Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Primary Languages & One Fragile Planet

This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Tyeisha at Tongue Tales. 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.

I'm stuck.

6 weeks without writing.
More than a million things I could say.
And I can't seem to peck out the perfect opener.
Is this what writer's block looks like? After years of denying myself as a writer, I guess there was no room for this. Now that I can finally accept and label myself as such, here it is. Or maybe not? Maybe if I really had the block, you'd see nothing from me at all for another 6 weeks...

Whatever you call it, I'm glad to be back. As strange as it may sound, I've missed you, my little blogging community. I really have. And in a certain way, I feel a bit sad that I let so much time go by without making the effort to connect.

I bet there are some of you out there, reading this now, thinking that you aren't a part of that community of mine--thinking to yourselves that I must have some dedicated group of readers that I'm addressing, of which you aren't a part. Well, alas my doubting reader, I see you, too, as part of this important community in my life...if you are here, you're a part. I mean, assuming you're open to the invitation...!

I'm tempted to dive into reasons for my absence...after a sweet comment from a fellow blogger 'friend', I was reminded that many of you out there have no idea what's up over here...and actually might be wondering.

As much as I do love writing, I've finally been able to wrap my soul around another one of my passions and it's taken up nearly all of my extra time over the past few months. You may have heard, from me or otherwise, about an event called Moving Planet, sponsored by an organization called Essentially, Moving Planet is a global event aimed at demanding action around stopping climate change. In hundreds of locales, all over the world, people are organizing events that, this year, focus on moving away from from a carbon-based, fossil-fuel-based society and moving toward a more energy-efficient and sustainable future. In line with the goals of and the worldwide Moving Planet event, our aim is to inspire attendees to call upon political leaders, their communities, and themselves to move toward a sustainable way of life. We will take real action on issues of the environment, climate justice, transit equity, and cleaner transportation.

About a month ago, I became Event Coordinator for the event here which we're calling Moving Planet Portland: A Climate Action Fest. For me, as passionate as I've been about the outdoors and the earth, this whole business of being in charge of a huge event, is really new--and in moments, I have to admit, a bit overwhelming. All in all, however, I feel completely excited about the whole thing--not just the event and the possibilities it holds for creating change, but also the opportunities that my participation has given me to create a place for myself in this climate change community.

I could go on and on...but I'm nearing my deadline for this little Carnival, and I know there's many of you out there who might enjoy a story or two, and perhaps even a video, of the latest with Kaya. So, until I create another opportunity to rave about my excitement for this event, including drawing a more clear connection between my passion for this and my dedication to my daughter and her future, I'll leave you with one more video on the subject that, if I had to choose, is clearly the most motivating video out there (in regards to taking action around this issue)...

OK, OK. Now to the meat and general focus of this here blog: Our little Kaya.

Sometimes I forget about this daydream that I used to have when Kaya was a baby. I'd get so excited at the idea of having a little kid--one who'd be using a little-kid voice and little-kid concepts and little-kid words--all in my non-native language. I used to yearn for the opportunity to be around and listen to young native speakers, hoping for every opportunity to learn some new word, some new phrase, or simply analyze their language and learning process. The idea of having my own one of those--it lit me up, for sure. And after such a long phase of wondering, of doubting, whether it would really finally did. And my dream continues to be alive as our daughter speaks German with me and English with everyone else.

As you may recall, if you read any of my posts about that process, I wasn't sure it would stick. Granted, I wasn't living in fear around it anymore, once she finally started differentiating, but I also wasn't living in complete confidence that, nearly 2 months down the road, I'd actually use the term bilingual to describe our daughter at two and a half.

As normal as it has become for her to use both languages, I still beam and have this incredible peace around knowing that we stuck it out, and made it through, and we now are parents to a child with two primary languages. And from that place, I find I'm still so eager to share some of the memorable things that she says and does.

The other day, for example, while Kaya and I were hanging out with Kate (a woman who Kaya had yet to meet), Kate noticed that I was speaking in German to Kaya. "Is that German?" she asked me. After I affirmed her question, she began to tell me, in German, how she'd learned it many years back, having lived in Austria for a while. After hearing Kate speak, Kaya immediately turned towards me with this excited look on her face: "Sie spricht Deutsch, Mama!" [She speaks German, Mama!] It was clear to me that she was not only surprised to hear it from someone else, but was clearly aware that it's generally a language, in her life thus far, saved for her and mama to use between themselves.

Commenting on the bilingualism, a woman said to me the other day that it must be pretty normal for Kaya to mix her languages. "Actually," I told her, "she doesn't really mix, surprisingly. She's very clear about keeping the two very separate. With me, it's German. With Daddy, it's English." Often, she'll even translate for us, saying one statement in German to me, and the exact same one in English, to Geoff--as if she's clear that we each only understand that respective language from her mouth. The only exception is when she's really angry and upset--she will often yell at me in English, and will have none of it when I remind her that she's speaking in English and that I don't understand her when she is.

A few weeks ago, after I'd just brushed her hair and was putting away the brush, she was laughing hysterically at saying 'tschuess' [goodbye] to various things that she'd identify around the breakfast table. As fun as it is to hear her say goodbye to all of these random objects in German, I love the laughter the most...and how she just turns off like a light when she's done...

Buerste = brush 
Buch = book
Cheerios = yup, you guessed it...
Flasche = bottle
Wasser = water
das Essen = the food
Foto = picture 
Schwein = pig
Affe = monkey
Becher = cup

About three weeks ago, as we were hanging out in her room, I noticed the phone off the hook on her Nanaphone. Excited to see that she might have been using it on her own, I asked her if she had "mit Nana gesprochen." [spoken with Nana]. "Ja," she replied, quite matter of fact, oblivious to the fact that her Nana passed away last summer. "Was hat sie dir gesagt?" [What did she say to you?] I asked her, growing ever more curious with every passing response. "Nana hat auf Englisch in mein Ohr gesprochen," [Nana spoke in English in my ear] she told me, demonstrating, to me at least, that she's quite clear about who speaks German and who doesn't.

And the last story of the evening, before I lose you to this lengthy post of return (writer's block is clearly gone!)...we were in the park a few weeks ago when a man on a nearby blanket asked her, in English, how old she is. "Two and a half," she responded, flooring me with her awareness of the extra half. When I asked her later what she'd said to him, she struggled to fill me in on the half part--clearly a new word for her in German.

At this point, my analytical subjective assessment would be that her English is still ahead of her German in regards to vocabulary and complication of sentences that she chooses to use. But the progress that she's made in just two months of German immersion with me has been astounding, and I expect her German to continue to flourish in the next year that we're still home together.

Thanks, blogging community, for who you are and what you do and stand for. For me, you've been a rock in times when I only wanted to give up. Because of you, I was able to push beyond those moments of overwhelm and believe that the persistence would be worth it.


  1. What an inspiring project!

    I couldn't see the video, unfortunately.

    I'm impressed at what you have achieved over these 2 months! Way to go!!

  2. Progress is always motivating. My son does the goodbye things thing too (he's three). It _is_ cute, isn;t it?

  3. Medea, thank you for your kind words...comments like yours DEFINITELY keep me going, and reminding myself of the power of sharing!

    Solnushka, I'm so glad that our successes can help motivate you. AND I love hearing the similarities between your son and Kaya. Thanks so much for sharing!


  4. Great to see you back, Tamara!! And wonderful that Kaya continues to make such beautiful progress! I look forward to reading more now that your block is gone :)

  5. Thanks, Afternoon-Mama! I'm VERY glad to be back--thank you for creating such beautiful community here!

  6. Wow... what great progress your darling Kaya is making... i am so excited for you guys and I know that, if you're like me, every positive event that happens will give you the strength to carry on further along this bilingual path... little by little we move forward until hopefully one day we will look back and wonder why we ever doubted this could work!

  7. Maman! How fun to see you back here again, too! I am like you, indeed...and they all do contribute to that strength. At this point, it's really really nice to be in a phase where it feels SO much easier, and I CAN and DO look back and breathe a sigh of relief (a big one!) that I stuck it out and made it through those many moments when I was a heartbeat away from giving up. Thanks!!


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