.

That same night, at our BBQ, Kaya was lying in my arms, hours past her bed time. She snuggled in close so I could hear her say, very clearly, "Ich viw schlafen." [Ich will schlafen = I want to sleep.] A two year old asking to go to sleep is quite the party-trick--I was simply excited because she told me in German!

Similarly, Kaya now tells me "nein" [no] and I love it. Not that the concept is so exciting to me, nor new to her--being two and a half, she's had that one down for a while now, and it definitely adds a challenging element to many a situation. But I can't think of a time when she's used "nein" so consistently with me. Initially, when we first started this change, she'd say "no" and I wasn't sure how to get her to switch. But, as with many other situations, I pulled in the either/or option, asking her "Ja oder nein?" [yes or no?], and she would inevitably choose the German. I think it probably took her about 5 days, but now she uses the German term consistently, clear that it's just part of the language that she speaks with Mama.

What made perhaps the biggest difference for us was when she learned the term "ich will" [I want] and "ich mag" [I like], which she often uses to talk about things while we are reading--it took about four days, but once that term became part of her working vocabulary, the German seemed to start rolling off her tongue, in longer and longer sentences.

What I've noticed about myself through all of this, is that most of my previous concerns on the subject have disappeared. Before this change, I would find myself a bit unexcited about any time that she'd be immersed in English--at her grandparents, with her dad, listening to me on the phone, etc. I felt all this pressure to expose her to only German, concerned that too much of the community language would contribute to her tendency to speak more and more of it with me, as she'd been doing. Now, however, all of those anxieties have disappeared, and I feel excited again about the simplest of activities. Granted, I have to admit that two isn't my favorite age--but I'm once again enjoying the simple games of pretend and hide-and-seek (Versteck!). We even just decided to host a young French woman for a month, which, since she'll be part of our family for the next many weeks, will naturally increase Kaya's exposure to English. But I'm nothing but excited about the whole thing. I recognize that exposing Kaya to all sorts of people, speaking all sorts of languages (or even just English!), will contribute to her understanding that there's a world full of people out there, and it's all about creating the connections and recognizing the similarities between us, despite any differences we may have in our communication.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's working! It's working!

It's hard to know where to start, really.
I see success everywhere, and all I want to do is share.

In the past, as you may know, I've been uninspired to write about much of the English that Kaya has been producing. It's hard to be inspired when the overwhelming emotion is sadness and confusion, often masked by frustration and overwhelm. With all the German she's speaking again, though, through the success of this little 'insistence experiment', I'm feeling in love all over again, with both her AND nearly everything that comes out of her mouth.

Here's a snippet of a conversation that I heard this morning while she was changing Frieda's diaper (Frieda being her babydoll):

Kaya: ah yu wet?
Baby: ---
Kaya: yeah? OK. Ah you sure?
Baby: ---
Kaya: OK. (runs off to get a diaper for her baby...)

And this morning, on our bike ride home after from visiting Dada at work, Kaya was 'singing' Old MacDonald in her trailer. She's been doing this for about a month, and as much as I hate to admit it, I've been hung up on the fact that she's been singing an English song instead of a German one. This morning, however, I was able to fully appreciate it for how cute it really is that she talks her way through this song, adding different animals and the sounds that they make to the various verses that she 'sings'. The video that I captured below is not only typical of how she sings it, but also of how, over the past day or two, she tends to switch almost immediately from English to German with just one simple response from me, without growing frustrated.

In the video, you will hear me chime in at one point, asking her, "Was macht der 'pig', das Schwein?" [What does the pig say?], at which point, she resumes the song, adding "oink, oink..." Towards the end, when it hits her that she would rather be watching the video than being filmed, she initially speaks English, but then switches, as I mentioned, to requesting to see "das Foto" [the picture] in German.

Something has definitely clicked for her over the past few days. As Gramms says, you can clearly see the wheels turning. There have been many times over the past two days where she will start speaking to me in German (as opposed to switching after starting in English), as she used to do about 4-6 weeks ago. Sunday morning, for example, as I was lying in my bed and she in hers, she called out, "Mamaaaaa," at which point, I responded, "Morgen, Baby. Ich bin wach. Ich bin in meinem Bett, und du bist in deinem." [Morning, baby. I'm awake. I'm in my bed and you're in yours.] After a few seconds, she began to ask me if I was awake, but cut herself off in the middle of asking: "Mama, are you awa--" Then, she began to babble to herself for a few minutes, reciting the alphabet (in English) and playing with her toys. After about 2 minutes, she let me know in German that she wanted "aus dem Bett." [out of bed]

This morning, as well, her first words for me were in German, letting me know that she'd drunk all her milk: "Es ist leer, Mama." [It's empty, Mama]

For the most part, the German that she's speaking is basic, often just a word or a short phrase. It's clear to me that she's formulating once I ask her what she's said, or told her that I don't understand. Until today, she wouldn't switch languages without a number of attempts on my part to get her to switch (What did you say? I don't understand you. Excuse me? I only understand German from you.) Today, however, she only needed one, if even that, to switch. As I was riding my bike this morning, and she was repeating, "I don't want that water," I realized that, initially, it felt really mean to me to 'ignore' her when she was speaking English. That's because that's all she would speak to me, so I would be ignoring her all of the time. Now, however, if I don't respond immediately, she seems to be processing a message that the language she's using isn't getting her want she wants or needs--so she'll switch to see if that works better. And it does. I'm even going out of my way to respond faster to her when she's speaking German, and even offering allowances that I normally wouldn't. Tonight, for example, she let Geoff know that she wanted me to come into her room. When I went in there, she immediately told me that she wanted to "kuscheln" [snuggle], and though we normally leave her in her bed once we've put her to sleep, I picked her up immediately when I heard that, and let her snuggle with me until she let me know that she was ready to go back "ins Bett" [in bed].

As well as the simplicity of her German that I've noticed over the past few days, I've also noticed that she's confused about a few grammar concepts that she has nailed in English. After I laid her in bed for the first time tonight, she told me that she wanted me to "schaukeln" [rock]. After I rocked for a while, I stood up, and went to her bed to kiss her goodnight. "Ah you going, Mama?" she asked me. I was surprised at the clarity of her question, and about how calmly she was asking. "Wie bitte," [What was that?] I asked her, expecting a quick switch on her part. "Ah you going, Mammi?" she repeated in English. "Bitte?" I asked her, again, confident she'd switch this time 'round. She paused, as she often does lately, formulating her new question. This pause seemed a little longer than most, and she followed it up with a grammatical statement in the first person as opposed to a question in the second: "Ich gehe?" [I go?] She similarly struggled this afternoon with the 'yours-mine' concept, when she was telling me whose swing was whose today on the playground. Despite my experience as a language teacher, I still struggle with how to 'teach' this concept. It's a hard one. I don't expect her to get it easily (and was surprised when she got it so quickly in English about a month or two ago).

I'm confident we'll start seeing longer, more grammatically correct sentences soon, though. This afternoon, right before I recorded the Old MacDonald video, Kaya was eager to switch water bottles with me. I had the fun one, with the easy-to-suck straw. She had the metal one with the hard-to-open lid. She'd been repeating herself about 8-10 times while we were riding, until I finally pulled over and let her know that I could hear her but didn't understand her. At this point, she switched to German and produced a sentence that put quite a smile on my face: "Ich will dat Water. Ich will...ich moechte...dieses Wasser....haben." [I want that water. I want...I would like to have that water.]

And my last point for the evening, before I hit my birthday at midnight (what a gift this week has been for me!!)...Kaya is conceptualizing all of this so much sooner than I've read that she would. I read that, in general, kids are aware of people speaking different languages at about 3.5--the same age that they generally stop mixing. Kaya is beginning to label the languages now. While we were playing at the park, and after she had just spoken English with me, Kaya said, smiling, "Das ist English...Das ist Mamasprache." [That's English. That's Mama-language.] I set her straight, reminding her that 'Mamasprache ist Deutsch. English ist Dadasprache." [Mama-language is German. English is Dada-language.] This afternoon, however, while we were folding laundry, she got the terms right, saying, again with a smile on her face, "Das ist Deutsch. Das ist Mamasprache." [That's German. That's mama-language.]

That's right. It sure is.
It feels really good to be proud of that, again!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fueling the Fire of Change

Wow, check out this crazy stunt, writing 3 days in a row.
Maybe I should send my husband to Vegas more often...

There's so much change taking place on a daily basis, it's hard for me to avoid sitting down to lay it all out for the Kaya die-hards. I know you're out there. AND...I know that one day, while I sit blissfully in the sun, floating on my favorite lake in the German Alps (Eibsee!), listening to my daughter ramble on in her Krauty-way, I will want to go back and read how it all started, read about the days full of 'sucky' moments, full of strife between me and my two year old while I 'gently' remind her that I don't understand.

Maybe if I say this enough it will serve as a gentle reminder to myself to follow my own implicit advice.

It's not as bad as I'm implying it to be, really.
In all actuality, despite the frustrating moments that we experienced today with our choppy and awkward communication, I'm seeing major 'progress', which continues to provide the fuel to make it to our next moment of success.

Here are the best of the best...

This morning, I was invited by one of my German-speaking friends to have coffee with her and a native German colleague that she recently met in the lunch room at work. Admittedly, I had my concerns about bringing Kaya into a coffee shop at 9am, especially after the challenges we had in leaving the house (typical these days whenever we're trying to get anywhere on time). But the whole experience was awesome! My friend loves Kaya, and the feeling seems mutual, so as they sat blissfully in the corner, reading books and playing in German, I got to interact in German with an adult! I think what I loved the most was that this German woman was so willing to share her feelings with me, to the point that she got teary-eyed as she was telling me about her ex-boyfriend in China. My experience of many Germans has been that it takes them a while (many months?) to open up and share their most meaningful feelings. It was SO great to experientially branch out of that stereotype. I also loved that Kaya was surrounded by German, and though she still needed a bit of reminding at times that I am only understanding German from her, I'm confident that it made a difference in how much German she was speaking. When she saw the strawberries on top of the granola, for example, she let me know that she wanted some by saying "Erdbeeren" [strawberries]! I took her face and nearly smothered it with kisses, I was so excited! Despite the progress, it can still take her 6-7 repetitions in English before she'll switch to German. The fact that she spit it out the first time...SO huge right now. My friend said, too, that with her, she was speaking a lot of German, as well.

Ja, wohl!!

Later in the afternoon, I decided to take Kaya to the library for our favorite performer, Mr. Ben. As much fun as that was (it really was! He rocks!), I had even more fun with Kaya once the show was over and we headed to the children's section. Last week, I decided that I like reading English books to Kaya that I can translate on the fly. Initially, I was being really hard-core about only reading "Mama-Buecher" [Mama books] and Dada-books. I've since backed off, however, realizing that we have such greater variety if I leave myself open to the option--and since she can't read right now anyway, I don't think it makes much difference (please feel free to chime in, anyone, if you know otherwise). So, the greatest moment during our time at the library was when I was reading one of these books to Kaya and asking her to identify some of the things on the page that she saw. In the past, as I've said, I've been asking her a lot of either/or questions (which, by the way, are getting MUCH easier for me to create in our many conversations). This is to encourage her to speak German instead of saying the English which is likely on the tip of her tongue. But this time, I thought I would see how she'd respond with a direct, open-ended "Was ist das?"[What is that?] and "Was siehst du da alles?" [What all do you see there?]. I was ecstatic (would you expect any less from me at this point!?) when she responded immediately with the German, whatever it was that she was identifying. I think my excitement ended up taking so much space in my brain that there was no room left for remembering what she actually identified. But I do recall thinking it was perhaps a fluke, that if I were to ask her again, she'd answer in English. So, I tried that, too, and she continued to answer me in German, for a number of words in the book. It was as if her brain had switched over, and she was simply operating in 'Mama-speak'.

On the way home, she seemed to be in that mode, too. She was in her car seat, and had just finished the rest of her snack in her cup. All of a sudden, I heard her saying "nehmen, nehmen, nehmen!" [take, take, take], as she was handing me her cup to take from her. This was after no encouragement from me whatsoever--we'd simply been driving down the road listening to our favorite German CD right now, 'Lisa Kann schon Viele Sachen' [Lisa can already do a Lot] (it's awesome if you're interested...a good mix of talking and singing!).

It's funny. When I take a step back and look at how excited I'm getting that she's speaking one or two words in German every once in a while, it's easy for me to go to that "what the hell?!" place, where I feel embarrassed, and this desire to explain myself. I have to remind myself that it's all about the progress, about the now...not about how it was more than a month ago when this would have been a 'silly' thing for me to get excited about because she was speaking mostly German to me, at the same level as her English. Now that she's speaking fluent English, and very little German, these milestones seem massive when I allow myself to really experience it.

The last little fuel for the fire today happened while I was at the Farmer's Market this morning, where I went so we could pick up our CSA share from the local meat farm we just joined. The guy working this morning overheard me speaking German with Kaya, and chimed in, at one point, that he was really glad to hear me teaching her with that language. His mom, he told me, tried to do the same with him, but didn't follow through because his dad is American. He doesn't have much family on his dad's side, however, and after going to Korea to visit family, he realizes that the language is a big barrier. Now, he's learning Korean in college, wishing he learned it as a kid so he could have those connections with the only extended family he has. Hearing his story was my reminder of my initial motivation for this endeavor: I've read of NO children that regret that their parents spoke to them in a 2nd or 3rd language, but of plenty of children who wished their parents had followed through in raising them with more than one language.

I need this reminder during those many moments where Kaya is SO excited to tell me that she "wants ta wead wif (you) Mama", or asks me SO sweetly if we can "snuggle wif da wight on". It's in these moments where I need this reminder that this process really will pay off, and that, in the end (and perhaps even in the process), it will be a true gift for her. At this point, the way I see it, Kaya has had no reason to go through the extra effort to produce the German. It was working just fine for her to speak to me in English and have me respond to her in German. She understood everything I would say to her, and she could use one language to communicate with both of her parents. I knew that this situation is common in many households where a minority language is spoken by one or both parents, and I knew that I was hoping to avoid it. I just thought it wouldn't really start until she was older. But after experimenting with this 'insistence' as I have been for 5 days, it's clear to me that Kaya needs a reason to learn to speak. I could wait until we are in Germany, or until one day down the road when she may be there by herself on an exchange. But I want to try this, because it seems like it could be easier and more enjoyable in the long run if we put in the extra effort now.

That's generally how life works, right?
It seems like bilingualism should be no exception to the laws of the universe...

(and to all you Dad's out there, including Kaya's and my own, Happy Father's Day! I've once again succeeded in writing into the wee hours of the morning. Please, dear spirit of the dawn, help me create energy and patience with my budding toddler...!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Baby Steps Towards Success

Our house is a disastrous pit. I'm not sure it's ever been messier, honestly.
And here I sit, actually preferring to go clean, but knowing that it will make me happy to share the latest progress about our newest little method: insistence.

So, since we've come home from the park two days ago (with the exception of this morning because we were with a group of English speakers), I have been 'insisting' on German from Kaya. 'Insist' isn't really the word I prefer to use here, because it definitely comes with a negative connotation. But it succeeds in conveying the message that I am no longer simply responding back to her in German as she speaks to me in English. Nor am I simply telling her what to say to me in German, either, as I had been doing for the past month or so. Now, like I said on Tuesday, I am responding 95% of the time as if I either don't understand her or expect her to tell me, in German, whatever it is that she wants to share.

She's definitely been growing more frustrated over the past 2 days, as I continue this method with her. My tendency is to respond with "Bitte?"[What?] after she speaks to me in English (which is still 95% of the time), though I'm finding that "Was ist das?" [What is that?] tends to cause an almost immediate switch for her to German. When I tell her that I don't understand, or if ask her what she said, she has a tendency to raise her voice when she repeats herself the first time (as opposed to the 15th, as on Tuesday). She has mixed responses when I tell her, "Von dir, verstehe ich nur Deutsch." [From you I understand only German]

I am noticing a CLEAR improvement in how quickly she is beginning to switch languages, though, especially after my responses to her. Yesterday morning, for example, she was asking me repeatedly, "What is that?" as we were sitting at the table. I was responding as I just explained, and towards the end of our 5-minute interaction, she finally caught on by asking, "Was ist das?" As we pulled up to the gym 20 minutes later, and she wanted to know what it was that she was seeing on the street, she asked me, in German, the first time! This happened again this afternoon when she wanted me to get her out of the bouncy seat, and another time at the table during dinner. At times, though, it's definitely like pulling teeth. Tonight, for example, while we were getting her ready for bed, she came out into the living room saying, "I want ta read a book wif you, Mama." SO cute, it's hard for me not to eat her up in those moments and just do whatever she wants me to do, in whatever language she may be speaking! But, heeding the Austrian, I stood my ground and asked her what it was that she was wanting to do. I tried all the responses in my repertoire, and none of them were working to create the pause and the German response that follows her spinning wheels. It is getting easier, though, to just let those moments go, and to make no meaning out of them, especially as I watch this process create a greater tendency for Kaya to use the German that is so clearly behind her big brown eyes.

It's 11:40pm.
Will the kitchen get cleaned? Will the living room get tidied?
Or will my friend come over tomorrow night and see the trash pit that is our house in these days of rampant English?

I tend to think it's a good life skill for me to practice, accepting that our house simply is the way it is right now, until it isn't. Carpenter ants and all...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oh, the Sweet Sound of Insistence!

For quite some time now, I've been wondering about the following:

At what age is it possible, or even recommended, to start "insisting" on German from Kaya?

As much as I've read about responding in German, and encouraging children to speak in the minority language, I've yet to come across information that could answer my question. Today, however, the sun shone down upon me...

A few years ago, after a phone call to the German American Society, I found a German playgroup that meets once a week for a few hours. Over the past few years, through my participation with the group, I've discovered that there are a variety of family situations that exist within our group. In all of the families, at least one parent speaks exclusively German with the children (OPOL). In some of them, there are two native German speakers, in others, both non-natives. In some of them, the children speak mostly English with both parents, in others, all German with the German-speaker. There is one family in particular that I seek to emulate, in which the mom (a native Austrian) speaks only German with her son (who is 4 1/2 yrs old), while the dad speaks only his native English. Together, the parents obviously speak English, and, similar to Geoff, the dad can understand some of what is said in German between the mom and the kid. I highlight this situation because it is one that is most similar to ours and 'offers' what I seek most right now: an exclusively German relationship between mom and child.

My intention had been to talk to this mom about her situation, asking her specifically when I might start "insisting", or feigning misunderstanding, from Kaya. Before broaching the subject, however, I found myself pushing Kaya on the swings, standing next to the only non-native dad in our group. He's the only other parent (that I know of other than me) who is non-native and speaks exclusively German with his daughter. She and Kaya happen to be about the same age, too, with Kaya being just a few months younger.

So, eager to get my dilemma solved, I asked this dad about his experience with his daughter, specifically if she speaks German to him.

"Ja," he answered.
My thoughts began to spiral. What's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Why does his kid speak to him in German and mine doesn't?

I began to ask question after question (all in German, of course) in hopes of discovering the answers to my internal banter:
Do you insist on German from her? Well, sort of, without creating a negativity around it.
Are you a stay at home dad? No. Only a few hours in the morning.
Does your wife speak German? No. She speaks English.

My line of questioning was making me feel worse. It definitely didn't help when he told me that some kids are more inclined towards movement and less towards language, and thus, their language tends to develop slower.

My kids loves to read. And is clearly all over language. Just not the German!!

It wasn't until I asked him if his daughter had always spoken mostly German with him that I began to feel a little sense of hope.

There was a little while, he shared with me, that she spoke more English than German.
Oh thank the dear Buddha in the trees...there's hope afterall!

That's normal, he told me, apparently picking up on my concern. Keep up the good work, you're doing great.

My head was spinning. Was I doing great? It sure didn't feel like it. I couldn't shake the idea that there must be something that I could be doing differently so that I can live in the same language as my kid.

Kaya, by this point, was ready for another activity. She wandered over to the play structure and told me she wanted to slide. Do I ignore her? She just told me in English? How do I feign misunderstanding without feeling like a cold-hearted beast?

It was back on the swings that I decided to test out my new method. This time, we were alone, so I didn't have to get hung up on what I thought others might be thinking of my beastly ways. She wanted me to push her, so with every push, I'd count in German: eins...zwei....drei...vier...After a few rounds to ten, she began to get the hang of it, and would join me in counting. Instead of saying the next number in German, however, she'd say it in English (which impressed me that she even knew what came next, in either language!): ...sechs...sieben...eight! As dismayed as I felt about overall German situation, I told myself that all I needed to focus on in that moment were the repetition of the numbers...even if I couldn't see the effect. The repetition will sink in, that's the gist of 'learning'--it's simply how the brain works, right?!

After about 5 minutes of pushing and counting, Kaya was eager to move on:
"I'm dun", she told me.
"Wie bitte?" [What?] I asked her, telling myself that this was my window.
"I'm dun," she said again, in a similar tone.

I kept pushing, wondering if ignoring was the ticket to success. Would she just figure out what I was doing and switch languages to see if that would get her what she wanted? This dad in the group had told me that he just doesn't respond a lot of the time if his daughter speaks to him in English.
"I'm done!" she said, again...and again, and again, and again.

Ignoring wasn't working. It's like ignoring a barking dog...they don't just stop the ruckus on their own. Nor do they generally start meowing like a cat.
"Was hast du gesagt?" [What did you say?] I asked her, as I pushed her higher. I felt so mean.
"I'm done," she said, a little louder this time.
"Was sagst du mama?" [What do you say to mama?] I hinted.
"Fertig," [Done] she finally said, as a smile formed on her lips. I stopped the swing and kissed her face. Repeatedly.
"Genau! Fertig," [Exactly! Done.] I told her, with a bigger smile on mine.

Next, we headed over to the big slide.
She was eager to climb up, and told me as such: "I want to go up."
"Bitte?" I asked her, repeating my method from before.
She repeated herself, in English, and I began to wonder if she even knew how to ask me for what she wanted in German. That's been a part of my internal dialogue, actually, that she probably doesn't even know how to express what she wants and needs, so I need to just go with her statement in English or tell her how to say it in German (which has been wearing the hell out me!).

"I want to go up," she said again, this time putting her foot on the step.
"Du willst aufsteigen?" [You want to go up?] I verified, landing on my old method.
"Ja," she agreed.
"Sag, ,Ich will aufsteigen'," [Say, 'I want to go up'] I told her, again, using my old stand-by.
"Ich viw aufsteign," she said, calmly.
And up she went, higher and higher. I felt back at square one, feeding her words and telling her what to say. Yuck.

I did this a few more times at a few more places on the playground, often with no resolution. She'd say something to me, I'd ask her what she said, tell her I don't understand, and often not even feed her the words. I felt disheartened.

And then, we went back to the swings. After a bit of banter about the "blue one" (Welche? [Which one?]) and the "green one" (Bitte?), I finally lifted her into the green one and started to push. And count. And push some more. She wanted me to push from behind, and once again, the game ensued: Wie bitte? [Huh?] And then it happened. After pushing from behind for a few minutes, she began to tell me, in English, that she was done. She repeated herself probably 8 times, until she finally said, with no prompting, "Fertig!" Clearly, I was ecstatic, and kissed her even more than I had the first time.

Then, as I was pushing her on the blue swing a bit later, the Austrian mom came over and began to talk with me. I began in German, grew frustrated with my lacking vocabulary, and quickly switched to English. Within a few seconds, she told me to speak to her in German--I love it! Just like she does with her son! So, I began to share with her my concern about Kaya's German, and a discussion quickly ensued about her advice about what to do. I was in heaven. Speak to her only in German, she told me, no matter what, no matter who is around. And insist on German from her. My questions came rolling forth: Is it not too early to feign misunderstanding? Am I not being mean? You don't think she doesn't know how to speak German? No. No. No. Her message was clear. It's not too late, silly Tamara, and it's not too early. The perfect time is now. Right now. Just like I was doing on the swings. Treat her with love, tell her that, from her, I only understand German, and as long as I give her the initial time and opportunity to answer, continue to teach her vocabulary when she clearly needs it.

Even now, I breathe a sigh of relief. An "expert" in my own backyard, and the experiment on the playground to back up her advice. Throughout the entire conversation with this mom, I was pushing Kaya on the blue swing. I was impressed with how much she was enjoying it. And then, towards the end of our conversation, when she was ready for another activity, she said it the first time, as clear as a bell: Fertig.

And that, my friends, is the sweet sound of insistence...!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Someday My Kraut will Come...

How do 2 weeks go by without my writing a single word on my blog?! It's amazing to think that there's something that I love to do so much, like write, and it takes me 14 days to get around to making the time to make it happen.

Damn sunshine and love of gardening.
Damn passion for eating organic and visiting the family farm we just "joined".
Damn 2-year-old, sapping all my extra energy with all the English you speak.

Why is blame so much easier than taking responsibility?!

I'm not exactly sure what I want to write about tonight--I just know that it is high time to make it happen: all of a sudden, my readership just grew tenfold--literally. I'm not sure exactly how, but here's my best guess: this British blogger in Glasgow, with a blog called Mummy Do That, recently linked to my blog from hers. As a blogger with more than 150 followers, on topics ranging from knitting to sustainability (not to mention, raising her children in German and English), it's not much of a surprise that I'd get a few hits off of her site. But to go from about 8 readers a day to 100!!--the LAST thing I expected to see when I jumped on my blog tonight. Yikes. I can't believe it. It almost makes me nervous to even open my "mouth" here, writing to so many of you at once...

I better make it good, huh?!

I just think it's amazing how powerfully strong an online community can be...and how incredible it is to be able share them as we do, and declare them as our own communities once we see them that way. Thank you, Mummy, thank you very much!

So, the theme of late has been all of Kaya's English. Not much has changed, really. It continues to roll off of her tongue in the sweetest ways, while the German stays mostly dormant, preparing for its BIG debut. One of these days, I'm sure of it, the curtains will open back up, and the Kraut will come pouring out of her, as if she'd spent all of her waking hours in the land of Lederhosen.

You just wait. It will.

And by the way, for those of you who are concerned that I damned my child above...have no fear. I love the hell out of her, and find myself wishing, on too many an occasion, that I would allow myself to speak the same language that she does so that I could feel that love even MORE than I already do.

A few weekends ago, I almost "gave up" all over again. The mantra was the same as what I wrote on my blog about a month ago: Can I do this? Do I want to? We were having a Block Party, and repainting our intersection compass, and all I wanted to do was continue my conversations with a few people about how I wasn't cut out for this, how I don't like it, and maybe I AM screwing her up with this choice that I'm making. And then, on Monday morning, it hit me: as much as I used to judge women who would blame PMS for everything under the sun, I, too, am just a human who is controlled by my hormones during many a monthly moment. Funny thing is, I felt so liberated as soon as I realized that...and finally, instead of telling myself that I'd remember next month, I actually wrote it down on my calendar next month so I can be ready for the roller coaster that may come barreling down my path.

My guess is that most of my readers are women...and to the rest of you men out there, dedicated to me and my blogging endeavors, thanks for putting up with this little effeminate dance. My intention a few weeks ago was to dedicate an entire post to the topic--so, you lucked out with merely a paragraph.

So, today, as moody as I'm not, I can't avoid the fact that my feelings haven't changed much: I still don't like the fact that I speak a different language than my daughter speaks with me. During the most trying of moments, and even the most endearing ones, it's like being in different worlds, and when I go anywhere near the idea that I might have to "endure" this forever, I instantly want to give up. Thus, when my emotional plate has room to spare, I can easily avoid those 'dangerous' thoughts, and do my best to live in the now, and focus on the connection we do have as opposed to the common language we don't.

Over the past week, I've been trying a myriad of ways to get her to speak German--the way that's been working the best has been to ask her tons of either/or questions. Today, for example, she wanted to read the Opposites book by Boynton. In the past, I've been unwilling to read 'Dada-books', and have steered her towards 'Mama-Buecher' in German. But lately, I've backed off of my stringency, and have taken the opportunity to expand our repertoire (and my creativity). So, as we were reading that Dada-book tonight, our interaction went a lot like this:

Mama: Der Elefant ist schwer. Der Hase ist leicht. Ist der Elefant leicht oder schwer? [The elephant is heavy. The rabbit is light. Is the elephant light or heavy?]
Kaya: schwer.[heavy]
Mama: (pointing to the animals on the page...) Schnell. Langsam. Ist der Hund schnell oder langsam? [Fast. Slow. Is the dog fast or slow?]
Kaya: schnell! [fast!]
Mama: Ist die Schnecke langsam oder schnell. [Is the snail slow or fast?]
Kaya: (pause) langsam. [slow]

It's getting easier for me to think like this while I'm reading her books...esp. the picture books with one or two words per page. But in real life, at the breakfast table for example, it's a lot more challenging (and draining!) to figure out how to word most of my interactions as either/or questions, or as informational questions that she'll answer with words that tend to be buzz words for her in German. And then I find myself even questioning how natural that is, and if I'm doing us a disservice by trying so frickin' hard to get the German to flow. Here's a pretty typical conversation at the breakfast table between us:

Willst du yogurt? [do you want yogurt?]
Ja!! [yeah!]
Was willst du drauf? [What do you want on it?]
Weizenkerne. [wheat germ]
Ok. Was noch? [ok. What else?]
Flax Oel. [Flax oil]
Ok. Noch was? [ok. Anything else?]
Ja. Apfelmuss, und Hefe! [Yeah, apple sauce and brewer's yeast!]
Ok, lecker. [oh yummy] (p.s. I don't really think brewer's yeast is yummy, though she does!)
Willst du auch Cheerios dazu. [Do you want Cheerios with that?]
Ja! [yeah!]

(I know, I can't believe it, either, that my kid chooses to eat wheat germ, brewer's yeast and flax oil on her food...it's a left-over habit from Super Baby Food and I'm lovin' it!!)

There are still a few life situations, like breakfast and riding the bus, where Kaya has a number of German buzz-phrases:

Sie steigen aus. [They're getting off]
Er steigt ein. [He's getting on.]
Wir fahren mit dem Bus. [We're riding the bus.]
Bus fahren. [Riding the bus]

I'm working to create a few more, but admittedly, Kaya has such a super-Dada that most topics have already been played with in English before I can 'get to them' in German. Yesterday, they were making a bouncy house out of play-doh, for example, and they've been having a great time in the backyard playing with the big bouncy ball from Geoff's office. I might have a chance with 'airplane', which she requested to do with me while we were reading from her 'Klara' book...I remember playing airplane with the boys I used to babysit, balancing them on the soles of my feet while they 'flew' above me on their stomachs. Kaya loves it, though definitely lets me know when she's had enough: "Don't do dat, Mama." Maybe I can monopolize the gardening topic, as we've been doing a lot of that together lately...just have to keep her from cutting all of my roses when she has a scissors in her hand!

Maybe it's because it's 12:30am, and I know I have to get up in 7 hours, but I'm dying to think of some of the cute things she's been saying in English and I just can't. She's speaking in complete sentences all of the time, at least in English, and enunciates like them best of 'em. One of her favorite phrases of late: "You canNOT do dat" (fill in 'dat' with whatever activity we happen to be doing that she doesn't like). She's also very willing to tell us, "I don't wike dat," or "I don't want it wike dat!" She has yet to master the letter "L" or "th", and as much as I don't want our daughter to have a speech problem, I wuv it, and hope it won't change anytime soon.

I bet if it weren't so late, I could also come up with a story or two about our farm trip to Junction City on Saturday, followed by our trip to the cabin for the rest of the weekend. But alas, it's time to follow my husband into bed, and prepare myself for a day of toddler tomorrow. So for now, you'll have to settle with a few pictures of the pigs that I fell in love with on the farm. As crass as it sounds, it was pretty cool to have these creatures rubbing their noses on my hand, nibbling my knuckles, reminding me of how much I love ham.