Our Non-Native Bilingual Featured Family

Non-Native Bilingual Parenting

Featured Family

Meet Tamara and Geoff

Parents' Native Language: English

Family Resides in English speaking community

Target Language: German

Tamara and Geoff are both native English speakers, residing in the United States and raising their child German speaking.

Read more about their non-native bilingual adventures at their excellent blog. Tamara's blog Non-naive Bilingualism features lots of wonderful experiences, advice, and links. Check it out.

Blog: http://nonnativebilingualism.blogspot.com/

​Why did you decide to raise your child/children in a language that you don’t s peak natively?
I love German, and have always loved foreign languages. The idea of being able to connect and communicate with that many more people around the world lit me up. I am a German teacher and tutor (as well as an Integral Coach now), and I knew there were multiple other benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism that I wanted for my daughter...though that felt second. I wanted it to be easier for her to have a second and even third language in her pocket without going through all the effort that I had to in my life through classes...

At what level does each parent speak/communicate in the target (non-native) language?
My husband understands about 80% of German. Can speak a few words here and there.

I am fluent in German, at the C1 level or so: 

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices. 

How early did you start speaking the target language to your child/children? What were the biggest obstacles (initially)?

I started as soon as Kaya was born, though I started our blog a year later. Initially, the biggest obstacles were in my comfort level, and wanting to feel connected to my baby. It felt awkward to speak this language in motherese, sing and learn songs I didn't know, use and look up words I hadn't ever used. The other big obstacle was my fear about being good enough, and whether our long term connection and ability to communicate would suffer because of this choice of mine.

What  were/are your "language rules"? How often and when did you speak the target language? Have those rules changed?
Initially, I was very strict in my rules: I speak with her in German all the time, and once she was 2.5, she speak 100% to me in German as well (before that, I was strict about 100% German to her, and would translate aloud everything she said back to me in English, into German...until it began to drive me crazy and I had no more desire to be 'living' in a diff. language than my child. At that point, over the course of a week (blog entries available on this), we changed the rules to the point that she would 'need' the language. Up until that point, she didn't 'need' it...I wanted her to have it. but because I would accept anything she said in any language, there was no need. 

Over the years, esp. in the past two years, we mix a bit more, using phrases and words in English that we don't know. If I know the term, I'll usually repeat it back to her in my response, and sometimes ask her to say it, too, depending. We also talk about how easy it is to lose it if she doesn’t' use it, which she says she doesn't want to do. 

 Another new development is that when I'm angry, and/or needing to keep from losin' it, I use English as a way to help me stay calm, as opposed to tripping over my words and increasing my frustration level. It feels to me like a pressure release valve, sometimes...and is VERY helpful for me. 

What has been the biggest help in supplementing your own imperfect (non-native) ability in the target language? Books, movies, playgroups, etc?
We did a play group when she was little...a few of them actually. But one of them was with mostly Austrians who spoke in dialect, so my confidence level actually dropped. 

We read a lot of books at her age level to help me acquire vocab, and some movies, though I'm not a fan of screen time, so we limit that (though as her German is beginning to get rustier with age and less use, I'm planning on subbing Engl. screen time with German). 

I've got a list on Amazon of books on feelings so I can learn that language set...I go on amazon.de to find the titles, then check locally to see what I can find. I also look at Powell's, which is local and convenient, as well as garage sales etc from Germans who are going back home. 

I had the dict.leo app on my phone, and have used that too, but I don't like looking in my phone all the time, so I usually just chose to mix. 

For a while, I focused on building friendships with Germans, too. That was helpful. Over the years, though, my language has gotten better, to the point now where I feel less stressed about it...granted, some topics I'd like to be much more versed in (like feelings!)...

How well/often does your child/children communicate in the target language?
I'd put her at the B1 level...though, she's six and doesn't read yet, and considering this statement in B2: 

  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options. 

This speaks to the fact that this rating system is geared for older learners. In some aspects, she's def. closer to the B2 level...

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

What language challenges do you foresee being an issue in the future?
Keeping her from moving to full mixing, as she's doing more and more now that she's away from me more. We're going to need to read more in the language, I believe, and simply get in more time with it. 


What would you do differently if you were able to start over?
Worry less. Trust more. Be less attached to the whole thing, but simultaneously committed...

Do you feel that your non-native bilingual parenting adventure has been worth the effort?
YES. VERY. Though like I said, less effort internally and emotionally would have been wonderful...