People keep asking us how we're going to do the German thing with Piglet. And I tell them... we're going to raise a multicultural kid. One way or another. The specifics are a little fuzzy. We're just starting to hash them out. It's an interesting thing to try to figure out.
The most important thing to us in raising this child to be truly multicultural is for him to be able to have a meaningful relationship with his grandparents, not just my parents who conveniently live in the same country, but Torsten's parents as well. The relationship with my parents will be easier--they live closer (though not exactly close), they visit more frequently, they are more accessible. But the relationship with Torsten's parents is equally important. And that's what will take more work.
Of course we also just sort of generally want Piglet to have a sense of where he comes from, of what it means to be from more than one country, of the heritage and ancestry that are behind him, of how this family came to be. And the benefits of being raised bilingual seem pretty extensive. But the grandparent thing is the number one motivator.
So, since Torsten's parents don't speak English, Piglet has to be bilingual. I've read a couple books about this; there's no real consensus on the one perfect way to do it, but everyone agrees that any effort you can put in to help your child be bilingual is certainly worth it, even if it's imperfect. And honestly I don't think we can say that we'll do X or Y to ensure that Piglet is a fluent German speaker, because a lot of it will depend on how things go.
(As an aside, one thing that the research I've read says: first children are more fluent in the second language than subsequent children. The reasons for this seem to be complex, but are likely a combination of the parents having less time for quality verbal interaction with their kids when they have more than one child, and the second child spending more time interacting verbally with the sibling whose own second language skills are already imperfect. So I guess this means we should try to set the bar high with Piglet, in hopes that a future sibling will also be fluent, even if not quite at the same level?)
Anyway, our basic plan is: I will speak to Piglet in English and Torsten will speak to Piglet in German. Pretty much all the time. When we are together as a family, since I don't speak German, Torsten and I will speak English to each other. But if he's talking to Piglet, hopefully he will speak German, even if I'm there too, even if he has to translate for me if it's something that I needed to hear too.
I think it's clear that since Torsten and I speak only English together, and we live in an English-dominant country, that Piglet will just be exposed to more English than German, and his English will be better than his German. But the goal is for him to be pretty much completely fluent in German, even if his vocabulary isn't as nuanced as it is in English, and even if he makes grammatical errors when speaking.
We also hope that he will be able to read and write in German. We will ask Torsten's parents to bring us a bunch of German-language baby stuff, and eventually as we start traveling to Germany with Piglet we will try to collect German games and music and whatnot. In the meantime I think we're going to suck up the shipping charges and order a few German board books from amazon.de to get us started, so Torsten can read to Piglet in German from day 1. And we'll use our internet radio and Rhapsody subscription to play German kids' music, too.
Other plans: visits from Torsten's parents. Skype chats with Torsten's parents. Visits to Germany. Possibly when Piglet is older, visits to Torsten's parents without us, to spend a few weeks in Germany in a situation where he will genuinely have to speak German all the time. Possibly insisting that Piglet speak to Torsten in German, once he's a bit older (like elementary school age), but we'll see about that. A general attempt to expose him to as much German as possible on the theory that the English exposure will take care of itself. So lots of books in German, conversations in German, games in German, encouragement to write in German.
The dream would be a school that does German immersion, too. There are a few options for that in Denver, but they are all expensive, new, and/or very, very small. We don't have to worry about this for awhile, so we'll see how things shake out once we're ready to start looking into schools for real, but if Piglet could have even a year or two of German-language preschool, that would already be great. And before then... maybe a German speaking nanny or babysitter? We definitely don't want an au pair, but if there were some sort of caretaker who could speak with him in German, that would be great.
I do wonder how it will be for Torsten to suddenly switch to speaking German so often. His English, though accented, is completely fluent, but when his parents come to visit and he speaks German a lot, he definitely starts formulating English sentences with German-style construction. Hopefully the need to switch back and forth so frequently will help him avoid this habit... like maybe his mind will learn to more quickly differentiate between the two? I really don't know.
I also wonder... like, I very much look forward to seeing Torsten interact with the baby as a dad. And of course that will be the case no matter what language they're interacting with. But I wonder if it will be weird or hard for me to hear him saying things to the baby that I don't understand. That there won't be cute little comments and pet names that I can listen to and smile over.
But I am choosing to be optimistic about this, and assume that I will learn some German along with Piglet, and also that comments along the lines of, "Who's a cute baby? YOU'RE a cute baby!" will be unmistakable, even if they're said in German.
And we do want to be flexible about this. We don't want to tie ourselves in knots and make ourselves miserable trying to make this work. But we are determined that this child will speak German, and it's up to us to make that happen, and make it fit into our lives. I have high hopes.
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