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Have you considered abandoning German because of a bully?

A warning before you start reading: This is a rant. I’m mad. I hope you won’t be offended by what I have to say here. It’s important and I think it needs to be said. Maybe it will help someone else avoid falling into the same trap.

Photo credit: Nicholasro

Are you your own worst critic?
We parents can be so hard on ourselves. Have you found yourself not at the level you had hoped for when beginning your bilingual journey with your family? Did you envision cozy scenes with the children chatting away in German or devouring German book after book, admiring relatives looking on and nodding their admiration at your bilingual prodigies?

I had this vision.
My family’s use of German unfortunately does not look like this fairy tale vision.  We have lost ground these past 12 months, and I began to feel very sorry for myself at our “failure” to become a true bilingual family.  I heard myself thinking things like “my kids don’t understand any German” (so not true), “it’s a pointless to keep at this” (also not true) and “it’s the same thing with each kid – we start out great and then little by little, the German fades away.” I was beginning to think it was a lost cause and I should just give up on having kids who grow up sharing my and my husband’s love of German.

I had fallen into the trap of being my own personal bully.

I was beating myself up, being incredibly hard on myself and us without any consideration for our circumstances or the successes we did have. For goodness sake, the situation wasn’t nearly as bad as you would have believed had you listened to me on one of my unhappy days. I was exaggerating the bad and ignoring the good.

Luckily I recognized this. Once I saw it for what it was, I was able to take action.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my own inner bully and how I’m fighting back:

1. Bullies need to be put in their place.

Those negative thoughts weren’t doing me or my family any good. They certainly weren’t getting me any closer to my goals for bilingualism. Once I realized this, I was able to refute those negative statements with the truth about our German. Yes, we weren’t speaking as much German as I wanted. I needed to make a plan to get us back on track. Self-pity wasn’t getting me any closer to my goals; planning would stop the backslide and get us moving forward again.

Sure, we did great when each kid was a baby – it’s easy to talk to a baby in German (at least it’s easy for me).  My challenge is when they approach the age of 3. I needed to acknowledge the challenges and look for strategies to help.

2. Bullies back down when confronted…
… even when the bully is you. Tell your inner bully that you won’t be pushed around. If you’re not where you want to be, start setting goals and working on a plan. Even one small change a day can add up over time. Especially if you have a plan, you can start making progress. Once you build up momentum, you’ll feel so much better about the whole issue. Your personal bully will be silenced.

3. Bullies are afraid of a crowd.
If you have some friends by your side, your inner bully won’t taunt you with lies. That’s why it’s so important to have a good support network, either through friends and family, or through an online support group like our Bilingual Parenting Forum.

Bullies like to hit you when you’re down.
Your inner bully knows when you’re most vulnerable. That’s why I was succumbing to negative thoughts about our German when other things were tough. Whether it was a bad school day with the kids or illness in the family, those were the days when I felt the worst about our prospects for German. And those were the days I should have known to ignore the negativity about German. A bad day is not the time to make big decisions. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good night’s sleep to put everything in a different light.

Instead of letting the bully drag you down, just tell him (yourself) you’re not going to listen and you’ll consider the problem in the morning. Maybe by then it won’t even be a problem! How many times have I despaired over something in the evening only to have a totally different perspective in the morning!

Can you ever get the bully to leave town for good?
I’m not sure if you can completely banish him; he’ll always be looking for opportunities to throw a punch. But since bullies are cowards, it’s not hard to fight back. A good dose of perspective, a plan and good support will ensure you don’t succumb to his influence.

I’ve spent some time battling my own inner bully by making new plans for German in our family.

We’re already reaping the results! It’s exciting to see changes taking place. I know it won’t always be easy but at least we now agree about what we want and we have a plan for how we’ll get there. It’s a whole lot better than letting that bully call the shots. I’m done with him. He has no control over me any more.

Do you have a plan for your family’s German immersion efforts?

If you need some instruction or inspiration, we invite you to look to our free e-book Creating your German Immersion System: Planning for Bilingual Success. There’s support waiting for you in our Bilingual Parenting Forum. I’ll be there. I’ll hope you’ll join me.


4 comments to Have you considered abandoning German because of a bully?

  • Sarah Mueller

    Hi Rachel,

    Right – you’re not alone! I think everyone has these fears, whether you’re a native speaker, or you’re not – it’s way too easy to beat yourself up about it.

    The solution is to acknowledge the problem and then negate it. Make a plan. Once you’ve defined your expectations, you won’t feel bad about not achieving things that aren’t reasonable for you. Do take a look at the e-book linked to in the post. I think you’ll find it helpful.

    Good luck!

  • Rachel

    This came at exactly the right time for me. I was around native speakers all morning and realized that no matter how well I speak, I will never have the culture. I cannot pass on what I don’t have.
    It is frustrating. I’m not sure what to do about it. But at least I know others beat themselves up about these issues.

  • Sarah Mueller

    Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for the note! I’ve just subscribed to your blog – looks like good stuff, right up my alley!


  • Thanks for this. It’s always helpful to read others’ inner process. I’ve been there, too, and started a blog to help me (above). I’m looking forward to connecting with others in the forum–that’s always helpful!

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