Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marvin's Adventures in Bilingualand

As hesitant as I am to share this video, in part because of my personal criticism of my own German (for those German speakers out there!) as well as the bird nest in my daughter's hair (who wants to inflict discomfort on their baby when she's sick?!), I think it paints a pretty good picture of a few concepts that might be nice to illustrate at this stage of our bilingual journey. 

First of all, since it's been a while since an update like this, I think it would be good 'for the record' (this one's for you, Kaya!) to share that we continue to speak all German 99.9% of the time. I can remember 2 instances in the past 2 months when I've spoken to her in English, and when I do, it's out of extreme frustration and a few words are enough to get me back on track to German. Similar amounts of English come out of her mouth towards me, though not in moments of frustration--simply when she just doesn't know the word. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm more loose with my English in that regard with her, and from time to time, I'll say the word in English, usually prefacing that I don't know how to say it in German but this is what it is in English.  This video illustrates some of this point pretty well when Kaya is telling me how old Marvin is and says "seven" instead of 'sieben'. This similarly highlights some of the challenges that she has with her language, numbers being one of them. Without having done the research (Annabelle of the piri-piri lexicon might know this, though!?), I'd guess that it's pretty normal for kids to struggle to in this regard--while she knows how to count sequentially in both languages (I'm not exactly sure how high in each, though has def. been playing in the 20's in both, and likely higher in English), it's hard for her to name a number outright in German straight from English. At times she can do it, but 7 seems to be causing her challenges lately. This is something that I see with my language students as well, though...sequential counting comes first, then the skill of being able to name numbers out of order. 

There are a couple of other points that I thought I might highlight with this video, too, specifically regarding the topic of the conversation in itself. Kaya has a whole world invented regarding which of her 'children' and 'friends' know German, English or both. This video was my cursory attempt to get into this world of hers and come out with an understanding of who can do what. I think it's fascinating, this concept, and would love to dig into her reasoning of whence and wherefore. Apparently, as you can read in my transcription below, Marvin (the monkey) is her only 'friend' who knows German.--nothing like creativity!) Actually, to be more accurate, I think Marvin is one of her children (ignore the fact that he's older than she is In fact, as I find out later in the video, he's bilingual too, just like Kaya. This kid, much like myself as a child, has a whole world of 'friends', including the newest to the bunch, Coco (the eaglet). And you'd think with a name like 'Tante Jamie' (Aunt Jamie...who is our German-speaking next door neighbor), that baby of hers would be able to speak or at least understand German. But alas, Marvin is the only one. Not Stella, either, who happens to have the same name as our host daughter from Germany (named BEfore we knew about her, I swear! Destiny?). Nor Hazel, nor Max, nor Kylee.

And for those grammar geeks out there like me (and my sister!), you might be curious to know that, while she sometimes puts her infinitives accurately at the end of the sentences after conjugated modal verbs, and kicks her verbs after appropriate conjunctions, she had a even split in this conversation: once, while talking about baby talk, she puts it in the middle, but when asking me to get her a nose rag, she puts it at the end. And to top off the grammar analysis, she has a tendency to confuse some idiomatic expressions (I think that's what they are!?), like the one in this conversation where she says, "alter dann mir" instead of 'aelter als ich'. I didn't learn that term until 2nd or 3rd year college German, so I can only guess this type of mistake is pretty common for little kiddos in German, too?

So, despite my geeked-out, language teacher analysis, it's pretty easy for me to celebrate the fact that, after about 2 years now, Kaya continues to speak fluent German with me--and teachers at German Saturday School or Sommercamp--and while it does tend to lag a bit behind her English development, I watch it grow. Never really 'catching up', but the spurts happen in both languages, and are pretty clear to me. Which is really quite amazing to me--as normal as it now seems.

I continue to have my phases where I want to give up, or at least give up with this intensity of this OPOL (one-parent, one language) method, as I felt quite strongly 7 months ago. But as with many of the phases I experience in this process, they all seem to pass as I continue to lean on and call on the support of the amazing community I have in my life (that's you!). 

So, without further ado, I now welcome you to take a peek into a few moments of our afternoon as Kaya was home sick from school and excitedly playing with her babies in the swing that we just put up on her bed for them:

Mama: Welche von deinen Kindern koennen Deutsch sprechen? Oder verstehen? [Which of your kids can speak German? Or understand it?]
Kaya: Uh, Marvin. 
Mama: Und die anderen nicht? [And the others can't?]
Kaya: Nein. [No.]
Mama: Oder koennen sie beide, Deutsch und Englisch? [Or can they speak both, German and English?]
Kaya: Er kann Engrisch und Deutsch, und sie kann nur sprechen wie ein Baby! [He can speak English and German and she can only speak like a baby!]
Mama: Ohhh .Babysprache. Das ist eine ganz andere Sprache, oder? [Oh, baby talk. That's a whole different language, huh?]
Kaya: Ja. [yeah.]
Mama: Ja. 
Kaya: Kannst du mein Naselappen holen? (off screen...Was hast du gesagt?) [Can you get my nose rag? What did you say?]
Kaya: Hab 'No highers'. [I said "no highers"]
Mama: No highers? Ich dachte er konnte Deutsch. [No highers? I thought he could speak German?]
Kaya: Ja er kann doch. [Yeah, he can.]
Mama: Kann er beide? [Can he speak both?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.] (looking at me as if to say, Well, YEAH, Mom. Isn't it obvious?!)
Mama: Oh, wie du. Er ist zweisprachig. [Oh, like you. He's bilingual.]
Kaya: Aber er ist alter dann mir. [But he's older than me.] (translated directly, grammatically incorrect)
Mama: Oh, alter als du? Wie alt ist er denn? [Oh, older than you (repeated back grammatically correctly)?
Kaya: Seven. 
Mama: Sieben? [Seven?]
Kaya: Ja. Machst du ein Video? [Yeah. Are you taking a video?]
Mama: Ja. Willst du es sehen? [Yeah. Do you want to see it?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.]

Any input you have, or stories you'd like to share below would be, as always quite welcome and very appreciated!


  1. Hi Tamara, when I click on the video, it says it is private. You might have to go back to YouTube and change your privacy settings?
    I am looking forward to watching it, by your transcription it reminds me of conversations I have had with my sons who are also bilingual but with two parents being native speakers though I sometimes wish I could stick to German with them as stricltly as you do! Xoxo Monika in New Zealand

    1. Thanks, Monika, for the reminder (meant to unlock, but forgot!), and for adding your thoughts. SO wonderful to 'see' you back here, you've provided me such wonderful validation and confidence in my process! We all do what works for our lives, right? If they're bilingual, does it really matter if you stick to it strictly? xoxo indeed!


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