Q&A: Learning German and Raising a Bilingual Child

by Christina Geyer on April 25, 2010 · 40 comments

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Last week, I asked readers for questions.  I decided to split up the answers into several posts.  This one addresses language related questions.

Maria Guzenko wrote:

You’ve mentioned you are fluent in German. Do you still have much of an accent? Was much attention paid to pronunciation in your German class? Do you feel it’s sufficient to just be fluent or can having an accent make you feel an “outsider”?

My husband tells me I have a very thick, but cute, American accent.  I haven’t made much effort to improve my pronunciation, I find that there’s not so much one can do, either you can make certain sounds or you can’t. So I suppose I think it’s sufficient being fluent.  I’ve never felt like an outsider because of my accent (but I’m not someone who could pass for German either, so I’m an outsider before I even open my mouth).

There was some attention paid to pronunciation in my German courses, but basically just to the point that you were easily understandable.  One comment that’s often made about American accents is that we sound like we’re speaking with marbles in our mouths.  An exercise we did in class to try to overcome this, was to hold a wine cork lengthwise between your top and bottom front teeth (so your mouth is held wide open) and then to practice trying to speak German clearly.

Sarah asked:

Did you speak German before you moved there with your husband? What got you over the hump from German student to German speaker? (I’m learning the language now as an adult and it’s slow-going!)

I didn’t really speak German when I moved here.  I had taken two semesters of German as a freshman in college, but by the time I moved to Germany, all I could do was ask how the weather is (and I wouldn’t understand the answer).  I started taking evening classes at the Goethe Institut in Berlin (I highly recommend the Goethe Institut), but found that I was not learning quickly enough to catch on to what was going on at work (I was working in a German company), so I got permission to take a 2.5 week superintensive course and after this, I could follow what was going on in meetings, although I was still far from being able to participate.  I continued after that in evening courses for the next 5 months, going from level A2 to level C1 over the course of 6 months (back then it was called Grundstufe 2 to Oberstufe 1).  I made every effort to learn the language and in my spare time was doing homework and extra workbook exercises.  For a time, I also had a private tutor provided by my work.  At the 6 month mark, many of my coworkers stopped speaking English to me.  I hated this, but it probably helped my quick mastery of the language more than anything else.  Within a year I was writing and speaking fluent German.

To sum it all up, I think having people around who force you to speak German is probably what got me over the hump, although I was very highly motivated and a quick learner, which I’m sure made things much easier for me.

Rachel wrote:

Just wondering if your little boy is starting to talk yet? Does he speak English to you? I know you’ve spent time back in the States, which I’m sure did wonders for his two languages. Anything special you do to make sure he doesn’t forget his mom’s culture and language?

Oliver is about 2 3/4 years old now and is talking.  He began really speaking a little later than most of the German children we are around, but seems to have completely caught up at this point.

I was a child that was started off bilingual (English and Thai), but when my siblings and I all refused to speak Thai with my mother, she gave up, and now I really wish that I could speak Thai.  I learned German very quickly, and I think my early bilingualism helped (she spoke Thai to me until I was around 6 or 7, but I never consistently spoke Thai back).  I think the synapses for Thai are still around, just dormant.  When I’m given a new Thai word, I can generally remember it with just one hearing, whereas with German, sometimes even after hearing a word dozens of times, it still doesn’t really enter my vocabulary.  Anyways, my point is, that making sure the same thing doesn’t happen with Oliver is very important to me.

After reading a couple books on raising kids bilingually, we decided on having an English-speaking household.  I always speak English to him, and just after his birth, I made a big effort to cut all Denglisch from my vocabulary and really stick to proper English. This was tough at first, but I managed within a couple months. When Oliver and my husband are on their own together, they speak German, but when we are together as a family, we speak English together.  I know a lot of parents doing the one-parent one-language thing and when the kid goes off to Kindergarten they kind of forget or struggle with their second language, so I thought having English at home was something to try. I think either method works as long as you’re consistent and insistent, you’ve just got to figure out what’s right for your family.

Having an English-speaking household has worked out well for us. Oliver switches perfectly between English and German.  I’m really surprised how well it has worked, in fact, I expected more mixing of the languages and more dominance of one language over the other. He started Kinderkrippe at the beginning of March, and speaks German really well now (and even curses in Bavarian, yikes!), but isn’t fighting speaking English at home at all.  When he encounters something new, he’ll ask me what it is, then after I say what it is in English, he’ll turn to my husband (or another German speaker who’s around) and ask them what it is.  It amazes me that he already understands that everything has two names and he wants to know what they both are.

I was a little nervous about speaking English to him when we’re out and about, thinking people would make assumptions about me not being able to speak German, but I found Germans think it’s really great and haven’t made any assumptions about me. They come right up and ask in German how raising him Zweisprachig (bilingual) is going. A lot of people even want to practice their English with him.  I think this is one factor that will make it much easier for me than it was for my mother.  Most everyone he encounters is very vocal in how great they think it is that he speaks English and they are very encouraging, American culture also has a coolness factor.  These are two things Thai didn’t have going for it back when I was a kid.

I hope I answered your questions satisfactorily. They were really great questions.  What about my other readers, do you feel the same or would you answer any of these questions differently?

  • Sarah Dandelles

    Thank you Christina!! So fascinating, especially about your language adventures with Oliver. My brother’s 15-month-old twins are being raised bilingually here in Chicago (Greek and English), and after noticing (and worrying about) their delay in first real speech, I read up and found that this is common in “Zweisprachig” children, but they tend to master language faster over their lives…

    Anyway, thank you and I look forward to each post!
    Sarah D.

  • http://www.regensblog.com cliff1976

    either you can make certain sounds or you can’t

    Just out of curiosity, what are the sounds you struggle with?
    .-= cliff1976´s last blog ..Not Eating Out in New York » Win the How To Cook Everything iPhone App (and a conversation with Mark Bittman) =-.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    @sarah: Thank you! It does seem to be common that bilingual kids speak later. I think Oliver didn’t really start speaking until around 2, and wasn’t speaking much until about 2 1/2.

    @cliff: I can manage r’s that come at the ends of words, but I can’t make the German r sound at all if it’s at the beginning or middle of a word. I’m sure there are other little mistakes too, but that’s the main big one and nothing I’ve done has helped. Rainer says it’s cute, and yeah, I totally can’t pronounce my husband’s name properly.

  • http://www.dackelprincess.com Maribeth

    I think it is great you are raising Oliver like this. I wish that in the world, more people, places would offer children 2 languages at a younger age. Kids are like sponges and have the ability to soak up so much.
    My husband’s son went to an International School in Percha. (I could never say that correctly!) He was 6-8 years old and in those three years he became child fluent in the language! It was marvelous.
    Our friends say my husband (who is fluent, thanks to the Goethe Institut, in Munich) speaks flawlessly, but has never lost his New England accent!
    Me? I need more time in Germany. It is very hard to speak well and remember two names for everything if I’m not using it daily. My vocabulary always improves when I am in Berlin visiting. (Which I will be in June. Yay!)
    .-= Maribeth´s last blog ..Bumble Bumble Bee!!!!! =-.

  • Michael

    With the guttural German “r” which I think you’re referring to, perhaps you should gargle water for practice to get the vocal chord/throat vibration down; it sounds similar!

    Also, what do you mean by speaking “with marbles in the mouth”? I can’t particularly visualize (audiolize?) what that might sound like.

    Best,
    Michael

  • Michael

    Also, with respect to the accent, cute or not, I wouldn’t worry about it at all (it appears that you are not). I’m from the SF Bay Area originally, which is certainly one of, if not the, most multi-cultural areas in the world, so I am no stranger to communicating with non-native English speakers. I would say emphatically that being able to express yourself clearly (having a “good-enough” accent) along with a decent speed with which you synthesize your ideas (fluency) is much more important than having a “near-native” accent. It is unfortunate that many language students want to sound “native”, which I think is not only a waste of time, but might be impossible. Such an attempt should only be made *after* you’d thoroughly mastered the language, as speaking with a native accent with weak knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and idiomatic speech will make people think you’re some form of local moron, as opposed to simply a foreigner.

    Michael

  • Eric

    @Michael
    Well, to German native speakers americans often sound as if they would speak with something “clogging” their mouth. But this depends very much on their individual accent and diction. Mumbling instead of “marbles” might be a more helping explanation to you :-) As far as I can tell I’d say because general american is spoken pretty throat-centered, while the german “R”, especially the one in bavaria, is spoken with your tongue at your teeth, just like in spanish. Most syllables are identical in both languages tho. It’s just the very different “R” that makes a huge difference. Well, and maybe a different way of stressing words.

  • Eric

    @Michael
    By the way: a british native, Anthony Rowley, is in charge of the Bavarian Dictionary at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He moved to germany like in the 80s (I’ve seen a short report about him on Bavarian TV once) and did not only manage to learn flawless german but also dozens of regional bavarian dialects. Good enough to let him foster the bavarian thesaurus. Really impressive, isn’t it?

  • helga anderson

    Hi Christina,

    thank you for your input on how to raise a kid bilingual.
    My daughter Sara (that you may remember from Babyschwimmen, just turned 4, and she is totally fluent in both languages. We have been going back and forth between California and Regensburg since she was born, 6 months here, 6 months there. When we were in Germany, she realized quickly that everybody speaks German now, and switches to German as well, even answering me in German when I speak English to her. As soon as we came back to the States, (and I keep speaking German to her at home), she spoke English again almost exclusively. But since she is 4 already, I am sure she has is down. I just keep up both languages, and I totally agree with you, whatever works for your family is the right strategy, as long as you are consistent.
    Helga

  • Michael

    @Eric
    Very interesting! Here’s a nice interview I found with him (with pictures: http://www.goethe.de/ges/spa/sui/en1401743.htm

    Dialects are really fascinating.

    M

  • http://rita.1on.de rita

    @ christina: can you do a fake british accent and drop your Rs at the end of syllables? if you can then you’re on the right way because there’s hardly an audible difference between the british end-R and the german end-R. the trick to overcome the most audible pronunciation interferences is by taking them on one at a time and then beat them into submission until they surrender. :)

    @ michael: you could also say that the sound of marbles in he mouth sounds like the speaker is struggling with a hot potato. :) but as regards the interference of accent or not it is all relative to the listener . first, is s/he a native speaker or not? if yes, then the learner can get away with a stronger accent. second, sometimes there’s also the problem that some accents are more accepted than others. a strong french accent may be more wellcome than a slight polish one. it’s not as simple as, learn the vocab and grammar first and only *then* look at pronuncition. in an ideal language course, both should be paid equal awareness. but in reality there’s just not the time for it, speaking from experience of teaching german.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    @maribeth: I think it’s difficult to keep up with a language if you don’t get any practice. I’ve tried learning (or relearning) Thai, but there’s very few Thai speakers to practice with here and I don’t have enough time to focus on it, so it hasn’t worked out yet.

    @michael: Like Eric said, we tend to mumble. Another way I’ve commonly heard American accents described (by Germans) is that it sounds like we’re chewing a large wad of gum while we speak.

    @eric: That is really impressive. Some people are really gifted when it comes to languages. I understand Ober-Pfälzisch now, but that took me a couple years!

    @helga: Of course I remember you guys. Hopefully next time you’re in town we’ll manage to get together!

  • Michael

    Oh, yes, perhaps it’s similar to mumbling. I’m no phonetician, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it seems as though American speakers tend to string sounds together when speaking so much that if you’re not a native you won’t be able to tell when one word ends and the other begins, so to many this almost sounds like mumbling (and therefore this tendency may pass over?) I’ve heard Brits complain about this on occasion — for example, “What’d I do with my wallet?” might sound like “What I do with my wallet?” which would strike them as radically odd grammar. German certainly does seem to be spoken very clearly, but maybe that’s just from watching 2DF newscasts and not speaking with Germans enough…

    Michael

  • Jennifer

    Hi Christina. Great post as usual. We’ve been in Berlin since July 2008. We speak English at home and my husband speaks German to our two kids when he’s alone with them. My almost 3 year old speaks a lot but not much we can understand. He does say English words (and some small sentences) and some German words but I’m getting nervous that he can’t communicate what he wants or what he’s thinking.

    He’s at a German kita 5 days a week and the teachers seem frustrated with him. Not sure if there is more going on here than just him being slower than most kids at learning two languages at once.

    My husband and I are trying to decide if we should take him out of the German kita and put him into an all English speaking daycare. Maybe then he would start speaking better??? We aren’t sure what to do or even where to go to find resources. The kid’s doctor isn’t much help nor the teachers at his kita.

    Any advice you can throw our way? Thanks in advance.

  • Eric

    @Michael

    Hm maybe that’s too much information for you already put I’ll try to put it into a nutshell.

    Usually language development follows certain schemes. One is simplification over time. English is a superb example of such. English is, i simplify, basically made up of ancient german, ancient french and latin (what few english will know is that their ancestors came once from – what is nowadays – north germany to the island, overrunning the native population).

    English as written language is very very old, by the time the spoken language got more and more lazy and more and more different from the written form. Which is no suprise because for most of the time the vast majority of native speaker was, as everywhere else, illiterate and therefore unable to tell if they pronounce according to the “correct” grammar and spelling.

    There are still a lot of artefacts, such as “light”, the “gh” in such words was once probably pronounced just like the german “ch” (that little gutteral hissing sound), and the german translation for “light” is “licht”. That’s no coincidence, there are large numbers of such similarities. But german changed much more, from “neo-high-german” to “middle-high-german” and the modern “high-german” of present day.

    And other than the english germans were heavily adjusting their spelling, grammar and vocabulary all the time, since they had the idea that you should be able to pronounce words pretty much as they are spelled. While that is just impossible in english, just think about the sheer number of different ways you can pronounce a simple letter like “u” – depending on the given words. The altering influence of spoken english to written english was comparatively low. Fewer things, such as “can’t” instead the longer “cannot”, were adopted from spoken to written english. To make an (already) long story short, modern english is just a very very old language that got ehm a little “blurred”, while modern german came up basically just in the 19th century.

    ‘Cause what’s now being called dialects of german were back then fully independent languages, just like dutch (which also shares alot of grammar and vocabulary with modern german but is still a different language). It is the same story with french, a very old language, based on deteriorated latin (I don’t mean that as a negative, just the best way to describe it). You will see just the same development with modern german, contemporary germans won’t be able at all to have a chat with their descendants of the 23rd century. This is why german sounds so “gutteral” to americans while american english is described as “mumbling” by germans. But hey, after all “butter” and “finger” are just the same words in both languages 😉

  • Michael

    Eric,

    Thanks! Very interesting information. Thank you for taking the time to type it out.

    Michael

  • http://www.arashi-kishu-world.blogspot.com Cathy

    Great points Christina! I’m still struggling with trilingualism though! There isn’t enough info on that one.

  • http://chocolateandcognac.blogspot.com Sabrina

    Great post :) It’s really interesting and informative how you’re handling the bilingual situation with Oliver. My boyfriend and I will be raising our kids bilingually, and we’ll be looking more into the theories how to do it well when we reach that point.
    That sucks about your Thai, isn’t there any sort of Thai Stammtisch or MeetUp group? That’s how my German was until I actually studied it.

  • Rachael D

    There is Mandarin and Spanish immersion in elementary school here, and I’ve debated sending my son at some point into these programs. however, I would need to study the language to reinforce it!

    I wanted to say that having encouragement and people to practice with are key!

    My oldest is in class with 2 bilingual kids. The dads are native speakers of Spanish and Swedish (respectively), and they speak exclusively to their kids in these languages when alone with their kids. English is spoken as a family, just as you describe. Their experiences are very different, however. The child who speaks Spanish can practice with many people here — large population of Spanish speakers, which helps. And the dad is a Montressori teacher of Spanish! The child is more cooperative with speaking in Spanish. The child whose dad is Swedish was more frustrated when he was younger as he did not quite understand why dad was strongly encouraging him to speak in a “special/secret language” that no one else around could speak. He would often answer in English and thought dad was “torturing” him. It was not until he went to Sweden for 3 weeks that it clicked!!! His knowledge and “attitude” improved after realizing that there other other people besides dad who speak Swedish.

    Part of the differences in these situations could be due to temperment, of course! However, reinforcement / encouragement / ability to practice / seeing utility in it all helpful even when you are 3!

  • sherah

    I have to say that I totally agree with your decision to speak only English at home. We did the same. I had met many Israelis in University who had one English speaking parent at home, but they were not confident in their English enough to speak English with me. We also noticed that once children enter the school system they prefer the language of their peers more than their home language and if there is only one parent speaking English at home, English many times gets left behind. My husband was raised in an English speaking home from the age of 5 (before that they spoke Afrikaans at home) in Israel and although he prefers speaking Hebrew, his level of English was very high. So we decided to take this route with our children as well, so that they always have a good base of English, whether they choose to use it in the future in their own lives or not.

    My daughter only spoke English until she went into Kindergarten in Israel and then she spoke both English and Hebrew. She left the Kindergarten a year ago and stopped speaking Hebrew. She does hear it once in a while from us when we are talking together and she understands every word, but she doesn’t try to speak with us in Hebrew. In October, we moved to Germany and in December she started German kindergarten. She is now speaking German on a basic level even at home when she plays with her brother. I think now having English spoken at home has become a kind of an anchor for our kids. I think that it helps to know that even though their outside environment has changed, the inside environment is always the same.

    About American accents… I have to say that I have a couple of Americans in my German courses and their accents are very disturbing. I think that it really has to do with growing up in a place where you don’t need to use other languages and not developing the ear and muscle control for manipulation of your mouth muscles. As a singer it is much easier for me to adapt my accent to other languages because of that ear and muscle training. In Israel, I never get pinned as an American (even by other Americans) because my accent is okay, although not perfect. People usually think I am some kind of European because of my looks, but they can never say exactly where I am from because my accent doesn’t give me away. In America, you don’t get as much opportunity to use other languages (this depends on where you live – In Montana, where I come from, this is true) as you do in Europe or in other parts of the world and because of that it is harder and takes a lot more practice to learn to manipulate those mouth muscles to make the right sounds. After living outside of the States for almost 10 years, I have to say that I am not a big fan of an American accent.

  • http://russia101.wordpress.com Maria

    Christina, thanks for the answer. What you said about fluency being more important than the accent is consistent with what I’ve encountered in the European communicative approach to education.
    From my personal experience, I learned Spanish and Hebrew the intensive way without much emphasis on the pronunciation. Looking back, I wish more emphasis was paid to Hebrew pronunciation because I was teased for my accent when my family moved to Israel for 2 years. School kids aren’t kind, you know. :)
    As for German, I was lucky to have a comprehensive phonetics course in my 1st year in college. I think I’ve lost a lot of it, but it really helped me sound less “Russian” when speaking German.
    English-wise, Russian kids are taught international phonetic transcription in their schools, but mostly, British pronunciation is encouraged. Since I spent more time in the States, I’ve picked up a more “American” accent, anyway.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..Rules of Engagement =-.

  • Saskia

    This is an interesting discussion, thanks for starting it, Christina. As a language teacher (when I was in the US) and a lifelong language lover, I always hoped my children would have the opportunity to grow up in a bilingual environment. I guess my wish more than came true because they are growing up trilingually. I speak to them in English, my husband speaks to them in Turkish, and they will get German at school. Our older child (now 4.5) began Kindergarten just before he turned 3. At that point, he couldn’t really put more than two or three words together in either Turkish or English. After two months at Kindergarten, he finally started speaking English and Turkish. He spent the entire first year of Kindergarten gradually learning to understand German, but he barely spoke it at all. When he returned to Kindergarten after summer break in Turkey, he suddenly started speaking German, and is now approximately equally as fluent in all three languages. It must require some extra thinking for him to manage all three languages, but they say kids can do it. We encourage him to speak to his younger brother (who doesn’t yet know any German other than Nein) in Turkish, and he does. When he remembers to, we let him know how proud we are of him.

    I really hope that he doesn’t start resisting English or Turkish. The thing is that my husband and I aren’t able to speak very well in German, so it is simply not an option for us, and I think he understands that, even now. We don’t let him watch German tv at home – just Turkish & English. And when I didn’t understand a little girl who was telling me something in German and our son translated for me, I told him repeatedly how proud I was of him. We’ll see what happens later on, but at the moment it seems to be working really well for us to emphasize how lucky he is to speak 3 languages and how proud we are of him.

    Our younger son (2.5) already speaks in grammatically correct English and Turkish – he appears to have more facility with language than his older brother. So maybe he would have easily learned foreign languages as an adult even if he weren’t a multilingual child. But for our older son, who has more difficulty, I’m very glad he’s getting 3 languages at a time when his brain is more flexible.

    Raising children with multiple languages is a gift to them – and I think sometimes we need to remind them of that.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    Sorry, I’ve been offline for a while. We’ve got visitors at the moment, hopefully I’ll be able to give this blog more attention next week.

    @Jennifer: I wouldn’t take your son out of German Kita. I think, living in Germany, he needs exposure to German, and will most likely catch up soon. I wouldn’t worry yet, but I know that’s easier said than done. You might try taking him to a Logopaeden. On the Deutsche Bundesverband fuer Logopaedie website you can search for Logopaeden who work with “Zwei- oder Mehrsprachiger Kinder.”

    @sabrina: There might be a Thai Stammtisch in the area, but I haven’t looked into it. I don’t have time at the moment to really focus on a language, but once the kids are in school, it’s one of the things I want to work on.

    And thanks for everyone who posted stories about bi- and multilingual families. It’s always interesting and informative (and sometimes even reassuring) to hear about how other families approach this.

  • Suzanne

    I know a Thai lady here in Rgbg and she said there are a heap of Thai women here who are married to Germans, they don’t seem to have a Stammtisch as such, but i think they get together on a regular basis to cook, let the kids play together (in Thai) etc.

  • Eric

    Well my partner is not a child anymore but American and we deliberately won’t talk in english. It would be more convinient for both of us because only talking german – a language one of us doesn’t speak natively – complicates communication in daily life. But since we live in germany there is no alternative to speaking german as good as possible, you simply have to immerse into the language – therefore the society – of the country you live in. If you want to live among germans you have to speak their language. Or live elsewhere.

    Multilingual family life is fine if every family member has german “down cold”. But too many times, especially of the turkish community, I’ve met parents which live in germany for virtually decades but fully rely on e.g. turkish newspapers, turkish TV via satelite, turkish stores in their vicinity…the result is that their children, even tho they are born and raised in germany, only speak fractioned german. Because their “family language” is solely turkish. It would not only help these children but also their parents if the first family language was german.

  • sherah

    @Eric
    I totally agree with you that speaking only German in the home is the best strategy for an adult who seeks to fully integrate into the society they are in. With children is is a little different because they don’t usually have a problem integrating into society outside of the home. The problem is that they can lose their mother tongue if it is not kept up at home. My husband is a prime example of this. His mother tongue was Afrikaans and the family only spoke Afrikaans until he was 5 years old, at which time they decided to switch their home language to English. Today, he understands Afrikaans but hesitates to speak even the simplest of sentences. Fortunately, Afrikaans is not that widely spoken so he is not at a great loss.

    Many English speaking families seek to keep a high level of English in their homes for the sake of their children because English is a very useful language. Personally, I want my children to have the option of using English when they grow up so that they can easily choose where they want to live without having a language barrier (in Israel, Germany or in any of the many English speaking countries, for example). The language of our home country (which is Germany at the time) is not an issue because the children are learning it in school and they will speak it everywhere but home. As I said in my earlier post, the home language is actually the one that gets lost if there is no effort put into preserving it.

    I understand your issue with foreigners not integrating into the society of the country they are in and also not learning the language. We have the same issues with the recent Russian immigrants in Israel. So many came over that the older generation doesn’t learn Hebrew and they have no interest in learning Hebrew. They have their own shops, their own neighborhoods and TV stations as well and this adds to the barrier. They have no need to learn the language or to integrate into society. Sometimes this bothers me, but I also know that many of them have passed the prime age of learning a language and it is really difficult for them. I don’t see these issues in the younger generations. The Russians who come to Israel as children, or even young adults, integrate quite well in society and they learn the language well. Even if their home language is Russian they don’t usually have a problem learning Hebrew. It would be sad if they were to lose their Russian (which they probably would if their home language was not Russian) because they couldn’t speak to the older generations or to their family that might remain in Russian.

    It may be that the issue is that these immigrants seek to leave their old country for a new country because of circumstances in old country, but they are not willing to do what it takes to become a integrated part of the new country. And then it becomes very convenient to stay stagnant when you have a group of people around you who are not forcing you to become a part of your new society. Another issue is time… Many immigrants don’t have the time to go and learn a new language. They are engaged in trying to make a decent living, raise their children and maybe even send money back to their family in their home country. I don’t know how it is here in Germany, but in Israel many new immigrants get the worst jobs, at the worst pay with ungodly hours. They are so tired at the end of the day they can’t even think about sitting down to try and learn a language. They learn just enough to get by in their jobs and that is as far as they can get with the energy they are expending just to survive.

    I have known many families in Israel who do successfully keep English in their homes, learn a high level of Hebrew (the parents) and integrate well into Israeli society. And this gives the children the gift of both languages.

  • Jennifer

    Hi Christina.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the link. We’ll check it out. Just this past week/weekend my 3 year old has been saying more words/sentences in both English and German. I guess my husband and I just need to be patient :-) Thanks again.

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  • Eric

    @sherah
    You’re right, makes sense to me. I personally also fear that my partner might live disconnected to not only germany but my family and friends, which happen to be german. To leave me pretty much as the only social contact, this was determined to subvert any partnership sooner or later. Another thing that worried me is, what are the effects when all the rather unpleasant stuff (work, authorities, banking,…) is handled in german while english predominates at home, kind words and shelter. By the time this could cause repugnance towards anything german, at least alienation.

  • http://lifeisaphoenix.blogspot.com/ Paige

    I’m an American Ex-pat, too and I find this interesting. I don’t have any kids yet and I live in England so I didn’t have to learn another language, but this fascinates me!
    .-= Paige´s last blog ..spectators =-.

  • Suzanne

    Eric,
    just out of interest, if you and your partner decide to have children and you are living in Germany, will your partner speak to them in German or their native tongue of English?

  • selinathom

    I love this blog !! so helpful my question is where would i find somewhere that will teach me to speak german ??? QUICKLY LOL!!! this internet and audio stuff is not helping me at all.

  • Eric

    @Suzanne
    Hm, I’d encourage my child to show interest for other languages (not only english). But I am half-american myself, as a child I just was not at all interested in the US or the english language, that’s just how it was – I didn’t give it much thought (as toddlers rarely do ;-), just wasn’t interested.

    Having said that I experienced it rather disturbing to have more than one herritage – so I was told by the adults, in my very personal opinion… I don’t really care about “nations” etc., in the end we’re all sons of adam and daughters of eve, right? I just see these language issues from a practical point of view, it’s a mean of communication.

    I’d like to spare my child of the additional burden of “self-discovery” (where do I belong?) since puberty without such hassle is hard enough. But on the other hand.. every child is different. I guess I would just try and see how interested and gifted my child is to handle more than one language on a daily basis. In the end it wasn’t too big of a deal for me to learn english “afterwards” in school, when I had to.

  • Suzanne

    Eric,
    Thanks for the answer but what I’m really trying to find out is whether your partner thinks they would want to not speak their native language to their child. My father didn’t speak his native language to me and I really wish he had of done so now.

  • Eric

    @Suzanne
    Oh I see, I might have missed to point out that we both have the very same view on these things. Well you know how it can be in a close relationship, I sometimes forget that we are still two different persons as minds and hearts merge. 😉

  • Kahlua

    Our children were born in the U.S. and then came with me to Germany at a young age. Not knowing the German language, yet, I spoke exclusively English to them, my husband German. After some “hesitation” (seems to be a common occurance in bilingual families) our youngest began speaking German as her mother tongue. The language of the country we lived in was the dominant influence.
    Often the children would answer me in German, knowing that I now spoke the language.
    The children grew up being bilingual. But at some point I wanted to “force” them to always answer me in English. So I tried not to speak to them if they answered in English. This backfired. They talked to me less and less and also became very nervous. The older one began to stutter and the younger one made nervous gestures with her hands. So I backed down and still spoke English but would react if they spoke to me in German.
    Now they are grown and have few “problems” with either language and it is a huge advantage for them to be native English speakers in our global world.

    Really enjoy the blog,

  • http://www.caricaturestar.com Rook

    Interesting! realy enjoy it. Thanks :)

  • pianosa

    hello! i’m a current german major who may end up living in germany some day and just wanted to say i’m greatly enjoying reading through your blog!

  • Jon

    Christina,

    Thank you for your blog – I just found it today and I’m really enjoying it so far.

    Was it difficult to find your first job in Germany, since at that time you did not speak German well yet? My wife and I would love to move to Europe, preferably a German-speaking country since we both took it in high school, but we’re nowhere near fluent so I’m wondering if we’ll have a difficult time finding jobs. I am a computer programmer and she is in pharmaceutical research.

    Question #2: As you progressed towards fluency, did you pick up the speaking and comprehension aspects of the language at the same pace? My wife is much better at comprehension than speaking, and I am the opposite. I remember on a vacation to Germany in 2001, she and I (not yet even dating at the time) had a conversation with a non-English-speaking German woman, in which:

    * I would ask a question in German
    * The woman would respond in German, which I would not understand
    * My wife would translate the woman’s response into English for me and tell me in English what to ask the woman next, since my wife was unable to ask the question in German herself.

    It was very odd, and I’m just wondering if that’s normal.
    Thanks!

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    @jon: It was really easy for me to find a job when I first came. So finding a job without speaking German just depends on if you have the qualifications they need and if there are very few German speakers who also have those qualifications.

    I definitely, still, understand better than I speak. I think from about 2 months on I understood what was going on in meetings, but it took me to about 1 year in before I felt comfortable contributing in German. I’ve heard that is common.

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