“Do you know that in Germany, they have a different word *for everything*?!”
That’s my Dad’s joke. (And I love that joke!) But it’s also not a joke. We’re here, wading in the reality of completely bilingual children. For months I thought my daughter “regressed” in her baby talk only to find that she was actually speaking German and I simply couldn’t understand her. (Mom win.)
“Achtung! Achtung!” Rowan yelled this morning as we opened the front door and she was concerned for George’s feet. “Warning! Warning!” (Watch out!) … “I love paprika!” my children declared with a “French guttural r”, not speaking of the powdered version, but of colored peppers. I’ve had my daughter look at me seriously and ask, “What English Dat?!” when wondering how we call something in English. My son proudly proclaims that “Ich spreche Deutsch and Aaanglish” (which is the German accent for English). I genuinely inform him that I’m so proud that he speaks both Deutsch and Iiiinglish. George has mostly grown out of it, but he replaced all prepositional phrases concerning himself to “bei me.” “This dinner is not spicy bei me!” To me, George, This dinner is not spicy to me. On Wednesday afternoon, George frustrated as he discovered he didn’t know how to say “Tennis fällt aus” in English. There was a terrifying minute where he realized he couldn’t communicate with his own Mama, and Google Translate to the rescue! “Tennis was cancelled!” “Yeah!” He yelled and smiled, “Tennis was cancelled!” Sigh of relief. We can communicate, again.
There’s so much cuteness in it all. And I’m really, as I said, unbelievably proud. So many other teachers and parents have commented that “George has no accent!” and has soared in his ability to speak. “Rowan understands everything!” her teachers declare. But there’s also an additional serious responsibility. Our children are soaring into the German language for 42.5 hours per week… and come home saying, “I catched the ball!” Brian and I have discussed and committed to regular instruction so that our kids can keep up with English. We laughed this week as I admitted that my pre-Germany plan for teaching my children English was to enroll them in an American, English school. Turns out that plan won’t work here! Brian is particularly good at encouraging, and honestly, our children are so accustomed to being “instructed” both at home and at school that there isn’t much sensitivity around being corrected. I’m so proud of them. And now, I sit around with my Duolingo and ask George and Rowan to help me win.
3 years ago, Brian was speaking 80% Spanish to George and we were gearing up for a year of discernment that would land us in grad school in Boston. Grad school brought a lot of change for us and Spanish fell to the side with all we were juggling. Little did we know that in 3 years time our children would be fluent in German, being something akin to a class president in the front entryway at the Kita, talking to all the parents and children as I insist, “Schuhe Aus, Bitte!” in my one-sentence-awesome-German (Shoes off, please!). I’ve slowly perfected the most important sentences like “Please excuse my terrible German” and “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”–you know, the survival ones. I have hope for the future, but I’ll say it once more–I’m so proud of my kids who were placed lovingly in the deep end of an immersion experience and actually started successfully treading water and then swimming laps (around me). Gut gemacht, mein Kinder! Ich liebe dich.