In our family there hasn’t really been an attempt to learn ‘a’ language. One language would be a bit limiting. Having said that, I’ve always been keenest to learn German and it’s the language other than English (LOTE) I knew most of before I became a parent so, on reflection, it’s been a big part of our LOTE education. In this article I will be focusing on German language acquisition. Before I start, though, I want to say that I think every word you learn, irrespective of what language it belongs to, is a growth in your vocabulary. Any phrases, experiences of communicating in, or grammatical knowledge of, a LOTE (assuming that English is your first, and therefore likely to be your only, language) is a wonderful growth for your mind in a range of obvious and also surprising ways, which I won’t go into here but are fascinating in their own right.
So, back to German and how we learn it with a natural learning educational approach.
Most recently my daughter (12) and I have been enjoying watching a German language program available on Youtube called Papyrus. Papyrus is set in the Egypt of the Pharoahs. It is the story of a Fischer (fisherman) named Papyrus and the daughter of the Pharoah known as Prinzessen (princess). Each time we watch it we understand more of what is going on; recognising more of the words, sentences and generally increasing our German fluency and enjoying our increasing fluency.
On days when we felt like watching more than one episode of Papyrus, we watched other short Youtube clips, after searching for ‘German language lesson’. This led to some pretty interesting discussions on which ones we liked best, and why, and even just swapping one almost straight away because we just looked at each other and went, ‘yeah, this is crap’.
We started watching Papyrus on a whim a couple of weeks ago. It went something like, ‘I wonder what German shows there are on Youtube?’ It led on from my daily use of DuoLingo (German) over a slightly longer period of time. My daughter heard and saw me using it on my phone quite soon after I downloaded it. She wanted to have a turn too and now just follows along doing the lessons at a rate that suits her, whenever she feels like it. As I do it most days, often after the reminders I receive from the app, she also does it most days.
A month or so ago, inspired by the recent craze for adult book colouring, I went online to look for colouring books I might enjoy. I ended up getting a German language colouring in book. It kind of reminds me of the Richard Scary books I had as a kid with many things on the double page colouring spreads labelled. My daughter and I are going to share this book; so far I have coloured in a whole double page spread, in part while we watched Papyrus. I found it great as I am a reading-literate individual, and kind of passively absorbed the words as I coloured around them on the page.
It may or may not work that way for my daughter, who is earlier into her literate reading trajectory than I am, and certainly, where German is concerned, she does not read yet at all. However, I would guess that as she colours it in, it will probably lead to her asking questions and that, in turn, may spark conversations either about German or in German.
It may have become obvious that our family is already somewhere along the trajectory of learning German. In terms of my kids’ lives, I have always known a few words and phrases in German and use them fairly often. For example, I am rarely heard to ask ‘where is the honey?’, which I have in every cup of tea I drink (and, believe me, I am a tea drinker). Rather, I always ask, ‘wo ist der Honig?’, to the point that even when visiting friends I ask for it this way (honestly, I often forget that I am not speaking English). The great thing is when people say ‘what?’ my daughter is often the first to say, ‘oh, she just wants to know where the honey is’.
We have some dual language books in the house, including popular stories like Der Regenbogenfische (The Rainbow Fish) and Jack und der Bohnenstengel (Jack and the Beanstalk) which were amongst the stories read to the kids when they were young. I often didn’t know what the words were that I was reading, but with a general sense of how German ‘should’ sound, I ‘faked it til I made it’, so to speak. If I see German language items in op-shops I tend to buy them, like the sign on the wall that asks people, in German, to be kind to ‘me’, along with a good range of German dictionaries and phrase books, all from op-shops or donated.
We also have had quite a number of interactions with people whose first language is German. For several years we had a listing in the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) book which specifically welcomed German language speakers to come and stay and work in our home. There were times when the main language spoken around us was German. There were language games like the blackboard which welcomed guests that gradually transformed through multiple languages thus:
completely unplanned just because a blackboard was there and chalk was available. Or the bins we needed labelled for an event that ended up with the label:
Ich bin Bin (I am bin).
A travelling German student teacher and I once decided to start playing with the dolls’ house ONLY speaking German to see if the kids (my daughter as well as her similar aged cousins and a friend) joined in. They did. Kids are drawn to adults playing like bees to honey and we all had a great language immersion session. They didn’t say much in German but they certainly understood, after limited repetition that, for example, we were asking for the bed or the bath, or that we were saying that we should put the dolls in the bed then into the bedroom. I recommend WWOOFers for learning LOTE if you have the space. You only need have room for one or two, usually young travellers, and you have the right to choose who stays after you talk on the phone, and to terminate the stay at any point if you feel this needs to happen. I have had vastly more positive experiences than negative ones, and the negative ones were not that bad, just people who were a bit lazy or lacking in social skills.
I hope this article might have seeded some ideas about how LOTE can look. It needn’t be bogged down in formal learning, though it certainly need not exclude it for those thus inclined (although, personally, I would let the learner lead the move to formal learning). I also think that there is great pleasure to be had in learning a LOTE and I recommend it to anyone of any age. Make it fun, for you and for the learner, and weave the LOTE into daily life as much as, and in as many ways as, possible.
(Please note that I have not made an attempt to umlaut the words. Think of it as a possible LOTE activity where you can Google them all, and add them in by hand).
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