Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fueling the Fire of Change

Wow, check out this crazy stunt, writing 3 days in a row.
Maybe I should send my husband to Vegas more often...

There's so much change taking place on a daily basis, it's hard for me to avoid sitting down to lay it all out for the Kaya die-hards. I know you're out there. AND...I know that one day, while I sit blissfully in the sun, floating on my favorite lake in the German Alps (Eibsee!), listening to my daughter ramble on in her Krauty-way, I will want to go back and read how it all started, read about the days full of 'sucky' moments, full of strife between me and my two year old while I 'gently' remind her that I don't understand.

Maybe if I say this enough it will serve as a gentle reminder to myself to follow my own implicit advice.

It's not as bad as I'm implying it to be, really.
In all actuality, despite the frustrating moments that we experienced today with our choppy and awkward communication, I'm seeing major 'progress', which continues to provide the fuel to make it to our next moment of success.

Here are the best of the best...

This morning, I was invited by one of my German-speaking friends to have coffee with her and a native German colleague that she recently met in the lunch room at work. Admittedly, I had my concerns about bringing Kaya into a coffee shop at 9am, especially after the challenges we had in leaving the house (typical these days whenever we're trying to get anywhere on time). But the whole experience was awesome! My friend loves Kaya, and the feeling seems mutual, so as they sat blissfully in the corner, reading books and playing in German, I got to interact in German with an adult! I think what I loved the most was that this German woman was so willing to share her feelings with me, to the point that she got teary-eyed as she was telling me about her ex-boyfriend in China. My experience of many Germans has been that it takes them a while (many months?) to open up and share their most meaningful feelings. It was SO great to experientially branch out of that stereotype. I also loved that Kaya was surrounded by German, and though she still needed a bit of reminding at times that I am only understanding German from her, I'm confident that it made a difference in how much German she was speaking. When she saw the strawberries on top of the granola, for example, she let me know that she wanted some by saying "Erdbeeren" [strawberries]! I took her face and nearly smothered it with kisses, I was so excited! Despite the progress, it can still take her 6-7 repetitions in English before she'll switch to German. The fact that she spit it out the first time...SO huge right now. My friend said, too, that with her, she was speaking a lot of German, as well.

Ja, wohl!!

Later in the afternoon, I decided to take Kaya to the library for our favorite performer, Mr. Ben. As much fun as that was (it really was! He rocks!), I had even more fun with Kaya once the show was over and we headed to the children's section. Last week, I decided that I like reading English books to Kaya that I can translate on the fly. Initially, I was being really hard-core about only reading "Mama-Buecher" [Mama books] and Dada-books. I've since backed off, however, realizing that we have such greater variety if I leave myself open to the option--and since she can't read right now anyway, I don't think it makes much difference (please feel free to chime in, anyone, if you know otherwise). So, the greatest moment during our time at the library was when I was reading one of these books to Kaya and asking her to identify some of the things on the page that she saw. In the past, as I've said, I've been asking her a lot of either/or questions (which, by the way, are getting MUCH easier for me to create in our many conversations). This is to encourage her to speak German instead of saying the English which is likely on the tip of her tongue. But this time, I thought I would see how she'd respond with a direct, open-ended "Was ist das?"[What is that?] and "Was siehst du da alles?" [What all do you see there?]. I was ecstatic (would you expect any less from me at this point!?) when she responded immediately with the German, whatever it was that she was identifying. I think my excitement ended up taking so much space in my brain that there was no room left for remembering what she actually identified. But I do recall thinking it was perhaps a fluke, that if I were to ask her again, she'd answer in English. So, I tried that, too, and she continued to answer me in German, for a number of words in the book. It was as if her brain had switched over, and she was simply operating in 'Mama-speak'.

On the way home, she seemed to be in that mode, too. She was in her car seat, and had just finished the rest of her snack in her cup. All of a sudden, I heard her saying "nehmen, nehmen, nehmen!" [take, take, take], as she was handing me her cup to take from her. This was after no encouragement from me whatsoever--we'd simply been driving down the road listening to our favorite German CD right now, 'Lisa Kann schon Viele Sachen' [Lisa can already do a Lot] (it's awesome if you're interested...a good mix of talking and singing!).

It's funny. When I take a step back and look at how excited I'm getting that she's speaking one or two words in German every once in a while, it's easy for me to go to that "what the hell?!" place, where I feel embarrassed, and this desire to explain myself. I have to remind myself that it's all about the progress, about the now...not about how it was more than a month ago when this would have been a 'silly' thing for me to get excited about because she was speaking mostly German to me, at the same level as her English. Now that she's speaking fluent English, and very little German, these milestones seem massive when I allow myself to really experience it.

The last little fuel for the fire today happened while I was at the Farmer's Market this morning, where I went so we could pick up our CSA share from the local meat farm we just joined. The guy working this morning overheard me speaking German with Kaya, and chimed in, at one point, that he was really glad to hear me teaching her with that language. His mom, he told me, tried to do the same with him, but didn't follow through because his dad is American. He doesn't have much family on his dad's side, however, and after going to Korea to visit family, he realizes that the language is a big barrier. Now, he's learning Korean in college, wishing he learned it as a kid so he could have those connections with the only extended family he has. Hearing his story was my reminder of my initial motivation for this endeavor: I've read of NO children that regret that their parents spoke to them in a 2nd or 3rd language, but of plenty of children who wished their parents had followed through in raising them with more than one language.

I need this reminder during those many moments where Kaya is SO excited to tell me that she "wants ta wead wif (you) Mama", or asks me SO sweetly if we can "snuggle wif da wight on". It's in these moments where I need this reminder that this process really will pay off, and that, in the end (and perhaps even in the process), it will be a true gift for her. At this point, the way I see it, Kaya has had no reason to go through the extra effort to produce the German. It was working just fine for her to speak to me in English and have me respond to her in German. She understood everything I would say to her, and she could use one language to communicate with both of her parents. I knew that this situation is common in many households where a minority language is spoken by one or both parents, and I knew that I was hoping to avoid it. I just thought it wouldn't really start until she was older. But after experimenting with this 'insistence' as I have been for 5 days, it's clear to me that Kaya needs a reason to learn to speak. I could wait until we are in Germany, or until one day down the road when she may be there by herself on an exchange. But I want to try this, because it seems like it could be easier and more enjoyable in the long run if we put in the extra effort now.

That's generally how life works, right?
It seems like bilingualism should be no exception to the laws of the universe...

(and to all you Dad's out there, including Kaya's and my own, Happy Father's Day! I've once again succeeded in writing into the wee hours of the morning. Please, dear spirit of the dawn, help me create energy and patience with my budding toddler...!)


  1. hi, I googled my problems with my daughter and I ended up here :)
    I'm from Finland, the dad is italian and we live in Italy. We have a son, 4, and the little miss, nearly 3. I've ALWAYS used the finnish with both, my son separated early the languages and speaks fairly good finnish, but Matilda... Finnish just a couple of words :( It has been so frustrating that just today I've decided to use the method of "not understanding" and I'm really happy to learn that for you it has worked. Thanks a lot for sharing, I'll go on with more confidence now.

    1. Hi Anna, I'm SO glad Google brought you here. How cool! I love how much smaller the internet makes our world feel. I'm wondering if you found my other posts that speak even more specifically to this topic? Here are a few of them, in case you didn't bump into those:
      Basically, this post of the first of about 4 or 5 that lays out the process, with this one as the summation of the whole process:

      Hope you come back to visit, soon! I'd love to hear the update about the little miss!!


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!