German As A Second Language

Categories: Family and Kids, General Travel Info

Waldorf school in Trier
Waldorf school in Trier

[ source: Wikipedia]

Have you ever thought about learning or teaching your children German as a second language? I've been speaking German (and English) with my American-born kids for almost 8 years now. In 2003, I turned my passion for German into my business, Alphabet Garten, offering German-language children's books to other like-minded parents. Along the way, I've spoken to thousands of customers, tried all kinds of things, hit a few bumps, and generally had a lot of fun. This lens is a collection of information I've gleaned over the years from raising my kids as well as talking to many other parents.

I can tell you that it's really very straightforward, although your personal implementation may be quite complex. In essence, someone should speak German to the child. That's it. Easy, huh? That someone can be one or both parents, a grandparent or other relative, or someone else who has frequent contact with the child. It might be an everyday occurrence, maybe only on the weekends, maybe even once or twice a week. Obviously the more German the child hears, the more proficient he will become with German as his second language. This person might be a native speaker or might have learned German as an adult (as in my case). The person might not even speak exclusively German with the child (see language patterns below).

Educate yourself and make a plan

Whether you're beginning to speak German as a second language with a newborn or a middle-schooler, preparation is key. Educate yourself to the different patterns that your language use may take. Arm yourself against well-meaning nay-sayers who will tell you your child will grow up confused by two languages (he won't) or that speaking two languages will delay his speech (it won't). See the links below for articles and books with further information. Spend some time developing your goals for your child. Do you want her to be able to have a close relationship with Oma in Berlin (Berlin vacation rentals | Berlin travel guide) or does she just need to be able to order a meal in German? Does he need written fluency or is spoken proficiency enough? Does he need an understanding of the culture of your target language? Do you just want to give him a taste of a foreign language?

Gather Resources

Build a home library. Books, books, and more books, plus some fun music, and maybe a few DVDs and games thrown in for good measure. Some parents pretend they only know how to read in the minority language, forcing the issue for bedtime stories, at least until kids are old enough to know better. I know some parents who own only German DVDs. The kids are happy 'cause they get to watch TV and the parents are glad to be reinforcing the minority language a little bit each time Dora the Explorer comes on.

Be prepared to change

You can be sure with kids that they will surprise you and there will be bumps in the road, diversions to the plan and probably some roadblocks! We have continually been revising our language plan over the past 8 years. We've had a monolingual grandma living with us (try keeping German up in that situation! You'll be repeating yourself in English and German all day long so no one is left out). We've had new babies and kids who refused to speak or listen to German. One of our children, who shall remain nameless, currently claims to not understand any German and refuses to watch any German DVDs. He does enjoy, however, German music. We have dealt with special needs diagnoses. So we've learned to go with the flow. And when we get our feet back on the ground, we pick up where we left off and try to figure it out all over again.

Read the full article about learning and teaching German as a second language at

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