When I was pregnant with Aleksander, I switched into the prenatal yoga class at my yoga studio. I still say it was one of the best things I did for myself while I was pregnant. There were just so many benefits – far beyond the physical ones. One of the best things to come out of that class was the group of women I met. We started meeting for coffee or lunch after class and as our kids were born – one by one – we moved from the coffee house to each other’s houses as our coffee group turned into a playgroup. More than two years later, we still meet every week – or at least try to! There are five of us in the group – all five babies were born within 6 months of each other – and they’re all boys!! This group of women has been a lifeline to me since I met them. Most of us don’t have family nearby, so it makes it all the more important to have each other’s support.
This is no ordinary playgroup, however. By chance, our group is amazingly international! The oldest in our group is Henry, born in July 2009. He’s the only one whose parents are both American. But his aunt recently returned from Korea, though I don’t know that she speaks any Korean with him. Next came Luca, born in September 2009. Both of his parents are from Brazil. They speak Portuguese with Luca at home, and he goes to an English-speaking preschool. He is still in the early stages of talking, but uses words in both languages. Later that same month, Aspen came along. His mother is from the US, but his father is from Australia. While that doesn’t make for bilingualism at home, it does give them opportunity for international travel! Aleksander joined the group next in November 2009. You already know about us – I’m from the US, PER is from the Netherlands, and I speak German with Aleksander at home. Finally in January 2010, Logan made our group complete. His father is from New Jersey, while his mother is from Germany. They use the OPOL method (one parent one language), and Logan speaks both English and German. In May of 2010, Aspen and his family moved to San Diego. We still keep in touch and skype when we can. But it left room for a new addition to our group. Almost a year ago, I met a family from London. They were a perfect complement – another boy, Zac, who was born in September of 2009. While not bilingual, they too are international.
It seems rather extraordinary to me that we all have these international ties! What wonderful perspectives these boys can offer each other! They already hear several different languages being spoken. And as they grow, they can hear about each other’s travels to foreign lands to visit family and friends. They can share each other’s customs and traditions and have access to whole other worlds!
I have also found plenty of encouragement and support from this group in my quest for bilingualism. Knowing that Portuguese and German are being spoken by other mothers makes it easier for me to address Aleksander in German, even if everyone else doesn’t understand.
Today our playgroup met at Logan’s house. Since we meet in the mornings, we always meet during German time. So on the 40-minute drive to his house, I played German children’s songs. I just got a couple of new CDs, and listening to the Kindermusik always helps get me in my German groove. So we arrived chattering away in German (okay, I chattered, Aleksander said a few words.) Anika – Logan’s mom – and I have a hard time staying in German. I guess it’s because we’ve just always spoken English with each other, so it takes a lot more effort to stick to German. She and I actually met long before prenatal yoga. We met almost 10 years ago in grad school and got our PhD’s in German literature together.
But I digress…. Even though Anika and I were speaking English (especially once Luca & his mom arrived), it was somehow easier today than ever before for me to continue speaking German with Aleksander. And low and behold, he responded in German! It wasn’t the first time he spoke German – he’s been doing pretty well with it lately. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak so much German! It was wonderful! I really think that being around Logan and his mom helped. It shows Aleksander that Mama is not the only one who speaks German, even though Logan is rather shy and hardly says a word while we’re there. And Aleksander hears me speaking to Logan in German, too.
When we left, I told Aleksander to say “tschüss” (bye) and then said “winke, winke” (wave, wave). Next thing I knew, he was singing the goodbye song from story hour: “winke winke, tschüss tschüss tschüss, alle gehen nach Hause” (wave wave, bye bye bye, everyone is going home). I could have fallen right down the stairs! Hurrah, hurrah!! Such a successful language day!!
Anika and I have been talking again about starting up our German playgroup. We’re having some trouble finding a time that works for us both. But after today, I’m more eager than ever to get it going! It looks like Anika & I will be the only ones able to make it to our regular playgroup, so we can give it a good trial run then. We’re planning to meet at least once a month until the semester is over (Anika is teaching at a local university, so she should have more flexibility come May). Since Aleksander doesn’t have any family in Germany, I think it’s even more important to build up our own community of German-speakers. It might not be quite the incentive of having a grandparent who doesn’t understand English, but at least it demonstrates to him that there is a bigger world beyond Mama who lives in this other language.
I was thinking it might be good to have a little bit of structured time at our Kinderklatsch. Maybe sing a couple of songs or read a book. For those of you who take your child(ren) to a bilingual playgroup, how does it work? Any tips???