I have already written for the Newly Swiss on-line magazine on how children learn a foreign language while living abroad. Of course, it has its benefits if children grow up in linguistically different environments. We, adults, can only envy them their ability to absorb foreign language. Our children (I mean the older two, the youngest still refuse to speak while we know she understands very well) speak three languages – Czech, German and the local dialect, Bärndütsch. However, there are also situations when we don´t find their multilingualism as such a great thing.
Because often, it happens that children:
They switch from one language to another in one sentence
When your childs retuns from Kindergarten and want to share his experience: “Mom, in Kindergarten, I was KOPFLI of that SCHLANGE, as we walked out of the garden to GARDEROBE…(I was the snake’s head as we walked out of the garden into the dressing room).
MAMA, he called me DUMMKOPF! (Mom, he called me an idiot!)
They talk behind your back, thinking that you don´t understand them
You know it when the children get together, especially if there have been (according to their point of view) some kind of injustice from your side. Then they have a grievance against you and communicate their feelings – how else than in a language they know you don´t manage as well as they do.
They will understand something only if you explain them in German
As it happened recently at breakfast, when the younger son, looking at the Czech compatriot magazine, asked:
“Mom, what does it mean Sokola?”
Me: “Well, correctly it´s Sokol, and that’s a bird (falcon). It´s similar to ADLER, but it´s called FALKE. And in the Czech Republic, it is a name for a kind of sports association, something like TURNVEREIN.”
They consider you dumb (at least about language skills)
Children’s sincerity knows no limits. We have already experienced sentences such as: “But you do not understand!”. Alternatively: “Why you still can´t speak German well ?!”
Perhaps you recently registered my post on Facebook about this situation: I was sitting at my computer and translating another article into German. Our younger son came to me. He stood by my side for a moment, looking at what I was doing, thinking, then said, “Mom, why do you write in German? You don´t know German well!” (Er, I know without you telling me that, young man!)
They are reluctant to learn the grammar of your mother tongue
After all, German is easier, isn´t it? And how to explain to an eight-year-old-nearly-teenager that the knowledge of his mother tongue is simply a crucial thing in the eyes of his parents?
I admit, sometimes the situations are funny, but sometimes I’m not laughing at all. On the one hand, I am proud of my children to have been able to learn two foreign languages in such a short time. But on the other hand, I want to cry out when I “fight” with an older son is reluctant to make grammar exercises in Czech. I don´t want to totally disgust the Czech language, so I’m glad he reads at least the books in Czech without protests.
Their learning process is also a great motivation for me to learn the languace. I don´t want my pubertal kids to be ashamed of me in a few years (for how I’m speaking, pronouncing etc.). A year ago, I wrote here a post summarizing 5 ways to learn the language. Maybe I’d add five more:
- Read (newspapers, magazines, flyers, just whatever comes to your hand)
- Listen (to the radio while driving, as salespeople talk to customers, etc.)
- Read with your children and to children,
- Speak (do not let yourself be overwhelmed by timidity and speak even with mistakes);
- Learn language by doing what you enjoy (watching TV sports broadcasts, or start writing a blog in German: D)
I will be happy if you share your experiences with children growing up in other linguistic environments, or in bilingual families.