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...