Thursday, 17 September 2009

Can I do better?

(photo credit: Strohballen/haybales by Peter Heilmann via Flickr)
This is the week where I decided that I'm a tad inconsistent when it comes to sticking to OPOL (that's one parent one language to the uninitiated amongst you, the method we are told to use for successfully fostering bilingualism in our children). Not that this is a new realisation. There are so many situations which I class as exceptions and considering that there's no way that Cubling won't know that I speak English reasonably well, she'd better be able to use German in spite of the easier route of speaking English to me.

All well until you spend a lovely evening with your friend who has a child exactly the same age, the same language combination, and the little rascal speaks fluent German. Which is not something I can say about Cubling. Competition is a great motivator. Of course of course I hasten to add that I'm not in this for a competition. Yet admittedly there was some sort of a realisation that maybe, just maybe, we could be doing better.

After all, our exceptions are becoming the rule. I'm at a disadvantage to start with, thanks to my 4 day working week. When it comes to language, Cubling is exposed to English only on 4 days of the week (minimal German exposure because hubby does most of the morning and evening activities). The weekends are usually spent with my sister in law her children, and whenever I address both toddlers, or my sister in law, or hubby, or grandparents - guess what, it's English. How often in a day do I mistakenly address Cubling in English? I truly try not to, but life is complicated and my mind runs in English. It's an effort speaking German. A pain in the Popo.

Then there's combine harvesters. Two toddlers obsessed with them (and there are a good few kicking about in Clackmannanshire) and not an hour goes by without some chat about the fabulous combine harvesters. They don't have to be combine harvesters, it's the principle that counts: I have not the foggiest idea what the German word would be. Do I bother looking it up in a dictionary? Hm, not really. So thanks for A, who did look it up. So as of today, Cubling has a new word in her vocabulary:


So, our conversation today on the one hour drive to the wee county went something like this:

Cubling: Where combine harvester is?
Me: Ich weiss nicht. Wir muessen die Augen aufhalten und den Maehdrescher finden.
Cubling: Where is Maehdrescher?
Hiding? Bushes?
Me: Nein, der vesteckt sich nicht in den Bueschen. Entweder ist er auf dem Feld oder in der Scheune.
Maehdrescher! Are you?
Mama, say Maehdrescher!
Maehdrescher, Mami, say Maehdrescher!
Maehdrescher cut grass, back Heuballen (combine harvester cuts the grass and out of the back come hay bales)
I not like Combine Harvester. Is funny.
I Angst Maehdrescher hab it.
I no want see it Maehdrescher.
Me: Okay, dann suchen wir eben keinen Maehdrescher.

Note: funny = scary (what a philosophical thought behind that equation) and Cubling is now telling me to say words in German rather than English, copying my "kannst du Maehdrescher sagen?"

We've also had our first false friend in German, proving that interferences work in both ways and that bilingual kids embrace the easier language either way. Thus, pointing to a kite, Cubling said this was a dragon, quite clearly transferring the German concept of Drachen (which denotes both kite and dragon) to English. How I delighted in this that other parents would see as a mistake. To me it showed that German is active in her thought processes even when speaking English.

One month of insisting that she speaks German to me so far has yielded some more German utterances, always second to the initial English utterance. And a very bored mummy who is rather sick of constantly saying "auf Deutsch bitte" and interrupting any natural conversation. As in, I enjoy chatting to my wee girl, but now I'm a teacher, always with secondary motives. Not a nice feeling. Yet I know that if I don't insist now, all the effort would have been in vain.

I still struggle with bedtime books, particularly because there's significant and inconsolable protest if I refuse to read the Gruffalo or Harry McLary because they're Daddy books.

What works well is singing German songs. Hampelmann, Ein Vogel wollte Hochzeit feiern and Gruen sind alle meine Kleider are the longstanding favourites. Then there's a 4 day trip to Germany ahead of us which may work wonders to the reluctant toddler speech.

Above all I'm green with envy that toddler friend is doing so much better.
Maybe competition is the best motivator after all. Whatever works. I'll be saying "Was sagst du? Auf Deutsch bitte!" a few more times then.


Metropolitan Mum said...

Hello and Guten Tag! Just came back from a week in Germany. Went straight to Hugendubel bookshop in Frankfurt and got an audio book of Bobo Siebenschlaefer (with 'A Song for Bobo', which was listened to 100 times in the car), a German songbook with CD that includes all of Cubling's favourite songs (thanks, Cubling!) and a copy of Ilse Bilse. We are all set now for the playful approach to learning German.

Maternal Tales said...

Award for you at mine x

Mwa said...

We got very bored with saying "In English please" for a while, and stumbled on a great alternative: my husband would just pretend not to understand at all. It makes it more fun for you, and it stops you being so bored. Stick with it, though - it will work in the end! (It has with us.)

smashedpea said...

Hey, I didn't know you were doing the "Deutsch bitte" thing now, too! Stick with it, it did wonders for us - though Sophie, of course, is a bit older than Cubling. Pretending I didn't understand English never worked for us - both our kids know full well that I do and whenever I pretended to not understand her English, she just laughed at me. It also would have been difficult to keep up since most of my life happens in English as well.

I read somewhere that you should start insisting they speak the minority language between 3 and 4, but I'm starting it up with Owen, who is closer in age to Cubling, now as well. His German is definitely picking up, but maybe that's more because he hears more of it from Sophie, rather than my (maybe bothersome) requests?

I'm also trying to get them to speak German with each other, but that's a whole different story....

Good luck and be patient (if you can)!



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