Note: this is the transcript of the audio interview located here. Viel Spass beim Lesen!
Sarah: Can you tell me, how old is your daughter?
Chrissy: Sabine is four, well, she turns four this Sunday.
Sarah: And you’re homeschooling her in German, is that right?
Chrissy: I’m trying to, a little bit.
Sarah: That is very cool. And how do you speak German with Sabine?
Chrissy: Well, I’m the only one who speaks German in the household, other than Sabine of course, and so mainly I just try to slip it in as much as I can. I really feel like we’re getting a lot of success right now, she’s starting to understand more than she can speak. So she’ll answer me in English and a lot of times she’ll repeat back to me what I say.
Sarah: So she’ll translate what you said in German into English?
Sarah: To show that she understood you?
Chrissy: Yes, and then it’s interesting to watch, when she does understand what I’m saying but doesn’t know how to say it in German, and so she just kind of goes along with what I’m saying; it’s very cool.
Sarah: That is exciting! How long have you been speaking German with her then? That she’s come to this level?
Chrissy: I’ve only been speaking German with her since this summer, unfortunately. I’d always meant to start at birth and things kind of got lost along the way. So just since this summer, since June, I think.
Sarah: That’s a lot of progress then.
Chrissy: Yes, she’s just like a little sponge; she’s picking everything up.
Chrissy: And she’s learned with sounds – she listens to CDs in her room and really picks up the songs and she comes out singing them. That definitely helps a lot.
Sarah: What does she like to listen to?
Chrissy: She has a whole collection of CDs I’ve burned for her. She has some German CDs and some English, just music, kids’ songs, Mother Goose, and she just sits in there on her bed and just listens to them and then comes out and sings them. She’s got the tune and the words and everything. It’s really incredible.
Sarah: That’s so neat.
Sarah: She’s very musical then.
Chrissy: Yes, very much so.
Sarah: Oh, that’s neat. Well, why did you want her to speak German? How did that come about that you started speaking German with her?
Chrissy: Well, the way I came about speaking German to her was that I studied German in high school and then in college, and it was always something I wanted my family, my kids to learn. Like I said, that kind of got lost over a period of time, and then I kind of remembered this summer. (laughs)
Chrissy: And the reason initially that I wanted to learn German was because my aunt teaches German in a Waldorf school and I had a real connection with her and so I felt that connection. I didn’t feel a connection with any other language. But as time has gone by I think I’ve really realized that it’s to have something different, a little different culture in our lives. I feel like – well, on my dad’s side, we’re Dutch, and it’s only been four or five generations that we’re here in America and we don’t have any of that culture left. Dutch isn’t really an option to learn, so German is kind of the next best thing and it’s very exciting and a lot of fun and you know, like I said, my aunt speaks it so we do have a little bit of other people around us speaking it.
Sarah: So she can speak German with your aunt, then, at least a little bit, and your aunt can speak to her in German.
Sarah: That’s good, then, so you’re not the only one, the only source of German.
Chrissy: Yes, which is kind of a hard spot for me, because I’m afraid I’m going to say things wrong or I’m going to mispronounce something.
Sarah: So it’s good to have that backup.
Chrissy: Yes, yes. Unfortunately, if I was to choose Dutch, we don’t have anything for that. No classes or other people around or anything like that. So German’s a way to get in touch with our history and heritage. And I am German on my mom’s side, so that’s really important to me.
Sarah: And how’s it working out with the rest of your family? Do you speak German when they’re around, or do you switch back to English then?
Chrissy: It’s more English when other people are around, but I’m really working on speaking German to her even then. A lot of it isn’t about if there’s other people around, it’s about what I know she understands and what I’m working on her understanding. So if we’re out, and I haven’t taught her anything about grocery shopping, then I’m not speaking in German with her about grocery shopping with other people around. But if she knows it, then I’m saying it to her in German.
Sarah: I see.
Chrissy: Yes, very much so. As much as possible.
Chrissy: And I’ve forgotten a lot. That’s been an interesting experience for me too; it’s been ten years since I was in college and so I have forgotten a lot. So it’s interesting to have it coming back and then being able to remember things just to be able to teach her.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s a big adjustment if you haven’t spoken it yourself to get back into that.
Chrissy: Yes, it really is.
Sarah: What has your biggest challenge been so far in starting up German with her?
Chrissy: Well, I think the biggest challenge…actually, I think there’s two. One is that I haven’t spoken it for so long, so getting back into it. And the other one is her age. Or her developmental stage or something. She doesn’t just accept it when I speak German, if she doesn’t know what it means she says, “What does that mean?” And I think that that hinders her learning sometimes, but maybe it doesn’t because she is picking it up really fast. But that is a challenge for me that every time I say something I have to say it in English as well. And I feel like if I started when she was a baby, and I’m just saying things, she’d already have the vocabulary, she’d already have the nouns that she needs. And I would just have to add in the verbs and the other words that come along with that.
Sarah: So you think that she’s not really learning like she would if she was a baby, she’s kind of past that.
Chrissy: Yes, like if she were a baby then I would say – I would call all her toys, I would just say it in German and I wouldn’t say it in English at all. So she would just know those in German as she gets older. Whereas now, she knows them in English and so now she’s having to translate those in her head, so sometimes if she doesn’t know – she wants to know, and that’s good, it’s just a challenge, definitely.
Sarah: Right, you just find yourself explaining things more, instead of just doing it by immersion, I guess.
Chrissy: Yes, and then with the explaining, if I don’t know how to explain it in German, then that’s kind of difficult also.
Sarah: Yes, right, I imagine you have to have a lot of patience to keep going back and you can’t just have a conversation, you have to stop and clarify things.
Chrissy: Yes. And then, having learned it in high school and in college, I wasn’t learning names of toys or the things kids need to know, or even how to say “tummy” or “yummy” – I just know how to say “That tastes good” or “stomach”, you know. I just don’t know the little kid words.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s hard to pick those up, especially… The terms of endearment, stuff like that.
Chrissy: Yes, absolutely.
Sarah: Well, what are you hoping? Where do you see this leading, in terms of going forward? What are some of the goals you have for her in speaking German?
Chrissy: I think my biggest goal is just as a family goal that my family will be speaking German at home the majority of the time. I don’t have a timeline on that. In a few, I don’t know, five years or so, we’re going to have another kid, and I think that will help, because I will start from birth with that one. So I think that will build it up in the family all together. And then, as a long-term goal, I want all of our future children and Sabine to be more secure and valuable in the international world. You know, she doesn’t have to choose a job that speaks German, but she will be more confident with other languages and honestly, just learning a language this young, she could go pick up however many more and have any type of job that requires bilingualism.
Sarah: Now that she has two, then a third is easier to add into the mix.
Chrissy: Absolutely, and that’s a major accomplishment, I think. To go into it just having that ability to learn languages, regardless of what the language is.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds like you have a great start.
Chrissy: I hope so.
Sarah: Especially if you’ve only be doing this since June and she’s understanding you, that’s huge.
Chrissy: She knows most of her colors, the ones especially that sound like English. I don’t think she knows yellow, because that doesn’t really translate to English, but you know, “rot” and “braun”, those ones are so similar that I think they’re easy to pick up. And she knows her numbers one through six and she wants to know the other ones. That’s the best thing, I think, is that she wants to know more, how to say it in German.
Sarah: Kind of a game for you guys. That is awesome! Well, does she have a favorite German book, or CD that she really likes?
Chrissy: Well, I’ve gotten a bunch from the library, a bunch of CDs, and burned them, but they don’t come with books. The one that she loves, it’s called “Alle singen mit” and it is incredible – she’s really picking up on them, and she knows most of the words to them or as much as she can understand. Because when they’re singing really fast it’s kind of hard to pick up the words. But she can sing them with me and it’s really fun. So that one’s been definitely her favorite.
Sarah: Sounds like a good one, I’ll have to look for that.
Chrissy: Yes, it’s really great. And then, when I first started teaching her German, I found an American living in Germany, on this message board that I go to, and we do swaps and trades and so I put out an ISO for someone to get me some German children’s books and that’s how I initially got started and she sent me Where the Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and then a bunch of things that weren’t American first, like the little mole who wanted to know who was in his bed. Like that one and a whole bunch of other ones and so we have a pretty good library that we started and of course, looking at your website. Oh, and actually, we found some at secondhand stores too. So we’re really building a library of children’s books, and that makes it easier. Because then I can read at her speed.
Sarah: Right, then she doesn’t have to listen to the CDs and have to try and catch up with that.
Chrissy: Right, yeah. But some of those CDs are really fun, some that I’ve gotten are not just kid’s songs with high-pitched children singing, there are some that are really entertaining for me too. That’s really fun because we like to listen to them in the car, too.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s a good place to just have them handy.
Sarah: So that you always turn them on when you’re going somewhere. We like to do that too. Well, do you have any other comments that you’d like to add in to the interview?
Chrissy: I don’t know, just that if anyone’s thinking about trying to teach their kids German it’s really great. I definitely have seen over the past few months how it’s changed just our outlook on how we are as a family. And especially getting my husband involved, too. He was never against teaching another language but not really supportive of it, and now, he’s just really changed his attitude about it. It’s pretty incredible.
Sarah: Wow, it sounds like quite an adventure that you guys have embarked on!
Chrissy: It’s a lot of fun, and for us, I really want to make it about being our life, not just “this is where we sit down and learn German” and then we speak German a couple of times a day, I really want to build it into where we’re speaking it all day long, about everything. It’s slower going for my husband because he’s working and then he doesn’t have a background in languages really, so it is harder for him. But he’s willing to learn, so that makes it worth it.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. So he’s learning German as well?
Chrissy: I’m trying. He’s actually started to do grad school while he’s working so he doesn’t have as much time, but when I’m speaking, he’s learning those words too. And he’s learning a little bit slower than Sabine because he’s just not around us because he’s at work.
Sarah: Good for him.
Chrissy: Yeah, it’s really – well, him not being supportive is kind of the reason I kind of forgot over time, to continue with that or to start when she was a baby. So now this turnaround is actually incredible.
Sarah: It sounds like it’s working out well. You had mentioned to me that you were starting to build a picture dictionary with items and pictures and words and things. How’s that going?
Chrissy: Yes, it’s going really well. I’m really excited about it. So if I were doing it in English, we would look at magazines and I would pick out pictures and cut them out and paste them in there. That start with each letter. But she doesn’t have that vocabulary to start with. So I made a whole bunch of cards with three or four for each letter and then we look the cards and I lay out a few letters worth, and we say the words together and then she gets to paste them in there. So it’s an activity that’s not just a workbook sort of thing but we’re pasting them in there and then we’re saying the words and looking for those things around the house and adding to that vocabulary. It’s been a lot of fun except for C and X because there aren’t native words in German for those letters. But other than that…(laughs) it’s a lot of fun.
Sarah: Yeah, that sounds like fun. I think that would be a good project for a kid who’s in to doing cutting and pasting and that kind of thing.
Chrissy: Yeah, for a four-year-old, she’s a little young for worksheets and writing too much. For the most part, it’s just looking over those things and pasting it in and then using that vocabulary later on in the household.
Sarah: We’ll have to blog about that. That sounds like an excellent project for people to do together. Easy, it doesn’t have to be too fancy.
Chrissy: And honestly, you know, I made these cards, but you could just pick the pictures out of magazines and such and just write the words on there, too.
Sarah: I like that idea. All right, well, I just really appreciate your time today,
Chrissy: This has been a great interview and I know everyone’s going to be interested in hearing your particular take. Every family is a little bit different.
Chrissy: I really enjoy reading the interviews too because everyone is a little bit different and I love the stories.
Sarah: There’s so much to learn from each person and how they’re doing it. It’s very motivating for me to talk to you and to talk to the others and hear how things are going. Well, again, thanks for your time and we’ll have this up on the website pretty soon!
Chrissy: All right, thank you! This has been great!