Raising a child bilingually is hard work. What I really mean is that it's much harder work than I'd ever have imagined when I set out on this journey in a rather naive mindset. There are those well meaning (?) half strangers who comment on how German has to be my daughters mother tongue because it's her mother's tongue. Wrong. You're so wrong.
Let's get real and analyse language exposure: Mummy speaks to Cubling in German. Mummy speaks to almost everyone else in English in the presence of Cubling. Daddy speaks English to Cubling. Mummy speaks English to Daddy. Childminder speaks English to Cubling. All her friends, granny and grampa, auntie and cousin speak English to Cubling. Yes, I do have German friends but because already most of Cubling's utterances are English (and even what passes as German to her still consists at least 60% of English words) even those German friends, who could speak German to her, often end up switching to English. Why? Because we're all living here and English is all our language of habit. Even my own dad and his partner, both hardly able to speak English, end up using English when speaking to her. It's driving me bonkers.
So, exposure to German is limited to direct communication from mummy to Cubling with very little else. We have some German language DVDs but because her TV exposure at the childminder is rather considerable, we don't tend to put them on a lot. This will change once she's at nursery in a few week's time.
The idea of letting her play with other bilingual children backfires because they just end up speaking English to each other. I don't blame them, if I can't get German adults who know about my intention to increase exposure to German to consistently speak German to her even if she answers back in English, how can I expect this of toddlers?
There are other reasons beside the lack of results why this whole endeavour is wearing me down. What bothers me most is that I find it difficult to keep up speaking German to her. My mindset is English. It's not my mother tongue, but I've always loved the language and I'm so used to speaking it at home, at work, in any context that it's an effort sticking to German. Raising a child bilingually to me is work. I feel like a teacher most times, as if family time is becoming an extension of work. Of course, parenting is "work" and whether we are trying to set a good expample with behaviour or speaking a second language, it is an effort. An effort which we know will be worth it in the end.
I keep thinking back of my time as an au-pair in Spain, where my job was to teach a 4-year old Spanish boy German. I played with him for 5 hours a day, he spoke Spanish, I repeated it in German and tried to engage him in a conversation - mostly without success. I really felt I wasn't making any progress and that he didn't listen to me. Yet at the end of the 6 months, suddenly, his German grammar improved and there was feedback from the German nursery that he'd progressed significantly. So I know that language development can be jumpy and takes, above all, a lot of patience.
And yet, had I known it would be so hard, I wonder if I'd ever embarked on this adventure. Now that it's been such an effort, there's no way I'm going to give up on it.
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