Friday, October 18, 2013

Pirates, Pictures, and Purposeful Integration

Nearly every night, save for those occasions when Kaya is beside herself with exhaustion, we read a book and tell a story before bed. This rings a bell. I think I've mentioned this before. So, from an update standpoint, we still do it. And from a far more interesting perspective, I thought I might share a little twist from tonight's ritual that ended up being quite a fun way to integrate Dada, the non-German speaker, into a German story.

As a backdrop, if you're not as well-versed on our situation, Geoff didn't know more than a few words of German when we started our bilingual journey nearly 5 years ago. Now he says that he gets the gist of about 90% of what we say. Not bad at all for the passive approach, huh, simply being around German and not having to speak it?! (kudos, Geoff!) We used to have all these grand plans, usually including, in some form or fashion, his incorporation of Rosetta Stone to make sure he'd be able to 'keep up'. And that may well be a necessity one day soon, as he hesitantly admits that his understanding is dropping as Kaya gets older, and that he might only understand about 65-70% of what we actually say.

But for tonight's purposes, snuggling on the couch and reading out of Das grosse Bildermaus Geschichtenbuch [The big picture-mouse story book], his level of German was not only fine but quite impressive!

We started towards the back of the book where they have all the pictures with the corresponding words. We went down the list, starting with 'Meer' [ocean] and continuing with Insel and Sonne and Regen. For most of the words, I asked Kaya to tell us what the picture was--"und das ist eine...?" [and that is a...?], to which she would respond with a smile and the accurate word in German. A number of the words were new for her (and me, for that matter, too!), and for those, I would simply tell her--"Das sind zwei Anker." [Those are two ankers.] For some of the words, she knew the English, and would say that, but for the most part, we stayed in German until we got through the list.

Kaya decided, quite excitedly, that she wanted to read 'Die Flotte des Koenigs' [The King's Fleet]--one of the pirate stories in the book. She and Geoff have been playing pirates lately, and it's definitely one of her favorite things to do lately. In fact, the other night, she even told me, "Mama, ich wiw dass du jetzt in die Ahbeit gehst, damit ich Piraten mit Dada spielen kann..." [Mama, I want you to go to work now so that I can play pirates with Dada!], which is quite a shift after the usual tears or dread surrounding my need to work. So, naturally, the pirate story was on the docket.

We've read from similar books before, specifically with the incorporated pictures, but never together with Geoff. So, I thought it might be fun for us to flip-flop back and forth between them as we'd come to a picture. And while it took them a few sentences to get the rhythm down, with my reading the words and them saying the pictures, it was quite fun once we got rolling! Geoff remembered just about every word for all of his pictures, and Kaya would break out in a huge grin when one of us would whisper the word before she'd say it aloud. Her grins ultimately turned into laughter, and we all decided we needed to read the 'Pirateninsel', too. [Pirate Island]

There's one other story ritual that we have at times that similarly makes for quite the integration of languages. While we'll often just tell a story from the innermost reaches of our right brain, sometimes it's kind of nice to have some story fodder. So, Geoff came up with this idea many moons ago in which he opens to a page in picture book (Richard Scary's Wunderbare Welt der Wimmelbilder [Richard Scary's Biggest Word Book Ever] is one of our favorites for this, though the picture dictionaries--like First Thousand Words in German-- are great, too!) and starts telling a story about a character on the page.

The trick is that he doesn't tell Kaya which character is the star, so she has to listen to the development of the story while she looks for the character on the page. Tonight's story, for example, was about a kitty who wanted to sleep because she was so tired (the page, as you may know, is filled with all sorts of kitties, and pigs, and foxes all doing different things in different locations). Try as she might, she simply couldn't find a place to slumber. She tried the first house, but it was too loud because they were laying bricks and bending pipe. The next house was too loud because they were installing plumbing and a chimney. And the next house was getting new windows and a roof. But finally, the kitty found a nice quiet place to sleep on top of the steel structure (?!).

As you can imagine, Geoff told his story in English--while he's learned a lot, it would be quite a feat if he knew how to say chimney and plumbing and steel structure (not even sure I know the latter two!). And as you might guess, when I play, I tell my stories in German, as I did tonight with one about a mean piggy who got pushed into the water by the kitties and was thankfully rescued by a compassionate kitty with a crane. She struggled a bit with this one, which can be quite fun in regards to the hide-and-seek component of the game. Where is the piggy with soggy pants so sad and so saved?

 I do a lot less wondering and worrying now about what our family might be like down the road with two different languages. I used to worry quite a bit, though, struggling to conceptualize how a family could be anything close to cohesive with such a language differential. I do recognize that our situation is a bit unique in that Geoff understands enough to fit in (and then some)--but in moments like tonight, where I'm hyper-aware of the language experience, I definitely appreciate that bilingualism has done anything but pull us apart.


  1. You and Geoff are AMAZING parents!!! I love the "mystery" stories! Talk about teaching critical thinking and problem solving!!!

    1. Thank you! You're validation on my parenting never ceases to warm my heart and make me smile. =) Nothing like having a fan in the fam..xoxo

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  3. Hi Tamara! It's been ages since I've gotten the treat of reading your blog! I'm trying to get back into it - and into German with my boys, too. It's so great to catch up with you. I'm so impressed by what you've accomplished with Kaya and her German!!! As always, you are such an inspiration. I love the story-telling idea, too! Aleksander is constantly asking for us to tell him a story, and your method not only sounds like fun, but a great way to come up with idea, and even play a bit of his other favorite game of hide-and-seek :) Well done!!

    1. hi there!! I'm SO sorry for the long delay in responding, your comment serves as such a treat for me, and I'm embarrassed that it took me so long to reply. I think I saved it in my inbox and let others pile on top of it, and i'm finally down to 3 unread emails and excited to finally ahve time again to respond. So, thank you!! I haven't been in the blogging world much, either, at least not reading other blogs, nor writing on this one, much. I've started another one, with a different flavor, but hope to be writing on both more, now that Kaya is in school again. But thanks again! Would love to check out your blog and see if you're back in that saddle again, too!


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