Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tierbrot Communications

The past week or so, I've been using these plastic animal cookie cutter things to add more smiles to Kaya's sandwiches. Not knowing exactly what I'd even call one of these creations in English, I created the word "Tierbrot", [animal bread] clearly using my most advanced skills of the German language. Honestly, the name doesn't really matter so much (as fun as it is to hear Kaya say), except in regards to the following story about an interaction that took place the other night between Kaya, myself, and Geoff.

We were in the kitchen, soon after Geoff got home from work. Kaya was hungry, and Mama was eager to quell her whiny requests with some food. "Ich will ein Tierbrot," [I want an animal bread] Kaya told me, emphatically. Clearly, I was not going to have any luck convincing her that cucumber might be a better choice. "Tierbrot," she began to insist, in her typical two-and-a-half-year-old way. Sometimes, you just gotta pick your battles--so despite my concerns of "spoiling her dinner" (who the hell coined that phrase, anyway?!), I relented with the Tierbrot and started going through the manufacturing process.

"Welches Tier willst du?" I asked her. [Which animal do you want?]. "Bring mir eins." [Bring me one.]

She excitedly scurried over to her bucket of shapes, carefully picking out the dinosaur. "Ich will dieses," she told me, with confidence. [I want this one.]

So, choosing to avoid the toasting step this time (which apparently lowers the health factor of multi-grain bread!), I throw a piece of bread on the cutting board and line up the dinosaur inside the edges of the bread. It's clearly a fine science, this Tierbrot process.

While I'm busying myself with this arduous task, I hear Kaya behind me sharing her excitement with Geoff. "Mama's making me a...Tierbrot!"

And that's when it hit me. After all these articles about the benefits of bilingualism, I realized that, before my very eyes, I was tuning in to one of the skills that Kaya is mastering by growing up with two primary languages.  By explaining to Geoff in English what was happening with her snack, she was reminding me of this insight that she has regarding others' awareness of comprehension. In other words, it has become a part of Kaya's brain that she needs to make sure that Geoff understands what is happening when she and I are communicating. If we take out the second language here, and put her in a different situation where everyone is communicating in one language, her brain will still function like that--she will still be aware that others may not understand what is going on, and she will attempt to explain it to them so that they can be included and thus, interact with her.

It's fascinating, really.
Maybe only to this part-time stay-at-home-mom-language teacher.

And maybe only because I was giddy that evening, (and this one, too!) excited to have just gotten our Oregon senator to speak at our upcoming climate change event.

Whatever the reason, she's doin' it, and I'm ecstatic! I bet your bi- and multilingual kids are, too, whether it's obvious or not, as the benefits of our bilingual journeys lurk around every corner.


  1. Fantastic! I'm just fascinated by the way these little brains work, especially when it comes to language :)

  2. Thanks, Noon time German mama! I'll continue to tell you how nice it is to "see" you here...always so nice to feel your support, your curiosity, and your passion for this stuff!

  3. Dear Tamara,

    I stumbled across your blog today and wanted to ask you a question or two, if you have time. I have a a son who just turned 2 in August and a daughter who is currently two months old. My husband and I have been talking about teaching our kids German for years, but somehow, life has always distracted us. I've decided that I'm done talking about it and want to just do it, but I'm not sure how to start. I lived in Germany for 10 years, but haven't spoken it regularly in almost 20 years now. So my German is really rusty, to say the least, and my husband doesn't speak it at all. I've tried just diving in, but have run across two problems. Problem #1 is that I don't know how to say half the stuff I want to say (e.g., "Amara needs a diaper change" or "Can you get her pacifier?" or "Look at the tower crane and the diggers!") without looking things up in a dictionary, though I'm ok with more everyday stuff like "would you like milk or juice?" or "look! there's a dog up ahead". I don't have time or energy to run to a dictionary every few minutes with a 2 year old and a 2 month old! Problem #2 is that if my son wants to tell me something, he will repeat the same phrase or sentence over and over again in English until I acknowledge it back to him in English, presumably because this is all very new. When I try to speak German to him, he responds the same as when he's trying to speak to me in normal english toddler-ese and I have a hard time understanding him -- he just repeats himself again and again until he's certain I understand by repeating it back to him correctly. I really really want to figure out how to do this, but I don't want to really frustrate my son (or myself, for that matter!). Do you have any suggestions or advice or can you point me towards any helpful resources?

    I am also wondering where you find German resources to use with Kaya. I've looked for books and movies, but the best luck I have is with, and I am wondering if there are any places in the US that generally have more German stuff (shipping is a beast...)

    Thank you very much.

  4. I should add that if you want to just email me directly, my address is :)

  5. Hi Deanna,

    First of all, I'm SO glad you stumbled across our blog. I read your post while I was in Germany, and wanted to respond right away, I was so excited and inspired by your words. But alas, here I am, finally getting back to you, though similarly inspired by your determination. I was going to email you, but I thought I'd respond here in case others might stumble upon our conversation and be wondering the same thing.
    So, what inspires and excites me the most is that you are "done talking about it" and ready to just do it. Good for you. That's 90% of it--attitude and determination. I'm completely serious. As much as your doubting mind may have you believe that "if you don't know how to say diaper, or whatever, without having to consult a dictionary" or whatever the inner voice is saying, it's all about attitude and determination. And there's a variety of ways to help yourself stay afloat--it certainly doesn't happen on your own! Without this blog, for example, I surely would have given up a LONG time ago. Friends and family were helpful, too, but having a community of those in the same boat, or similar, was priceless.
    So, in response to your first sounds like our German was at a similar level when I started speaking German with Kaya. I didn't know ANY baby terms, had to look them ALL up or ask about them or wing it, most of the time feeling completely awkward in my own skin because I doubted whether the 'natives' would be saying it as I was. You'll find lots of posts like that when I first started this blog...or at least a few, since I didn't actually start this blog until Kaya was a year old. In regards to a solution for you, I'd call on technology a bit, if you can: I have the LEO app on my phone, and I type in words all the time when I'm reading with Kaya. For a while, I was good about making and studying vocab, but as you can imagine, life got busy and that faded. You could also put a little bit of time in once the kids go to bed, at least until you up your confidence level with the basic words. German in the Afternoon has a great little list going on the right side of her blog you can check out. There's also a GREAT book that you can get online, for free, from the Alphabet Garten blog, which is also down on the right side of my blog under Bilingual Baby Blogs. It's a book of about 9 chapters, that you can just print out--I put it in a binder so I could have easy access. Just chapters with various kid vocabulary, really helpful. Oh, one more idea for your vocab...get books, like you've expressed wanting to get, that have that vocab in them. Then you can read with them AND learn at the same time! Lots of repetition for all of you will be the key, obviously.
    I don't think I have much space here to respond to your other quandary, so I'll email you afterall...but I'll look forward to hearing more about how it all progresses, and will be hopeful that maybe you'll start or share a blog with us soon!
    Thanks, Tamara


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