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.