Monday, March 21, 2011

Expert Advice and Analysis

This morning, feeling a bit boosted by a few comments on my blog, I went searching for further guidance regarding my last post about Kaya's English usage and my response patterns. Strangely enough, the page that I opened to contained a chart detailing Parents' Response Strategies.

Ask and you shall receive.

My last post was so emotional...not that that's bad (or even good). It just is. But I thought I would balance it out and follow it up with a more "educational" angle, sharing with those who might be interested in what the 'experts' have to say.

First of all, I find great relief in this phrase: "Given the odds mentioned above of children becoming active and balanced bilinguals, it clearly takes some ingenuity to create a bilingual atmosphere that can compete with a global language or with the local majority languages."

I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it as competition at times. Kaya gets SO much English input, and I have to bust my butt to try to balance it out. I actually just did a layout of her weekly language exposure, and as it turns out, she gets about 28hrs during an average week, or about 36%, of primarily German. At least 26 of her 77 waking hours are spent in primarily dual exposure, where both Geoff and I are present, interacting with her in both English and German. And the remaining 25 or so hours are with limited or no German exposure whatsoever. According to some researchers, children must spend 30% or more of their time in the minority language if they are going to be able to use it, as opposed to just understand it (active vs. passive bilingualism). Other researchers say that 20% is the cut-off for becoming actively bilingual. There are so many factors at play (50% is genetics!), it makes sense that they verdict is still out. For us, too...I wonder what constitutes "interaction". There are many days when, during my "primarily German time" with Kaya, I have an English-speaking friend over, interacting with both of us in English. There are other moments, as well, where we're out in the community, and she's interacting with English-speakers. So, her German interaction time is definitely somewhere between the 36-20%, certainly closer to 20 or less in some weeks.

Clearly, the point is to offer her as much German interaction as possible. That means getting down on the floor with her to play, or having her help me in the kitchen. It can be so easy (and needed!) to just let her play independently, but I want to remember that it's the interaction that really makes the difference in regards to her acquisition.

What just hit me, in this process of analysis, is that this whole time, throughout so much of this bilingual-child-rearing process, I've been riddled with fear. It's been driving so many of my actions. And it's not the fear itself that comes as a surprise to me, for that's been pretty obvious, but instead, my tendency to push aside the information that may accompany the fear in an attempt to overcome the fear itself. For example, a few weeks ago, I wondered how much German input Kaya has been getting. More accurately, I feared that she wasn't getting enough, that I wasn't giving her enough. At the time, however, in my desire to move beyond my fear, I brushed off any information that I could take from the situation: how much input is Kaya getting? Is it enough? Can I do anything more? If so, what else can I do? In other words, I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater in my rush to be more passionate than fearful. If I can be objective, rather than judgmental, I could be a lot more productive and at peace with it all.

So, the point that I initially sat down to make is this: When a child uses the "wrong" language, there is a spectrum of parental responses that sends a clear message about what is expected. Apparently, studies show that children pick up on these messages, so it's important to know which message you are and are wanting to send. According to Elizabeth Lanza, a pyscholinguist and mother of two bilingual children, there are 5 points on the spectrum of parental responses. Starting from the end where the message is for a monolingual mode (i.e. Kaya and I speak only German with each other) and moving to the end with a tolerance for bilingual mode (Kaya and I move in and out of German and English as we speak to each other):

1. "I don't understand" (said in minority language)
2. "Did you say X" (said in minority language)
3. Repeating child's utterance (in minority language)
4. Moving on (in minority language) with no comment
5. Code-switching to follow the child to the majority language (meaning that I would switch my language, after a few words or phrases and end up speaking English with Kaya)

Finding this spectrum has been really helpful for me. It leaves me feeling validated in how I generally respond to what Kaya says. On Friday, I had myself talked into the idea that it was silly for me to "ask her" constantly, in German, what she'd just said in English. But, according to the spectrum, it sits somewhere between #2 and #3, sending the clear message that my desire is for us to interact in all German. I also appreciate the reminder to "make the request implicitly as much as possible, without interrupting the flow of the conversation" and "if you can redirect the child subtly, so much the better." I knew I didn't like telling Kaya to speak German with me...I appreciate the expert 'slap on the hand', and will avoid this tendency in the future. It does have me wondering about George Saunder's tendency, which we've come to follow as well, to tell the child, in the minority language, "that's what Mama/Dada says". That doesn't seem very implicit...

Tonight, I started to employ #2 on the spectrum: Did you say (x)?, and was impressed with the results. The three of us were in Kaya's room, getting her ready for bed, when she told me she wanted to "read a book" (it's rare that she says "Buch lesen (wesen) anymore...nearly impossible to get her to say it, even when I've reminded her explicitly). So, while we were sitting in the infamous rocker, I asked her, "Hast du 'Buch lesen' gesagt?" [Did you say "Buch lesen"? (read a book)]. She immediately responded with "Ja, Buch wesen" [Yeah, read a book], and reached over to grab a book. I was shocked. I thought I'd try it again when she asked me for her "milk" (a word she usually uses with me in German but lately has been busting out in English, too). "Hast du 'Milch' gesagt", I asked her. [Did you say 'Milch' (milk)?] Once again, she responded with a "Ja, Milch" [Yeah, milk].

So, maybe those experts know a thing or two. Maybe I'll have to keep them in mind when I feel in over my head next time (and yes, as a fellow non-nativer advised, maybe I'll reference us bloggers in more of those moments, too!).

This book that I've been referencing is definitely one of my favorites on the subject, called Raising a Bilingual Child, by Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph.D. Easy to read and very validating on many fronts. I'll add it to my book list on the right so you can access it later if you wish...

Friday, March 18, 2011

5% German?

I'm supposed to be packing right now. I told Geoff I'd be done by 4. That would give me an hour window before we are actually supposed to, that leaves me a few minutes to get a few thoughts off my mind, right?!

Today is Friday.
Since Tuesday, if I had to put a number on it, I'd swear Kaya's only been speaking 5% German with me. She'll speak in English, and depending upon my mood (which is quickly waning with each passing English word!), I'll respond in 1 of three ways.

1. Repeat back to her, in German, whatever she just said to me in English, with a question tone in my voice. For example:
Kaya: Kaya want a new diaper.
Mama: Oh, du willst eine neue Windel? [oh, you want a new diaper?]

I have to admit, I'm getting tired of this "translation game." It's one thing to create sentence after simple baby sentence in German, it's another thing to constantly translate and repeat back, esp. when I wouldn't necessarily say things the way she spits them out. It has me doubting my Germany capabilities, once again, and feeling overwhelmed and annoyed. She does end up often using the German terms soon after I mention them, so maybe it's 'working', but...I still have my doubts. Do others of you do this, or did you do this when you child was two-ish? Any input?

2. Respond to her as if she just spoke German, continuing my end of the conversation in English.

I do this pretty rarely, as I think about it now. I end up feeling that I'm "missing an opportunity" if I don't let her know what the German is for what she just said. But now, as I type this, I'm embarrassed to even admit that I do that as often as I do! It sounds so silly when I analyze it like this. In context it seems normal, but perhaps that's just because that's what I'm used to doing...

3. Tell her that with Mama she speaks German, with Dada, English.

I've been trying this approach at times during the past week, to see if it makes a difference. It has at times...she'll switch for a little bit. But I honestly think there are a number of words she doesn't know how to say in German...

It's shocking to me how quickly my mood can change about all this stuff. I mean, I really shouldn't be surprised, as much as I hate to should on myself. I've been watching myself on this bilingual roller coaster for 2 would seem that I'd be used to the ups and downs by now. I guess it's not really the undulations, so much, as it is the triggers that get me. One day of mostly English and all of a sudden, I'm doubting whether I've done enough, given her enough input, whether she'll end up being an active bilingual at all.

I end up analyzing what happened and what I need to do differently:
  • Monday night, I was gone for most of the evening. She was with English speaking Dada.
  • Tuesdday night, I was gone for ALL of the evening. Ditto.
  • Wednesday morning, I brought her to a German-speaking playgroup, eager for the exposure...then, after a few hours of grocery shopping, brought her to her English-speaking grandparents for the night.
  • Thursday, with her grandparents all day, immersed in English (she says, as if it's a crime!)
  • Friday, here we are together, alone, and I expect her to speak mostly German with me after a week of mostly English?
I gotta run. It's way past my 10 minute-window to write this post.

Naturally, as I was write this, Kaya came up to me and told me a variety of things in German: "Kaya braucht eine neue Windel" [Kaya needs a new diaper]...followed by, "Kaya gehen zum Sand" [Kaya go to the sand, in attempt to say, Kaya's going to the beach =Kaya geht zum Strand].

Maybe my fear is just impeding my ability to do the math correctly...

Either way, would love any input that any of you have.
Tricks of the trade? Confidence boosters?

Thanks, in advance!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Needing Nana

On Sunday afternoon, Geoff handed me the camera after he'd taken a picture of Kaya in her kitchen. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw, not only my daughter in the photo, but my mom, too. There she was, hair around her ears, soft, inviting eyes, sweet smile, right in my kitchen, baking bread as my daughter.

It's been just over 9 months since she's been gone, and as much as I carry a connection constantly, I miss her immensely. The past few days, especially.

That night, as I was rocking Kaya for the N'th time, I had a flashback of my childhood. I was sitting on the bottom stair of our 2nd-level stairway in our house on Del Oro Drive. I could feel the shag carpet on my barefeet. Peering around the corner, I hoped, both, that my mom would and wouldn't see me. I so eagerly wanted to go snuggle with her on the couch, and hoped she'd see me to invite me down. I was simultaneously so afraid that she'd see me and tell me she 'just couldn't do it tonight, honey', and I'd have to go back upstairs, lonely and sad.

Sitting in that rocking chair, snuggling my baby, I had this overwhelming feeling of compassion for my mom and wished that she were here to let her know how hard it must have been for her. Single mom, with anxiety and depression, doing her best to make life work. Tonight, Geoff brought me Advil, warmed a bottle for my pain, and helped me change her diaper. On those late nights when my mom just needed space, it pains me to think of her having to go through it alone.

I've known of my mom's struggle for a long time. It's not like tonight gave me any new information. But to make the connection between my child needing me, and me, needing my mom...that was definitely something. I felt trapped in my guilt, and as much as I wanted to leave, as much as I wanted to ignore her cries from on the couch, I couldn't. I fell 'pray' to her pleas to "schaukeln" [rock], and couldn't help myself from giggling when she engaged me in her games. On the one hand, I felt like I should let her learn to fall asleep on her own. On the other, I knew right well that she's plenty skilled at falling asleep independently.

How often do I get to have her snuggle in my arms, ask me to "Sing ein Lied" [sing a song], and request, so sweetly, that I keep "Schaukeln"? As you may know, as a Kaya-fan, not very often. Guilty or not, I like to milk it when I can, this snuggly-baby thing. Especially when I miss her Nana so immensely.

Right in the middle of our last rocking session, Kaya sat up in my lap and said something that had me smiling from ear to ear. Generally, Kaya will let us know exactly what she needs by saying just that: "Kaya need a ________." Before tonight, I'd never heard her use the term in German, despite my 'prodding'. But tonight, as she was providing my much-needed snuggle time, she let me know in her super-sweet-Kaya-tone that "Kaya baucht eine Decke" [Kaya needs a blanket (baucht = braucht)]. At first, I thought she was telling me that she was building something, as the term 'baut' means [builds], whereas "braucht" means [needs]. As I was questioning her, however, ("Kaya baut was?" [Kaya's building what?]), it hit me that she suddenly, for the first time ever, had a breakthrough in her needs. Or at least in her ability to express them!

This 'breakthrough' was exactly the mood-lifter that I was needing at the end of my long day full of low patience and missing my mom. Is it coincidence, or do our kids have us figured out, even at 2?

I bet my mom would know the answer...

An Interesting Mix of Pancakes

Tonight, as Geoff, Kaya and I were sitting on the floor reading books at bedtime, Kaya spouted such an interesting series of statements that I had to bust out a piece of paper right away so I could share the story later.

Which is now, of course.
Now that she's finally sleeping.

We had been reading the alphabet books that Tante Jules and Uncle Brent had given her for Christmas. We'd read the I, the W, and the C, and Kaya was eager to read the M, too. It was getting late, way past bedtime, however, so I told her that we'd be able to read one more book: either the M, or a different book from the shelf.

She gathered all the letter-books to put them back in their pouch (still meticulous at times about cleaning up her 'messes'), and headed to the shelf to peruse her collection. On her way back, German book in hand, she saw the M and said, "Das Buch auch wesen" [read this book too (wesen = lesen)]. A little negotiation never hurt anyone.

Book in hand, she heads to her little seat. I told her that it was time to read in the rocking chair but she'd have none of it: "Awinah wesen." [read alone (alleine Lesen)], she told us, emphatically, and proceeded to open the book and 'read'. Tell us what you see, we told her, in our respective languages. And so she began.
"Hund [dog]...
Some kids walkeen..."

I couldn't help but notice, as she turned the page, that there were some pancakes in the middle of the page. "Guck mal, Kaya. Pfannkuchen, wie wir heute morgen zum Fruehstueck gegessen haben."
[Look, Kaya, pancakes, like we ate this morning for breakfast.]

And then, she began with her surprising series of statements.

"Mama un Dada un Kaya Pfannkuchen gessen."
[Mom and Dad and Kaya ate pancakes. (un = und, gessen = gegessen]

"Mama..n Dada..n Kaya pancakes."

"Mama..un Dada..un Kaya Pfanncakes."

Isn't that crazy?!

If it isn't obvious, or in case you're as tired as I am after a long day of cranky toddler and whiny dogs, let me spell it out: Kaya made a statement in all German, one in mostly, if not all, English, and then created a perfect mix by splitting a word.

How cool is that?!

Maybe it's just 'cuz I'm her mom, or maybe because I'm a language dork...but I can't get over how incredibly amazing this is. Not amazing in a "she's a genius!" sort of way, but in a "wow, human language development really IS a fascinating thing," kind of way.

She's got the hang of Denglish and she's only 2.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Daddy say it in Engish"

Geoff just came out of Kaya's room, sleepy-eyed from having fallen asleep in the rocker, and said, "You're gonna love this story for your blog..."

While he was rocking Kaya tonight, telling her stories and singing her songs, she began to look around her room. At one point, she noticed the lantern that we made in for St.Martin's Day in November. She began to sing the song we sang on our lantern walk: "Laterne, Laterne..." Geoff knows the song, as well, since we sang it over and over and over again as we walked around the block with our SwapnPlay friends. He started to sing, too, wanting to join his daughter in song: "Laterne...Laterne..." She was not pleased. She quickly looked up at him and let him know, in no uncertain terms, "Daddy say it in English." Quite surprised, Geoff followed her command and switched languages, adapting the melody as best he could to, "Lannnn-tern, Lannn-tern..."

Geoff was right.
I do love the story for my blog.
It's perfect and right up my alley.

I wish I could say that I was floored, that I was as surprised as he was when her command first left her lips. For me, however, I immediately thought of a story from two weeks ago that I wrote down on paper but never shared...

As Kaya and I were sitting at the table, eating breakfast, we were talking about the candle that we tend to light when we eat. Kaya loves it, and it sits in front of her spot, so it tends to be a common topic of conversation. Here's how it went that morning as Kaya was describing it's color:

Kaya: ohronjah one [orange one]
Mama: die Orange (pronounced ohranjah) [the orange one]
Kaya: die ohranjah Kerze [the orange candle]
Mama: du kannst "die Orange" sagen, und das heisst 'the orange one' [you can say 'die Orange' and that means 'the orange one']
Kaya: Engisch [English]
Mama: ja, das ist Englisch! [yeah, that's English!]

Despite my lack of initial reaction to Geoff's story, I am floored by both of these conversations. I didn't expect her to be recognizing and pointing out the languages so soon. I've known that she's been aware of the difference for a long time, but didn't know that she'd be able to verbalize that recognition until she was a bit older. Granted, I haven't been reading much on 'what's normal', but whatever normal is, I'm still impressed. I think it's fascinating, honestly, that a 2 year old can do all that a 2 year old can do. She's only been alive for about 700 days, and she can walk and run and get dressed and use scissors and recognize and speak two languages. In past tense, even.

The human brain is really amazing.
It really is.

In regards to the past tense comment above, on Feb. 27th and 28th, she said both "gesingen" [sang] (grammatically incorrect past participle of singen (gesungen), as well as "gestern Ei gessen" [yesterday ate egg] (incorrectly formed past participle of essen (gegessen)). I'm not concerned at all that she's forming the past tense incorrectly...quite the contrary, in fact! I'm overjoyed that she's begun to form the past tense at all, both with adverbs (yesterday) and verbs (ate/sang). She's clearly showing signs of being able to follow some grammar rules by adding a 'ge' on the front of a word to form it's past participle!

German and the Clarity Fairy

Kaya came back from her grandparents' today, and once again, as I experienced three weeks ago, I felt ecstatic about how much German was leaving her mouth. In the past, after she's returned from their house for a night or two, she's full of English for at least a day or so, if not a week. Granted, when I say full, that means that, with me, she's speaking less than her previously 'normal' 55-60% German. These past few visits, however, have been much different. At least on the tail end.

We rendezvoused at the gym. As I sat in the parking lot, I scanned the road for their car, eagerly awaiting the return of my Kaya. As they pulled up, I flagged them down, and ran to Kaya's window. Her face lit up with a smile. As I opened the door to love her in person, I noticed a young guy walking past our car. He made eye contact with me, smiled wide, and looked back at Kaya. Our love was emanating into circles beyond ours.

I greeted her with my typical hello: Hallo mein kleines, ich hab' dich vermisst! [Hello my little one, I missed you!] She continued to smile and bounced excitedly in her seat.

On the way home, as I talked a lot with her Uncle Greg (in English), she didn't say much until we were driving past the train tracks: "Zugschiene" [train tracks], she said, as she often does in observation of the train yard. Once we pulled up to the house, the German started spilling forth, much to my excitement. It might sound crazy, but when she's upset and speaking German (vs. English), I have so much more patience with her. It's like this underlying high that pervades everything: My daughter is speaking German!! I can deal with anything! Whine all you want, Kleines, just keep it auf Deutsch!

Kaya was reluctant to come in the house...she was fascinated with the "wahda an dem Dreirad" [water on the tricycle] and wanted to stay on the porch to point it out to me. I, however, was hungry and eager to get her down for a nap before she grew over tired. I tried the oldest distraction trick in the book: Zeig mal deinem Onkel dein neues Puzzle! [Why don't you show your uncle your new puzzle?] It was during puzzle time that my excitement really grew.

For the first time ever, Kaya was using mostly German while putting together her puzzle:
"Das kommt da...die Sonne kommt da..." [That goes there...the sun goes here...]

In the past, she has used bits and pieces of German, usually ending her sentence with the English word, "der" (there), as in, "Sonne 'der'" [Sun there]. Today, though, she was using far more German in this 'task' than I've heard her use in the past.

I find it really interesting that I, as someone who sees her for at least 9 hours almost every day, can recognize so clearly when she's undergone a major shift. Geoff too. I would think that it would work more like it does with hair and body changes--you know, how it's hard to recognize the changes when you see someone regularly? But it feels really different with our daughter. On Sunday, Geoff and I looked at her and were both surprised at how old she suddenly looked, like she'd aged a month or two overnight. Today was similar, but instead of an overall maturity, it's more of a massive language shift. It's as if the clarity fairy visited last night and cast a clarity spell over every word that leaves of her mouth. It seems like the full-sentence-fairy might have peeked in a bit, too, but didn't stay as long as his cousin.

Do other of you parents out there notice this too? Like one day, every once in a while, you suddenly have a different kid?

Thanks for bein' here...for sharing in our joys! Would love to hear from ya!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

'Carnivalous' Inspirations

I've been meaning to write for days, for weeks really, about how Kaya was speaking 80-90% German with me, and likewise English with Geoff, for about 3 weeks (as of a few days ago)!! I was in this state of bliss, with nearly every phrase and sentence that left her was epic. I still want to write that post...but as I sit here, kid-less on a Wednesday night (thanks Gramms and Grampa!!), I have tears in my eyes from an incredibly inspiring interview I just read through the Bilingual Carnival.

If you don't know about the carnival, it is a essentially a list of posts written by bloggers from around the world, dedicated to the topic of bilingualism, multilingualism, language learning and raising bi- or multilingual children.

To find out more about it, sign up for a newsletter, read previous carnivals, or find out how you can get more involved, Letizia Quaranta of Bilingue per Gioco is the organiser and the Carnival page is here.

The post that I just read is about an American man, Douglas Hofstadter, who raised his 2 children in Italian, his non-native language. They were raised primarily in the States, with annual visits to Italy; an Italian au-pair at home for a few years; and a few years living and going to school in Italy. His kids are 19 and 22 now, and get this...and not only continue to speak only Italian with their Dad, but with EACH OTHER as well!!

I'm inspired.
Clearly inspired.

I feel a strong connection to this Douglas, not only because of our non-native language commonality, but also in regards to his thoughts about whether communication between him and his children suffered because of his decision to speak with them in his non-native language:

"No one ever seriously questioned my decision to speak Italian with my children, except for myself, every once in a while. There were certain occasions when, in speaking with my kids, I felt a little bit limited, a little bit frustrated by the “Italian cage” that I had put myself in. I simply wasn’t able to say some things in as lively, as expressive, or as colorful a way as if I had been speaking with them in English. But this was a deliberate trade-off — although the kids were doubtlessly deprived of a little color and humor in English (and also some subtleties of their Dad’s personality, since I am a very word-conscious person, and my entire personality revolves about how I use language), in return they gained access to the Italian language, the Italian culture, and a whole marvelous world of people and places."

I have often thought the exact same thing, that I'm caging myself in with my decision to speak a non-native language with Kaya, loving the interplay of language as much as I do. But he said it so well. In return, she gains so much.

I've been "leaving room" for the possibility that Kaya and I might switch to English down the road, should 'something come along' (like our waning desire...). After reading this post, however, I've changed my mind. I'm leaving no more room. I know, I know, that may sound very closed-minded, as I tout myself as the open-minded mama that I believe myself to be. But the way I see it...I am simply going to put energy, full energy, into what I want for me and our life, and if I 'leave room' in the way I've been 'leaving room', the energy isn't completely there.

I'm sure I've lost some of you. Energy schmenergy.
They probably think I should move to Sedona and grow crystals.

My point is this: I'm back to believing it's a possibility, this life-long German relationship with Kaya. I feel like I've gotten some solid reminders about how to instill a love of German (and multiculturalism), and for now, I'm gonna ride this horse and enjoy the feel of the wind in my sails!!

For more details, check out the whole interview!