German in the Afternoon

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

A Whole Year?! November 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 7:04 am
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Has it really been a whole year since I’ve checked in here?! Yikes! So here’s what we’ve been up to….

Our year with Lisa flew by! She finished in May, and then we had a lovely woman helping out for the summer. She spoke French, though, not German :)  So we tried to work it in where we could.

In July, we traveled back to the Netherlands. This time, PER had the idea to fly in and out of Frankfurt (mostly because of the nicer airplane!) and then drive the 4 or 5 hours to the Netherlands. It worked out really well. On the ride, Kearnan was beside himself with joy every time he spotted a windmill! :)  But the best part was that Aleksander’s awareness of the culture and language was definitely perking up. By the time we were ready to leave Oma & Opa’s, he told me that we should move to the Netherlands, so he could learn Dutch!

Okay, but the very best part was that on our way home, we actually spent 3 nights in Frankfurt!! We had a hotel right near the Fußgängerzone, so we could walk everywhere. The boys were still pretty young to really appreciate it :)  But I just LOVED it! On our second day, Lisa drove up to meet us!! It was so wonderful to reconnect with her again. We all went to the zoo together (an easy 15-minute walk!) and had a fantastic time.

A week after we returned home, our new au pair, Julia, arrived from Austria. She’s been amazing, too! I think we could always have more German in the house, but it’s so helpful to have her here – on so many levels!

I’ve started leading the story hour again at our local library. I’m really getting into it this year. I’m trying to make it more than just books and songs by adding a little learning for the children. I sometimes have vocabulary words to share with them (pictures, mostly) and also a project. We had some fun with colors and Eric Carle’s Brauner Bär, Braunder Bär. Last week, we celebrated Martinstag and made lanterns. We even paraded through the whole little library!

Even more exciting for me is that I’ve started teaching a German class at Aleksander’s school!! I go in every other week for a 30-minute lesson with his pre-K/Kindergarten class. There are about 17 children, ages 3 to 6. I’m absolutely loving it! I wasn’t sure exactly how it would work. I’m so used to going in to story hour and just speaking German! So I had to change my approach and realize that I’m not there so much to teach as to expose the children to the language at this point. That being said, I was THRILLED when one of the children remembered both auf wiedersehen and tschüss from our previous lesson – even after 2 weeks!! We also worked on colors for our first lesson and then talked about Martin last week. The teachers in the classroom are extremely supportive. And another thrill for me is hearing a little voice pipe up with a beautiful German accent …. and then realizing it’s my own Aleksander :)  He really has been listening all these years! He doesn’t like to speak up when we go around the circle to repeat phrases, but with a little coaxing, he does!

This whole process has never been perfect. There are always a million more things I wish I were doing to help further my kids’ language learning. But it is still happening!


Nikolausbücher?? November 22, 2014

Filed under: Christmas — Kate R @ 10:43 am
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Help!!! I’ve got story hour coming up in less than 2 weeks and need a book or two to read about Nikolaus. I thought I had some, but I don’t. I’m having trouble finding anything online – it’s so hard to tell if it’s appropriate without actually holding a book in your hand. Any suggestions?? Even if I can’t get them for this year, at least I could have them ready for next year!

Tausend Dank!! :)


Eins… zwei… drei… November 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 10:23 pm

Kearnan started counting in English a few weeks ago. He still mixes up the numbers sometimes, and he doesn’t quite have the whole concept down, but it’s really adorable when he tries to put them all together!

Yesterday, he was sitting at the table eating a mini bag of M&M’s from Halloween (a rare treat around here). I was busy decorating the Mickey gift bags for Aleksander’s birthday party in a couple of weeks. I heard him counting them out. And then my ears perked up, and what did I hear?! “Eins… zwei… drei…” What?!? Yes!!! He was counting in German!!! It went something like this: “Eins … zwei… drei… vier… fünf… sechs… sieben… acht… neun… … fünf!!” For some reason, he thinks that 5 comes after 9. But he says it with such great enthusiasm!

Later that day, Lisa told me she had also heard Kearnan counting in German. Funny that we both noticed it on the same day. It’s such a thrill!


Surprising Progress November 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 12:30 pm
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Sometimes I still feel like I’m not doing enough. I don’t speak German enough. I don’t plan enough activities, projects, or lessons for either of the kids to do to enhance their German. And then some days I am granted the wonderful surprise that we are indeed making progress!

Since Aleksander is in school, he has had less German. Lisa (and I mostly) still speaks German with him at breakfast. Yesterday – I don’t even know what she said to him. But he replied – with NO prompting whatsoever – “Leider nicht!” [unfortunately not] I didn’t even know he knew that phrase!! Lisa and I caught each other’s eye and grinned :)  Success! Progress! He’s doing it!!!!

I don’t know what – if anything – has changed recently. But it seems to me that he is speaking more German. Still not a whole lot, but at least he is not so deeply resistant to it. There was a time not too long ago when he absolutely would NOT say a single word in German, especially when we prompted him. So what’s going on? Is it just the “normalcy” of it, since Lisa is in the house, and he hears it more often? As I said, it’s not as if he’s hearing it more – he’s actually hearing it less.

I think I mentioned in my last post that the kids have also been listening to German songs (mixed in with English) and watching a German dance video Singen und Bewegen. Not only is Aleksander singing along, we sometimes hear him singing the songs throughout the house, all on his own! Music to my ears!

Kearnan is getting more German, as he spends a good deal of time with Lisa. He understands just about everything we say to him in German. And as I said before, he is speaking German mixed with English. Yesterday, Lisa prompted him to say “Danke” [thank you] to me. And all on his own, he said, “Dankeschön” [thank you very much]!! My jaw dropped :)  Hurray! More success!!

I still don’t know just where this bilingual experiment will lead. But it’s so exciting to experience it all!


An update – request granted! October 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 10:34 am
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I recently got a request from a fellow blogger to give an update on how things are going! So here goes….

Things are going great. Life is super busy. Aleksander started school in September. It’s a pre-school / Kindergarten mixed class. The first couple days were rough, but once he settled in, he loved it :)  Whew! It’s a wonderful Montessori-based school just down the road from us. I couldn’t be happier!

School has changed how we have to do things with German, however. No more German in the mornings for Aleksander. Kearnan still gets a lot when he’s one-on-one in the mornings with Lisa. For Aleksander, I just fit it in wherever I can.

I’ve started a new learning project with Aleksander. We’re working on letters. It’s such a challenge here in the States!! Everything related to learning letters is matched up with English words. Sometimes it works: A is for apple and for Apfel. But more often, it doesn’t work: B is for butterfly, but S is for Schmetterling. So I have embarked on a massive project to collect little objects that begin with German letter. I then gather clipart for the words and make little cards to go with the objects. We play games with the objects and cards. And I make some fun worksheets to fill in the letters. So he’s learning both the sound and how to write the letter. It’s a lot of work for me, but I really love it! I just have trouble keeping up with it all :) Here’s a picture of the objects we used for the letter F:

2014-09-28 08.58.54

(Fünfeck, Fee, Fuß, Flasche, Flugzeug, Frosch, Fahrrad, Feder, Flamingo, Feuerwehrauto, Fuchs, Fisch, Farbe)

The best part is that Aleksander is really having fun with all this. We do the letter work as part of his nap/quiet-time routine. He’s learning a lot! (I’m planning on starting a sister-blog with all the materials I’m creating. But right now, I’m barely keeping up with the creation, so the sharing will have to wait a bit longer….)

Recently, the boys have also started watching Singen und Bewegen, a DVD from Detlev Jöcker. I tried to get Aleksander to watch it ages ago, but he would just sit and watch. Now the boys are dancing AND singing! Yes, singing along in German :) Hurrah!

So the long and short of it is that Aleksander understands a TON. And he is finally starting to speak some German without being prompted. It may sound like a small step, but it feels huge! He spontaneously answers ja and nein, for example. I’ll take it! And he’s asking questions about the words, too. We also listen to German stories that I download from (a monthly fee of about 10 Euro) in the car on the way to and from school. It’s great!

Kearnan’s language is amazing to me. Since Aleksander didn’t talk until he was 2, I wasn’t expecting it. But he’s been talking for months now, and at the age of 22 months, he is putting 3-word sentences together. And he repeats EVERYTHING we say :) Including German. Some words he only says in German, like blau instead of blue.

I’m leading the German story hour again at the library, too! I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did, and I’m really enjoying it.

Mostly we’re just having fun with it all and taking what we get! I’m trying to to push it too much. Lisa has been a gem! I don’t think we’d be doing half as well without her :)


One Month In … Wait till you hear! June 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 5:06 pm
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Well, here it is, the beginning of June. Lisa has been here almost a month now. When I wrote about my language plans for after her arrival, everything was so unknown! When I (rather casually) posed the question of insisting on German from Aleksander, I didn’t expect to get such a strong reaction from at least one reader :)  I really appreciate the feedback, though, because it made me really think about things. So here’s how it’s all going….

First of all, Lisa is just perfect! She is so sweet and wonderful with the boys. She is patient and open and flexible. She is also very observant: I notice her picking up on things without me having to say anything at all. I really enjoy having her here, too. We respect each other’s privacy and private time but also enjoying talking and spending some time together. I really can’t imagine anyone better!

On the language front, we took things slowly in the first few days. I had been preparing Aleksander for her arrival for months and also was letting him know that German would be making a reappearance in our home. Lisa arrived on a Friday, and so I told him that starting Monday, we’d go back to our format of German in the mornings (until naptime at 2) and English in the afternoons. I had thought that Lisa would simply speak German all the time with the boys, but that didn’t really happen. I think we spoke a mixture of the languages over the weekend. And then on that Monday, we started with German in the morning, and Lisa followed suit, switching ton English in the afternoon. At first I wasn’t sure about it. But now, it feels really good! Oh, and absolutely no insisting that Aleksander speak German from myself or Lisa :)

Aleksander resisted in the beginning  –  not at all unexpected. But we persisted ;)

Then about two-and-a-half weeks later, we had a houseful of guests. My in-laws along with PER’s aunt arrived for a 10-day visit. At the same time, my parents also visited for a week (They were sent to a hotel, as our “inn” was full up! As it was, Kearnan slept in my office, so PER’s aunt could have his room!). As usual, when we have guests, I have a hard time sticking to German. With all the extra hands, Lisa also had a lot more down-time, which made it even more challenging to be consistent with German. So we just went with the flow.

As of this past Monday, our guests were gone, and we got right back in to German. Lisa has been great about it. I still forget sometimes :)  Now – just two days later – some extraordinary things are happening!!!

Aleksander came in to Kearnan’s room this morning as I was getting him dressed and announced that he could read some stories in German! (He started asking for a German story or two in the days before.) So he sat down and started reading his German story. It wasn’t perfect. But he got very far in to it! He tried to figure out some of the words he didn’t know.  And he asked for help with the harder words he didn’t recognize. I couldn’t believe it!! He’s been reading in English for almost a year now and is astoundingly good at it. But with so little German input in the past year, I figured it would be quite a while before we could expect any significant reading in German, too. Nope. There he was, reading along. I don’t know how much he actually understands. He has the same story in English, so he knows what it’s about. Maybe that helps? I don’t know. Heck, even if he doesn’t understand any of it, I’m just so thrilled that he actually WANTS to read German!!!

I went out later in the morning, and when I got back, Lisa had even more good news for me. Up until now, Aleksander would occasionally start to say a German word, catch himself, and switch back to English. But now, he is also speaking some German to her! They were reading a German book we got from the library (I’ll talk more about that in a moment) called “Das kleine ich bin ich” by Mira Lobe, and he started repeating the “ich bin ich” and naming some of the animals in the book. Also, at lunch, when Lisa declared “Ich bin satt! [“I’m full”], he asked what “satt” means. Lisa told him, and then he too declared “Ich bin satt!


I never expected to see so much progress in such a short time, especially with the long break while we had visitors. I’m so excited!! And so proud of him :)

Oh, and Kearnan may not be speaking yet, but he is also being impressed by German. He definitely understands some of the books we read and transfers the words to other experiences. He isn’t saying whole words, but he signs and says the beginning sounds. Today, he finally said “Haaaa” for “Hase” [“bunny”] instead of “buuuuuh”! I can’t imagine what kind of an impact this year is going to have on his language development!

My German is doing pretty well, too, by the way :)  I definitely have trouble and make mistakes, but I can already feel it coming a little more readily than it had been.

Ah yes, and we also finally visited the German story hour! Remember the one I started a few years ago? Well, one of the other moms – who happens to be both German and a school teacher – took up the reigns and has really run away with it! It’s so popular, the little room is crowded every week! And she does and AMAZING job with it! It’s everything I had wanted it to be :)  We’ll go again on Friday. And then there is one more meeting before the summer break. Unfortunately, since Aleksander will be in school in the fall, he won’t be able to attend. But Kearnan can! It’s all so exciting!!

Welcome back, German!!


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.



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