German in the Afternoon

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

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🙂


6 Responses to “Baby Steps”

  1. Sylvie Says:

    Hi Kate,

    honestly it seems like a horrible idea to me to make the Au Pair fulfill a task at which you have “failed”. You are constantly falling back into English yourself but she is the one who should execute him speaking German? That is going to ruin their relationship. I’d say – relax and take it easy. If she constantly speaks German with him – he WILL reply. You can’t except him to fluently speak a language he’s hardly been exposed to! My son had 2 American Au pairs and me speaking English with him, yet still he only replied in German. I got mad at times thinking he doesn’t WANT to. He always told me ” I can’t!” When we went to the States it took him three days and he started catching up, slowly building phrases and learning how to speak fluently and now I think – he really wasn’t able to! They will, when they are ready and any kind of pressure is going to ruin it and make it seem like something they don’t want but is forced upon them. In my opinion, no one has the right to rule over another person’s choice of language. No one is telling you in which language to speak, so why do that to your son. Sorry for the clear words, you know, German directness and all🙂.

    I am hoping things will work out well. Our current Au Pair just quit after three weeks because of severe culture shock and depression after arrival. I am trying to find someone else now. I feel though like Germans take it better over there than Americans over here, who knows why.

    • Kate R Says:

      Liebe Sylvie,

      I only have a moment, but I want to thank you for your candid reply. You’ve given me a lot to think about. When I was considering this decision (which is by no means set in stone – so many things are impossible to predict before Lisa arrives!), I was thinking a lot about another blogger and her daughter. At one point, she started asking things like “wie bitte?” or gently reminding “auf Deutsch, bitte”. Her daughter didn’t like it at first, but in a very short time (a few days, I think), it started working. And she’s been speaking German ever since. At the time, the mother felt horrible for “insisting”. My advice then was to think of it more as being “persistent”. And since it all worked out so well for her, that is what I was hoping would happen here.
      But so much will also depend on Aleksander and Lisa. I certainly want them to have a good relationship, as he does with the babysitters he’s had so far. I don’t want language to get in the way. I think I’m also just so excited about having an injection of German to get us ALL – myself most definitely included – using it more.
      But like so many things, I have to keep in mind that Lisa is not coming to solve all our problems🙂 We will all need time to settle in and find our way.
      Best of luck to you in finding a new au pair! I have heard stories like yours and hope our first time will not be a problem.
      Gotta get the boys up and dressed! It’s already quite late🙂
      Liebe Grüße,
      PS – Thanks for reading!! I hope I’ll be writing more often now, too! And I look forward to catching up with what’s been going on with you!

      • Sylvie Says:

        Hi Kate,

        I know which blog you are relating too and when you talked about the idea I instantly knew where you got it from😉. However (apart from the fact that I also didn’t like that method when I read about it although it worked well) – the major difference is: she has been super consistent in speaking German. Since the day of her daughters birth I believe she has not used more than a handful of English words to speak with her. Now, since she is consistent, I believe that she can claim that consistency from her child. You, on the other hand, are going back and forth yourself and that is how you WANT to do it. So again, besides the fact that you are choosing one language over the other sometimes and therefore making it seem strange to not give your son this option, I also truly believe that he does not have the SKILLS at the moment to use it even if he wanted to. He has not had enough exposure to speak German because you haven’t used it. Reading a few books a day is not enough. He may know some words but he can’t build sentences and even if he can it uses so much of his energy that he chooses to speak English which of course comes easier.

        Again, I say – give it time and work on YOUR consistency. If you want him to speak German, SPEAK GERMAN. You! Make it a rule that YOU and the Au pair ONLY speak German to him. He will have 2 people who address him in German and that way he will learn to speak it sooner than you think.

        And let me know how it’s going. I still haven’t found someone new. Argh.



  2. Queen K Says:

    Hi Kate,
    I’ve been wondering too if I should urge my son to speak German with me, as I am a bit disappointed that he keeps answering in Dutch most of the times.
    On the other hand, he is only just 2 years old and although he only strings Dutch words together (or a Dutch and a German word (“Raupe kijken!” – when he wants to watch the very hungry little caterpillar dvd)), he also tells me the German names of objects I point out to him in a book, for example. “Eichhörnchen” is one of the words he seems to prefer in German. So maybe it is going a lot better than I think!
    I think a German au pair is a great idea to improve the boys’ German. Maybe you can compromise on the “German only”rule and have Lisa only talk German, let Aleksander answer in English if he must and ask Lisa to regularly point out to Aleksander that she is German and would like it very much if he would therefore try to speak German to her to “help” her? With a bit of luck, Aleksander will accept that. He knows that you understand him when he is talking English and he knows that you speak English, so maybe he will accept the “in German please?” better from someone with a different background. Just guessing here😉
    By the way, my son definitely prefers the much more difficult word “graafmachine” to “Bagger” – weird but troo.
    Good luck with your au pair!
    Viele Grüße aus Holland,

  3. […] a recent post, I posed the question of whether or not to ask our Au pair to insist that Aleksander respond to her […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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