bilingual parenting: halina {english and german}

Name: Halina R. Soerensen

Number of children and ages: two children: Lenja (3) and Finn (1)

The languages your family uses: English and German

What motivated you to raise your child(ren) bilingually:

I am German and my partner is Irish. When I got pregnant during our travels through New Zealand we decided to settle down in Ireland for the next few years. But I always knew that I wanted my children to also learn my mother tongue and to know the culture, songs and stories that I grew up with myself. So raising our children bilingually was just a natural progression.

How does the bilingualism work in your family?

We follow the “one person, one language” approach and we both speak our mother tongue to our children (my partner speaks English and I speak German). There is moments, however, when I speak English to them, e.g. when there are only English speaking children or adults around and I don’t want to exclude them from our conversation. My three year old daughter knew from a very early age which language to use with whom. Sometimes she would use one particular word in the other language though if she didn’t know the translation. My 16 month old son recently started talking in a funny Denglish-Mix which my daughter never did. He says “Thanke” (Thank you/Danke) or “Hatze” (Hat/Mütze).

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?

So far I must say that I am surprised how smoothly our bilingual journey develops. There might have been moments when her Irish granny didn’t understand certain words or phrases that my daughter used but they always figured it out somehow. I think in these early years communication can be so much more than just language. Gestures and facial expressions can often be more important than words. I noticed how Lenjas Irish friends understand so much of what I say in German to my children although they don’t know the words.

What have been some of the rewards of raising a bilingual child?

Having a secret language in certain settings :)(although you have to be careful with that one – you never know who understands your “secret language”…). The huge treasure of two cultures – so many songs, poems, stories, recipes, and other things to share with our children. Some nights at bedtime they hear cheesy German lullabies from my childhood (which include a lot of images from nature) and other nights they listen to sentimental Irish songs about the working class or Dublin in the rare old times.
Another bonus is that my partner was able to improve his German alongside Lenja. Sometimes he reads stories from German children books to her and his pronunciation and understanding have vastly improved in the last year.

{Lenja and Finn}

What role does your extended family play in your decision and ability to raise a bilingual child?

Luckily they all support us very much. I’m not too worried about our children learning to speak English since this is the language of their environment and all their friends. So I’m very grateful for packages from Germany with German books, CD’s and DVD’s from the second hand shop which I could never get here myself.
My father sends letters and postcards every now and then which will probably become even more important to my children when they are a bit older.
I also noticed that my children’s language development improves a lot (in both languages) after spending time with their grandparents or uncles.

What resources have you found useful?

The internet has been an invaluable resource for me. It’s great for reading up on certain topics, ordering books, CDs, DVDs online, listening to podcasts, watching short YouTube videos and more. I enjoyed reading the book “Baby Talk” by Dr. Sally Ward which is full of advice how to help your child to acquire language at every level from birth to four years.

What are some of your long-term goals?

In about two years we would like to move to a warmer country for a while and learn a third language (maybe Italian). Once Lenja goes to school in Ireland she will also learn Irish but who knows where we will be at that time…

What advice would you give a new parent starting the process?

I suppose it really depends on the individual situation. If your native language is different to the language of your environment it might be helpful to find other people from your homecountry (e.g. for a toddler group). I recently wrote a post for parents who want to start raising their child bilingually which you can find here.

**

Post-script: Just after I received Halina’s answers, she sent me another email with the following addendum:

“it’s so funny. Just after I sent off the questionnaire you gave me (in which I wrote that we didn’t really encounter any problems with bilingualism yet) my 3 year old daughter decided to speak German only to everyone here in Ireland. She stuck to it for a whole day at her Nana’s house and tried it in preschool and with friends as well.

Fortunately everyone took it with humour and she figured out fast that conversations weren’t as much fun if she kept speaking her “secret language”. I only wanted to add this to my interview (if it’s not too much hassle!) because it might help parents to know that these are only phases and that they will pass if you keep speaking “your” language even if she replies in the other language.

**

Thanks so much, Halina, for sharing your family’s bilingualism story with us and for the book recommendation! Have you read any great books on raising multilingual children? I read Bilingual by Choice by Virginie Raguenaud earlier this year and really enjoyed it.

Want to read more bilingual/multilingual parenting stories? See the many families previously profiles for this series here.  Are you raising your children with more than one language? Do you want to share your experiences with us? Contact me for details!

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{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
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One Response to bilingual parenting: halina {english and german}

  1. Mama Bicycle says:

    Fantastic;) As for me, I will be a travel guide for tourists in 20 years.

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