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!