Monday, August 8, 2011

Toddlers and Second Languages - Teaching the Babby German

I grew up sort of speaking German.

If pressed, I could probably have answered questions, but everyone around me had no problem with my answering in English when spoken to in German. Which is part of why I went to live in Berlin where I went to a regular German school when I was 14. I came back from that year abroad speaking more German than I speak now, even if all of my schoolmates were always speaking English when I was around because I was the perfect language practice sounding board. Eventually, though, I went back to hearing German and answering in English, and at some point my grandparents seem to have stopped speaking German around me at all.

Until we went to Germany, that is. Not all my relatives, you see, are as able to speak English as others, and anyway I wanted to speak German so I spoke as much as I could for the week we were there. And during that time, my grandparents started speaking German around me, and my mom and I started speaking German to one another and the BabbyDaddy even made an attempt to speak German, too.

Who didn't want to speak German and really did so incidentally when her spongebrain couldn't help but pick up a few words here and there? That would be the Babby.

toddlers and second languages

The Babby's beef with the whole learning a second language thing had a lot to do, I think, with the fact that I was talking and suddenly she could no longer understand me. Which, granted, I would find pretty terrifying if it happened to me. She'd yell no and say "Mama, stop speaking Germany!" whenever I spoke. And still does so now. 

Other people speaking German, even directly to her? No problem. She'd either grasp the meaning from context and tone, or make that charming face that she makes when she doesn't know what the heck you're talking about but wants you to adore her anyway. Counting in German or a little song? Not so bad - tolerable, especially if people were fawning over her as she counted or sang.

Now that we're back, I know that ideally I should be creating an immersive environment. But dang, if the Babby isn't almost entirely intolerant of my speaking German. Yet she wants the BabbyDaddy to read Lars der kleine Eisbär whenever we're in the car and even likes the cartoon. She'll say "Ich liebe Dich, mama" before going to bed, but beyond that, my speaking German just makes her angry. So now I'm all kinds of stumped and feeling guilty that I didn't start speaking German from day one. 

What should I do? Push it until she gets used to it? Or something else entirely? So far my efforts to find a German speaking family to exchange playdates/sitting with have come up empty.


  1. That's funny. M does the same thing with Spanish. Her Montessori guide speaks to her entirely in Spanish at school, but if I even try say word to her in Spanish at home she freaks out. I guess mamas are not allowed to flip the script on the babies. We have to be consistent, never changing. Maybe playing German music, tv shows will have to do for now

  2. I was going to suggest TV shows and music too - languages have always come pretty easily to me because my mom would play language tapes (she didn't start until I was 5 or 6 though, so don't feel bad!), and when I was learning Spanish and Hindi and Italian, I always watched movies. Is there a German Dora the Explorer? Or what about saying something in English and repeating it in German, so the Babby doesn't have to fret she's not understanding you.

  3. Thanks for the great suggestions, folks! We're definitely on the lookout for German cartoons that are age appropriate, and some more books in German. If I'm reading a book, she doesn't mind as much and there are pictures to reinforce the words, which is great. As a family, we may also do the Rosetta Stone program in German - to clean up grammar for me, teach more basics to the BabbyDaddy, and just for the hearing of it for the Babby. Could be fun, I hope!

  4. I think mkpheartsync had a good suggestion!

    I just stopped by from SITS to say hi; hope you find time to return the visit!

  5. Hang in there ... I'm sure she'll grow to understand. What a cool gift to give your girl. :)

    Visiting from SITS :)


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