This question was just posed in an article on the site Multilingual Living. It really caught my attention. It isn’t simply a question of why am I doing this, but how do I - a non-native speaker – feel raising my child in German?
The truth is, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I suppose I’m something of a perfectionist, and I get frustrated by the mistakes I make and the vocabulary I am lacking. But it isn’t just the language I am missing. Although in the course of seven study and research trips, I’ve spent a total of almost two years in Germany, I never really felt initiated into the culture. I never stayed with a family, and I was never able to make friends with the locals. (Part of that was, of course, my own fault for not venturing beyond my American – or fellow foreign – classmates.)
Nevertheless, I developed a strong bond to Germany and certain parts of its culture. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the country and enjoyed my travels through small towns like Cochem, Rüdesheim, and Weimar as much as the bustling cities of Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt. I relish the thought of strolling along the Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone) in any of these places. I long to return to Germany in December to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) – every town has one, and any one of them would do for me! To sip a mug of piping hot Glühwein and sample the various treats…. But I digress. Despite the fact that I still can feel like a foreigner in Germany, there is also a sense of coming home I get each time I return. I wish I could put it into words. Maybe it’s like stepping back onto your college campus – it’s not the home of your childhood, but it’s a very important home where you did a lot of growing up. Once the experience of living abroad has worked its magic, you can never go back. It informs a part of who you are, and it stays with you forever.
And so, even though I am not always completely confident in my language skills or the knowledge of culture and traditions, I have always known that I would speak German with my children. How could I not? It is such a gift to give a child, for children learn languages so easily. To not have to struggle with grammar rules and the endless frustration of remember whether a noun is masculine, feminine or dative!
But I realize now it goes beyond the simple teaching of words and structures. In a way, I am indeed handing down a part of myself. Although I don’t get to speak German very often these days and haven’t been to Germany in three years, I can’t imagine German not being a part of my life. It’s part of who I am. And so it’s a part of me that I want my children to know.