Raising Alex in Two Languages
My father's father's parents came from Germany around 1900,
and my dad spoke a few phrases of German to me and my sisters
when we were kids. (Mostly "Raus mit du!")
Later, in high school, I had the chance to learn a foreign language.
I'd heard that German was good for engineers, and that's what I wanted to
be. So I took it for three years... and even though I got an award in
the subject, I still couldn't read or speak it fluently.
A few years later, I ran into a huge trove of cheap pulp German language
novels, $1 each, at the local drugstore. It being winter and I having
no car and not much to do, I struggled through them. After a few
months of that, I was able to read novels for pleasure, and eventually became
proficient. Writing and speaking was still hard, though.
And then came Alex
Eventually I met Liz, and when we decided to start a family.
I figured I may as well pass my hard-earned foreign language
on to my son. According to the
one language idea, all you have to do is have one parent always
speak to the child in the minority language, and the kid can't help but
Because my spoken German wasn't really all that good, we also
hired a native german babysitter. And we had the great luck to
have a dual immersion German/English charter school
open up just when it was time for him to start first grade.
And you know what? It worked. I pretty much only speak German with
our son, Liz speaks only English with him, and he speaks both.
It doesn't seem to have slowed his progress in English at all.
Things to read and to listen to
But it takes effort to keep a minority language alive. The school
can only help so much; 70% of their students don't speak any German
when they arrive, so if he's going to be fluent, I've got to make sure
he has fun things to read and listen to at home.
And that's hard. Here are places I've gotten books / cds / dvds locally:
If you have other tips, please write me (dank at kegel.com) and let me know.
- New Mastodon Press - our local German bookstore, across from the La Brea tarpits (hence the name).
Can't beat being able to walk there and browse.
- Goethe Institut Los Angeles - also near the La Brea tarpits.
They loan movies out for free, and Alex liked a couple of them.