Friday, November 25, 2011

From Third to First, Native to Non

I honestly can't believe that it's been 2 months plus since I last wrote. It'd be one thing if I didn't really want to write much. But when I've been giving SO much thought (and writing so many post-its!) to what I'd write if I would just make the's crazy.

Alas, though. Here I am.
Kaya is fighting something off in her little body and I've got a few minutes before heading off to tutor for bit, so I'm determined to get at least something down so I'll quit building it up as a big deal, worrying about how I can best make my re-entrance into the blogging world.

So, here's the nutshell of the latest. Kaya is still speaking German with me, and with other German-speakers (when she's not so shy that she turns her head into my leg)--and she's doing it like a Champ. Even I'm impressed, the generally hyper-critical-language-teacher-turned-mom. She creates these long, complicated sentences, formulated perfectly, verb at the end exactly when it belongs at the end. While we were in Germany, in fact, one of our friends commented on how impressed she was, as well, at Kaya's ability to speak German. YAY. YAY. All the 'sacrifice', the determination despite my strong desire to quit...I continue to get to listen to my daughter speak both English and German fluently, at nearly 3, and now only deal with my concerns and self-doubts as to whether I can keep up.

The thing that gets me the most is this: for me, German is my 3rd language. I chose to study it in college after growing so sick of Spanish that I never wanted to speak it again (thanks, Dad, for keeping me on track with Spanish, too, despite my desire to give up!). Even though I've been speaking German for about 15 years, it still lands for me as a very non-native language. What I mean by that is this: as we were in Germany for the past month (as I started this post a week ago!), I'd have these thoughts, fears almost, that I wasn't going to be able to understand what people were saying. I'd listen to my friends, intently, analyzing, and even wondering, doubting, that I'd be able to say the same phrase myself, under similar circumstances. I understood 98% of the German that I heard in Germany. I was able to express myself 85% of the time with ease and personal satisfaction as to how I'd said what I wanted to say (similar to how well I feel I can express myself in certain topics in English...). So, clearly, as experienced and fluent as I may be, there's still this ill-at-ease feeling for me in German. So, when I hear Kaya speak, when I think about her listening to me, listening to others, listening to CDs and tapes that I play for us, it's still shocking to me (and I find myself still doubting whether she does, even though I know she does!) that she understands nearly everything that is being said--and can express herself nearly as well. I wonder if time will leave me more accepting of the fact that my daughter is a native speaker of German...

Wow. What a strange concept.

In regards to her ability to communicate, like I said above, she seems to be able to say almost anything that she wants to express with little challenge. At times, she'll begin a sentence, like she did tonight, and will stop in the middle, apparently searching for the vocabulary or the best way to say what she wants to express. Tonight, we were reading before bed, and she wanted to read a book to Marvin, her newly-named Affe (thanks, Dad and Rosa for your help on that one!). I didn't make a mental note of exactly what she said, but I do remember noticing that she paused for a few moments in the middle, at which point I finished the sentence for her, whatever it was she was wanting to express.

I'd say that, overall, Kaya is speaking WAY more German now than she ever has. I notice a greater tendency on her part to speak with me, often as opposed to saying the same thing to others in English. In the past, it felt to me like she'd tend to choose the English, with both me and Geoff, using it as an easy way to express what she wanted to say. Now, however, she seems to choose German, or probably more likely, seems to choose me, as she goes through this intense mama-phase. She'll often want something from someone else, like she did this week as my family was here visiting, and she'll tell me in German: "Ich will mit Auntie Sara lesen," for example. [I want to read with Auntie Sara]. When I tell her, in German of course, to let her Auntie Sara know that she wants to read with her, her response 98% of the time is, "Du!" [You!].

In regards to her grammar, Geoff and I made an interesting observation last night as she was playing in her room before bed. She was putting undies on Marvin, the monkey, and as she was telling Geoff about the process, she said, "I'm putting them over his tail on," leaving the preposition at the end of the sentence as often happens in German. This has happened a few others times that I can remember, though it's pretty rare that she mixes the two.

In regards mixing in general, she doesn't--at least not that we can hear. Tonight, my stepmom, Rosa, noticed that she responded to me in English at one point, after we'd been conversing in German previously. "That's because she's upset, " I told her, pointing out that she was thrashing around on the ground, crying, upset that I wouldn't go upstairs to get her toy (classic tired toddler move). She consistently switches languages with me and Geoff, when she's upset and wants something to be different than it is--I get the "no!" and he gets the "nein!" From what I understand, she doesn't do this with her grandparents when she stays with them on Wednesdays, but she did start to do it a bit with my family as they were here with us from out of town for a week. I wonder if it's our house, and her learned behavior that has her trying it with my family?

There's so much more I could say, so many more theories I could wonder about, but I want to make sure this post actually gets published this year so I can get back into the swing of writing. I've missed it so.

Thanks for being here, waiting so patiently. =)
I look forward to hearing from you, and connecting with you and/or your blog, soon!


  1. That's amazing!! What great steps forward Kaya has made. I'm glad she has been able to keep up your motivations, you are doing
    A fabulous thing.

    My kids always get angry at me in English, the minority language. I think it's because they know it will hurt me. Crafty little things!

  2. Great to have you 'back' to blogging! :) I love reading about Kaya's language development and wish we could get her together with'd be great to have a playdate with someone her own age! ;) Claire also puts the verb at the end in English and sometimes says something like "I want that not." She's been forming sentences like "I will..., damit ich.../weil ich..." for a while now and I just love that it's coming so naturally for her! Now if only we can make a trip to Germany this your thumbs for us! :)

  3. Hey Tamara

    So great to have you back online.

    Wow I am really excited to hear about Kaya's progress. I really identify with you when you say :-

    "it's still shocking to me (and I find myself still doubting whether she does, even though I know she does!) that she understands nearly everything that is being said--and can express herself nearly as well. "

    It's the exact way I feel when I speak to Poppette in French and she understands.

    Of course they understand - it's all they know... it means we are doing something right... it means all the angst and all the self questionning we put ourselves through has been worth it... it means WE MUST KEEP GOING :-)

  4. Medea, thank you for your validations. As always, it's SO nice to know that you, and the rest of the blogging community is out there, riding the ups and downs of this journey together. SO much solace in that! Hearing that your kids get angry at you in English is fun, and helpful, too. I didn't figure that Kaya was alone in this tendency, though I don't remember having read much about it in the books I've read. Thanks again! Look forward to hearing from you again!

    Matt and Lauren, I, too, wish Claire and Kaya could get together for a play date! How fun that would be. I actually was entertaining the idea in my head the other night, wondering where you guys live...something tells me that you're on the East Coast, but I might be confusing you with German in the Afternoon. =) Somewhere where it snows in November!! Reading your blog is fun, too...I'm thinking you guys have a new little baby by now! I'm eager to stay posted so I can see some new photos of the new budding bilingual! Your comments help remind me of how valuable the details are--including the word formations, like weil and damit, make such a difference...reading that Claire does and has been doing that for a long time helps remind me that Kaya has been, too, but I wasn't as specific as you were about it. Thanks for that reminder! I'm glad to be 'back', too, and it feels really wonderful to have a welcoming committee! Thanks for being an important part of that for me!

    And Maman, it's SO nice to hear from you again, too. I love that you can identify with my thoughts about the's always SOOO nice to know that we're not alone in this, isn't it?!
    Today, I was on the machine at the gym when I read your comment, and I gotta tell really inspired me to work harder, to keep going, and to take on the world. Thank you SO much. And congratulations!!!!! I will write back to you soon in your email!

    Smiles to you all...Tamara

  5. Hi Tamara! I'm finally getting back into blogging, too :) Great to read your post and hear of Kaya's continued success!!
    As Bonne Maman said, I completely identify with some of the things you say. Sometimes when Aleksander is upset, I switch back to English. Silly me! He doesn't know the difference - or doesn't care. Of course, that also has a lot to do with my own comfort level in German - or lack thereof. A musician friend of mine once said that she'll spend the rest of her life learning/perfecting the last 10% of her instrument. That's exactly how I feel about German. Your percentages sound about right for me, too - I know I understand almost everything someone says to me, and I can say most of what I want to say, too. But there's always that 10-15% that I just don't know. Whether it's vocabulary or gender or prepositions (my three demons!), there will always be more to learn. But isn't it amazing that our little ones will be native speakers?!! It's a concept I almost can't imagine :)
    Welcome back! I look forward to reading more....

  6. Hi Kate,
    SO great to have you back in your blogging britches, too! YAY to our little community, here! I love hearing that you can relate to all those experiences, and feel so validated in hearing about your non-native experience, too. ANd yes, it really really IS amazing that our little ones ARE and WILL BE native speakers!!! So truly cool.
    Thanks for the welcome, and I, too, look forward to keeping in touch and abreast!


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