Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"I'm trying to get the words out..."

Despite my initial doubts, it turned out to be another wonderful weekend at the cabin. The sun did its part to light up our world, and the starry heavens glistened from above, leaving their mark above the light of the fire. Summer has finally arrived around here, and the clear skies make everything brighter.

Including Kaya's German!

In the past, when we've gone away with family and friends, I've found that Kaya will increase her frequency of English with me, simultaneously decreasing the amount of German she speaks. This weekend, however, the mix of English-speaking family members with her German-speaking Mama seemed to do nothing other than solidify the fact that she now lives in different languages with different people. Over the course of the weekend, of all of the interactions that she and I had with each other, there were only two occasions that she spoke to me in English--and immediately following both of those utterances, she immediately corrected herself by switching to German.

It continues to amaze me that, after just a few weeks of patience and persistence, our whole world has changed. I feel excited again, and hopeful about our future with this bilingual journey. This afternoon, I realized that I now have a whole different outlook on what school/s we might choose. October (and our trip to Germany) is no longer a goal, but an excitement, which I know will simply solidify the current trend. And most importantly for this moment, now that our daughter is speaking only German with me (and English with others), I'm inspired to share more of the memorable moments of our bilingual process.

Last night was the cherry, for sure. As Geoff was leaving the Blues Festival with Kaya, she was attempting to tell him, in English, what she'd just seen on the street:

"There's a.....a.......a......there's a......a.....(add a 10-15 sec. pause here)..."

Distracted by the airplane flying above, she looks up and says, "Airplane," to which Geoff responds, "Yup, there's an airplane." Clearly attempting to communicate something different, she continues with her attempt to narrow down the term:

"There's a.........I'm trying to get the words out..........Mama calls it 'Polizei'.
"Oh! Police!" Geoff responds, floored by the whole interaction.
"Yeah," Kaya continues, recognizing that her observation was now in the past. "Kaya saw a green police car."

Like Geoff, I was ueber-impressed when I heard this story. Kaya has been searching for terms in this way for a month or so now--but up until this conversation, had only been searching for terms in German, not in English, as she was in this conversation. I'm SO excited that she's finally reached a point where her vocabulary, at least in some areas of her life, is more expansive in German than it is in English. I also love how she uses these seemingly 'adult expressions' to fill us in on her process: "I'm trying to get the words out..." It makes it so clear that they are little human processors at this age now, and no longer little babies, simply trying to make sense of the stimuli around them.

In addition to our little processor, we've got quite the sweet snuggler. This morning, during our daily 'Kuschelzeit' [snuggle time] in bed, Kaya had turned herself towards me and was looking into my eyes. Her head was on my pillow, mere inches from my face. She had her hand a bit outstretched, and as if she was going to touch my shoulder. Before going any further, however, she asks me, in her sweetest little Kaya voice, "Kann ich dir Liebe geben, Mama?" [Can I give you love, Mama?] Long ago, while rocking in our rocker together, Kaya asked me what I was doing while I was stroking her face. Not exactly sure of how a native would answer that question, I took a stab and told her, "Ich gebe dir Liebe." [I'm giving you love.] It's become the phrase, and regardless of how awkward it may sound to native (I've yet to check...), it works for us, and still melts my heart whenever she asks.

Later, as we were on a jog through the park, I was getting a drink from the water fountain. After I'd finished, she looked up and asked me, in a voice nearly as sweet as the one she used in bed, "Kann ich auch Wasser haben?" [Can I have water, too?] There have been a number of times over the past week where she's been using English phrasing while speaking German, despite her accuracy with this sentence. As we would ask it in English, "Can I have water, too?", the modal verb, 'can', comes immediately before the infinitive of the main verb, 'have'. In German, however, the two get separated, with the modal verb (or helping verb) preceding the subject (in questions), and the main verb coming at the end of the sentence, after everything else has been said: "Can I too water have?" I find myself assuming that children who speak German monolingually, or those with native-German-speaking parents, also make these mistakes, similar to English-speaking children making the grammar mistakes that they make as they attempt to sort through the rules in their heads. I've yet to ask around or do too much digging--if you have any input on this, I would love it hear it.

Though she continues to confuse her grammar between the two languages, I'm impressed with Kaya's awareness of the separateness of the two. A few cabin stories from this weekend can help to illustrate this assumption on my part.

On Saturday morning, I snuggled up with Kaya in the bean bag chair on the back deck. I offered two books in front of her, and she chose the one in English about a French, masquerading dog. Quite the complicated story (in comparison to See Spot Run), I found plenty of challenge in my attempt at translation on the fly. Despite my doubts, she went for it, and I was able to pull it off well enough for both of us to enjoy the story. Part way through the book, however, we were interrupted, and decided we'd take a break for a while. During this break, her Tante Jules [Aunt Julie] came outside and began to talk with her about the book we'd just read--which just so happened to be the same book that she'd read to Kaya in English during our last cabin trip. Kaya seemed to have remembered that, and she let Julie know that, "Mama tells me this book in German."

Later that afternoon, while Geoff was cutting vegetables with Kaya, he was playing around with the word 'broccoli', pronouncing it in syllabic chunks with more of a German pronunciation than an English one (broh-ko-lee). Upon hearing his word play, Kaya let him know that, "that's how you say it in German."

And earlier that day, I was told about the following anecdote that took place between Kaya and her grandparents a few days earlier at their house. The details are a bit foggy, since it comes secondhand, but what I recall is that there was discussion happening about Kaya's poopy diaper--Gramm's might have mentioned the fact that it was poopy and that it needed to be changed. Grampa, the jokester that he is, chimed in, too, letting Kaya know that, "Some people call it poop, but we say poopsi-doodle around here." Kaya had some input on the topic as well, and made sure that they knew that "Mama says Ah-ah" [poop]. 

I think Grampa was on the right track with his 'poopsidoodle', because I'm quickly tiring of the term 'amazed' and 'impressed'. 'Happy' and 'excited' are nearing their time, too. Maybe it's time for new adjectives in this English language of ours. Maybe the time has come for me to share about how excitarambibambled I am about Kaya's new tendency, and how amazarific it is that I finally get to exist in the same language as my daughter.


  1. I adoramify your neologisms!

  2. Wow! How great that Kaya is self-correcting by switching to German! And finding words in German before she can get them in English! And differentiating between English and German! What successes she - and you! - are having!
    I love your expression "Ich gebe dir Liebe" - wie süss! And I'm also impressed by your neologisms (a new word for me!), but I'm too tired right now to come up with one of my own :)

  3. Again, I'm inspired, as I first was by reading your blog...thank you! :) Inspired enough to "try German" with Claire!

    I'm also really happy for you! And your stories are fun to read. :)

    If you have any great German adjectives, post them! I need to expand my vocabulary! ;)

  4. Hey Tamara,
    Just wondering how things are going? I hope your absence is due to a fabulous, busy summer!
    Liebe Grüße,

  5. That is so awesome!!!! I love watching their little minds grow. We are raising our 4 kids to be bilingual Spanish-English and I am a non-native Spanish speaker doing the brunt of the work:). It is hard, and you have to be so disciplined- which is why I am so impressed when I see other successful families. Congrats and thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks, to each of you, for your interest and your presence here. Your passion makes such a difference for me in this process--especially in those months that were so hard that I wanted to do nothing other than give up! Now that she's finally speaking only German with me (sans those moments when she's really mad!), it's really nice to look back and know that it was you, as a community, that really kept me afloat.
    Thanks again!


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