Losing a Language- How I Tried to Teach my Kids German and Failed
German was my first language. ( In fact, I sometimes joke that I could be an ESL, English as a Second Language Student, and apply for benefits.) You see, even though I was born in California, my parents are German… and had just recently arrived in the country. It’s only logical that they spoke German in the home, and I spoke German as a child.
Later, when I got old enough to play with the neighbor kids, English started to take over. Now it was German in the home, English with the other kids. By kindergarten, I was fluent enough in English, that I seldom “messed up”. I didn’t even have much of an accent.
To keep my German language skills strong, my parents sent me to German school every Saturday. I learned to decline verbs, write proper sentences and read ever more difficult German passages. We still spoke German in the home… but more and more, my parents would speak to me in German, and I would answer in English. (Less danger of having my grammar corrected that way!!)
On through High School and College, I took classes in German… but my language skills weren’t really evolving. The classes in my schools just weren’t tough enough.
Whenever I visited Germany, there would be a burst of fluency. Two days in, and I was speaking like a native… well…. like a 7th grade native who had an accent.(Two years ago I finally had a chance to tell off my cousin’s cousin for teasing me about my American accent! We are all in our 40’s now… so it was a bit of a silly thing to do… but his English has a massive German accent, and I never said a word). I could hold conversations, but would get stuck on words that had never come up in my world before. Words used in business, or politics. Words for different soccer/Fußball positions. Words for modern technology!
I could read novels (and still do) but don’t get me started on reading the newspaper in German (they really do like using all the BIGGEST words in the Duden). And I could (and still do) think in German, curse in German, and occasionally even dream in German. So, I thought it would be ok.
The Next Generation
Then I married an American and had a son. My plan… speak to him in German, and let the husband speak to him in English. It was working. I knew all the songs, could tell stories, fed him while using German words, and we looked at my old Richard Scarry Picture/Word book to identify objects in German. I could be a real Mama! But then his father would come home, and it would be a mess. My parents (his Oma and Opa) would speak to him in German, but they lived farther away, and we only saw them once every month or so. When we traveled, my family would speak to him in German….. but, everyone would slip up a bit, and give him English.
And then one day, my son told me “I don’t like that, talk like Daddy”.
And it was over.
And when my daughter was born, we barely tried. She got the lullabies, the nickname Mausi, and German Baby Talk.
We looked for a German School... but the one nearest to us had a reputation for not being great for fluency. And my kids had all those Saturday activities (the one’s that I wasn’t allowed to do…..) like soccer and scouts.
And when number three came… all that was left was the lullabies.
While I really hoped traveling to Germany would spark them, it came to nothing… you see, everyone in Germany speaks English. And all the kids their age are studying English in school, and want to practice. And for older family members who don’t speak English… I was like a UN translator, going back and forth like a maniac… exhausting.
The local High School offers Spanish, French and Cantonese. No help there.
So, I tried, but it obviously wasn’t enough, we were losing a language.
Today, I still have the habit of answering my mom in English (we are both pretty stubborn)… but I love speaking in German with my oversees family. I watch German movies (no sub-titles!!!) and an occasional You Tube video to keep the vocabulary. It’s like plugging up leaks in mind, keeping the language as fresh as I can.
And now there is hope… after 5 years of Spanish instruction, my older daughter has told me that she wants to be an exchange student…. in Germany… so she’s studying German at her university!
(edit. She spent a semester in Berlin, and loved it! Although, Berlin isn’t the best place to be immersed in German…. everyone there speaks English!)
And the other 2… well, they are coming around. I see more pride in their German culture, and they identify themselves as Germans. They love the food, love the traditions that we maintain, and they want to go “home” to Germany for visits.
So, not all is lost….. it looks like the German language still has a chance in my branch of the family.
German Schools.. Both Saturday Classes and Immersion Programs In America
You can do what my parents did, send your child to German School. Click here for the list of schools–>German Schools in America
No German Schools Near You? Here’s where you kind find German TV, Movies and Videos
There is still hope for these guys…