German in the Afternoon

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

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!!


Finding Inspiration July 9, 2012

Yesterday I was finally getting back into a German groove with Aleksander. As I searched my brain for a song to sing to him as I put him down for his nap, I was horrified to find I could hardly think of a single German song! What?! What happened to all the fabulous songs I’d added to my repertoire??? They seemed to have vanished. Uh oh. I’ve really done it now. I knew it had been too long since I’d spoken German regularly with Aleksander, but this was a big wake-up call.

I’ve also had something of a revelation about myself recently. I get so excited about new ideas and throw myself completely into them. After the initial excitement begins to fade, so does my commitment to following through with them. Examples you may have read about? How about the Multilingual Living Language Challengethemed language learning … even running the German story hour at our local library. And these are just the few that are related to language. [sigh] In an attempt to reduce self-judgment (thanks in large part to my meditation class – to which I have similar commitment issues), I’m trying not to feel guilty about my lack of dedication but rather accept where I am and even have some compassion for myself. [ahhhh] So what I realize is that this pattern does not have to be a bad thing. I love the enthusiasm I feel when a new idea strikes. And even if the intensity of it doesn’t stick, it doesn’t mean I have to give up on the idea completely (which I am liable to do if I let the guilt take over). As Aleksander says throughout the day when he doesn’t get something right: “TRY AGAIN!” I love that :) Not only is it amazing that he knows that (at least most of the time), but he reminds me of it, too! I can pick up right where I am and start again from there.

Besides, you never know where one idea is going to lead. Although I am taking a long hiatus from running the German story hour at our library, something very exciting has happened because of the work I began. Several parents showed up looking for the story hour a few weeks ago, and when they discovered there was no story hour to attend, the librarian offered to let them stay and use the reading room for the kids to play. As a result, the library is offering a weekly time for a German playdate!!! I’m so thrilled to hear of this wonderful development! Although I haven’t been able to attend it yet (I plan to this Friday), I am still keeping a small hand in it by managing an email list and sending out reminders each week.

So, back to my wake-up call. At first Aleksander was rejecting my occasional attempts to speak German with him, but as I persisted he came around. And I’m pleased to say my idea of German-only DVDs is working out pretty well. His current favorites are Bob der Baumeister (Bob the Builder) and Kleiner roter Traktor (Little Red Tractor) – both British shows that we watch in German.

And otherwise, all I can do is continue to try – and try again!


Small Steps Forward May 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 9:35 pm
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How many times have I written about my frustrations with my inability to continue speaking German with Aleksander when others are around? Well, I think I may have had a breakthrough! In large part, I have Aleksander to thank for it. Since he’s become more aware of these two languages and the schedule of speaking German before his nap and English afterward, he lets me know immediately when I slip and speak the wrong language. So my little language policeman keeps me line and makes sure I am speaking German when I’m supposed to!

My parents recently came to visit for a whole week. And I managed to speak an awful lot of German to Aleksander! As if that wasn’t great enough, because of all the repetition of words (both from me and from Aleksander), my mom was able to pick up some basic vocabulary. She’s understanding more and more and starting to say a few words, too. I’m not sure how much she’ll be able to speak though. Not for her own lack of interest, but rather Aleksander was NOT happy with his Dearie speaking German! No, no. Mama speaks German – not Daddy (despite the fact that he can), and certainly not Dearie. This simply is not right! He reacts the same way when I try to speak Dutch (not that I really can, but I do know my numbers up to 10!). No, Mama is not allowed to speak Dutch – just Daddy. I find it fascinating that he is so aware of the differences between the languages and who speaks which one.

It seems to me that Aleksander is also speaking more German. He speaks more when it’s just the two of us. It seems that when there are other English-speakers around, it interferes with his German. But when we’re alone, he’s more consistent. He does still mix English and German sometimes. So far, I still just repeat what he’s saying in German. And he’s starting to then repeat the German.

One of his favorite things these days is the stop sign. When we’re in the car, he points out every single stop sign we pass: “Noch ein Stopschild!” he calls out [another stop sign!]. I have to admit it gets a little tedious (who knew there were soooooo many stop signs around?!), but he is so excited that his enthusiasm is contagious, and I find myself echoing him :)

Things have not been going too well at our German story time lately. Aleksander simply does not like it when Mama reads aloud to the group. He is so disruptive. He keeps repeating, “nein, nein, nein” [no, no, no] and tries to close the book. I thought that maybe if someone came with us it might help. So last time my mom came along, but nothing changed. So if he won’t sit with his Dearie, I can’t imagine he’d sit with a babysitter. My mom ended up taking him out of the room for the whole session. I just haven’t been able to figure out how to be both teacher and mother at the same time. So I think our next session will be our last. I’m disappointed, of course. But if Aleksander isn’t getting any benefit from it, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps we’ll try again when he’s a little bit older….

In the meantime, Anika and I have finally found the time to start our German playdates!! After we get back from our trip to the Netherlands, we’re going to start getting the boys together weekly. I’m working on a plan to have about 20-30 minutes of structure at the beginning – a song or two, a book, an activity. It’s actually a lot like what I was preparing for the story time. And it has a lot in common with the idea of creating targeted language themes. I’m really excited about these playdates. I think it’s going to be hugely beneficial to Aleksander. And I plan to bring a notebook to write down things I learn from Anika!


Focused Language Learning at Home April 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 12:13 pm
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Bonne Mama just posted a fantastic idea on her blog (Our Non-Native Bilingual Adventure) about creating themes for focusing on language learning with her toddler and baby. I’m so excited about it, I can’t stop thinking about it! It has a lot in common with what I’m already doing with my German story time, but at home with Aleksander I could expand upon it even more. The idea is to pick a topic such as farm animals, weather, holidays, etc. and look for resources and materials to use with our children to enhance their language learning. It doesn’t have to be terribly complicated (although knowing myself, I probably will spend way too much time researching and looking for materials!) – you can just use things you already have such as books, songs, food, etc.

I have to admit I have completely let go of my ambitions to follow Multilingual Livings Language Challenge. I still check out some of the posts occasionally, but I just couldn’t commit to it. (I think I have a pretty good reason, but that will have to wait for another post….) But this idea from Bonne Mama has me so excited, I want to start working on it right away! It’s just the kind of thing I love to do, so I figure this can be my new focus for the language challenge.

I thought I’d begin here by sharing the basic ideas of themes and categories I might want to focus on. Most of the themes come from books and songs we already have at home. I’ve already been collecting them in a spreadsheet for my story time, so it’s easy enough just to expand it. I have to thank Bonne Mama for some of these ideas, too! Some of the themes easily overlap, but I think that can be a good thing for reinforcement. Also note, my spreadsheet is in German, and in that list the themes are alphabetized – doesn’t quite translate here!


  • alphabet
  • outings / travel
  • bathtime
  • on the farm
  • by day and night (I really wanted to focus on lullabies here, so I did books/songs about waking up & going to sleep)
  • jungle
  • Eric Carle
  • food
  • vehicles
  • colors
  • airplane
  • shapes
  • friends
  • at home
  • helping hands (this comes from books where the themes is helping each other)
  • insects
  • body parts
  • nature
  • playground
  • in town / in the city
  • days of the week
  • animals
  • birds
  • water
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • at the zoo
  • trains
  • Valentines’ Day
  • Easter
  • Mother’s & Father’s Day
  • Halloween
  • Martinstag (St Martin’s Day)
  • Nikolaus
  • Weihnacht
  • seasons
  • winter / snow
  • spring
  • weather


  • books
  • songs
  • fingerplays & knee bouncers
  • games, puzzles, toys
  • crafts
  • coloring pages
  • nursery rhymes
  • food, recipes
  • YouTube, DVDs, audio books
  • pictures & photos
  • field trips

I don’t exactly when I’ll get this going. I’m still collecting ideas and materials. As soon as I’m ready to go, I’ll post the first theme here, so you can follow along. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!!


Sweet Language Moments April 22, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate R @ 8:52 pm
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We just put Aleksander to bed. After a shower with Daddy (his new favorite thing instead of a bath), PER and I got him in his pajamas. Usually I read him a book and then say goodnight, and PER brushes his teeth and finishes the bedtime routine. But tonight, Aleksander wanted Daddy to read to him first.

Okay, the sight of Aleksander curled up with his Daddy is already enough to melt my heart :) But then Aleksander chose a Dutch book:Bobbi wort grote broer [Bobbi Becomes a Big Brother].

I love the Bobbi series – even though I can’t actually read it. They’re such sweet children’s books with wonderful drawings of a bear named Bobbi.

What really got me, though, was that Aleksander loves this book! I wonder how much Dutch he understands at this point? I know PER has been reading this book to him lately. And I can’t imagine a child would choose to sit through a book he can’t understand. Right? Then, I realized PER was leaving off the last word of each verse (the books is written in rhyme). And Aleksander was doing a pretty good job of filling in the missing word! Now, of course, we do this with him in English and German, but I was so surprised to hear him doing it in Dutch!! There were a few hard/long words he didn’t get. But most of the words sounded pretty close – to my ears, at least. Amazing! I sat there watching it with a big, goofy grin on my face :D

As for German, Aleksander is doing quite well. I just wish I could get him into more German-speaking situations and environments. He continues to be my little language police, letting me know that he knows it’s German time in the morning and English time after his nap. And he catches me every single time I slip into the wrong language! Sometimes he even seems annoyed when I speak English to PER during lunch!

When the two of us are alone, I notice him speaking some more German, too. He still mixes the languages a bit, though. Today he went running through the kitchen, giving his usual commentary. “Are you running?” he asked (as if I were supposed to be asking him the questions). So I translated, “Läufst du?” Then I heard him say, “Are you läufst du?”

Last week, our playgroup met at the park, so the boys could play on the slides and swings. But this time, Anika’s mom was visiting from Germany. She doesn’t really speak any English, so Aleksander heard a lot more German being spoken. The result was that he spoke a lot more German, too! Frau Kiehne was highly impressed, in fact, by the things he said – and so was I! When he first went down the slide, he went so slowly that I asked him, “Bist du eine Schnecke?” [Are you a snail?] Later on he repeated the same thing as Frau Kiehne watched him go down the slide. Then as she was about to catch Logan and said, “Ich fange dich” [I’ll catch you], Aleksander followed and asked, “Du mich auch?” [me, too?]. I didn’t hear that one myself. I actually find it rather hard to believe! It sounds somehow very advanced to me – but maybe that’s the non-native speaker in me??? Ah well – the main thing is that he was speaking a lot more German!! And it continued as we drove home and then had lunch. I’ve been after Anika to start a German playgroup, but she’s been so busy teaching. Now that the semester is over, I’m going to have to start pushing again! I think it makes such a big difference!

On the other hand, my German story hour isn’t going as well. Attendance has been low these past couple of months, and I’m not quite sure why. Also, Aleksander is getting rather unruly. He’s starting to interrupt more and sometimes does not want me even reading a book. It’s very disruptive – not to mention embarrassing. He never behaves that way at music class, but then my full attention is on him, and I’m not trying to do the teaching. I’m thinking of having a babysitter come with me to see if that helps. My mom will be here for our next session, so she’ll come with us, and we’ll see how that goes. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure what to do….

I’m hoping the third time is a charm for finding a German-speaking babysitter! I have an interview in a couple of weeks with a college student who will be home for the summer. She grew up bilingually in the US. I’m curious to know more about that, too! I just hope it works out this time. It would be great to have someone else around who speaks German with Aleksander. Great for my German, too! Even if it is only for the summer.

One final German story…. Aleksander has discovered the stop sign. We live at the end of a long street and have been taking walks to the end and back – or to the stop sign. So now he points them out every time he sees one. Let me tell you, I had no idea there were so many stop signs around! In the mornings when are driving around (and speaking German), he calls out, “Noch ein Stoppschild!” [Another stop sign!] It’s awfully sweet :)


Three Months of Language Explosion! March 4, 2012

It is hard for me to believe that Aleksander has only been talking for about 3 months now. Ever since he started building his spoken vocabulary at the beginning of December, his progress has truly exploded! He has such a big vocabulary, I couldn’t begin to count the number of words he says. He generally uses about 3 words together at a time, but I’ve heard him say full sentences, too!

Since he started talking, I’ve become even more aware of how much German we’re speaking (or should be!). For one thing, he’s like the town crier announcing what language I speak! I greet him every morning in German (since we spend the mornings until his naptime in German – or at least that’s the goal), and he announces: “German!” He’s finally started to say it in German now, too: “Deutsch!” And if I should happen to falter and lapse into English (okay, this happens on a regular basis!), he immediately lets me know it: “English!!” So I clap my hand over my mouth and then switch right back into German :) It gets tricky when a non-German speaker is around, such as his babysitter. He seems to be getting the idea that Sam speaks English. He’ll say: “Sam – English. Mama – German/Deutsch.” Since the word for English in German is very close [Englisch], I still can’t tell what language he’s saying it in!

For a while, Aleksander was really pushing for English when I would speak German with him. “English … English … English,” he’d cry. I gently explained to him (again) that this was our German time, and Mama was going to speak German (in German, of course). More and more, though, he’s really catching on. Before I know it, he’s speaking German back to me. I still don’t insist on it. I try to repeat the things he says in English back to him in German. And sometimes I’ll ask him, “Kannst Du das sagen?” [Can you say that?]. He then repeats the German word. I’ve even started playing a little bit with asking him, “Wie, bitte?” [what?] when he says something in English. He usually responds with the German word!

What still shocks the heck out of me is to hear how often he self-corrects! He’ll say something in English and then immediately say it again in German. Amazing!!! Sometimes it sounds like an actual phrase, because he says the two words so quickly. One example happened at breakfast the other day. He often comments on how big (or small ) of a bite he’s taking (probably my doing, since I told him so often that he was taking too big a bite!): “little klein,” he said.

Occasionally I hear Aleksander mixing the two languages. For example, “very groß” [big]. But generally, he manages to keep the two languages separate.

I love breakfast and lunchtime with him. It’s a great time to practice and hear him speaking German. My favorite thing is when he asks, “Mehr Milch, bitte?” [more milk please?] Yes, he usually adds the “please” now, too, without being prompted!!

We’ve started watching a new DVD in the past month or so. I ordered it from before we went to the Netherlands last December. It’s called Singen und Bewegen by Detlev Jöcker. Lots of silly songs for him and his six little friends to dance to. Aleksander LOVES it. He asks for it all the time: “tanzen?” [dance]. The funny thing is, he does not get up and dance with Detlev and the kids – not even when I do it! He sits in his little chair and drinks it all in, just watching and listening. I don’t mind so much, since he’s getting German input. And I even get to cheat a little bit, since he often asks for the DVD in the afternoon – bonus German time!! The only downside is that those darned songs get so stuck in my head, they play over and over and over as I try to go to sleep at night!

I have to admit that my favorite thing Aleksander says these days is actually in English. “That’s … so fuh—neee!” It really is so funny when he says it! :) I must get out the video camera and capture some of these adorable little language nuggets!

*  *  *

On another note, I’ve been doing some more cooking recently. Only thing is, the recipes didn’t turn out so well :( So I’ll post about them when I try them again….

The Language 180 Challenge at Multilingual Living started on March 1st. So far, they’ve asked participants to fill out two short questionnaires and post about resources on their comment page. It’s gotten me inspired, though! In fact, I finally organized and posted my own page of resources here. I also finally printed out the language guide from Alphabet Garten on Parenting auf Deutsch (you can get it for free by signing up for their newsletter). It’s filled with lots of useful phrases that a non-native speaker such as myself just doesn’t know! So now I have to start studying :)

Have I mentioned lately that my German Story Time is going really well??? Well, it is!! We usually have about 5 families each week. Some repeats, and some new families. The room in the library is quite small, so it really is just the right size. We meet every other Friday now, so I have time to plan everything. For each session, I pick a theme and then find books, songs, etc. to share with the kids. Sometimes it’s challenging, especially if I’m not very familiar with a book or song. But everyone seems to enjoy it, and they keep coming back! I’d say we have about 5 or 6 families who attend on a semi-regular basis. If you want to see what we’re reading, singing, and crafting, you can hop over to the blog: It’s been great for my learning, too. I know a lot more songs than I did a few months ago! It’s also a nice way for me to talk to other German-speakers. Not to mention a great opportunity to create a place for Aleksander to hear more German!



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