January 7, 2013 by empraise
Where do I begin about the things I learned on our trip to Germany? Our three weeks there were a wealth of information, food for thought (and for bellies!), and new perspectives. Big M did amazing with his German and I loved watching Little M absorb and understand all the language being spoken around him. Unfortunately, he had fluid on his ear drum the whole time we were there, so the doctor said he probably wasn’t hearing too well. My husband was so sad that he might be missing even a little bit of the language rich environment! I had to laugh because sometimes when I would open my mouth to say something in German, only Korean would come out! Wow…we are one mixed up bunch!
The friends we stayed with are an interesting case study for bilingualism. Both German natives, they speak English fluently and have been living abroad (in predominately English-Speaking environments) most of their children’s lives. They follow no pattern (no OPOL, no ML@H)…simply speaking English and German as it suits them and depending on who is around. I know my friend said early on they tried to focus certain times of day or certain seasons of life around one language more than the other, but to an outsider today, it appears to be a free-for-all. And their children: 7, 5, 3 (and a newborn!) appear to be speaking both languages well…albeit with an almost imperceptible accent, interestingly enough. Some of their extended family does not speak English, so usually they use German when visiting them in Germany. The kids know instinctively to speak to me in English, but it was fun watching them interact with Little M in both languages.
Two major ideas blossomed out of this trip for me. Obviously, we are on a journey and have never walked this path before, so we are learning as we go! The first thought was: I know more German than I thought! And I am picking it up more and more. I learned so much during our time there that I was encouraged about the possibility of someday really studying it.
Secondly, I became aware of how language has the power to tie a family together, or drive it apart. My parents came and met us for a week of the fun. I am sad to say that we did not handle the language thing very well…this was the first time that we have had a visit with them where Little M can “communicate” and as Big M spoke German to him and I spoke Spanish, I began to notice my parents’ eyes glaze over. Later, Big M and I discussed it and agreed that we did not want one more area of our lives to be difficult for our parents to relate to…we want Little M to be able to communicate freely with them in English. And we want to speak English to him when we are in their presence, in the spirit of inclusiveness. However, we’re not sure how to do this. Little M seems not to understand commands in English (understandably so). So should we be incorporating more English at home?
My friend and I had a great talk the night before we left where I voiced the concern that had been bouncing around in my head: our family has no unifying language. I don’t want Little M to grow up thinking that “family” is either him and Papa (German), or Mama and Papa (English), or him and Mama (Spanish) and never ALL of us (???which language??) I feel our unique non-native situation, where my husband and I do not share the minority language, has potential to fracture our family bond. And to me, nothing is worth this. Not even the gift of another language. I told Big M I would willingly give up speaking Spanish to Little M if it meant that we could all sit around and speak English together.
I mean, how is it going to work when he gets older and he wants to tell us a story at the dinner table about what happened in school? We are unsure how to proceed and are praying for wisdom in this issue that plays such a big role in our son’s development.