Friday, November 22, 2013

Fairies and Gnomes Speaking in English

This morning, as I was rushing around the house trying to get us ready for our road-trip, Kaya starts telling me a story. Initially, it sounded pretty similar to much of what she'll say to me, full of passion and interest and a strong desire for me to connect and share her experience. But as I listened further, it slowly began to differentiate itself from other things she'll share. It was a story in German, as is normal with her still in her communication with me, but what began to be very clear is that she was relating not only an experience she had at school (which doesn't happen all that often), but that she was retelling a story that she's been hearing at school lately. A story about a girl who hears Mother Earth calling to her, and what happens with the Feen [fairies] and Wichtel [gnomes] when they heed her calling. Ok, so maybe that doesn't make sense, and I'm outing myself as way more interested in the fact that she was telling me the story, and how than I was in the details (that's the story of my life, actually!).

She was following me around the house as she told me of the adventures of the girl and how she couldn't find the Wichtel and the Feen. As I beckoned her with my hand to come into my room (so as not to interrupt), she continued to her story, adding the song of Mother Earth. But what was different about this part of the story was that it was in English. Not so strange, as we'll often insert words here and there when we don't know how to say them in German. She continued the rest of the 'song' in English, and then, as she went back to narrating in the 3rd person, shifted back into German. Following me into the kitchen, she shared about how the "girl war traurig, weil sie die Gnomes und die Feen nicht finden konnte" [the girl was sad because she couldn't find the gnomes and fairies]. I was a bit surprised at how she was inserting words in English that she knew in German--but felt simultaneously in awe that she was taking the time and effort to interpret this whole story for me into German from English. And then, it hit me. As she continued to tell the story, I realized she was doing all of the narrating in German but all of the conversing in English. Every time the girl or the gnome or Mother Earth would speak, it was in English. But when she was explaining to me what they were doing or where they were going or how they were was in German.

I don't even know what to say that.
Again, I'm in awe.

It makes me feel aMAzed at this whole process, about how the brain works and how she makes the choices she does with the languages she has available to her.

The thing about the English in this story is that in no way was it intended as an 'out' to not speak German, or as a test--which she will do and has been doing more so lately. When our neighbor, Simon, comes over, who understands German but generally speaks only English, Kaya will look at me directly and say something in English, clearly waiting to see how I'll respond. I realize how clear it is to her that I speak German with Si and how he speaks English back--and how that works for him. She is naturally wondering, in certain moments, if that will work for her. Not because she doesn't like speaking German with me--she continues to tell me that she likes that we speak German together--but because she's curious. It goes against what she's used to. To help her with this, I find myself tending to speak English with Si, and when I do, she seems to 'test' me less. I wonder if or when this will change--I would love to support his German, but also find it not nearly as fun speaking to him in German when he speaks back in English. Similar to how I felt about 2 1/2 years ago before Kaya started speaking all German to me.

So, in regards to this insertion of English dialogue, it does feel different, and I continue to find it fascinating. She told me that I could make a video of her relating that story to me, so hopefully I'll make it happen soon and put it here or in another post.

But in the meantime, I'll end on this other gem that she shared with me out of the blue as we were driving to school. As you might imagine, it brought tears to my eyes. And for those of you readers who are newer to our lives and may not know, Nana is my mom who died from Non-hodgkins Lymphoma when Kaya was 1 1/2, about 3 1/2 years ago. Kahlua was our 2nd family dog, who we put down a few years ago because he'd bitten too many people. She loved them both dearly, and hears us speaking fondly of them quite often:

"Mama, weisst du was? Wenn ich an Nana und Kahlua denke, ich sehe sie in einem Feld, mit hohem Gras, zusammen spielen." [Mama, you know what? When I think of Nana and Kahlua, I see them in a field of tall grass, playing together.]

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pirates, Pictures, and Purposeful Integration

Nearly every night, save for those occasions when Kaya is beside herself with exhaustion, we read a book and tell a story before bed. This rings a bell. I think I've mentioned this before. So, from an update standpoint, we still do it. And from a far more interesting perspective, I thought I might share a little twist from tonight's ritual that ended up being quite a fun way to integrate Dada, the non-German speaker, into a German story.

As a backdrop, if you're not as well-versed on our situation, Geoff didn't know more than a few words of German when we started our bilingual journey nearly 5 years ago. Now he says that he gets the gist of about 90% of what we say. Not bad at all for the passive approach, huh, simply being around German and not having to speak it?! (kudos, Geoff!) We used to have all these grand plans, usually including, in some form or fashion, his incorporation of Rosetta Stone to make sure he'd be able to 'keep up'. And that may well be a necessity one day soon, as he hesitantly admits that his understanding is dropping as Kaya gets older, and that he might only understand about 65-70% of what we actually say.

But for tonight's purposes, snuggling on the couch and reading out of Das grosse Bildermaus Geschichtenbuch [The big picture-mouse story book], his level of German was not only fine but quite impressive!

We started towards the back of the book where they have all the pictures with the corresponding words. We went down the list, starting with 'Meer' [ocean] and continuing with Insel and Sonne and Regen. For most of the words, I asked Kaya to tell us what the picture was--"und das ist eine...?" [and that is a...?], to which she would respond with a smile and the accurate word in German. A number of the words were new for her (and me, for that matter, too!), and for those, I would simply tell her--"Das sind zwei Anker." [Those are two ankers.] For some of the words, she knew the English, and would say that, but for the most part, we stayed in German until we got through the list.

Kaya decided, quite excitedly, that she wanted to read 'Die Flotte des Koenigs' [The King's Fleet]--one of the pirate stories in the book. She and Geoff have been playing pirates lately, and it's definitely one of her favorite things to do lately. In fact, the other night, she even told me, "Mama, ich wiw dass du jetzt in die Ahbeit gehst, damit ich Piraten mit Dada spielen kann..." [Mama, I want you to go to work now so that I can play pirates with Dada!], which is quite a shift after the usual tears or dread surrounding my need to work. So, naturally, the pirate story was on the docket.

We've read from similar books before, specifically with the incorporated pictures, but never together with Geoff. So, I thought it might be fun for us to flip-flop back and forth between them as we'd come to a picture. And while it took them a few sentences to get the rhythm down, with my reading the words and them saying the pictures, it was quite fun once we got rolling! Geoff remembered just about every word for all of his pictures, and Kaya would break out in a huge grin when one of us would whisper the word before she'd say it aloud. Her grins ultimately turned into laughter, and we all decided we needed to read the 'Pirateninsel', too. [Pirate Island]

There's one other story ritual that we have at times that similarly makes for quite the integration of languages. While we'll often just tell a story from the innermost reaches of our right brain, sometimes it's kind of nice to have some story fodder. So, Geoff came up with this idea many moons ago in which he opens to a page in picture book (Richard Scary's Wunderbare Welt der Wimmelbilder [Richard Scary's Biggest Word Book Ever] is one of our favorites for this, though the picture dictionaries--like First Thousand Words in German-- are great, too!) and starts telling a story about a character on the page.

The trick is that he doesn't tell Kaya which character is the star, so she has to listen to the development of the story while she looks for the character on the page. Tonight's story, for example, was about a kitty who wanted to sleep because she was so tired (the page, as you may know, is filled with all sorts of kitties, and pigs, and foxes all doing different things in different locations). Try as she might, she simply couldn't find a place to slumber. She tried the first house, but it was too loud because they were laying bricks and bending pipe. The next house was too loud because they were installing plumbing and a chimney. And the next house was getting new windows and a roof. But finally, the kitty found a nice quiet place to sleep on top of the steel structure (?!).

As you can imagine, Geoff told his story in English--while he's learned a lot, it would be quite a feat if he knew how to say chimney and plumbing and steel structure (not even sure I know the latter two!). And as you might guess, when I play, I tell my stories in German, as I did tonight with one about a mean piggy who got pushed into the water by the kitties and was thankfully rescued by a compassionate kitty with a crane. She struggled a bit with this one, which can be quite fun in regards to the hide-and-seek component of the game. Where is the piggy with soggy pants so sad and so saved?

 I do a lot less wondering and worrying now about what our family might be like down the road with two different languages. I used to worry quite a bit, though, struggling to conceptualize how a family could be anything close to cohesive with such a language differential. I do recognize that our situation is a bit unique in that Geoff understands enough to fit in (and then some)--but in moments like tonight, where I'm hyper-aware of the language experience, I definitely appreciate that bilingualism has done anything but pull us apart.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marvin's Adventures in Bilingualand

As hesitant as I am to share this video, in part because of my personal criticism of my own German (for those German speakers out there!) as well as the bird nest in my daughter's hair (who wants to inflict discomfort on their baby when she's sick?!), I think it paints a pretty good picture of a few concepts that might be nice to illustrate at this stage of our bilingual journey. 

First of all, since it's been a while since an update like this, I think it would be good 'for the record' (this one's for you, Kaya!) to share that we continue to speak all German 99.9% of the time. I can remember 2 instances in the past 2 months when I've spoken to her in English, and when I do, it's out of extreme frustration and a few words are enough to get me back on track to German. Similar amounts of English come out of her mouth towards me, though not in moments of frustration--simply when she just doesn't know the word. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm more loose with my English in that regard with her, and from time to time, I'll say the word in English, usually prefacing that I don't know how to say it in German but this is what it is in English.  This video illustrates some of this point pretty well when Kaya is telling me how old Marvin is and says "seven" instead of 'sieben'. This similarly highlights some of the challenges that she has with her language, numbers being one of them. Without having done the research (Annabelle of the piri-piri lexicon might know this, though!?), I'd guess that it's pretty normal for kids to struggle to in this regard--while she knows how to count sequentially in both languages (I'm not exactly sure how high in each, though has def. been playing in the 20's in both, and likely higher in English), it's hard for her to name a number outright in German straight from English. At times she can do it, but 7 seems to be causing her challenges lately. This is something that I see with my language students as well, though...sequential counting comes first, then the skill of being able to name numbers out of order. 

There are a couple of other points that I thought I might highlight with this video, too, specifically regarding the topic of the conversation in itself. Kaya has a whole world invented regarding which of her 'children' and 'friends' know German, English or both. This video was my cursory attempt to get into this world of hers and come out with an understanding of who can do what. I think it's fascinating, this concept, and would love to dig into her reasoning of whence and wherefore. Apparently, as you can read in my transcription below, Marvin (the monkey) is her only 'friend' who knows German.--nothing like creativity!) Actually, to be more accurate, I think Marvin is one of her children (ignore the fact that he's older than she is In fact, as I find out later in the video, he's bilingual too, just like Kaya. This kid, much like myself as a child, has a whole world of 'friends', including the newest to the bunch, Coco (the eaglet). And you'd think with a name like 'Tante Jamie' (Aunt Jamie...who is our German-speaking next door neighbor), that baby of hers would be able to speak or at least understand German. But alas, Marvin is the only one. Not Stella, either, who happens to have the same name as our host daughter from Germany (named BEfore we knew about her, I swear! Destiny?). Nor Hazel, nor Max, nor Kylee.

And for those grammar geeks out there like me (and my sister!), you might be curious to know that, while she sometimes puts her infinitives accurately at the end of the sentences after conjugated modal verbs, and kicks her verbs after appropriate conjunctions, she had a even split in this conversation: once, while talking about baby talk, she puts it in the middle, but when asking me to get her a nose rag, she puts it at the end. And to top off the grammar analysis, she has a tendency to confuse some idiomatic expressions (I think that's what they are!?), like the one in this conversation where she says, "alter dann mir" instead of 'aelter als ich'. I didn't learn that term until 2nd or 3rd year college German, so I can only guess this type of mistake is pretty common for little kiddos in German, too?

So, despite my geeked-out, language teacher analysis, it's pretty easy for me to celebrate the fact that, after about 2 years now, Kaya continues to speak fluent German with me--and teachers at German Saturday School or Sommercamp--and while it does tend to lag a bit behind her English development, I watch it grow. Never really 'catching up', but the spurts happen in both languages, and are pretty clear to me. Which is really quite amazing to me--as normal as it now seems.

I continue to have my phases where I want to give up, or at least give up with this intensity of this OPOL (one-parent, one language) method, as I felt quite strongly 7 months ago. But as with many of the phases I experience in this process, they all seem to pass as I continue to lean on and call on the support of the amazing community I have in my life (that's you!). 

So, without further ado, I now welcome you to take a peek into a few moments of our afternoon as Kaya was home sick from school and excitedly playing with her babies in the swing that we just put up on her bed for them:

Mama: Welche von deinen Kindern koennen Deutsch sprechen? Oder verstehen? [Which of your kids can speak German? Or understand it?]
Kaya: Uh, Marvin. 
Mama: Und die anderen nicht? [And the others can't?]
Kaya: Nein. [No.]
Mama: Oder koennen sie beide, Deutsch und Englisch? [Or can they speak both, German and English?]
Kaya: Er kann Engrisch und Deutsch, und sie kann nur sprechen wie ein Baby! [He can speak English and German and she can only speak like a baby!]
Mama: Ohhh .Babysprache. Das ist eine ganz andere Sprache, oder? [Oh, baby talk. That's a whole different language, huh?]
Kaya: Ja. [yeah.]
Mama: Ja. 
Kaya: Kannst du mein Naselappen holen? (off screen...Was hast du gesagt?) [Can you get my nose rag? What did you say?]
Kaya: Hab 'No highers'. [I said "no highers"]
Mama: No highers? Ich dachte er konnte Deutsch. [No highers? I thought he could speak German?]
Kaya: Ja er kann doch. [Yeah, he can.]
Mama: Kann er beide? [Can he speak both?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.] (looking at me as if to say, Well, YEAH, Mom. Isn't it obvious?!)
Mama: Oh, wie du. Er ist zweisprachig. [Oh, like you. He's bilingual.]
Kaya: Aber er ist alter dann mir. [But he's older than me.] (translated directly, grammatically incorrect)
Mama: Oh, alter als du? Wie alt ist er denn? [Oh, older than you (repeated back grammatically correctly)?
Kaya: Seven. 
Mama: Sieben? [Seven?]
Kaya: Ja. Machst du ein Video? [Yeah. Are you taking a video?]
Mama: Ja. Willst du es sehen? [Yeah. Do you want to see it?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.]

Any input you have, or stories you'd like to share below would be, as always quite welcome and very appreciated!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Patience and Persistence and Pay-Off

I'm sitting here in the sunshine, on this epic Fall day here in the Pacific Northwest, wishing I could be taking it in more and letting IT be the catalyst for a different mood. And at the same time, I'm learning--slowly--the true value in being able to accept 'what is', however uncomfortable it is, and let that be part of the process to getting where we want to be.

So, here I sit, feeling a bit drab. Disappointed might be a better word. I just had a coaching conversation with a client with whom I've been working for months, and as hopeful as I was about it--after a truly epic and inspiring week of training in Ottawa--it didn't go as I expected. I wasn't able to apply all of what I was hoping to apply in the way I was hoping to apply it. As thorough and life-changing as this method is, as many changes as I continue to see in client after client, it feels really hard at times to really apply it as it's designed to be applied. Did his mood change? Yes. For sure. Was he able to see a few things in a different light? I believe so. Was I able to make some new moves, try some new things, like I set out to do before I started? Yes, I suppose I was. But talking myself, cognitively, into believing that it's 'good enough' just isn't working right now.

As I was procrastinating on preparing for my next client, I saw the window for my blog, open in my browser, and I began to wonder about the connection between my experience now and that of my bilingual journey. Perhaps because writing feels so therapeutic for me--just like the research supports!--and I am now, once again, committed to staying connected here, to you, my amazing blogging community. And I really want to be in a different space when my next client comes in a few hours. So, while I was reflecting and wondering about similarities, it hit me that, just as it took me a while to feel comfortable speaking my non-native language to Kaya, it will similarly take me a while to really get this methodology in my bones. I want it there now. I want to be an Master Level Integral Coach right now. But as I lay it out here, in black and white, I realize how unrealistic that is. It takes time, and that's why I'm in training. It won't happen over night. None of it does, be it German, Spanish, English, coaching, banjo, dog training, (and especially) parenting...

I never really realized what a lesson this bilingual journey could serve for me, but it's quite clear now:

Patience and persistence does make a difference...
together with a HUGE dose of self-compassion and love.

Soon, I'll post a video to illustrate this fact. But for now, it's prep time.
Thanks for joining me in this journey...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Does Absence Make the Language Difference Grow Stronger?

It's just after midnight and in order to see the words I'm typing, I have to keep blinking to moisten my contacts. But I can stay away no longer. When I look at the date of my last post and see that it's been more than 3 months since I last wrote, I cringe. As usual, I've had moment after moment, thought after painstaking thought, of what I might write to break this longstanding silence. And then I don't--for all sorts of reasons, fear being only one of them. I know, I know, what the hell might I be afraid of!? Well, I suppose I continue to recognize this desire to 'make it good' and if I don't think I can, I don't.

But alas, the more I get to know that tendency, the more gently it can just slip here I am.

And oh, does it feel so good.
I'm glad to be back. Every time I return, I remember how much I appreciate and miss you--this little international community of bloggers whom I've 'gotten to know' over the years as Kaya grows up.

I've been away for so long spending most of my time on two primary 'front burners' in my life (it's not just a personal desire for perfection that keeps me away from the keyboard). One of the passions I've written about a great deal, and surely will write about more with time: climate change. The other, while not directly related, has very much to do with that concept, as I hope to, one day, merge my desire to create a stable climate and future with my passion for coaching others to make a difference. While I don't know how exactly I plan to get there, and where my path will land, I am on the journey...and as much as I love it, it certainly doesn't leave as much time for blogging as I'd like.

But before my eyes cloud over completely, I want to at least get out some of the thoughts I was having this afternoon regarding coming home after more than a week away from Kaya.

While I know, cognitively, that there's always an adjustment period, it always seems to hit me in a way that I least expect it. I find myself feeling sad that we can't connect in the way that I imagine it: with her running up to me in the airport, jumping into my arms, and covering me with kisses. Just like in the movies. Or maybe in the movies, it's the mom who does that to the kid...but the kid is definitely into it (as long as she's under 8!). At least that's how it is in my movie. But in my life, it doesn't look that way at all. Instead, it takes us about a day to get back into that place of feeling truly connected, to that point where she's actually happy to be riding behind my bike on her tagalong instead of Dada's. Or where she's hugging my leg in addition to his.

I tell myself that it makes sense. I know it does. I've been gone for 8 days, and she's been with her grandparents for 5 of those days--I know that, at least for her, she needs some adjustment time. But admittedly, I do find myself wondering if, and how much, the bilingualism has to do with that need. As you may know, Kaya is fluent in both English and German, and speaks German with me and English with everyone else in her family and community. Thus, while at Grahms and Grandpa's, it's all English, all the time. When I called, in fact, to say hello and 'I love you' last Wednesday, she wasn't interested, and handed the phone back to Grandpa. In my doubting mind, I wonder if the transition would be smoother if she and I spoke the same language as she speaks with everyone else? Do her words get rusty? Is it a language thing or a Kaya thing?

As I mulled all of these thoughts around this afternoon, I found myself dancing with the thought of how grown up she seems, and noticed a tug of sadness at my heartstrings. Is she growing up in English and I'm not noticing it because I'm with her in German all of the time? Or is it that I was just gone for a week, and she really did grow up a good bit, using word "like" in her storytelling in English: he was, like, going all over the place! (I remember when my dad forbade me to use that word around him in middle school!)

And then, as our connection grew with every passing hour this afternoon, I began to recognize the 'growing up' in her German, too. Her language flowed as she spoke, pointing out the Katze [cat] and other notables in our neighborhood as we pedaled down the street.

And as I sat on that seat, riding down the street, hearing her behind me with all of her excitement for all that was around us, it hit me that I just need to follow her lead and do the same. For it's the flowers and the kitties and the neighborhood pups that can serve to remind us of what is here and now, and what isn't.

It's nice to be back. I look forward to 'seeing' you soon--and, of course, as always, would SO love to hear from you below!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Love Trumps

Sometimes, I really feel like blogging mirrors my sugar addiction. There I was on email, connecting quickly with a friend, when I heard myself think: I wonder how the blog is doing? Worded differently, I wonder if we're on the upswing? I don't know for sure if i'm more tempted to write on the down-swing or the up, but either way, I couldn't stay away from a post. It was like having ice cream in the freezer after an overwhelming evening: too tempting.

It might not be so alluring if I hadn't had this amazing love fest with Kaya tonight during bed time--clear fodder for a long-overdue blog post. It was one of those moments that gets immediately filed in that happy place, one that you're sure will be with you forever.

Geoff was just starting in on the guitar, singing her some lullabies as one of both of us does every night. She and I were lying on her loft bed, next to one another under the covers. After we got her all situated--including getting cream and benadryl for this awfully itchy rash on her back and tucking snuggle-monkey into the crook of her neck--she nestled into the covers and grabbed my hand. For a few minutes, she'd be on her left, only to roll quickly on to her right--where we'd then be facing each other. Within a few minutes, her fidgeting slowed and she started staring at me. But it wasn't just any stare. It was this look, a deep penetrating connection, through the biggest smile I've ever seen on anyone's face. Ever. She just smiled. And stared. And when I thought her smile couldn't get any bigger, it did. Along with mine. We just stared. And smiled. And laughed, at times, when the smile could no longer contain our joy.

As I lay there, gazing into her smiling face, it hit me:
Yes, I worry about her level of German, and whether it will carry us through the communication I want us to have in our lives.
Yes, I tend to believe that she's far more verbose and expressive in English right now.
Yes, I find myself wondering what to do about these beliefs and concerns, wondering even further if my perspective is skewed.
But what I don't worry about is our love and the connection we have behind language.

Throughout this bilingual journey, I realize how much emphasis I've put on the words, on the abilities to learn them, to form them into sentences, connected by intricate and accurately-used conjunctions. But what I've tended to ignore until now is the power behind the words, and all that can be and is expressed above and beyond language.

Who knows if Kaya is a different kid in German than she is in English. Sometimes I think so.
And who knows if we'll do this forever.

But when I come back to that 'love fest', to that presence and power, it fuels me.
It leaves me with a sense of confidence that, as many concerns as I've had about the pros and cons of this journey, love trumps.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Collision of Dreams

This really is the last thing I should be doing right now, starting a post at 10:45pm. But I can't help it! I've missed writing, missed connecting with you all, missed being able to slow my thoughts down enough and capture all the amazing experiences and quotes and memories of our bilingual adventure with Kaya.

Backpacking Last Wknd on the Lower Salmon River 
So, tonight, I had to at least take a few moments to get my butt back online and at least MARK the moment. After all these years of concern, of wondering whether to focus on German or on the Outdoor thing, I finally bumped into an opportunity that allows us to do both. Granted, not necessarily at the exact same time, but in the big picture of things, both are happening, and that naturally makes me exceedingly happy.

To make my point more clear, Kaya started at Kindersommer this morning, through the German American School of Portland, where she'll be immersed in German songs, games, crafts and books for the next two weeks, 9-3pm (and then again for the last few weeks of summer, too). It's really a dream come true for me, despite the long hours away from my babe, and shethat made me even more  thankful that I bumped into the idea online, too.
's quite happy too: an amazing opportunity within the city, in our own country even, for her to be surrounded by German by people other than me. After school, in fact, I bumped into a woman from LA, California (who so generously shared raspberries and blueberries with Kaya!) who found the program online when they weren't able to make their yearly trip to Germany. They drove up here as a family just so their kids could take part in the program! Hearing

While I didn't hear a ton about her experience today, I did get lots of smiles and heard a story about her new friend whose name she knows but couldn't say and reminds her of a different friend, Anya. I'd put quotes around that, but she told me this in German, so it wouldn't be quite as accurate. But this girl was "sehr nett" [very nice], and they played together for much of the day, Kaya told me. AND they read a book by the same author of one of her favorite books, Silly Sally (since, as Mama didn't really realize, the whole theme of these next two weeks is on Audrey Wood!). For me, aside from having so much time to get tons of work done and so many errands run, the best part was how the teachers knew exactly what to do to help Kaya warm up to a brand new experience in a brand new place. For a mama, there's nothing more relieving than having a teacher who can take your stressed-out, gripping-your-wrist child and gently transform them into a quiet, relaxed being who's now eager to adventure and join the group.

Definitely a sign that we made a good choice on this one!

Soon, oh so very soon I hope, I'll dive into the annals of our language experience of late...definitely lots to say on that front from our wild and wonderful little four and half year old bilingual. But until then, it's nice to be back. I hate being gone that long...