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Preparing baby to speak German when I don't speak it myself! Help!

(36 Posts)
DarkRoots Sun 15-Nov-15 10:53:26

So we are moving to Germany later next year. DS will be almost 2 at that stage, and I really want to put him in kindergarten (or whatever!) so that he can learn German and make the most of this opportunity.

But then I am seized with guilt at the thought of the poor little thing not having a clue what's going on!

DH will be intensively trained in the language before we go so will start speaking to him before we go. I have been typing 'German nursery rhymes' into YouTube everyday In a desperate attempt to help but have no idea what I am doing!

Any advice?

NotSpartacus Sun 15-Nov-15 10:59:31

Perhaps you could use a bilingual nursery. My German niece in Berlin went to one. Even if you don't, a lot of Germans speak some English. I'm sure the nursery will have someone who can help your son a bit until he starts to understand (which I bet won't be too long).

whatdoIget Sun 15-Nov-15 11:04:33

There's a little girl in my ds's class at school who came to the school at the beginning of year 2, having never spoken English, she picked it up very quickly. At 2 I imagine your ds will be teaching you German in a couple of weeks!

LIZS Sun 15-Nov-15 11:07:14

Can you access cartoons etc in German or look on ? Sesamstrasse is Sesame Street for example. Look out for the kika channel. Usborne do language picture books etc. tbh he'll pick up the basics of colloquial German pretty quickly by bring in that environment.

MediumBox Sun 15-Nov-15 11:09:44

at that age I would let him take the plunge.
he will learn very quickly by immersion.

DarkRoots Sun 15-Nov-15 11:24:47

Thank you all so much for your replies - very reassuring. And for the recommendations. I suppose it just feels very strange that I won't know what she is saying as well.
When she comes home from the nursery now, I can guess which song she wants or toy say has been playing with my working out her 'words' so I am just feeling a little at sea at the thought of moving from the person who understands her the most to quite the opposite. At least if I learn the types of songs or nursery rhymes she might be doing, I will be able to guess or support her learning or whatever <wibble>

Will get to it!

DarkRoots Sun 15-Nov-15 11:26:35

Also totally blew my cunning disguise of DD being DS there grin

Obviously not moving as part of a secret spying mission...

ottothedog Sun 15-Nov-15 11:52:07

Whatever you do will make very little difference, you are prob just stressed about the whole idea of it. He will learn v v quickly thro immersion. The nursery songs sounds a nice idea though and i guess most useful might also be doing please/thanks/i need a wee/drink type phrases at home as well.

ottothedog Sun 15-Nov-15 11:54:31

Are you staying there for a long time? I wouldnt do nursery personally til older, and just do normal 2 year old stuff like toddler groups, unless you are working?

Bananalanacake Sun 15-Nov-15 12:21:16

I am living in Germany now, I'm British and moved here last year, my 13mo DD's dad and family are German so she's learning both languages, I'm having German lessons but it's going to take a while until I'm fluent. We go to a baby group every week where we sing songs, maybe you can find one of those when you move, helpful for both of you.

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:01:46

We moved to Germany when my eldest was 19 months old. Although DH is German he had refused to speak German to her while we lived in the UK, saying he "felt silly" confused doing so when everyone else was speaking English (though actually I have heard similar from other people since) so when we moved she only knew two German words which he had randomly tended to drop into his English, but was quite precocious with her English (speaking in sentences).

We didn't prepare her in any way before the move (we only had a few weeks notice of the move) and I didn't put DD into Kindergarten or nursery as she had never been in the UK - what I did was take her to toddlers groups and socialise with all the local tots in the village playground, and invite any parent with a small child to ours. We continued to speak English at home, but DD spoke German pretty well (not absolutely fluently but actually better than some monolingual German later talkers) by the time she started Kindergarten in the month of her 3rd birthday.

Doing it that way you get to learn with your child, and make some contacts too. Obviously once she was at Kindergarten her German quickly outpaced mine, and by the time she started school her teacher said she couldn't have picked the bilingual child from the group without checking her list, and actually German has always been one of DD's best subjects at school, one in which she hasn't had to try.

I think socialising with native German kids a lot is key - I know English families whose kids have been born here but who have only ever mixed in ex-pat English speaking circles, and their have still needed a lot of extra help with German at school, needing to learn the articles in the way you would if learning a second language etc. Doesn't happen if your kids mix mainly with German kids from the start.

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:07:58

This is cool (for you - I wouldn't use it to teach your DD as you'll get the pronunciation wrong - even now I never, ever speak German to my kids and absolutely hate it when native English speakers speak English to them or native German speakers speak English to them, as I want them to internalise the native pronunciation of words, and hear people speaking their native language!)

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:08:47

*hate it when native English speakers speak German to my kids, is what I meant

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 13:25:57

Don't overthink it. We moved when DS was nearly 5. I tried to teach him some before he moved, but he didn't really pick anything up at all (I think he could count to five and say bye and thank you) He's now seven, just started school and doing brilliantly. He switches between languages without an issue and makes friends really easily. I'm not convinced that he listens 100% to the teacher blush but I don't know if that's a language issue or just a culture shock from moving from kindergarten where everything is sing-song and they will give a general instruction but then make sure it happens, and he could just follow the others, to a school environment where they give instructions which they are expected to listen, understand, remember, and act on later without reminders. TBH, I suspect the latter.

At two, it might even be easier as most almost two year olds don't speak clearly enough to be understood by strangers anyway. So she won't have the expectation of being able to communicate easily through speech with adults. And it's a fun age, because they pick up random words and insert them into sentences so you get a really hilarious and cute mix. We never really got that stage with DS because he was totally fluent in English when we arrived.

Most adults speak at least a little English, too. I was lucky in that I found an expat type group fairly soon (on and one of them lived near me and was able to tell me that their kindergarten had places, so DS had a little English speaking friend who helped him through the first few months. He came home with new words every day. First colours, then more numbers, then things - tree, car, etc. It tickled me because kids learn the new words as they are pronounced rather than spelled, so when he was saying Auto, he says out-hor, whereas at first I was saying more the English pronounciation like the start of Automatic. And I always thought of "rot" (red) as being pronounced in the English way too but he insisted I was wrong and it was "hhhhrchchOD" grin

Please don't worry about not being able to understand her. At first, you will, because you'll learn the words with her. And later, she won't speak German to you anyway. DS doesn't. I have to listen in on him speaking to friends if I want to hear him speak German. It's purely function for them - why would they speak to you in a language you can't understand?

BTW a good tip when you want to search for German things is to open up a google translate tab and type your search term into there, so "Nursery rhymes" becomes Kinderlieder, and then search either youtube or for Kinderlieder. If you use Chrome browser, then you can translate the websites back again if you want to understand what it says. But really, it's fine to just continue with English. In fact, it will be beneficial for her English knowledge to be strong if you're going to live in Germany for a long time, because it's likely that German will overtake as the language she uses the most. If you have another child, this is especially true as they will both know German so they will speak German with each other at home. I know it seems counterproductive, but having a good base in English will likely be just as or even more beneficial than trying too hard to establish German in a situation where she has no useful purpose for it. They are clever and they know grin Not to mention that a childish pronunciation of an English accented German will be harder for other people to understand than when she's actually there and starts mimicking native speakers and other children.

For you, (and DH) I really recommend an app called Duolingo. I used that for about a year and a half and by the time I arrived I could make myself understood. It won't get you fluent, but it will get you started, which is important smile

I really like the idea of mum + tot's groups for the first year before kindergarten. And then kindergarten is so lovely and gentle and slow that she really will be absolutely fine even if she hasn't picked up much by then.

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:31:25

My English born DD is 10 now, and I also have a German born 8 and 4 year old - I have an "English force field" which causes them to speak English to one another if I am in the room, but they immediately switch to German when I leave the room - they absolutely deny doing it, tis hilarious grin

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 13:36:18

Oh and you will hear every myth - from "Children become fluent with no input in 6 months" to "It's so awful that parents believe they can just put their child into education and expect them to learn the language! How cruel!"

The reality is somewhere in between. It's rare for a child to be fluent in 6 months, but certainly 6 months was the time when DS went from being quiet and understanding the odd word to actually participating in conversation. Then by a year he was rabbiting away to old ladies at the bus stop! But all children vary. Some need more support than others. It's okay to put them into a German school or kindergarten or kita (the word for nursery under 3 years) without them really knowing any German, but you should speak to the teacher/Erziherinnen (prob spelt that wrong) and make sure that you can at least communicate with them and find out how they are going to include your child. Don't be afraid to look at a few different places (and start early - places are sometimes hard to get). If they are having difficulty, ask for support. It is there. But it's not damaging to throw them in to be immersed, most of the kindergarten staff seem to genuinely love children and be very engaging.

BTW, stockpile the entire contents of your local The Works before you go. grin It's just so much more of a pain to get hold of cheap English children's books over here. And when she outgrows them you can sell them to the local expat crowd to make your money back!

Archfarchnad Sun 15-Nov-15 13:40:28

"Don't overthink it." This. At that age it will work out by itself. Just put her in the nursery and she'll adjust. DD1 started learning German at 13 months and DD2 at 16 months, which was when they went to a Krippe (nursery for under 3s) - before that they'd only had English for us, although we've lived in Germany since they were born. There were plenty of English-speaking families around whose kids only started learning at 3 or 4. Within 6 months she'll understand German fluently, although you might not realise that because she'll carry on talking English to you.

One consequence might be that she seems to befalling behind with English acquisistion, because she's spending her time concentrating subconsciously on picking up this new language instead. Don't panic, she won't fall behind with English as long as you're still providing the input at home. As soon as she's sorted out both languages in her head, she'll get back to the average rate of development in both, at least that was our experience with DD1 (who is now nearly adult and utterly bilingual).

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 13:41:55

Hahaha! That's SO true!! DS and his friend do that. They get really confused when the neighbour's kid joins in because of course he speaks only German so we tell them that it's more polite to speak in German so he can join in, but because we are there they get really, really confused. But at kindergarten they spoke German together.

franke Sun 15-Nov-15 13:42:16

We live in Germany, two of my dc were born here. We only speak English at home. The dc all started Kindergarten at 3 with, I suppose, a familiarity with German but no experience of speaking it. Believe me, they were not phased at all. Within about 3 months they were able to communicate competently. Of course you need a bit of patience and kindness from the people running the Kiga, but not, ime, anyone who speaks English. Several years on, they are all in mainstream German schools and are bilingual. I,m the one who has been left behind language-wise.

But learning a few songs is a nice idea - I,ve just remembered I used to take dd, pre Kiga, to a little music circle thingy and learnt a lot of songs there.

Archfarchnad Sun 15-Nov-15 13:43:52

"It's rare for a child to be fluent in 6 months" - well that depends how you define fluency. As I wrote above, I think many children will be understanding quite fluently at 6 months, they just might not be terribly active with their knowledge. DD1 had a very limited active vocabulary and grammar in both languages until she was about 4, then she suddenly started coming out with complete sentences in both. But she was passively fluent in both, which was the reason the doctors and us weren't too concerned.

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 13:44:52

The PDF is really useful by the way, thanks smile Playdates are instantly less daunting. But it strikes me that it's only useful after you're fairly familiar with the rules of German pronunciation. OP if you are not, but you want to incorporate some of those phrases, a useful pronunciation tip is to open up google translate (again, other translators are available), type the German phrase in and click the little speaker icon to hear it spoken, which you can then mimic. Although it won't be the same as a native speaker saying it.

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:47:03

On the subject of immersion at Kindergarten - when my older 2 started Kindergarten there were no staff with any interest in / confidence about speaking English, and this was great (I had been here almost a year and a half so had enough basic German to communicate) because it was genuine immersion, all German (also as we live in the middle of nowhere there were no other English speakers, and the kids already had German from daily life outside the house, toddlers group, playground etc.)

When my DC3 started Kindergarten there was a lovely new staff member in charge of his group who thinks she can speaks English... She's an older, very confident lady and I had to be very firm indeed with her about not speaking English to DC3 grin It wasn't doing any good as he was coming out with some daft expressions and incorrectly worded idioms which he said were "Heike English" grin and was mixing English and German because she did - my older two never did the mixing thing, it doesn't happen automatically.

Toddlers groups and socialising with German families / kids and then immersion in German Kindergarten is probably both the fastest and gentlest route to being fluent before starting school, given the excellent starting point of nearly 2 grin

BTW Bertie is absolutely right - children who have a strong grasp of their mother tongue are the most likely to learn a second language easily, so concentrate on your DS' English before the move and at home after the move!

German kids TV is OK too - if you want you can use to get DVDs of toddler favourites like Kleine rote Traktor or Bob der Baumeister in German (and you can always select English on the menu to watch them in English too).

PrincessHairyMclary Sun 15-Nov-15 13:56:31

Could you use baby signing using the sign with the English word and then the German word. Also put familiar DVDs on and change the language to German will help both of you.

You can get bilingual story books. I have some that have the French at the top of the page and the English underneath. Also the Usborne picture dictionary's are good and their 1000 words in german.

I wouldn't be too worried he'll pick it up very quickly at that age and be teaching you and what a wonderful experience an life skill you are providing him with.

I am currently supporting a YR11 from Portugal who doesn't speak any English... Trying to explain osmosis and nucular fission is nearly impossible

Ilikedmyoldusernamebetter Sun 15-Nov-15 13:56:50

Bertie my DC1 and 2 overlapped at Kindergarten for one year and I was told they spoke German to one another except to argue - then they switched to English just to argue grin DC 2 and 3 were at Kindergarten together just for 4 months, before DC2 left for school, and apparently they spoke English to one another at Kindergarten.. I have no idea why! Mine were always in different groups at Kindergarten so they only saw each other in the garden anyway.

They've always swapped automatically for friends, but that may because they have only ever had German friends - in fact DC2 had a phase for a couple of years when we hadn't been to the UK for various reasons, when he absolutely wouldn't believe that any children "outside the television and our family" spoke English...

We actually tried to have a German child with us one day a week whose family wanted her to learn English by immersion prior to a move to the states (a formal arrangement not a friend of the kids') but it didn't work out because my kids physically couldn't make themselves speak English to her, as she started out only speaking German they were just somehow compelled to speak German to her and couldn't do otherwise!

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 13:57:48

I still think it varies from child to chils. Also, living in Germany and having German around spoken by actual people and seeing your parents conduct useful exchanges in German is quite different, even if you don't use German at home, to living in England and only having German come from TV and books. I would say that DS could communicate by 6 months but he wasn't fluent either in understanding or speaking. And his teachers raved about how fast a learner he was. He's still not totally fluent in understanding and will look confused if somebody speaks too unclearly or using words he doesn't yet know (for example when he started school, he didn't know the words for the different subjects immediately.) Another child I know whose first language is Serbian struggled further; he was nowhere near fluent by 6 months after entering the kindergarten despite having been born in Germany to German-speaking (but not native) parents. He did need more support but is also doing well at school now.

So it's more of a "don't panic if they aren't" - I know I went through a bit of a wild swing of worry between "Oh everything will be fine!" to "Oh no we've made a terrible mistake!" The first was closer to the truth but I think that six months is a huge leap of expectation which isn't necessarily helpful. IMO. smile

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