German in the Afternoon

Speaking German with my little boy – bilinguialism one afternoon at a time

Persistence April 11, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 4:29 pm
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In a recent post, I posed the question of whether or not to ask our Au pair to insist that Aleksander respond to her in German (once she arrives in May). Although I haven’t made any decisions yet (almost impossible to do before we’ve even met Lisa in person), I said I was leaning toward it.

When I woke up the next morning, I was excited to see a comment from Sylvie (always a good feeling, right? Someone out there is reading!!). I admit that at first I was a bit taken aback. It was a critical comment. But I took a deep breath and read on with an open mind. And there were some valid points. How could I ask our Au pair to take on a task which I myself have been unable to fulfill?

I feel as though I’ve missed a window with Aleksander. His English is so good: he speaks very articulately and has a very good vocabulary (I think). So to ask him to express himself in a language he hasn’t heard much of lately (and never heard all the time from me even when I was speaking it regularly) would be like asking him to be a 2-year-old again. I’m pretty sure he would NOT enjoy that! And don’t we all know that feeling? The frustration of not being able to express yourself in your second language? Feeling like a child who can’t say anything, when you can say just about everything you want to in your native tongue?

And I know better than to push Aleksander. If he isn’t ready to do something (be it crawling, talking, or going on the potty), he will push back twice as hard. I’ve learned to let him tackle such new things in his own way, in his own time.

At the same time, I know that a little persistence can go a long way with him. I’ve already seem glimmers of it, even with his German. As I speak a little more around him, he’s saying a couple of words (even as he declares to me that he does not like German – ouch!!). As I’ve put some German text in front of him, he’s learned to read some words in German. I’ve even seen him reading/reciting (I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of both) one of the Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? books on weather (when he thinks I’m not paying attention)!!

As both a mother and a teacher, I would never push a child to do something s/he is completely unwilling to do. I would not want to put him in a situation that truly upsets him. I believe every child is different and deserves the respect to learn in his/her own way and time. So what I’m talking about here isn’t being cruel. I certainly would not want Aleksander to feel that he can’t have his needs met, because he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say something in German. I’m talking about some gentle pushing or reminding. Saying “wie, bitte?” [what?] or “Kannst du das auf Deutsch sagen?” [Can you say that in German?]. And giving some help with the words that he doesn’t yet know. My guess is that he knows more than either he or I think he does!

I think this is a topic that many of us struggle with. I got another comment on my recent post from a mother who is also wondering about “insisting” on the minority language from her son. Maybe it’s more difficult for those of us who are non-native speakers? And I know it can take herculean effort and patience to make it work. But the change can also happen quickly. I vividly remember reading the posts from another blogger a few years ago when she began such an experiment with her daughter. Within just two weeks, her daughter – who had been speaking very little German – was responding primarily in German! I went back just now to reread the posts and was inspired by what she had to say. There are five posts, beginning with “Oh, the Sweet Sound of Insistence!” It’s definitely worth a read!

The mother in the story went through a difficult time at first, feeling cruel for insisting on German from her daughter. My advice to her at the time was to change her perspective: instead of being “insistent” think of it as being “persistent.” It’s much like other things we teach our children, like having good manners or being safe. I don’t feel cruel when I am persistent about having Aleksander say please! And now that he does it so regularly, I’m glad that I took the time to teach him to be polite.

Sylvie made another good point in reference to this article for me: in the story here, OPOL has been used from the beginning. So the expectation was a lot more realistic.

So here’s where I stand now. I know it’s going to be a big adjustment for all of us to welcome our au pair into our home. We’re going to have expectations … and sometimes we’re going to need to reevaluate our expectations. We’re going to try some things that will work and some that won’t. At which point we’ll make adjustments, so that we can all be happy. That goes for language, too. I want Lisa to feel comfortable with us all. And I want the kids to warm up to her and enjoy her. I know I want Lisa to speak German with the kids (hopefully some with me, too – but I know she’ll also want to work on her English, too, and I’m invested in helping her with that.). As for Aleksander, PER and I agree we’ll take it one step at a time. Let’s see how Aleksander reacts. Let’s see how much he can say.

I think I could write on and on, but Kearnan is waking up from his nap! This is a topic that deserves attention. And I’m happy to share our experiences and what we learn along the way.


Baby Steps March 26, 2014

Now that we are expecting the arrival of our au pair in just 6 weeks (!!!), I am making an effort to speak more German with the boys. Of course, when you haven’t really been speaking any German, even a little is an increase!

Aleksander still resists it. He declares that he does not want me to speak German and won’t answer in German. Somehow, I have more luck in the car. I try to make sure the music we listen to is German, and that helps me change gears into speaking it with them. He doesn’t fight it in the car. He answers appropriately in English, so he clearly understands me. Every now and then, he even says a word or two. Somehow, we’ve always used the word Bagger [excavator] in German and never in English. So when he sees one, he calls out, “Bagger!!!” He even said, “rot Bagger” [red excavator] the other day! I was squealing with delight inside :) It’s a small step, but I just know he will catch on quickly once we have German more consistently in the house.

I’ve been wondering about whether or not to have Lisa insist that Aleksander answer her in German. I’m not sure how much he can actually say at this point. But I’m leaning toward it. I feel like it’s a case of throwing him in to the deep end, so to speak. It’ll be rough at first, but if she expects it from him right from the start, then they won’t get trapped in the bad habit of falling back into English. It might be hard on Lisa, since she will have so much going on as she settles in here. But I think it will be worth it.

Now, as for Kearnan! He is 15 months old now. How did that happen?! I don’t even know when it happened, but he is making leaps and bounds with his language. Suddenly he understands so much! And he seems so excited and proud of himself when he understands and communicates. We’ve been teaching him a few signs, and now he is really starting to use them: “more, no, shoes, fan, book” That might be all for now. He loves to try to say B-words, like bird, balloon, blue, ball. It’s hard to tell them apart sometimes :) And he just started to say “nope.”

I’ve really been trying to speak and read more to Kearnan. I only read German books when I put him to bed. He definitely understands some words. And today when I told him to turn around to get down off of the couch, he did it! Woo hoo!! I was so delighted to see that he understood without any other gestures to help!

I definitely have renewed hope for my boys learning German!!

One more tidbit of exciting news for me. I finally found a school for Aleksander. I’ve been putting it off for so long. Then someone at his gym class (he goes to The Little Gym once a week – I love it, and so does he!) told me about a school that is just 15 minutes down the road. It’s a Montessori-based school. And it is not just for preschool. It goes all the way through 8th grade. Last week, my mom & I went to visit, and we absolutely loved it! Both my parents were elementary school teachers, and I have the highest respect for their opinions on the matter. I was already sold on the school for its nurturing, individualized approach. But when my mom told me that if she had to design a school, this would be it, I couldn’t have been more certain that this was the place for Aleksander. I know I’m his mom, so of course I think he’s amazing, but he really is so very advanced for his age when it comes to things like reading, math, and other concepts. I just want a school for him that allows him to learn at his own pace and foster his love of learning while still allowing him to just be a kid and have fun. And this is the place :)


The next chapter! March 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 9:52 am

We are about to have a big change in our family that I am hoping will significantly increase our German! We have found our German au pair!! And she will arrive already on May 9th!! The process was so quick, it was almost overwhelming. But we are so happy with how it has all gone and are confident in our choice.

Her name is Lisa, and she lives near Stuttgart. We’ve skyped with her a couple of times and are now emailing regularly. In addition to being very qualified (she’s older than most German au pairs – at 22 – and has a degree in education plus experience in a nursery!), she is also willing to speak German with the boys. Hurrah!!! German is going to be heard regularly and frequently in our home!

I’m trying to work more German in now to get us back on track. Especially for Kearnan, who has had so little German exposure up til now.

Has anyone had an au pair? Any tips or suggestions? There is so much to consider! I’m working on a household handbook for her (a very interesting exercise!) complete with information about the boys, our home, some household rules, etc. I’ve been so happy with the program we are working with (Cultural Care Au Pair). They are incredibly thorough and have been so helpful in preparing us each step of the way.

I’m hoping to get back into regular blogging – both writing and reading – as we have more German exposure! Can’t wait!!


Reading and other tidbits January 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 3:17 pm
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I think I will just stop apologizing for not writing more often! And for not speaking more German with my kids! The bottom line is: I haven’t given up!!! So here’s where we are…

Aleksander is reading up a storm. My jaw hits the floor on a regular basis when I realize how much he can read. At least in English. But what about in German?

As a tiny means of sneaking in some German print, I have started making a maze for him to do every day as part of his naptime routine (no, he isn’t napping every day any more, but does have quiet time in his room). You can quickly and easily make mazes (and other puzzles) using the Puzzle Maker at Discovery Education. I insert them into a Word document and then enlarge them, so that the pathways are nice and wide for his young eyes. Then I add a few images and some text. I’m still trying to have some focus with a theme: right now we’re in the thick of winter. So, for example, today’s maze said: “Die kleine Robbe sucht ihre Mutter. Kannst du ihr helfen? [The little seal is looking for her mother. Can you help it?]” And there was a picture of a little seal at the top and a Mama seal at the bottom of the maze. At first I didn’t think this was doing much. But my eager reader is gobbling up as many words as he can. Including German! He still remembers some of the words from our German Vocabulary Advent Calendar, such as Schneemann [snowman] and Schneeflocke [snowflake]. And he’s guessing at words he doesn’t know. It’s a small step, but I’m still thrilled!

Meanwhile, Kearnan is growing leaps and bounds. He’s already 13 months! How did that happen? He’s starting to show us how much language he understands. “Kearnan, do you want to climb the stairs?” we ask. He’s off like a rocket toward those stairs! He’s signing, too. He can tell us no, more, milk, and water – some of the most important things in a toddler’s life! He understands some German, too. I try to at least get in a book a day in German. We read a book called Babys and another one called Sonnenschein. The first one is all about the things babies do. When I ask where Kearnan’s teeth are (in German), he opens his mouth for me to tap on them. The best part is, he actually asks for these books regularly. (He’s actually quite particular about the book he wants at bedtime – signing “no” until I show him the one he’s after!)

One final thing to report on: we are planning on having a German au pair! We’re thinking of having her start toward the beginning of the summer. I am a little nervous about the idea. Just having someone live with us, hoping it will be a good fit. But I am thrilled at the potential it will have for increasing our use of German at home! If anyone has any tips on how to go through the process – what to look for, what to avoid – anything at all, I’m all ears!

And now, my little one is waking up early from his nap. Isn’t that always the way?!


Countdown to Christmas & Three “Adventskalender” December 3, 2013

Filed under: Christmas,Craft — Kate R @ 9:31 pm
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I know I’m a little late with this post, but better late than never! This year, we’re counting down the days to Christmas with three different kinds of Advent calendars.

One is a family treasure. My mom made it before I was born – a real heirloom! It’s made of felt and has a tree to decorate. Each day, we take a little felt image out of one of the pockets and pin it to the tree. Aleksander can’t wait to get to the next one! (I know I have a picture somewhere…. when I find it, I’ll post it.)

The second is particularly German. I posted the idea several years ago when I was teaching at a German Saturday school. Not only does it count down the days, but each day, you can learn a new word related to Christmas! (See the instructions below.) I’m also adding another feature. Every day, Aleksander gets a little note in his mailbox (he got a toy one for his birthday a few weeks ago) that has something to do with the word. There is usually some kind of scavenger hunt involved as well. For example, the first words was “die Christbaumkugel” (Christmas ball/ornament), so I hid a little blue one for him to find with the instructions on where to look in the note. It’s one more way to add some German print into our day!

Finally, we are using an idea I read about on someone’s blog last year (wish I could remember which one!). It’s a book a day. I collected all our Christmas books – including Dutch books about Sinterklaas and German books about Nikolaus – and wrapped them in red paper. Then I put a number sticker on each one. Every day before naptime, Aleksander gets to unwrap a “new” book. Although we did add a few new books to the collection, most of them are not new. But he hasn’t seen them in so long, they seem new to him! He loves it and can’t wait to get his next “present.”

I am thinking of making a little booklet/keepsake of our Christmas this year. I’ll include the word of the day along with the little notes, the book titles we read, and any other projects we do. I’m trying to do a project each day with Aleksander – simple things like decorating the tree, making Christmas cards, and baking cookies. Most of these things I would probably do anyway!

Paper Chain German Vocab Advent Calendar:

The kids make a chain with strips of paper (6″ x 1.25″) and tear off one paper link each day. The chain hangs from the main page (cut along the dotted lines at the bottom to attach the first link). I set it up so that there are vocab words on the back of each link, and kids fill in the word that goes with the picture on the main page. To print the words, use 12×12 scrapbooking paper cut in half (to make it 6×12). Then cut the printed papers into 1.25″ strips. I’ve attached both documents you’ll need below. You can also just use colored paper without any words. I hope that all makes sense! Let me know if you have any questions!


Chain vocabulary


Little steps November 1, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 8:12 pm

I have some small successes to report! The first is that I’m writing my second post within less than two weeks!! :)

I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like at speaking German during my target time of between Kearnan’s naps. Then again, he’s been somewhat uncooperative with that since he’s had a cold and his nap schedule is off. Can’t really blame him for that!

Nevertheless, I feel we’ve made some progress in the last two weeks … even if only a small step or two. I finally have stopped pushing Aleksander to use German. At one point, I was demanding that one of the two books we read at naptime be in German. Big mistake! He pushed right back and refused, declaring, “but I don’t like German!” (break my heart!) So I backed off. I’ve been wanting to find a way to expose Aleksander to more print in German. He sees so much English, but hardly any German. I thought that maybe having it in sight might inspire us to get back into the language. I saw a recommendation for a calendar of stories called 365 mal Vorlesen: Geschichten und Gedichte für das ganze Jahr. Each calendar page has a short story or poem and an illustration. So I ordered from and when it arrived, I set it out on a shelf that Aleksander can see from his chair at the kitchen table. Success! Even when I forget to read the story, he reminds me! He prefers some stories to others, of course, and seems to like the ones that rhyme best. But it’s a fun way to add a little German to our day and also to remind us to speak German during German time!

Since we started doing that a couple of weeks ago, he has also been requesting a German book at naptime!?! I have a few from the Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Junior  series. He still likes lifting the flaps on all the pages as I read the short information. Right now, we’re reading the one on weather: Sonne, Wind und Regen. More success!

Today Aleksander wanted to do a floor puzzle of a jungle animal scene. So we did the whole thing in German. Then he named all the animals – he remembered most of them! Then, since he is so into reading these days, I asked if he wanted me to write out all the names. So we got some paper and a blue pen (his favorite color) and went to work. Then I asked if he could tell me which animal started with the letter “G” or “L” etc. Finally, it was time to put the puzzle away, so we counted all the pieces. I was so pleased with how much German he could actually still produce! He counted up to about 15 and then needed a little help. I don’t think we’d ever gone past 20, so I helped him with those, and then he said the last number – 24 – all on his own!! And Kearnan was an active observer of the whole thing :) Success, success, success!

Remember the German story time I started at our local library about two years ago? Well, I had to give it up at one point, and it turned into an informal German playgroup. But recently, one of the other moms has taken the reins and given new life to the story time! Alas, I have the boys signed up for classes on Fridays, so we can’t go regularly. I was all set to go today, but then the boys got colds, so we didn’t want to spread any more germs. So sad, since they were doing things for Martinstag and making lanterns! :( Maybe we’ll make it to the one in December for Nikolaus….

I’m hoping we can keep this momentum going!


Hey, remember me?? October 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 5:49 pm
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I don’t even want to know when my last post was! I know it’s been forever. At first, I claimed a “free ride” with the new baby. But he’s 10 months old now! (How did that happen??) I’m not sure where time is going. I hardly have time to make a grocery list, let alone do some of the things I love … like blogging!! I haven’t read anyone else’s blog in months either. :( Worst of all, I have been so inconsistent with German at home :( :( :( I’m trying to make an effort, but I’m feeling a little lost……….

Aleksander is almost 4 now. His language (in English) is amazing. He’s even starting to read (no pushing on our part – he just can’t be stopped!). So I’m really starting to feel like I’d better do something soon or else he might lose what he’s gotten in the past years. I can tell he’s forgotten plenty of words that he used to know. I don’t want him to lose out on this!

At the same time, I’m overwhelmed by my own lack of language skills. How can it be that I’m having trouble talking to a 4-year-old, when I used to talk about Goethe and Schiller in graduate courses?! Well, clearly I didn’t need the vocabulary of a mother when in grad school :) It’s a whole other world I’m in now! So I’m feeling very insecure about my ability to pass on “good” German to my kids. Am I using the right phrase? The right idiom? article? case???

But I think it’s time to just dig in my heels and DO IT.

I know that getting back into the blogging world will be a huge inspiration. It always has been in the past! I’m not sure where I’ll carve out the time to write and read, but I know I will, because I really want to. I’ve decided to pick a time again to speak German with the boys: between Kearnan’s naps, so about 12-2. It’s not much, but at least it’s something. And it includes lunchtime and a naptime for both boys.

The only major problem is that Aleksander is really resisting speaking (or even hearing) German. It breaks my heart to hear him say, “I don’t like German.” :(  I tried insisting that he choose a German book at naptime, but it became a huge battle. I know that if I try to force it, it won’t work. So I’m hoping that by speaking to Kearnan, it will help. I’d also like to try to put up some German print – maybe a calendar? (ideas welcome!) He’s so into reading new words, maybe that will help peak his interest. Not to mention that I’d like him to be able to read in German, too! I’d be grateful for some advice, though, from anyone who has encountered this problem with their kids!!

Okay, I’m not even going to proofread (gaaaaaah!) – I’m just going to post this and hope it’s the beginning of my reentry into the bilingual blogging world!!



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