Many people ask me how I learned to speak German. “My mother is German”, I respond nonchalantly . First I may get a surprised look, or a “but you don’t have an accent” as a response. Sometimes I may come across the multi-national that says, “I wish my mother had kept up her Spanish/Russian/French with me…” Then comes the question of I intend to raise my daughter bilingual as well. Well I know people mean well, but since I’ve announced my pregnancy I was put under quite a bit of pressure to do this and that, and raising my child bilingual is just one of thousands of things that was suggested to me, and that I’m often asked if I’m keeping up with.
It’s not as simple as it sounds however. “My mother is German” is a short and simple answer I give, but my two much younger sisters grew up only speaking English. When I was growing up my dad was still in the United States Army and we lived a large chunk of my youth on military installations in Germany. So I was not forced to only rely on my mother for German interaction, but I had extended family, friends, television, radio, books and magazines to help keep me engaged. My sisters on the other hand were very young when my dad finished his military service and the family moved back to the U.S. permanently. I recall pretty vividly my mother’s effort to teach the younger of the two to speak German, which was met with frustration at her delayed speech and giving up and only speaking English.
I’ve watched quite a few of my friends try and fail, and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be any more successful. Still I think if you have this opportunity it is important to at least try, and inform yourself as to what learning techniques work best for your children. As far as my daughter, I only speak English to her, but her dad is German, and sometimes when he is around I catch myself speaking German. I have a hard time switching between the two languages when baby and daddy are both in my presence. I worry too that like I’ve been told, bilingual babies start talking later and at 20 months she only says a few words. And then I wonder if I’m scrambling her brains referring to the same things with two different words.
I try and do my best that’s really all I or anyone can do. (In English) I speak to her, sing songs to her, let her skype with her family in the US, she has educational videos for toddlers toddlers shelikes to watch, books and games, and I try to visit American friends that live in the area with her so she hears someone else speaking English to her. Even the church service we go to is English.
I won’t know if my efforts were in vain until probably another year, and even if she does speak English in her early years I don’t know if she will keep it up. I know the benefits of children being bilingual though and to know English specifically so I’ll just keep on trying and I’m excited about what she will have to say when she can. The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.❞