Another visit to the pediatrician. Yes, I said another, and, yes, this is in pandemic times when the last place you want to go to is a Doctor’s office. We are not at the doctors for a vaccine or an illness or even a corona test, no, we are at the pediatrician again because my son’s kindergarten teacher has requested that I send my child to Speech Therapy. Now, you may say: Come on Brigs, you are overreacting. Don’t you know this is the day and age of child education therapy? Try get them right before they need too much therapy later on? Yes. I know, but I have one little difference in my life. My child does not actually pronounce anything strangely or have speech impediments, no, my child is a native English-speaking child in Bavaria. We speak only English at home and both my children go to respective German school and kindergarten.
I have had this same issue with my now 7-year-old daughter at the beginning of school. We were called in not long after she started school to say that she has “some serious concentration issues, still has one foot in the kindergarten and needs Occupational therapy”, which I dutifully took her for. The therapist ended up seeing both my kids and told me that the problem is not with their concentration or understanding. It is with their German language skills. He said he sees it time-and-time again. Imagine a 6-year-old kid who is used to playing and drawing all day gets put into a classroom of German only children and has to take orders from a person that is only speaking German to them. They are exhausted after only a couple of hours, if that. Their clever little brains are taking in the words, translating them into English, processing, translating back into German and giving the answer or writing it down or whatever. After even 30 minutes of this you can imagine a little one gets a bit tired and starts staring out the window, spacing out, or in my daughter’s case, taking out her contraband (a LOL doll or something she has snuck into her school case) and playing with it right there on her desk, inevitably distracting the other kids.
At the end of our ten designated Occupational therapy sessions, my daughter’s teacher said that we should carry on with the therapy. The therapist said this was not necessary as the therapy wouldn’t help. What we should be doing is speaking more German at home and spending more time with native German speakers. Yes. Good idea. Ok. So my husband and I toyed with the idea of changing our home language to German. We are both native English speakers and have only spoken English to our kids up until now. Shows you how desperate we are that our kids fit in and do well at school. If you are thinking: “that sounds like a nightmare” you are right. I can’t imagine changing my home language. I know parents who have done it, though. They mainly speak the language of the country to their kids. Even if both parents’ mother tongue is different. Can you imagine? As if parenting wasn’t hard enough! Respect to those parents. Although, I must just disclose that they are not English speakers.
We moved to Bavaria from South Africa when my daughter was almost 2 years old, and I was pregnant with my son. We only started learning German a year before we moved here. Everyone who is anyone said: “Oh don’t worry, your kids will learn German and be speaking German in no time. 6 months. Just put them straight into the German system.” Which is what we did. We didn’t put them into English speaking or international day care and schools. They went straight into German day care. Alright, open cards, we did make friends with English expats pretty quickly and didn’t have German speaking friends until we had lived here for a year. Still to this day, we seem to see more of our English friends than our German ones. Also, because in Regensburg nearly everyone can speak English, most people would rather practice their perfect English with us than sit through a frustrating basic German conversation.
The day-care teachers told me we should speak English to the kids at home so that they will grow up with a good knowledge of 2 languages. We could teach them how to speak English well at home and they would get their German practice at kindergarten and school. Of course, I was relieved with this, but made sure to try read them German stories and make sure some of their media was in German too.
Every child is different and has different learning styles and abilities, but it makes me wonder if I am doing something wrong when my son is starting to show signs of going down the same language path as my daughter. One year in my daughter’s kindergarten time, we had come back from a lovely Christmas in South Africa. My then 5-year-old daughter had been speaking only English for about a month. She went to kindergarten and declared: “I am English, I don’t speak German.” And refused to speak German. I was called in. She understood what the teachers were saying, but stubbornly answered them in English. I switched all the TV programs into German, which sorted that problem out after about 2 weeks. My son did exactly the same thing after the 1st lock down in 2020. He was out of kindergarten for about 6 weeks. We had been reading books in German to them and I had been speaking German to my daughter during home schooling, but he refused to speak German at kindergarten when he went back. He would just answer people in English. Now if he did that in the play-park to an adult, they would just switch to English and he knew it.
This pandemic has been extra hard. All the measures that I would have normally put in place to help my kids in this situation have been thwarted. Kids aren’t going to school or kindergarten and don’t have that constant German spoken to them. Usually I would have met up with Native German speakers in the park or at our houses to chat in German. Or I would take them to extra German lessons. Nothing in the way of extra mural activities is being offered in these times. My German has also suffered. I say no so often to my kids and bribe them to do so many things that it is really hard to keep all their media in German. There is no respite or holiday or break, so if they want to watch something that is so much better in its original English, I struggle to say no.