Tuesday, May 13, 2014

German is Here to Stay

If this weren't such a passion of mine, and perhaps more importantly, if I hadn't finally been able to loosen up a good bit around this whole topic, I would feel quite embarrassed at my pomp and circumstance from my post the other day, only to be followed by the experiences of the supposed, Day 1. 

So, there I was, lying in my bed that next morning, hearing the pitter-patter of Kaya's feet at she came into my room to wake me. "Wann stehen wir auf...?" [When are we getting up?] she whispered, more quietly than she usually makes herself known in the mornings. Was that German, I wondered, half-asleep, slowly remembering her excitement of the plan the night before. What do I do? Respond in German, as usual, or stick to our 'plan' and overcome the awkwardness of speaking my native language with my daughter?

I chose the latter, with a half-smile on my face, eagerly wondering how she'd respond. She, too, got a half-smile on hers. "Do you want me to speak English with you?" I asked her. She nodded, silently. So, I kept overcoming my temptation to revert to German, pushing through the strangeness of the communication experience. At this point, a few days later as I write this, it's hard for me to remember all the details of our exchange, but what stands out is when she asked me, about 10 minutes into the morning, when we'd start speaking English together--in German. "I am speaking English with you," I responded, slowly, with a smile. This is after I'd spoken a number of sentences with her in both English and German, and her having spoken only German with me. 

I clearly remember looking at the clock about an hour later, making a mental note that, despite her initial excitement, and her comments about her continuing desire, she still had yet to mutter even one sentence to me in English. Similar to days, weeks, and years prior, she was still inserting a word or two here and there, when she didn't have the word in German to use--but as for full sentences, really making that first step towards transitioning to our 'new structure', nothing.

On the way to school, continuing to live in this strange land where mama speaks a sentence here and there in English, and Kaya responds in only German, Kaya says, "Ich habe Angst, mit dir Englisch zu sprechen..." [I'm scared to speak English with you...] When I asked her if she knew why, she said she didn't. I validated for her that it must feel strange for her, likely in the same way it feels for me. When I picked her up after school--a time which can often be a bit emotionally challenging because she's tired and in need of a break--I wasn't sure which language to choose. So, I went with 'business as usual' from the morning, trying a sentence here and there in English, curious to see how she'd respond. Again, German in response. And, similar to our drive to school, she shared with me again that she was scared to speak English with me. Again, I asked if she knew what felt scary. She bit my head off with that one, telling me adamantly, "Ich weiss es nicht! Ich will nicht mehr darueber sprechen, Mama!" [I don't know! I don't want to talk about it anymore, Mama!

What I found so interesting about the day up to that point is that I didn't find myself feeling attached one way or another. Emotionally, I was aware of some relief that I felt, that we have this bond, in this special language, and it won't just 'come apart', just like that. A friend pointed out, a few days later, that it's going to take a lot longer for her to get used to speaking English with me. For sure. As a language teacher, and someone who has started a number of relationships in various languages with people, I know how challenging it can be to switch once you've started--and that doesn't even factor in the mother-daughter emotional bond that exists which naturally contributes to the feelings that accompany the language.

As I'm tucking her into bed that night, after an evening of more of the same (smatterings of English from Mama, only German from Kaya), Kaya says to me, quite calmly and matter-of-fact: " Ich glaube, es geht nicht, Englisch zu sprechen...es ist zu 'weird', mit Dir Englisch zu sprechen." [I believe it's not going to work to speak Englisch...it's too weird to speak English with you.] "Das ist OK," [That's ok] I told her, feeling so much love and admiration in my heart for her ability to just be with what is, and state it as such. "Wir koennen nochmal probieren, wenn wir wollen, wenn es sich nicht so komisch fuehlt." [We can try it again if we want, when it doesn't feel so strange.]

And with that, we kissed goodnight and said goodbye, at least temporarily, to the plan that I actually thought would work (despite all of the evidence I had to the contrary). I wanted it to work--I would love to be able to communicate with each other in my native language at times. And at the same time, I'm relieved it didn't. I am very happy we have this with each other, despite how challenging it feels for both of us at times to say exactly what we want to say. 

But from this whole experience I realize that the German's not going anywhere anytime soon--so, I wonder, why not play around with some English a bit more, at least in those moments when I really want to include others more, or I just want to get something really complicated across to her? Yes, I could be opening Pandora's box to a slippery slope of mixing hell, but it is our life and our relationship, right? We can have our cake and eat it too, to the point that I can support her knowledge and ability in this second language, and simultaneously 'exactify' our ability to communicate as we want in any particular moment?

The next question becomes...what do we do if we actually make the lottery for the Spanish Immersion Program at our local elementary school?!!?

(As always, would LOVE to hear your comments, input, or shared experiences! Thanks for traveling this journey with us!)


  1. Hey Tamara, I don't mean to sound judgmental. However maybe it isn't that German is such an unshakable language between you and your daughter or that she isn't yet comfortable speaking English to you yet. But the fact that you made such a huge deal about speaking English, has introduced some fear for her. She is probably just responding to your vibes of not wanting to lose the German link you guys have. Try to act nonchalant about speaking English and just suddenly break into English one day and you'll probably see her being more willing to respond in English and this fear will suddenly disappear. Of course, if you want to continue this German bond, then you could not take my suggestion up. I just want to let you know that I feel your attitudes toward her speaking English with you might be affecting her and causing her to be unable to speak English rather than your " bond" in German.

  2. This is really great insight, thank you. I know that she is really sensitive to what I feel about what and when, so you bring up really valid points. It's been over a year and a half since I wrote this post, and we've since integrated a lot more English into our relationships. She speaks to me in English from time to time when we're around others, and sometimes when she's speaking to both my husband and I at the same time. It feels quite natural, and it's a lot easier for me to go with the flow. Thanks for taking the time to offer your insight and leave a comment.
    I wish you well!


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