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'.

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