Monday, December 31, 2012

Budding Trilingual?

As we were driving home along Skyline last night, on the way home from a little gathering, Kaya and I were having one of those conversations that you never want to end. She was being so curious, so clear in her articulations, and so patient in her listening. The topic had me quite excited, too. The easiest way to share this with you is to give you a few 'visual sound bytes' and let you experience the excitement as I did:

Kaya: Mama, wie sagen wir meer in Spanish? [Mama, how do we say meer in Spanish?]
Me: Wie? Ist das ein Englishes Wort oder ein Deutsches? [What? Is that an English word or a German one?]
Kaya: Englisch.
Me: Wie sagen wir...oh, mirror. Ja, sicher. Du willst wissen, wie man Mirror auf Spanisch sagt? [How do we say...oh, mirror. Yeah, of course. You want to know how you say Mirror in Spanish?]
Kaya: Ja.

I found it very interesting that she asked me for the translation from English to Spanish, as opposed to German to Spanish, so I decided to probe a bit to learn more:

Me: Weisst du, was mirror auf Deutsch heisst? [Do you know how to say mirror in German?]
Kaya: Nein. [No.]
Me: Spiegel.
Kaya: Oh ja. Siegel.Wie sagen wir Siegel in Spanish (eng pronunciation). [Oh, right. Siegel. (notice the missing the -p-). How do we say Spiegel in Spanish?]
Me: Espejo. Kannst du das sagen? [Espejo. Can you say that?]
Kaya: Essay-ho.
Me: Ja, genau. Espejo. [Yeah, exactly. Espejo.]
Kaya: Wie sagen wir 'box' in Spanish? [How do we say 'box' in Spanish?]
Me: Wie sagt man box auf Spanisch? [How do you say box in Spanish?] (I was repeating back to her the grammatical corrections for her German question...)
Kaya: Ja.
Me: Wie sagt man box auf Deutsch?  [How do you say box in German?]
Kaya: Schachtel. [Schachtel]
Me: Ja, genau. oder Karton. Man sagt Caja zu Karton oder Schachtel. Willst du noch 'was wissen? Ich mag dieses Spiel! [Yes, exactly. Or Karton. People say Caja for Karton or Schachtel. Do you want to know anything else? I like this game!]
Kaya: Ja. Wie sagt man Triangle auf Spanish. [Yeah. How do you say Triangle (eng. word) in Spanish?]
Me: Wie sagt man Dreieck auf Spanisch? [How do you say Dreieck in Spanish?]
Kaya: ja.
Me: Triangulo. [Triangle.]

Even more curious about the origins of her line of questioning, I shared with her how interesting I found it that she was asking me to translate all of these words from English instead of from German. I'm curious, I told her, where her interest in Spanish had come from. She paused long enough for me to think she hadn't understood the question, and then responded with, "Aaron and Zach,." They are her little friends whom we just visited in Arizona. Zach is learning some Spanish in his preschool, and as she told me this, I recalled one evening at dinner when his dad was asking him all sorts of translations from English to Spanish. I also remember them playing with the garbage trucks (their FAVorite activity), doing a bit of the 'how do you say' game.

So, I naturally can't be sure whether she asked me to translate from English (vs. German) into Spanish because she didn't know the words in German--that's what she told me to be the reason. But 2 of 3 words that she asked me are words that she's known in the past, and has used before. I'm sure there's some fancy way to explain the reason that she did what she did--perhaps owing to 1 or 2 of the 5 lanes of memory as explained by Marilee Sprenger. But in my 'no longer in grad school but still very curious' explanation, I think that because she was hearing those kids speak about Spanish in English, that's how it registered in her brain, as if the concept of translating from German to Spanish doesn't even exist? Makes me wonder, for sure. Perhaps some highly educated linguists out there want to chime in (assuming they are anywhere near this little blog o mine!)??

Either way, the fact that Kaya has dipped into a curiosity for Spanish makes this trilingual mama very happy. Maybe we'll start planning that Ecuador trip for next year, after all!

And to top off my excitement, as I was lying in bed with her last night, having just sung our 3 bedtime songs, I looked at her, stroked the side of her face and said, "Ich hab dich sooo lieb, Boo Bear..." [I love you sooo much, Boo Bear]. She looked me straight in the eyes, smiled the sweetest smile I think I've EVER seen, and said, ever so gently, "Danke." [Thank you.]

As I was editing my post, and attempting to ignore what I thought, for sure, was a mouse (I found one in the oven drawer a few weeks ago!), Kaya comes walking into the office, speaking ever so calmly and quietly: "Mama, ich habe in mein Bett gepullert. Es ist nass." [Mama, I peed in my bed. It's wet." We head back to her room, and I realize that she's wearing a completely different pair of pajamas than the one Estella had her in before bed. I look in her laundry basket and notice the wet pair. Is this what we get now, as we finally exit the 3 1/2 year old stage and move closer to 4?! Whatever it is, it's truly wonderful, and I can't believe that our daughter just calmly cleaned herself up after an accident without even coming to tell me until she'd taken care of it all by herself. Crazy awesome.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Secret's Out!

I've been wondering when this moment would come. I read about this phenomenon a few years back in the middle of my big research phase, and two days ago, on the way to soak at the Kennedy School, she muttered the statement that let me know that the moment has finally arrived.

I was sitting in the front seat, and she, in her car seat in the back. She had been telling me about how she'd bitten her tongue, but that that probably wasn't the reason her tongue was hurting. We were talking about why, in fact, her tongue might be hurting, at which point she said, "Meine Zunge tut mir Weh, wenn ich 'coughe'...". [My tongue hurts when I cough.] After I heard this cute word that she so naturally created in Denglish (in German, the way to form a word in the first person is generally by adding in -e), I turned around and looked at her, smiling. Often, I struggle to understand what she's saying when she throws in a German word...but the fact that she 'Germanized' it made quite a difference. Definitely worth a smile. Within a couple of seconds, however, she was uttering her all-too-common gutteral honk. For those of you who have never heard this sound, you are lucky--and any curiosity that you might feel about its truly unpleasant sound can be replaced with the relief that you've never heard it. To those of you, however, who know the sound to which I am referring, either by your own child or by ours, you can imagine the frustration on Kaya's part that accompanied this utterance while attempting to communicate her message.

"Es ist OK, Kaya, ich verstehe--'wenn du hustest', oder?" [It's OK, I understand--'when you cough'", right?] I replied, attempting to soothe her. "Jaaaa," [Yeah] she said, relieved, and once again sitting normally in her seat after having crumpled her body with the honk. "Baby, ich weiss, manchmal ist es schwer, weil du manchmal nicht weisst, wie man 'was auf Englisch oder auf Deutsch sagt. Und das ist OK." [Baby, I know, sometimes it's hard because you don't know how to say something in English or in German. And that's OK.] And then it came. I tried to keep my jaw shut as I heard it. "Ja, aber du sichst Englisch..."  [Yeah, but you speak English... (pronounced just like that, without the -pr- after the -s-)]. Just like they said it would happen--around this age (nearly 4) or a bit later--she's finally processed (or maybe just now vocalizing) that I can speak English, too...but don't with her: "Ja, das stimmt," [Yeah, that's right...] I added, incredibly curious about where this was going. "Warum sichst du dann Deutsch mit mir, wenn ich Engrisch seche?" [Then why do you speak German with me when I speak English?] And I thought all those little moments when I'd responded in German lately (after she'd addressed a question or comment to Geoff in English) had gone unnoticed. Wrong. Not with our observant little Kaya. She had noticed it all, and was now calling me out in her confusion. I was tempted to slap myself with a proverbial wet noodle, and grow annoyed that I had broken my rule of only responding to her when she'd said something in German--even if it was clearly a question or statement that was or could be my 'domain'. But, instead, I breathed in some acceptance, and then told her, in German of course, that I wanted her to know German, and thus, I need to speak German with her if I want her to have that ability (clearly, there's enough fodder in this response for another blog post!).

Since the vocalization of her big realization, nothing has really changed in her tendency to speak German with me. She doesn't seem to be looking for loopholes, for example, or trying to work it so she can speak the language that clearly comes easier for her. So that's good. I have noticed, however, that her code-switching has increased quite a bit lately, after what I assume is a green light from me and my tendency to do so. It's AMAZing to me how few repetitions it really takes on my part for her to start and continue to throw in English words in the middle of her German sentences. Yesterday, for example, as we were crossing the street downtown, she did this very thing as we were talking about something that she didn't know the German word for. As if it belonged in the sentence, in this very way, she threw it in, without skipping a beat (I knew I should have written it down!).  Just now, at dinner, however, I captured a pretty good example: "Mama, kannst du mein chicken schneiden?" [Mama, can you cut my chicken?] This example is a bit diluted, only because right before she asked me that, she used the word "Huehner" in place of the English word 'chicken', but switched to the English word when I didn't respond--though I'm not exactly sure why [Huehner means chicken, but it is the plural form, and a word that is used less often in this situation.]. But all in all, the way that she's using these words allow them to fit right in, grammatically, with the sentence she is saying--just in the opposite language.

It seems to me that this tendency is pretty normal among bilingual kids. I recall hearing this habit from many kids who were in the German playgroup with us, as well as from our neighbors. I've actually been surprised that Kaya hasn't been doing it up until recently (well, at least once she finally started speaking solely German with me), and it makes me wonder if a lot of it has to do with the fact that I've been avoiding it like the plague (and thus causing me excess stress in those moments when one or the other of us can't seem to figure out which word to use). Whereas I used to think that one way was better, and only strive for the other, I now wonder: What is it worth? Is code-switching, or whatever these kids are doing when the 'right' word isn't available, bad, or is it just a normal part of bi- and multilingualism, and it, like everything else, could be left to just exist as opposed to being judged?

As with every other post I share, I would love to hear your comments. Support from my readers keeps me inspired, and writing, and the idea that we, as bloggers, mothers, parents, family, friends, and other interested individuals, are connected from around the world is pretty spectacular.

Or just IS. =)

Estella reminded me that, yesterday morning, as they were sitting together, wrapping various parts of Kaya's toy birthday cake (her favorite game to play, of late--wrapping AND birthday), Kaya invented yet another word: einwrappen. An ingenious mix of the English word, 'wrap', and the German word, 'einpacken' with the same meaning.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Apprehensions Diminished...By a Cookie

Yesterday, after dropping Kaya off at Grahm's and Grampa's (thank you, you two!), Estella and I went on a little shopping trip--something that neither of us is too fond of, but can enjoy a heck of a lot more without a near-4-year-old under foot. Upon leaving the stores, and walking back to the car, Estella says to me, "My English seems to have gotten a lot worse over the past week or so, and I'm not sure why..."

As strange as this may sound, hearing those words was music to my ears. Naturally, I don't want her English to struggle. She's our host daughter, and I only want to see her grow, flourish and be super happy, wherever she is. What hit me, however, and is what I shared with her in response, is that we've been with each other nearly non-stop for the past 12 days, speaking each others' non-native language. Since we were in Arizona for most of that time, and at our family's place on Christmas, Kaya and Estella were communicating in English (well, that, and the language of 'Whiny Toddler').  I, not (yet) having a 'rule' where we mix our languages, was naturally speaking German to Kaya the whole time (minus one phrase). Granted, we have always spoken English with one another, Estella and I, but being in each others' company, aware that the other hears, and often corrects, our linguistic errors, can definitely affect one's ability to speak the language in the same way it might be spoken without that factor.

It brings up the point, as well, about how much I've appreciated being able to raise Kaya in a language that (almost) nobody around us can understand, as it's taken off a lot of pressure that I think I would otherwise feel about my parenting skills (or lack thereof). Now, however, that I've been with a native German speaker for the past two weeks--one who naturally has her own opinions about what parenting should look like--I have felt the pressure, twofold. Or more. The thought, admittedly, gives me some hope, and encouragement to push through this challenging phase to make it through to the next one. Granted, that doesn't mean that all ideas of mixing have gone out the window--I'm still chewing on that one. But like my Dad said after their dog, Zuni, died of unknown causes, sometimes it just feels so much better to know why.

So with that, before I head off into the miracle of sunshine that we're seeing here today, I'll share a little anecdote that occurred on Christmas Eve as the 4 of us were composing our Santa letter. "Lieber Weihnachtsmann," I wrote, adding the R on the end of Liebe in hopes of catching it before Estella did. I looked to Kaya to ask her what she wanted to say to him, at which point, she responded that she'd made a very big cookie for him. I think, at this point, she must have said this to me in German, since I'm the one who asked her the question, but Geoff was sitting there, too, so it's possible that she looked at him and told him (as she'll do more and more lately when the English seems easier--from my perception). "Ich habe einen grossen Keks gemacht." [I made you a big cookie.] I added, as the second line. At this point, she wasn't sure what else we should say, so I added a line to follow the other: "Die anderen Keksen sind auch fuer dich," looking at Estella and asking her if that was right (not that I think Santa or the Weihnachtsmann really care if I make linguistic mistakes, but my perfectionist personality does!). Actually, she said, there's no N on Kekse, and it should be spelled with a "ck", too. As I go to write in "c" on the first Keks [cookie] that I'd written, I realized that it looked really weird spelled with a 'ck'--Kecks--and I told her as such. She was shocked, and wrote the word out herself, in disbelief that she'd forgotten how to spell such a basic German word. "I guess I thought it was spelled that way because you've been saying 'Kex', (as opposed to Kakes),,,but you're right, there is no 'c', I guess...". Again, silly that I would seem so happy to apparently wish Estella wrong. But this brain of mine, so seeking relief and hope that I'm not totally useless in this language (as much as I know I'm not), so eager for hope that all won't be lost because of the errors I continue to hear in what comes out of my mouth...yes, I admit, I was excited to be right. As far as my amygdala was concerned, "I knew something that a native speaker didn't..."...even if it was only for a moment while we all rejoiced that she's been here for long enough now that errors like this (and other German words that just don't come to her as quickly) are happening more and more as her English continues to improve.

It's a grand thing for all of us, really:
My German doesn't suck as much as I thought it did on the day that the world was supposed to end.
And her English is rockin' the house, esp. when realizes that she's forgotten how to spell 'cookie'.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa or the Weihnachtsmann?

Or both?

This post deserves to be much longer than I'm allowing it to be.

But for now, in the 5 minutes I'm giving myself after a day that started at 4:30am...

As I like to remember her
We've got 12 minutes until the official Christmas is here, and I couldn't let the evening end without sharing how wonderful it was, even more wonderful than how wonderful I thought it was in the past, to play Santa tonight. Or the Weihnachtsmann...whoever I was embodying while I wrapped all those presents and wrote a note back to Kaya. As I've said in the past, this holiday is my mom's, and it seems that with every passing year since she died 2 years ago, I feel that much more connected to her during this time of the year. Staying up late to wrap presents great and small is just a part of it.

My five minutes is nearing an end, so here's what I've got with what I've got left: our story goes, in our family, Nikolaus comes on the evening of December 5th, mostly to those kids who speak German, though sometimes to those who don't. Santa, or the Weihnachtsmann, however, come on the evening of the 24th, mostly to those kids who speak English...though definitely to others, as well. As I write that, I know how bad that must sound, esp. coming from one who claims to appreciate other cultures. But in my defense, I wanted to keep it simple for our 3 year for now, that's our story. BUT, as you have surely already noticed, it's not anywhere close to lacking holes. Are Santa and the Weihnachtsmann the same guy, for instance? Or are they brothers, as I think I told her one afternoon? Honestly, we're not even really clear on the story's a really good thing they start out young and grow older and wiser, as it gives us time to figure it out on this end! I can say that we decided to address our Christmas note this evening to the Weihnachtsmann, though not without Kaya mentioning, part way through the letter, that we should address it to Santa. In returning her note, I signed it 'Weihnachtsmann', but on all but one of her gifts, I signed 'Santa'. Poor kid. We're definitely gonna need to figure this one out relatively soon...!

3 Minutes and counting...

So with this, I wish you all, wherever you are, a very Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, and would SO love to hear your thoughts on how you have chosen to gracefully (or not) mix your cultural traditions.

Oh, and to all of you out there who sent me wonderful support in response to my last post about my Apocalyptic Apprehensions, whether in word or just in spirit, THANK YOU. I can't tell you how much it meant to feel that support!

With love,


Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalyptic Apprehensions

A Solstice Sky in the Southwest
As close as we are to Weihnachten, and as we sit perched on the eve of what was deemed to be yet another Apocalypse, I've got all these "shoulds" going on in my mind about the topic of this post. But other than the overwhelm that I often feel after taking such a writing hiatus, the topic most heavy on my heart right now is my I feel like it's lacking, sucking, and how I, therefore, so sorely want to 'give up' on this whole bilingual venture.

I just read (in my latest favorite, Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach) about how the true courage of a person lies in their power to not give up, specifically on themselves, and to see the good that we each possess. Apparently, reading is just the beginning, and I've still got some progress to make in this arena...maybe that's part of why I write.

Lately--what feels like weeks to me, though who really knows, as my inner critic is clearly going strong--it seems like I'm fumbling over my words when I try to speak to Kaya about certain topics. Granted, they are often the prepositional phrases--the 'on top of that's', the 'with it's and 'about which'es (darauf...damit...darein...drinnen...darin?!!!)--though, there have certainly been plenty of moments of wondering what the hell word to use to describe a situation or offer a thorough, educated answer to her curious inquisition (Warum ist der Mond in dem Himmel, wenn die Sonne scheint, Mama? [Why is the moon is the sky when the sun is shining, mama?]. In some ways, it's wonderful to have a walking dictionary who is our German host daughter--when she doesn't know how to say something, she's quick to look it up in her iPod. And on the other hand, I find myself second-guessing my abilities and criticizing myself when I might otherwise let it slide.

Sometimes, it feels like a lot of internal work to humble yourself to a 16-year-old who speaks your daughter's native language better than you do.

I'm trying to think of a specific example from today to paint a better picture of what I'm really experiencing here. I was so frustrated this afternoon, however, that I think my amygdala blocked my ability to access what I otherwise might have access to in my frontal cortex. Oh, little brain, you--trying so hard to protect us from danger--when really, the danger is just inside of us, in the thoughts we think and the stories we create. 

But what I can remember doing, at one point, is actually inserting an English phrase smack dab in the middle of a German one when I couldn't figure out how to say it--and didn't want to slow myself down to ask Estella. This may not seem like that big of a deal to many of you, especially for the many families who mix as a matter of habit. For me, however, it felt like a pretty big deal--a dabble with devil, in certain respects: it felt so easy, so natural, so relaxing, actually, to just throw that phrase in there like that, as opposed to stalling to wonder how to phrase it, to get stuck on feeling like I suck, to have the moment frozen in time while I get it together to attempt to express myself in this non-native language of mine.

What was a big deal to me, however, seemed like nothing to Kaya. She didn't flinch. But the last time I did something novel like this, it didn't take her too long to start in on the habit herself.  It was a couple of weeks ago, as we were sitting at the kitchen table. She was struggling and frustrated because she couldn't figure out how to say what she was wanting to say in German. "Es ist schwer zu sagen!" [It's hard to say!] she told me. "Schaffst du das auf English?" [Can you say it in English?] I asked her. She looked at me, and sort of nodded. Pausing, I looked at her intently, and followed through on this crazy idea that I had: "Maybe you could whisper to me what you have to say in English?" I said to her, whispering, as if being quiet might somehow diminish the fact that I was dipping into this new world of 'mixing with mama'. I thought, for a moment, that maybe we could have this 'rule' where we could speak in whispers to express those things that we just can't seem to say in German. She just stared at me, as if she liked the idea, but like the words wouldn't come out. She's been speaking exclusively German with me for so long now (1.5 yrs) that the idea of speaking to me in English is still completely foreign to her. But then, the other night while staying at our friend Amanda's house, she stormed into the bathroom, proclaiming, in English, "I don't want to brush my teeth!" It's not so strange that she speaks English in my that's the language she speaks with everyone else, including Estella, when we're not at home (at home, she and Estella speak only German). But that night, in the bathroom, it was only she and I, and it was obvious that she was aware of our solitude. "I don't want to brush my teeth!" she said again, clearly waiting for my response to her attempt to mix. Very aware of her test, I ignored the statement, and continued to speak to her in German, validating her in lack of excitement for dental care, while making my meager attempts to inspire her despite.

Loves her Chocolate as Much as her Mama!
In some ways, I really want to start mixing. I want to be able to fall back on English in those moments when German just doesn't do it--for one or the other of us. What I really want is to know that, no matter what, my relationship with my daughter won't be sacrificed because of a language. The whole point of this bilingual adventure was to increase her options for communication (among other things), not to create limits. At times, lately, it feels that we're hitting those walls, bumping into those limits, and they are causing me a bit of anxiety in regards to what might, or might not, be possible with my daughter. 

And at the same time, I expect that, with time, Kaya's German input will decrease--as she enters school (unless we home school), as her English-speaking community grows, as she's with me less, she will have fewer hours of German per week, which could naturally contribute to a decrease in her ability to use her German (as I believe is beginning to happen already, now that she's in pre-school 3 mornings a week and at her grandparents' one night a week). So, with that thought, the last thing that I want to do is decrease the amount of time, and opportunity, that she and I communicate in her mother tongue. To think that, after 2 1/2 years of busting my butt because Kaya would mix and even tend towards English with me, I'm now considering re-introducing English into our relationship--it's crazy for me to think about.

So, we'll see. At this point, with this language and in the rest of my life, I'm practicing Being, practicing an awareness of what Is, without having to judge it or change it or figure out what's next. Granted, as you can see with the judgment piece, it goes against my (our) nature to just Be, and just sit with what Is.  But it is working, slowly, so for now, I don't know what I plan to do with this language of ours--except to keep on keeping on, communicating with her as I've done since day 1. To put things in perspective, and provide a little update, she's fluent in German, with hang ups now and again when it comes to expressing herself in very complicated, new topics (in both English and German, actually). But all in all, she and I have a ton of fun--and it's all happening in German (and body language). I feel more in love with her than I've felt EVER (though that doesn't feel possible!), and SO enjoy listening to the words just fall out her mouth, especially when she's happy and excited! She, like I, seems to have those 'good language days', and what flows out on those days is really quite impressive.

Laughing about Papa with Auntie Sara in Cave Creek, AZ 
After spending a week in the company of friends and family who don't understand German (with the exception of Estella), I'm noticing that I'm more sensitive to the fact that we speak a language that sets us apart. I so believe that it takes a village--but it's heck of a lot harder when the village members don't speak the same language.

As I move along in this process--in life and otherwise--I grow less attached. And more committed. Less attached to my need for her to speak German, less attached to her bilingualism. Less attached to how we do it, and more committed to her well-being. Less attached to the details, and more committed to the peace in the moment. Less attached to the language, and more committed to the sweet girl that I love more than I ever thought possible...

Once again, thanks for being a part of our journey.
I'm glad to be back...I've missed this. I've missed you.
Look forward to hearing from you out there...and to connecting again soon!


Monday, October 29, 2012

Bilingual with a Poop Cherry on Top

I was always told that the trick to attracting readers is to publish regularly.
Well, I think there might be another trick, because it's been nearly 2 months (yikes!!) since I last posted, and I can't believe the traffic to my blog, in comparison.

So exciting!
And very interesting indeed...I haven't done my 'homework', to see what the real deal might be, but in the meantime, if anyone has any input, please share. I'd love to hear!

As deeply entrenched in 'doing' as I am right now (I'm in the middle of this very exciting project of wiping off plastic tubs from our backyard and returning them to our finally dry and mold-free basement!), I can't miss this opportunity to jot down a few tidbits from the past hour 'round here.

Si-Si (rhymes with Kai-Kai...) came over from next door--our sweet little next-door neighbor boy, 10 days Kaya's elder. Every time they play together, I end up asking myself, "What the hell? Why am I not making more of an effort to create play dates?! (And why is so crazy hard to make them happen!?)" They are SO cute together, especially as they get older and into that age where they can actually play together--without guidance or too much supervision, either!

As you may recall (or just know because you're an avid reader with an amazing memory, or someone super important in our lives!), Si-Si is a passive German bilingual--meaning that he can understand German perfectly (for a near 4 year old), but doesn't speak it. Today, while he was playing in Kaya's room with her extendo-hand, I explored this a little with him. "I can't speak German," he said to us, in response to what we'd been discussing. "Echt? Gar kein Wort? Ich dachte, du konntest doch ein bisschen?" [Really, not a word? I thought you could speak a little.]
"No," he said, quite confident and matter of fact.
"Und wie ist es mit deinen Bruedern? Sie koennen schon ein bisschen, oder? " [And what about your brothers. They can speak a bit, right?]
"No. They can't." he declared again, simply. 

Well, regardless of the reality of their abilities (I've actually heard his older brothers speaking German, and perhaps Si, too...), the point that I'm wanting to make is that Si can understand Kaya and I when I'm speaking German, which means that I get to speak German to him, too. Very exciting, on both counts, in the world of play dates as a bilingual mama.

When he first walked through the door this afternoon, Kaya wasn't sure which language to speak to him. When I told her that he could understand German, and that she could ask him what he wanted to do, she shyly asked him in German, "Was willst du machen?" [What do you want to do?] She had this confused look on her face as she tried to work through his English response. She looked at me a few times for guidance, and tried once more with another question posed to him in German--to which he, once again, responded in English. She noticed that I was speaking German with him, and asked me after a bit, "Warum sprichst du mit ihm Deutsch, wenn er mit dir auf Englisch spricht?" [Why are you speaking with him in German when he is talking to you in German?] Clearly, the fact that this was her long time habit before age 2 1/2 is not part of her working memory. "Er kann mich verstehen, und es ist gut fuer seinen Deutsch, und fuer deinen. Und ich mag das. So, ich werde mit ihm auf Deutsch sprechen." [He can understand me, and it's good for his German, and for yours, too. And I like it. So, I'll speak to him in German.]

She clearly had a different opinion--totally normal under the circumstances where the community language is different than the minority language (esp. when the other kid leads with the community language)--and from then on, chose to speak English with him (perhaps, in part, because he told me that he couldn't understand her in German), and the fun just escalated from there. At one point, perhaps the highlight of the hour, Kaya comes to me in the kitchen, telling me, "Er ist lustig! Er sagt A-a und Furz...!" [He's funny! He says poop and fart...!] "Ja," I told her. "Er hat aeltere Brueder, und..." [He has older brothers and...] At which point, I hear his voice from back in the bedroom, making sure I was clear on where he learned his terms: "No. I didn't learn it from my brothers." "Oh, OK," I replied, quite curious now. "Hast du das von deinem Kuse, Ro, gelernt?" [Oh, OK. Did you learn that from your cousin, Ro?] "No." he said, with no apparent intention to share his secret source.

Looking at Kaya, all I could do was smile, regardless of her soon-to-be obsession with the word 'fart'.
As with the screen time, I'll take the community influence if it means a was rekindling her friendship with the little guy next door! (she's bound to get a potty mouth soon enough...may as well come with a friendship cherry!)

They are coming back to our house as I speak...time to gather more quotes...thanks for sharing!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Balancing Bigness and Bilingualism

I'm feeling a bit overcome with emotion.

I know that kind of makes it sounds like I've got tears in my eyes, or that I'm dying to thrash on the keyboard with my fists, or that I really have nothing to say. Quite to the contrary, I'm sitting here at our kitchen table, the only one awake in our quiet house, enjoying the silence and peace after the last few days of amazing life experiences--for both me and the many important people in my life.  No tears tonight (though there were a few this afternoon!), just a decent headache and a mind full of desire to share some of the bigness through blogging.

Caileigh Elizabeth in Daddy's Arm's, Just 11 Hours Old
Though it feels like I should first address the topic of last night's post, I can't get the sweet face out of my mind of our new little niece, Caileigh Elizabeth Nielsen. I feel truly in love, and I saw her for a mere 15 minutes this morning, at the most. I look at her, at them and the joy they feel, and not only do I feel it, too, but admittedly, notice myself wanting another little one, as well. Argh. Damn hormones and emotions. How am I going to keep from procreating with your big voices in the way?! She is beautiful, and perfect as they described her, and the idea of Kaya being like a big sister to her, as a cousin, leaves me incredibly happy!

Heather, Arletta, and little baby Harrington
To top it off, as Estella, Kaya and I were returning to the car from the hospital, I got this overwhelming sense of excitement that, all of a sudden, there are a gaggle of girls in my present and future. Kaya, Caileigh, Arletta and Baby Girl Harrington. A circle of cousins and siblings who will be together at the cabin, celebrating Christmas, going on trips, and surely, doing their hair. I think, while standing in front of that elevator today, I hit this milestone in life where I finally understand why people keep having babies. And why mine and Geoff's sister were so goo-goo over  Kaya!! This feeling of growing one's family, even when it's not immediately yours, is truly amazing. I feel SO grateful to have family around us, to live near them, and to enjoy and be strengthening the relationships that we have between us.

I guess I am kind of hitting all the big topics of yesterday's post, because I'm now ready to talk about Kaya's first official day of Preschool at the Mother Earth School! It's not a traditional photo of her smiling with her school clothes on, lunch box in hand, as I see so many of my friends posting of their super cute kids on facebook. But then again, neither is this school experience--traditional, that is. As we arrived, albeit 10 minutes late because I couldn't pull myself away from my new love at the hospital, everyone was sanding gourds that the kids will use throughout the year for their snack bowls. We were welcomed with smiles and greetings and dove right into sanding and socializing with everyone else. Soon, however, it was time to circle up on the blanket--parents to the side--so the 'Kindergardeners' could encircle and welcome the 'Faery Gardeners' to their new school. Kaya was fascinated, and watched with wide eyes as she sat next to Miss Kelly, who, she'd told me earlier, she really likes. After this warm welcome, it was time to hear the story about the Wise Old Owl, who solicited concerns from various Beings in the forest about what the children might know and might not. "'Wise Old Owl,' asked the plant, 'Will the children know to leave me alone, knowing that, while I might nourish them, some of the other plants may not?" shared Miss Kelly, as the children sat mesmerized around her. "'Whooo. Whooo.,' replied the Wise Owl. 'Yes, the children will know to leave you alone without picking your leaves, even if they've eaten you the day before. They will know to avoid eating anything in the forest until they've asked us first." And so she continued with this beautiful story, constructing the rules for the school in a way that left even parents wondering how guidelines could be presented with such creativity and finesse.

At the end of the day, after they'd gone into the forest to find their gifts from the forest creatures, and returned to us to join us in a picnic, Kaya told me that she'd forgotten to say thank you to Miss Kelly for the purple flower that she'd been given. "Das kannst du ihr morgen sagen," [You can tell her tomorrow,] I told her, concerned about being late for Estella's meeting at the high school. "Neeeeein," [Noooo] she retorted, adamant that she wanted to thank her today. How could I say no to that (after coaching her to ask in a normal voice!)?! So, before we walked out of the forest, Kaya literally ran across the field to Miss Kelly and thanked her for the beautiful flower she'd been given.

What a wonderful entrance to the world of school. Even Estella thinks "it's a really nice preschool," which she shared as we were walking away. As much as I struggled with the idea of German vs. Outdoor Immersion, I'm thus far quite happy with our choice.

It's getting late and tomorrow, as Estella's first day of high school in America, is no exception to our week of big events. So, I better go to bed.

But there are two more things I gotta say.
First of all, how do you balance these amazing feelings of new life with those surrounding a friend in the hospital with cerebral hemorrhaging?! My heart is heavy as I wait to hear more. If I prayed, I'd do it now.

And second, is this.
While getting ready for bed, both tonight and last, Kaya proclaimed "nein!" to the idea of Estella reading her a story. "Ich wiw, dass DU mir eine Geschichte liest! Ich wiw nicht eine Geschichte von ihr!" [I want YOU to read me a story! I don't want a story from her!] Poor Estella. Brand new to the family and directly rejected by the 3 year old host sister. For those of us parents, who remember age 3, we know it means nothing.  But to her. Ouch. So, after a few more bedtime hurdles, and an apology or two later, Kaya was finally telling Estella, in German, that she wanted her to read her a story, and was even begging for some songs in German, too. The icing was the hug. And the thank-you that was delivered in English. "Es gibt kein 'Thank You' auf Deutsch," [There is no 'thank you' in German,] she told me, smiling, as I reminded her of our newest language plan.

I knew it would happen--the bonding and relaxation to resistance--but to see it happening so soon, makes me very happy. Like with those babies, it leaves me excited about our future, about trips we can take and the German that they'll speak and the relationships that will develop. It leaves me feeling like, yes, as rocky as it can be in the first few days of hosting a teen with a toddler in the mix, the waves will settle, and in its place, love will reside.

For more detailed information on the Mother Earth School, check out this feature article that details the history, philosophy, curriculum, funding and achievements. They paint a really clear picture of what the kids do during the day (like making candles and spinning wool from the sheep they shear!).

To learn more about Outdoor Immersion Programs in general, including the definition, the academics, the Real Lessons, and the other reasons to send your child to an outdoor preschool, check out this article on!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

OPOL + ML@H = ??

Just yesterday, I became an auntie to a beautiful little girl who still remains nameless. Kaya got a new cousin, and Geoff became an uncle to Billy and Heather's daughter's sister.

In just a few hours, it will happen again. Only different (and less complicated!). Geoff's little sister will have the baby we've all been eagerly awaiting for months, especially after all the bouts of false labor she's had over the past many weeks.

Last week, when we decided we wanted to host a German exchange student, Heather pointed out that we'd all be getting 'new family members', and it jokingly became a race to see whose 'baby' would arrive first.

It looks like we've taken second place.  Estella arrived this morning, a mere 16 hours after the arrival of the yet-nameless Harrington. But I gotta say: those ladies, Heather and Julie, have worked and are working a LOT harder than I expect I will ever need to with my 'new arrival'. At least I hope that 'our' 15 year old doesn't wake us at 3am for feedings, or cause extreme breast pain during mealtimes or excruciating burning upon arrival (so far so good on the latter two!). 

Clearly, there's a lot of change going on around here. To top it off, Kaya's first official day of school is tomorrow, with a sweet little Faery Garden Ceremony at her outdoor immersion forest and farm Mother Earth School (post on it's way for that one day soon)!

So, it's only natural that Kaya was in quite the mood today.
And me too.
Poor Estella. Poor Geoff.

But despite those moods, something pretty cool transpired today (on top of all that other stuff!). As late as it is, I can't pass up the opportunity to write about it while it's fresh...

When I first called Laura, the International Exchange Coordinator (IEC), she told me that it wouldn't work to have a student speak exclusively German to Kaya. It's against the visa rules: they are supposed to speak only English. I understand. It's silly for a student to come all the way to the States only to spend time speaking their own language excessively. I did that in Germany, and regretted it. The last thing I want to be is a host family who supports or demands for that type of exchange.

And at the same time, I was, and still am, under the impression that it's possible to immerse oneself in the community language and still speak one's native language (sort of similar to what I do with Kaya every day. My German has improved immensely--and my English has only suffered a wee bit!).  For that reason, I asked this Laura if it would be too much to ask for a student to have a relationship with a 3 1/2 year old in German, and an English relationship with everyone else. Her ultimate suggestion, a day later, is that we could sign on as a Welcome Family and see how it goes--see how it fits with everyone involved.

With further consideration, however, I decided that I didn't want Estella to miss out on the opportunity to build an English relationship with a child--it's with children that we can often speak from our hearts, with few inhibitions, with fewer concerns that we will be judged or corrected. For this reason, I began to wonder how we could foster both--a true exchange, where Kaya gets the opportunity to have a German relationship with a native speaker, and Estella gets the opportunity to speak English with a kid. In thinking about the common methods that people use to raise their children bi- and multi-lingually, I was reminded of Minority Language at Home (ML@H), where the household language is in that of the parents, or minority, language, and the community language is spoken outside of the home. The more I thought about it, the happier I became with the idea, and while we were Skyping with Estella and her family on Sunday, I proposed the idea in response to Estella's question about what language to speak with Kaya.

Here's where the cool part begins to come in. After we hung up from our Skype call (which was great! and very exciting!), Geoff, Kaya and I were sitting at the table eating breakfast. We had all been on the call, but Kaya had remained mostly silent, playing with her beads and doing some 'show and tell' to the family on the other end. While drinking her smoothie, she says to Geoff, in a very excited tone, "I'm goin to seak Gurman wif Estella at home, and den, when we're not at home, I'll seak ingwish wif her." I looked at her wide-eyed, impressed that she retained all of that from our call, and then stated it so matter of fact to Geoff later.

At dinner tonight, she said a similar thing, this time, however, after a day of putting it to practice. Her smile was even bigger tonight, however, which surprised me to see after the challenges we faced with the new method. "Ich wiw nicht mit ihr Deutsch sprechen!" [I don't want to speak German with her!] she said to me at one point today, as we were leaving for the park."Ich seche nur Engwisch mit ihr!" [I'm only speaking English with her!] This is after we'd been home awhile, and they'd been playing Candy Land together in German. "Kein Problem," [No problem,] I said to her, understanding how strange it must be for her that I am speaking English with someone that I want her to speak German with. "Wir gehen jetzt weg von zu Hause, du kannst deswegen mit ihr jetzt Englisch sprechen." [We're leaving the house now, so you can speak English with her now.] At the park, it began to sink in, and despite her initial resistance to my encouragements for her to do so, she finally asked Estella if she was English.  A smile wrapped around all of our faces...

It may turn out that ML@H is too much German for Estella. Or it may cause other ripples that I can't currently foresee. But for now, I'm fascinated by the idea of mixing some methods and playing around, once again, with what Kaya is capable of.

p.s. For those who are wondering, OPOL means 'One Parent, One Language', and refers to the method that Geoff and I use with Kaya where one parent speaks exclusively one language with the child and the other parent, a different language.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

German Chatter-kiste

I'm shootin' for the world record for the shortest Non-Native Bilingualism post ever published...let's see how I do.

Tonight, after Kaya got back from her grandparents for a few days, I couldn't help but feel astounded at the shift that seems to have occurred in her language tendencies. She's become a little German chatterbox, enunciating clear as a bell, using past tense completely accurately, telling me about things I can't believe she even notices. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what it is has shifted...but it's clearly something, and I wanted to get it down in fine print so that I could refer to it later should I ever feel like re-examining the various stages of language development (or some friendly reader wants to shed the light on it for me!). As I was riding home with her in the car tonight, not to mention walking around downtown with her today, it was like the German was just rolling out of her mouth and into my ears.

Truly a dream come true.

p.s. As I was sitting at the table tonight, one day after writing this, I realized what it is that's so different: speaking with my daughter in German suddenly feels like I'm speaking not only with a kid (vs. a baby or a toddler), but with a native German speaker who is simply speaking her mind vs. trying to find the right words to express herself...!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Screen Time Connections

As I sit here at my computer, on this beautiful sunny day in Portland, I can hear the little voices of the boys next door. And I can't help but smile to think of the other night when Kaya went over there for the first time ever, without me, and came home beaming.

She walked through the door all by herself, which, at just 3 1/2, had me beaming, too--especially when she shared that Si-Si, our neighbor who is just 10 days her elder, walked her home. "Er hat mich nicht ganz zur Tuer gebracht," [He didn't bring me all the way to the door,] she told me, after I'd asked if she came home by herself. "Er ist nur durch das Tor gekommen, und dann wieder zu...seinem Haus gegangen." [He only brought me to the gate, and then went back to his house.] SO sweet. Just now, while sitting on the grass talking about all of this with Jamie, she told me that she'd asked Si how far he'd walked her home, concerned that he didn't just leave her all alone on the porch. "I brought her into her yard a bit, but then I got scarwed..." he said, sweet as can be.

After we got home the other night, after not having seen our neighbors for the week that we were camping (much less the whole summer because of differing schedules and out-of-town visitors), we were sitting on the curb, visiting with Jamie and cooing at baby Lucy (Kaya is quite enamored with little ones lately, telling me the other day, "Mama, ich will dir 'was sagen. Manche Babies haben Zaehne, und manche nicht." [Mama, I want to tell you something. Some babies have teeth, and some don't.]). Nearing dinner time, Jamie needed to get up to the house, so she asked me to carry Lucy so she could grab the other things from the car. Once at the house, Kaya sat herself down on the steps as Jamie and I continued to visit for a minute. Upon telling Kaya that it was time to go home, she resisted, in her classic 3 1/2 year old way: " Ich wiw hier beiben." [I want to stay here.] As you might imagine, this is a response I generally deal with on my own, as most people in our circles don't understand (without my playing interpreter) what Kaya is saying. When she's hungry, for example, and we're at someone else's house, I'm the one who ends up needing to communicate this, as opposed to people just responding to her needs directly. But in this instance, quite to my delight, Jamie understood exactly what was going on, and responded immediately that she was more than welcome to stay but they'd be watching Avatar, the cartoon--and I was naturally the boss on what I wanted to do about that.

As averse as I've been to Kaya having screen time (aside from her time at 24hr fitness where I ask them to encourage her away from it, the photos she looks at with Geoff and I on the computer, and the few movies that we let her watch in the air while we're flying, she basically gets none), the decision was an easy one for me. "Willst du mit ihnen Avatar angucken?" [Do you want to watch Avatar with them?] I asked her, eager at the opportunity for her to spend more time with the boys. "Ja," [Yeah] she said, without batting an eye. As Jamie asked me if she gets scared easily, I heard Ollie in the background telling her that he'd protect her if she got scared. How could I say no to screen time under those circumstances?!

As she walked through the door, about an hour later, I was dying for details: "Hat es dir Spass gemacht?!" [Did you have fun?] "Ja," she said, quite matter of fact and mature. "Komm und erzaehl mir mehr am Tisch," [Come and tell me more at the table.] I told her, as we sat down to eat. I was shocked when she said OK, and began to tell me all about it. "Hast du Angst gehabt?" [Were you afraid?] I asked her eventually, waiting for that part of the story. "Ein bisschen," [A little] she said.
"Hast du geweint?" [Did you cry?]
"Nein." [No.]
"Was hast du gemacht?" [What did you do?]
"Ich habe mit Ollie gekuschelt. Wir haben alle gekuschelt." [I snuggled with Ollie. We all snuggled.]

Later that evening, after sending Jamie a text, thanking her for having Kaya over, she responded with the following:
"They were all so cute--all wanted to sit with her! Simon said that next time, Kaya has to stay for dinner, then go home--so awesome!"

Of course, to many of you, this may seem like just run-of-the-mill next-door-neighbor experiences that happen everyday. But for us, and more importantly for me, someone who has constantly told myself that Jamie has her hands full with 4 (the twins, Ollie and Luke are about 6; Si is 3.5; and Lucy is around 5 months), it's a huge 'breakthrough', a point that I've been waiting for for a long time. We used to have play swaps with Si, when Kaya would be there and Si would be here. In those days, as in these, I dreamed of Kaya having close neighbor friends, especially with those who similarly have German as part of their upbringing (their Dad is native Austrian, kids are mostly passive bilinguals, with a growing ability to speak the language). Jamie assured me it would be like this when they got older...when they could walk to each other's house without help. I'm SO glad she was right!

Kaya (as an Avatar) in Steamboat Crk
So maybe, just maybe, she'll start fighting dragons and wielding swords, and perhaps, the real concern for me, asking for more screen time. But balanced with the connections that she's building with boys who, historically, have been 'out of reach', despite their physical proximity--it's clearly worth it! Makes me want to send them to the same school...

Funny side note: This past week, as we were camping down near the N. Umpqua again, Kaya was bitten by more mosquitoes on her face. Last trip, they made her eye swell closed...this trip, with the help of Hydrocortisone, it only causes slight swelling. For about a day, however, Geoff and I couldn't help but joke (between ourselves, of course!) about how Kaya looked like an Avatar, with a swollen nose bridge and less wrinkling around her eyes...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bilingualism or Genetics or...?

Last week, after two years of yearning, we finally made it to the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. It was a wonderful trip, despite the severe lack of sunshine--full of giggles, rivers and free camping. The double downpours and thunderstorms only enhanced our trip, making us even happier about our bomber tent and our wonderful pop-top camper!

As much as I could wax on about Rujada Campground and Hills Creek Reservoir and Scaredman Creek, the intention for this entry was to share the impression that hit me on Sunday morning after telling Kaya to eat at the table. My thinking was this--and I told her as such: Setz dich am Tisch hin, damit du deine Haferflocken darauf setzen kannst. Dann bekommst du kein Essen auf deine Jacke. [Sit at the table so you can set your oats on it--then you won't get oatmeal all over your front.] She, however, was really wanting to sit on the bench facing the fire (can ya blame 'er?!), so she resisted my 'advice' and came up with the idea to simply hold her bowl up to her chin. I was so impressed. Granted, it's an idea that many of us would come up with--at least those of us who may feel concern about spilling food down our fronts--but I find myself continually surprised, and impressed, when Kaya does such things as a mere three and half year old. Watching her eat in this way reminded me of the bilingual benefit that I've read about--and similarly witnessed in Kaya before--regarding resourcefulness. Not so impressive on it's own, but combined with the other line-up of things she did on this trip, definitely worth writing home about.

While searching for paper towels in the back of the van, for example, Kaya noticed that the Gorilla Tape was falling out of the cubby. As Geoff went looking for the tape in the right-hand cubby, he couldn't find it, despite his confidence that he had put it back there after using it. After checking the left cubby, however, he found it, and after asking us if we knew how it got there, Kaya told Geoff that she'd moved it because "it was falling out, and it fit better on the other side." Initially, I was thinking this 'incident' might be attributed more to Kaya's tendency to be 'thorough' and 'particular'...but Geoff insisted that there's an air of resourcefulness about the whole thing, too.

While we are camping, as much as we play a lot with Kaya, there are also many moments when she just does her own thing, creating this or that out of who knows what. Sunday morning was no exception. As I was returning to our campsite (beautiful #9 at Rujada!!), I noticed Kaya standing at the picnic table, Baby Stella in front of her on the bench. When I looked more closely, I noticed that Stella was lying on a paper-towel-diaper, with Kaya poised in the diaper-changing position. I love how she creates wipes and diapers out of all sorts of things--whatever she can find in her vicinity, which in this case happened to be paper towels from the back of the van! Later, with those same paper towels, she created a blanket for Stella, wanting to make sure that her beloved baby stays warm while we're in the wilds. She brought her to me, at one point, asking me, "Mama, willst du sie kuscheln?" [Mama, do you want to snuggle her?]

Later in the trip is when I began to wonder: is Kaya so resourceful because she's bilingual, or because Geoff has this innate ability to pull things out of the garbage and re-use them? OK, OK, so maybe I'm not married to an official dumpster diver, but in general, he's quite the resourceful hunk, and this week, he was quite adept at turning other people's trash into our camping treasure! Every time he'd return from the water fountain, he'd bring something back that someone else had deemed useless. The chair, for example...nothing that a little twine couldn't fix! That thing made for great comfort around our fires--and reminded us that we want to bring our own camp chairs next trip. And then there was the raft. Who's to say you can't fashion a Gorilla Tape patch and go sailing on the lake?!

Kaya couldn't wait to get in that boat, and had the biggest smiles when she finally made it in on Hills Creek Reservoir! If the photo were bigger, I'd include the one of her jumping off the dock into the lake, with the sun setting on the hills behind her. It was an epic photo, and surely more an en epic experience for the two of them ("Es war kalt, als ich hineingesprungen habe," [It was cold when I jumped in] Kaya told me a few days later. 

A 5-day camping trip wouldn't be the same without doing a little fishing, too. Good thing Geoff found one of those in the garbage can, too! We didn't exactly go fishing in the water, but we did create a little p-cord line and do our best to teach Kaya a few moves. She had as about as much fun with that pole as she did with the broken light-up hula hoop that entertained her for hours in the evenings. Granted, it didn't look like a hula hoop when it finally made it our way, but I think it was even better in pieces! Kaya turned them into wagons, at one point, which were pulling both Kensa and Kahlua (neither of whom were with us on the trip!). 
So, who knows. The verdict is still out: is Geoff responsible for all this ingenuity that we get to observe in our daughter, or is it those two languages that are now a big part of her life? Or perhaps, like everything else in life, it's a fine balance of the two...and then some. 

Have you observed similar other benefits of bilingualism in Kaya or in your children? I'd love to hear your stories below!! Thanks!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sorta Lost in Translation

This morning, as we were snuggling in bed, I noticed Kaya singing what sounded like a song under her breath. I didn't dare move, much less make a peep, should she grow frustrated as she often has about my commenting on her singing (I swear, I only ever say nice things!!). As I listened more closely, I noticed she was singing a song about a little duck...and a mama duck...and it "kak-kak-kak"ing. She'd told me a few days ago that, at camp, they'd sung a song about some little ducklings. But her camp is at the community center--in English--and she was singing her little song this morning in German. 

Huh? What?

I continue to listen in and, alas, it is the little duckling song. Granted, until this afternoon, I'd never heard the duckling song in its original, but I was clear--this was that duckling song.

"Singst du das Entchenlied?" [Are you singing the duck song?] I finally asked her, overcoming my fear of the "ehhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" response.
"Ja..." she replied, shyly.

I was really pushing my luck by asking another question, but my curiosity was killing me.
"Hast du das ins Deutsch uebersetzt?" [Did you translate that into German?] I queried, knowing full-well the answer to my question.
"Ja..." she replied, somehow avoiding any sarcasm that would have been well-deserved for such a question.

Dying to capture this footage on film, I dared to ask her my next question:
"Kann ich von dir ein Video machen?" [Can I make a video of you?]
"Ja..." she said, and perked up to be a film star, bedhead and all.

And with that, I busted out my handy smart phone and began to record:

Kaya: Qak, qak, qak, qak, qak...die Enten geheh ueber die Vaterstagen...sie gehen ueber die Vaters tagen...all die Vaterstagen...[kak, kak, kak, kak, kack...the ducks go over the father days...they go over the father days...all the father days...]
Mama: Gibt es mehr von dem Lied? [Is there more to the song?]
Kaya: Was? [What?]
Mama: Gibt es mehr von dem Lied? [Is there more to the song?]
Kaya: Ja, aber...aber es ist in Englisch. [Yeah, but...but it's in English.]
Mama: OK. Willst du das mir singen? Hast du dieses deutsche Lied uebersetzt? [OK. Do you want to sing it for me? Did you translate this song?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah
Mama: Und wo hast du dieses Lied gelernt? [And where did you learn this song?]
Kaya: Ehh...Ich weiss nicht. [Uhh...I don't know.]
Mama: War das in dem Kinderlager? [Was it at camp?]
Kaya: Nein, sie haben nicht in Deutsch gesungen.  [No, they didn't sing in German.]
Mama: Ja, stimmt. sie singen auf Englisch, oder. [Yes, that's right. They sing in English, don't they.]
Kaya: Ja. Aber sie, die Kinder..ah..muessen Englisch sprechen, damit sie...die Kinder verstehen. [Yeah. But they...the kids...uh...have to speak English, so that they...can...understand the kids.]
Mama: OK. Uh-huh. Danke, dass du das fuer mich gesungen hast. Danke. [OK. Right. Thanks for singing me that song.]
Kaya: ...drei kleine Enten gehen ueber die Vatertage, all die Vaterstage, die Enten gehen ueber die Vatertage...all...die Vaterstage. Quak...die Mama und Dada die Ententage...qak, qak, qak, an ihre Freunde, qak.  [3 little ducks go over the father days, all the father days, the ducks go over the father days...all...the father days. Quack...the mama and dada the duck days...kak, kak, kack, to their friends.]

Generally, I sing to Kaya in German, as well as read to her and speak to her exclusively in that language. There is one song--Close Your Eyes--that I sing only in English, and will sing songs to her with Geoff in English, at times, too--but for the most part, Kaya knows that, from me, she gets German. And that's her modus operatus with me, too--German. So, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that she translated this song...but I still find myself feeling flabbergasted. I suppose because she wasn't singing it 'for me' perse, but was singing it around me, while I was just lying there with her. Or perhaps that's what I'm missing...maybe she was singing it for me!?  Either way, I'm so impressed with this little makes me very happy, indeed. 

As you'll notice below, it's nothing near a direct translation, but instead, a solid mix of her tendency to make up her own songs, with her her understanding that, from mama, with mama, and around is in German (I know they are supposed to begin to realize at some point--maybe after 4?--that I do speak English and "HEY, that means that you could speak English with me!"...but we're clearly not there yet, fortunately!). 

Let's see if I can remember the lyrics in English...I asked Teacher Emily to sing it for me when I arrived this morning and I ended up getting a sweet little performance from the rest of the class:

(to the tune of "Mama's gonna by you a rocking bird")

5 little ducks went out one day, (show 5 fingers)
over the mountains and far away, (arms go up and down)
mama duck called them 'quack-quack-quack', 
only 4 little ducks came wandering back. 

4 little ducks went out one day...
3 little ducks...
2 little...
Poppa duck called them QUACK-QUACK-QUACK...
5 little ducks came wandering back...!

Thanks for singin' along. As a bi/multilingual, what language do you use to sing to your kids?
What about reading?
Would love to hear any comments you have!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The July Carnival is Here!

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the oh-so-beloved, international Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism!! So glad you've joined us--we're super excited to have you along. From Switzerland to Singapore, from Norway to France, parents from all over the planet have come 'together' this month to share their passion, their quandaries and their insights on raising bi/multilingual children. Native and non-native speakers, using a variety of methods, in a plethora of's ingenious, this carnival idea, and I'm honored and excited to be able to host it this month. 

When I first bumped into the Carnival, I was quite confused. I thought it was, as I jestingly introduced it above, like a conference-carnival that I had to sign up for, a place I might need to fly or drive or take the train to, a ticket that I needed to purchase if I wanted to participate and 'go on the rides'.  Quite to the contrary, I could enjoy the carnival from the comfort of my own whatever--read it when, where and as often as I like, with endless options to comment and ponder and find inspiration along the way.

Thus, I encourage you to dive into this-here carnival, and wish for you the same inspiration, and optimally, the same level of community that I've found here over the past few years. All these people, writers and readers alike, coming together for essentially one purpose, or at least a number of mini-purposes around the same topic--it's fascinating to me, and continues to remind me of how, despite the differences in our details, we are all so similar, so connected, and working towards a common good. 

With that said, let me introduce you to this month's themes and their passionate contributors, who hail from 9 distinct countries and at least 4 different states in the U.S. 

Non-Native Speakers (and their Mix of Topics)
An obvious entry into our carnival this month are the 5 tips that Nichola shares with us at Our Non-Native Bilingual Adventure. While her tips are particularly helpful for those of us on the non-native journey with our children, they are clearly solid enough to be packed into anyone's language toolkit. 

Linda, at My Bilingual Kids, speaks to the idea of 'balanced bilingualism' and the effect that summer holidays have, both on the language that children choose to use, as well as the pressure that we often feel to 'educate' in our parenting.

The summer theme continues at Open Hearts, Open Minds, in Lynne's post about Elliot's use of 'fanish'. She expresses feeling disheartened at his tendency to speak English, while simultaneously feeling hopeful about re-committing and finding more resources in a new area.

As a native German speaker, who professes to feel more comfortable now with English, Maggy, of Life at the Zoo, doesn't officially fit the non-native bill, but has expressed similar challenges and frustrations in her previous posts. This week, however, has been a good language week, as the kids are inserting more German words into their English sentences. The question still remains, however...local or German school?

On my own blog, I share some thoughts around the idea of inclusion, and the unique dynamic that is created in play when people don't understand the minority language and thus, may feel like a 3rd wheel. How can we include the important people in our lives without minimizing our children's bilingual experience?

Media and Other Learning Resources 
A third German speaker in the bunch, and also a non-native speaker, Kate, of German in the Afternoon, makes some confessions surrounding the use of multi-media--both on the ground and in the air. Guilty or not, she shares with the rest of us some ideas that we might employ around watching what when and with whom. 

While she's doesn't seem to be a non-native speaker herself (speaking as such with her children), Catherine of b small publishing has shared some ideas for those people, in particular, who may wonder if it can be effective to 'teach' your children another language when you aren't a specialist yourself.

Annabelle, of Gato and Canard, writes on a similar topic, addressing the use of the IPad as a solid tool for developing language awareness. Despite her initial hesitancy to allow two year old LJ to use it, she found that it did seem to increase her daughter's awareness of who speaks French.

From Dominique's Desk, we are reminded of the importance of and the value in creating multilingual learning environments at home. While so many of us may focus on just the spoken language, Dominique's post serves as inspiration to gather all sorts of materials for our lingual journeys.

From another corner in Asia, while hailing from Canada, we hear from Jenn at Perogies and Gyoza about her quandary of supporting American or Canadian English, as well as the challenges she's having in finding workbooks to support her decision.

Little Anectodes of Success
While Living in the Land of Chocolate, Fiona shares an endearing anecdote about her girls, and the benefits of late immersion that she's now seeing after 2 years--a great reminder for the rest of us that good things take time...

Another little story of success is shared by Roxana, one of the co-founders of SpanglishBaby. She's very excited to see the benefits of ML@H (minority language at home) with her daughter, Vanessa.

On their vacation back 'home' to New Jersey, Rebecca, of Uh-oh Spaghettios, tells the cute story of how Max's wiring between French and English gets a little caddywompus--or perhaps not, for a near-3 year old. Many of us, like Rebecca, would surely love to be inside those little lingual brains of our children!

And on the subject of returning home, Leanna, of All Done Monkey, shares her thoughts on the immersion experience of her little Monkey while visiting Papa's homeland of Costa Rica. While not a non-native speaker of English, Leanna experiences a bit of the non-native as she chooses to speak Spanish with her son while she's there. Her thoughts provide a lot of fodder for the rest of us to consider on a variety of topics surrounding bi/multilingualism.

Thank-you, to both readers and contributors alike! This wouldn't be what it is without you.  If you are interested in keeping in touch with all things bilingual, head on over to the Bilingual Blogging Carnival page, where you can sign up for the newsletter, read all the bilingual carnivals to date, find details on how to submit your post to the next host, or even offer to host the carnival in the future. Next month's carnival location has yet to be announced, but I hope to see you there! I also hope that you enjoyed this month's carnival, and would be so excited to read a comment from you when you get a chance (it's a great way to increase traffic to your blog, too, as so many carnival go-ers read the comments and end up clicking your link when they want to know more!). 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bilingual Play & the 3rd Wheel Syndrome

In just a few days, I finally get to host the international blogging carnival, and I'm so excited. Naturally, I've been wracking my brain to come up with a topic that would be best suited to share with whatever readers, new and old, who are interested in multilingual parenting topics. It's been so long since I've written (once again!), and I'm thus, quite tempted to just give a little update about the Kaya-meister, and our lives with and around her. But for those who don't know her, I'm thinking something more general, more all-encompassing, something that might be more easily applied to others' lingual lives, might be better and more interesting. So here we go, let's see what I can create...

Kaya and I just got home from a little jaunt over to our neighbor's house after walking home from camp. This neighbor isn't just "any old neighbor", but rather a woman who has grown near and dear to all of us in our family after the role she played while my mom was dying. Lena, though she has no children of her own, is quite the mother-figure, and is a wonderful fill-in Nana now that Mom is gone. I love watching her with Kaya, in the way she plays, banters, questions, wonders, and just generally enjoys everything Kaya--just like my mom did.

This afternoon was no different. We stopped by to share some hummus and falafel chips (my new favorite!!) in the much-loved, and very rare, Portland sunshine. Lena was eager to visit, especially once she heard that Kaya was quite excited to stop by 'Tante Lena's' and say hi (Lena doesn't speak German, but she loved the idea of being called 'Tante' [aunt], so the name just stuck...). We grabbed a seat in the fenced patio, Kaya initially eager to stay in her jogger as she played her shy card. Within minutes, however, Lena had Kaya out of her shell and giggles were abounding. The beloved game was a hand-washing one: Kaya would 'wash' Lena's hands with 'water' and 'soap' while Lena 'lathered up' waiting for Kaya to 'rinse'. But Kaya didn't want to rinse fact, she quickly figured out that the game was much more fun if she let Lena's hands stay soapy. Lena grew quite disappointed, sad I might even say, that she had to just sit there with soap on her hands. Kaya just giggled, ran away, soon to return with an "OK, I'll wash yoh hends off".

The other game that Kaya loved was hiding the carrots that Tante Lena was so intent to eat.
"You want to keep them from me because I'm such a pig, huh?" Lena questioned of Kaya.
"Yeah," she'd respond, stashing the carrots in the top of the stroller.
"Oh, I'm so hungry," Lena would cry. "Can't I have some carrots?!"
"No," Kaya would respond, giggling even louder.

At one point, I began to get meta about the whole thing, recalling that I was still seeking a topic for the upcoming Carnival. It hit me that the situation I was just observing--with observing being the key word--is pretty typical of many situations I find myself in with Kaya, particularly lately, or so it feels. With Kaya and I speaking only German with each other, and English with most everyone else, it makes for a unique dynamic in play. When I do choose to contribute, vs. just observing from within, it becomes a fine balance between translator and "Mitspieler" [one who plays along with]. Some people are quite proactive about asking me what it was that I just said--with short, simple statements, it's pretty easy to interpret, particularly with voice tone and body language. With those who ask, I'm always more than willing to share what just transpired. In fact, I almost always love to share with others what we're talking about--it just often feels awkward to find that balance, that 'spot' in the conversation to insert the English interpretation. Often, especially with those who aren't as proactive about asking, I tend not to share what we're talking about leaving the other/s in the dark about what is being talked about on the other side of the table. I'm not quite sure what to think of this, at this point...part of me is tempted to ask others how they feel about it when they are in that situation with us. The other part of me, however, almost doesn't want to know because I'm not sure I want to feel the obligation to continuously interpret our conversations, 'littering' our interactions with English. This is the beauty of a blog entry: I write this here in hopes that those of you out there, on both 'sides' of the situation will share your input to inspire the rest of us...

When Kaya was younger, in her pre-language stage, and we spent a lot of time in English-speaking playgroups in the community, I remember feeling very awkward about speaking German in front of others. I did it because I was committed to it, and felt confident that I wanted to stick to OPOL [One Parent, One Language], but I found I would keep my voice down, and even would say less to avoid bringing attention to myself. I felt afraid that others would think I was righteous, thinking our way--the bilingual way--was better. I also felt awkward, as a non-native, speaking German with my daughter. I can't remember how long it took me--I'd have to look back at my posts--but it was a lot longer than I remember thinking it would take for me to truly become at ease with German as our language.

Now that I'm completely comfortable with it, I'm noticing these other pieces. I'm no longer self-conscious about speaking German (at least in front of English speakers), but I do find myself being aware and somewhat sensitive to them not being able to understand us (for the most part). Fortunately, after 3 1/2 yrs of speaking German with Kaya, my husband, Geoff, can understand and thus follow along with 95% of what is said. That's a huge relief; I can't imagine it for me otherwise. But around others--especially family and friends, who are important in our lives--I've been thinking about three interesting concepts lately.

First of all, as I was alluding to above, I tend to observe more than I play, more than I think I otherwise would, were Kaya and I to be communicating in the common language. There definitely seems to be a disconnect, a scattered-ness and lack of flow when I participate with Kaya and our English-speaking people. This disconnect might be due, in part, to Kaya's manner of response, which is the second thing I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Kaya is very clear that, when she's speaking to Dada, she's speaking to Dada--and I better not respond in German (or at all!) without expecting an "ehhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" in response. The same goes for her communication with me--Geoff has come to expect the same response with English. Granted, it doesn't mean we don't try it--it's pretty hard to avoid, especially as she gets older and begins to 'mom and pop' (asking me for one thing after she's already asked him...). I also get a similar response when she's playing alone in English (she plays in both languages)--if I respond to her in German, she makes a similar noise, though not quite as adamantly.

This separate-ness definitely has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I love that I get to 'check out', to a certain extent, when Kaya is speaking to Geoff. It's like I can relax, knowing that he is 'responsible' for answering or responding to her question or need. It's a similar feeling to asking Kaya who she wants to take her to the bathroom--me or Dada. Sweet, she wants Dada! On the flip side, however, I'm noticing a bit of sadness on my part, a feeling of being 'left-out', of wishing that we could all just play together, smoothly, easily, and that I could just speak my native language with my daughter with words that have been flowing off of my tongue for 36 some-odd years (as opposed to just 15-ish). Wishing that, when I did communicate with Kaya, others didn't feel left out, didn't feel in the dark or wishing the situation were otherwise.

At this point, now that Kaya's been speaking exclusively German with me for 12 months and some change, I have no doubts about whether I should continue to speak German with her. I've seen enough of the benefits, and even moreso, have complete faith in the research that I've seen, to know that it will be worth it for her life. That's what my head says, anyway. But my heart does worry, at times, grows fearful that my relationship with my daughter will suffer; that we won't be able to ever communicate to the same extent that we would if it were my native language (if you were ever looking for a reason to hone your language skills, here's one!); that, over time, German will become the more challenging language for her to speak, and she'll just choose to communicate with others over Mama. My head is telling my heart to quit the silly-talk. Nothing like a mother's bond, it says. And you don't have to worry about then, it says. Be in the now.

Before we left Lena's place, Lena asked me which language Kaya liked speaking better. I wasn't sure, and told her to ask her.
"Kaya, which language do you like speaking better, English or German?" Lena asked her.
After a short pause, Kaya responded with a tone of confidence, "Both."

I know there are many of you out there, native and non-native alike, who continue to deal with similar thoughts, feelings, and situations regarding the OPOL and non-community language dynamic in play and social situations. What do you do? How do you feel about it? Have you gotten feedback from others about what they think or feel? I wrote about this topic because I'm so curious about your thoughts, your experiences, and anything else you're willing to share around this topic. I hope you'll take a minute to share, and/or pass this post along to someone else who might.

Thanks for being part of our journey!