Although we are no longer “in Deutschland,” I’ve decided to continue to write about our effort to raise Herbert to be bilingual in English and German. No longer able to coast along, counting on his preschool to achieve this goal, it is now up to us to maintain all of the progress he has made over the past two years – and to keep him moving forward to fluency! We’ll also see a side benefit: Instead of a family of 3 people that can speak English and German, we will become an bilingual family.
That is the first thing to do, of course: set a goal. And ours is fluency in speaking, reading, and hopefully also writing. We want him to be able to go to school in Germany in the future if he chooses to or if God sends us back as a family.
Now, this is going to require a lot of work on our part. One source reported that children will need at least 15 hours a week of language exposure. Since we can’t totally guarantee weekend exposure (due to visiting non-speaking friends and family), we will need to aim for at least 3 hours per day during the week. Another bilingual parenting blog shared that the mindset needs to essentially be, “If it can be done in [target language], do so.” So we will also be working on building up to this habit as well.
Our Strategy – Time and Place
There are a few different strategies for raising bilingual children. One Parent One Language of course doesn’t make sense for us, since one parent would only be using their second language and the other wouldn’t be practicing their German at all. Minority Language at Home, which is what we have used for Herbert’s English the past 2 years, is also not a great option: We will be living with a non-German speaker, we are not totally fluent ourselves, and I absolutely love reading English books.
We’ve decided upon the Time and Place method of bilingual parenting. With this method, we will define set times during the day when we always use German. Of course we can also use German outside of this block of time if we choose! But this will help us keep a consistent habit of getting in those 3 hours of German every day.
Building Up to Bilingual
Now, we didn’t plan to just move back to the States and start speaking German 3 hours a day! Over Herbert’s summer break, while still in Germany, we got into the habit of reading German books every day. We also made an effort to speak in German for about half an hour a day.
Moving back to the United States disrupted every idea of a schedule we’ve had. But as daily routines begin to return, the plan is to start here and slowly add more and more German speaking to our day. As we built habits, endurance, and comfort with the language, we hope to reach our 3 hour German block by December.
Note that this won’t just be us sitting around a table and talking German for 3 hours! This will include our reading time. If Herbert has any screen time that day (outside of Mister Rogers), it will be in German. And it will be broken up throughout the day.
Although we had discussed having a three hour block of German time after preschool, we found that the TalkBox.Mom program (see below) actually lends itself really well to this method. So we started by using our German during bedtime, then while preparing meals and setting the table. Next will be in the bathroom, and so on.
I’ll be sure to give an update on how things are going and talk about what exactly has worked for us and been helpful for us.
English-German Bilingual Family Resources
Over time, we’ll build a library of resources that help us reach our goal of German fluency. As we try out and become acquainted with these resources, I will post reviews. I know first hand how difficult it is to find resources for English-German bilingual families in the US. And to top if off, we have a relatively unique situation, even within the bilingual community: the whole family speaks the language, but no one is a native speaker. It’s not easy to figure out what to do.
But as we are getting started and finding out way, these are the tools we are planning to use for the first year or two:
Our local German institute offers classes for children on Saturdays. The class is about an hour long and, at least at this age, is an immersion program. Although it is designed for beginners, the exposure will be good for him. German Girl in America has a page to help you find a Samstagsschule class or an immersion program in your state.
This is a subscription box program that teaches the whole family a language (11 languages available) through speaking. It’s a really cool and fun way to create a bilingual family culture. We plan on using this curriculum to build our German speaking habit and learn new phrases that you never learn in an adult language class or while working in a jewelry store! As mentioned above, because each box has a specific theme (kitchen, bathroom, playground, etc.), this will tie in very well to our strategy of using the Time and Place method and slowly building up. I’ll be posting a lot more about TalkBox.Mom in the future, but you can learn more right now at their website.
*You can get $5 off any Phrase Book with the code CHLOE5 and $25 off the box+book bundle with the code CHLOE25*
Our library system has 232 children’s books in German. *swoon* At least initially, all our German reading will come from the library or books we already own. Even if your library doesn’t have German books available, look into Interlibrary Loan. We used this service a lot when we lived within a smaller library system! For purchasing, ThriftBooks is always the first place I look (referral link – if you spend $30 we both get a free book credit). I’ll post some recommended book lists once we’ve dug more into what we have access to.
That’s all for today. Let me know if you have any questions about our language journey or if there are any resources specifically you would like me to talk about!