german/english bilingual kids questions - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 10-25-2010, 07:15 AM - Thread Starter
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my mother pointed out to me a few weeks ago that neither of my girls (5 and 3 yrs. old) are pronouncing their "th." anyone know if it will come on its own or if i should make some sort of an effort to "teach" them? i have heard that after a certain age you loose the ability to make these sounds- could that happen to a truly bilingual kid? how can i tell a lisp from a lack of having correctly learned (or is that the same thing?)

i am also wondering what appropriate expectations are for the grammar of a 5 year old. i have heard that often, a child will lack grammatically in one language, but i wonder if she is really making a lot of mistakes or if she is just the "norm" for her age? i am doing a lot of correcting in the moment ("ran"...."came".....ect...) hoping to help her in the same way my parents did me, but i don't want to stress her out about her english abilities either.

anyone have any experience with either of these issues?

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#2 of 20 Old 10-25-2010, 09:06 AM
 
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My boys both speak German and learned it as a second language while living in Switzerland. I am told and I think they both have perfect accents. I think exposure will to conversational german is good, but our kids actually picked up some french and italian and it never hurt the primary languages.

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#3 of 20 Old 10-26-2010, 01:08 PM
 
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I don't know about the 'th', but I know my 6 year old half-sister (she's American), still makes plenty of mistakes with irregular past-tense verbs. So I think that's normal at that age. Just keep correcting by reflecting back her sentences, only with the correct verb. Example:

DD: Yesterday we buyed a new winter coat.
Mama: Oh, yesterday you bought a new winter coat? Cool!

That way you aren't focusing on the fact that she's wrong, and she'll still get the correct verb.

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#4 of 20 Old 11-02-2010, 06:23 AM
 
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I'm having a similar problem, actually.

My four year old used to be really good bilingually: Speaking German to her papa, then English to me. Now that she's in Kindergarten and knows mommy speaks German, too, she will NOT speak English to me. (She DOES understand pretty much everything I say in English, as does my son, so they do understand it, just refuse to USE it.)
And let's not even talk about her pronunciation of "th" when I DO get her to speak English.
Ticks me off a bit, that they learn English songs in Kindergarten, but the teachers don't bother to speak it properly themselves or correct the children's pronunciations (or ask ME if I could help out!). "Happy Birthday" being the song where this all came up.

I'm also confused, because I do remember that young children in America often mispronounce things ("turkey" as "churkey", is one I remember making until I was like 7 or 8 years old and finally stopped thinking "ch" sounded better than "t"), so I'm not sure if this is really something to worry over or not. I am pretty sure that this stupid Denglish they get in Kindergarten is reinforcing what may even be normal childish mispronunciations.

I'm not really looking forward to English lessons when they start school anymore, either.
(Just hope they end up with really awesome teachers who recognise that it's NOT my children's "first second language" and do NOT lazily reinforce any mispronunciations.)

If I ever have my children tell ME that their teacher said my corrections are wrong... I have no idea what I'm going to do.
(I'm expecting this to happen, though, for principle matters, since my daughter particularly loves to tell me that her "teacher said she can stay up really late whenever she wants to".)


Anyways, any clue how I can get my children to speak English with me again? It's not like I can pretend I don't understand German, and I'm certainly not going to pretend I "can't understand THEM" (I feel that could damage my daughter's confidence, as she's rather a sensitive soul).
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#5 of 20 Old 11-02-2010, 01:11 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Sweetest Confection View Post
I'm having a similar problem, actually.

My four year old used to be really good bilingually: Speaking German to her papa, then English to me. Now that she's in Kindergarten and knows mommy speaks German, too, she will NOT speak English to me. (She DOES understand pretty much everything I say in English, as does my son, so they do understand it, just refuse to USE it.)
And let's not even talk about her pronunciation of "th" when I DO get her to speak English.
Ticks me off a bit, that they learn English songs in Kindergarten, but the teachers don't bother to speak it properly themselves or correct the children's pronunciations (or ask ME if I could help out!). "Happy Birthday" being the song where this all came up.

I'm also confused, because I do remember that young children in America often mispronounce things ("turkey" as "churkey", is one I remember making until I was like 7 or 8 years old and finally stopped thinking "ch" sounded better than "t"), so I'm not sure if this is really something to worry over or not. I am pretty sure that this stupid Denglish they get in Kindergarten is reinforcing what may even be normal childish mispronunciations.

I'm not really looking forward to English lessons when they start school anymore, either.
(Just hope they end up with really awesome teachers who recognise that it's NOT my children's "first second language" and do NOT lazily reinforce any mispronunciations.)

If I ever have my children tell ME that their teacher said my corrections are wrong... I have no idea what I'm going to do.
(I'm expecting this to happen, though, for principle matters, since my daughter particularly loves to tell me that her "teacher said she can stay up really late whenever she wants to".)


Anyways, any clue how I can get my children to speak English with me again? It's not like I can pretend I don't understand German, and I'm certainly not going to pretend I "can't understand THEM" (I feel that could damage my daughter's confidence, as she's rather a sensitive soul).
As for the bad English teaching at school, it's an epidemic. I teach English as a Second Language to adults, and it is scary to hear some of the ingrained mistakes they were taught by their school English techers (most of whom are German as the government won't let independently qualified native English teachers come into the schools unless they are qualified in two subjects by the German system ).

I have many coworkers with bilingual kids who face the same problem where their kids won't speak Engllish to them. My baby's preverbal, but I'm already worried about this happening. I've been told that the more time they spend in an English environment (immersion), the more enthusiastic they'll become. Plus, they'll have to use English in that case. Is is possible for you to spend summers and/or Christmas holidays in English speaking countries? My plan is to spend every summer in the US so my son will have that immersion experience at least one month a year. I also have a couplre English friends with kids and we're planning on doing an English playgroup. Maybe there's one where you live? I already can forsee the kids speaking German even in the English playgroup once they're schoolage though. And I,too, don't want to 'enforce' English and make it a negative experience for my son, but at the same time would be heartbroken if he chooses not to speak English with me anymore.
One of my English friends has a daughter who has a hard time describing experiences that happened in German to her in English. She always just gently says 'Please try in English Ellie', not making a big deal and just saying that once sentence, and it sometimes works. GL!

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#6 of 20 Old 11-06-2010, 02:31 AM
 
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See, I'm worried about my children not speaking German but English to me . DS (almost 4) is making an effort to speak German because he knows he can make me happy with it. The other day we went for a walk and on the way back he came rolling next to me on his balance bike and said "Mama, ich moechte eine Milch bitte."...Ahh...that was total bliss...made my heart melt and now he'll just switch words but using the same scentence. Saft, Jacke, Muetze etc..anything. It's cute and I love that he's really trying. We'll be going to Germany for five weeks next May and I'm hoping that both kids will pick up some more German.

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#7 of 20 Old 11-06-2010, 06:28 PM
 
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Well, about traveling to english-speaking countries once a year... money is an issue. I'm HOPING to be able to visit my US family next year with the children, but we'll have to see how it all goes.
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#8 of 20 Old 11-07-2010, 02:03 AM
 
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Well, about traveling to english-speaking countries once a year... money is an issue. I'm HOPING to be able to visit my US family next year with the children, but we'll have to see how it all goes.
Same way the other way around. 2800 Dollars for me and the kids in May...argh.

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#9 of 20 Old 11-07-2010, 01:41 PM
 
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Same way the other way around. 2800 Dollars for me and the kids in May...argh.
Funnily, purchasing tickets in Germany is cheaper than purchasing them in the US. The lowest I've ever found in the US was about $850 USD per person, but have managed to see tickets sold here for as low as 475 EUR per person to New York (after all the taxes and BS they tack on).. of course, I've only seen it that low once, but it's still generally cheaper than purchasing from the US.

Best travel times, I think, seem to be around Jan/Feb and then July (TO America).
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#10 of 20 Old 11-07-2010, 02:29 PM - Thread Starter
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PJ- thanks, it helps to know that english only speaking kids are making the same types of mistakes. and thanks for the word "reflecting" this is what i have always done, but i didn't have a word for it. and in good news, in the last week, i have heard her correct herself mid-sentence with "were" to "was." something is sinking in!

i still don't know with the "th".....

sweetest confection- i have often heard of children starting to "prefer" one language, but as far as i know, it is best to just keep responding in english and like the other poster said- try to find as many other english situations as possible. as for schools- have you thought of waldorf? my husband is a teacher (older kids,) and a coworker told us that bilingual kids don't have to do the regular english lessons, that they will work with them separately. i am sure that it will still be filled with mistakes, but if you are speaking english and trying to find other english speaking enviroments, i think those mistakes should work themselves out. it might also be that once she starts to have english in school and learns how "cool" she is, that she will start speaking with you again too. my older dd has already figured out that speaking english gives her a little something special- she can impress "school kids" and even talk with parents in secret code.

out of curiosity, was your dd born in america or germany? my first two were born in america- i am pregnant now and am curious how being born here will effect the new baby language wise. hopefully, since the other two speak english with me and mostly english with each other, she will just jump into the game.

i wish we could afford to visit america more often too.....

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#11 of 20 Old 11-07-2010, 06:16 PM
 
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sweetest confection- i have often heard of children starting to "prefer" one language, but as far as i know, it is best to just keep responding in english and like the other poster said- try to find as many other english situations as possible. as for schools- have you thought of waldorf? my husband is a teacher (older kids,) and a coworker told us that bilingual kids don't have to do the regular english lessons, that they will work with them separately. i am sure that it will still be filled with mistakes, but if you are speaking english and trying to find other english speaking enviroments, i think those mistakes should work themselves out. it might also be that once she starts to have english in school and learns how "cool" she is, that she will start speaking with you again too. my older dd has already figured out that speaking english gives her a little something special- she can impress "school kids" and even talk with parents in secret code.

out of curiosity, was your dd born in america or germany? my first two were born in america- i am pregnant now and am curious how being born here will effect the new baby language wise. hopefully, since the other two speak english with me and mostly english with each other, she will just jump into the game.

i wish we could afford to visit america more often too.....
Well, first, to answer your question, my children were all born in Germany. I've left my husband, but when we were still together, I spoke ONLY English with them and he spoke ONLY German with them. My daughter was rather good. For example, she would ask her dad for something in German and when he told her to ask her mom, she would turn to me and ask me in English. That changed only after she found out 'children speak German'.
My son mixed up both languages equally (spoke 'Denglish', regardless to whom he was speaking, but he's more than a year younger). Now, both speak German, except for a few words (a couple nouns and "ein hug").

Something cute is that my children never learned the German sentance for "tuck me in", so they Germanised it to "kannst du mich bitte eintucken" (my son STILL says that, even though others have tried to teach him "ins Bett bringen").


To the other part: Waldorf? I'M in nordrhein-westfalen - not far from dortmund. My children are of Kindergarten-age, not school-age, yet.
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#12 of 20 Old 11-11-2010, 03:36 PM
 
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Hi all!  I'm in Hamburg and new to these forums (although I've been reading Mothering for longer).

 

I joined the American Women's Club shortly after my wedding, and through that club I've met so many people who have been through this.  I have friends with teenage children who were born in Germany, and those parents who have strictly maintained the separation of languages have children who speak beautiful English.  Those who have allowed Denglish have kids who make a lot of grammatical mistakes.  I plan to take the advice of friends whose kids speak English well and not allow my daughter to speak German to me, even if I only speak German to her father.  (She's 5.5 months old... this is easy for me to say now.)

 

I know English words fail to come to me more often than I'd like, and I lived in the US until I was 28.  If I want my children to speak English as a native speaker, then I have to reinforce it.  I am lucky to have friends who can remind me of what they did and support me through the tough times in seeing this through.

 

That said, loads of American kiddos make the mistakes described by the OP.  They'll get it with practice and gentle reinforcement.  smile.gif

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#13 of 20 Old 11-15-2010, 01:53 AM - Thread Starter
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thanks BethHH! i needed to hear that. and it is interesting to hear about families with older kids- i don't know any. we also do one parent/one language, we haven't been "strict" about which language they reply in, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for us- my older dd now replies in the "right" language to each parent- with a rare word from the other language thrown in. my younger dd does mix languages, but she is only 3 and i don't feel worried about it b/c my older did the same- and she is getting better at separating all of the time.

 

sweetest confection- i brought up the idea of waldorf schools b/c you said that you were worried about what would happen with the teachers (teaching incorrect english,) when your children were old enough to go. my kids are young too, but i still think about what we will do. i wish we could afford a bilingual school, but the cost is enormous!


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#14 of 20 Old 11-22-2010, 01:12 PM
 
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OP, sounds like perfectly normal development to me.

 

our situation looks like this...

i'm german, dh is american. we moved to germany while pregnant with DD (3 1/2 now). until she was almost two i spoke only german, he spoke only english to her. she started speaking on the later side and then 80-90percent of her vocabulary was in german. this worried us, as dh is basically her only "english connection" here. so we decided to make english our "family language". we have friends whose children REFUSE to speak english because they know mama understands german. we absolutely didn't want that to happen. so we switched, which took me a couple weeks to get used to. DDs speech changed quickly. first to 50/50 and then it slowly progressed to her speaking more english and less german. this of course had my family a little concerned. but they all understand english very well, so it wasn't a huge issue and i reassured them that once she'd start german kindergarten, she'd catch up in no time.

she's been going to kindergarten for 3 1/2 months now and only for four hours a day. the teachers were immediately impressed with her bilingual abilities. they kept asking me "how did you do that?? she speaks it both so well!". of course she makes lots of mistakes in both languages still. more than her german only friends, but less than some other "foreigners" in her age group. she switches forth and back between german and english without problems. she'll talk to her teacher or friend in german, turn around to me and say a sentence in english and jump back to german for her friend. she also KNOWS that she speaks to languages. sometimes she knows a word only in german and she'll ask me "what's diesunddas in english, mama?". so cute! :)

and we really didn't make any kind of effort to "train" or "teach" her in any particular fashion. we just went with what felt right and seemed to make sense and so far, it's proven to work well.

 

now our younger daughter is 22months old and barely speaks at all. i'm starting to get a little worried about that. she has hearing issues which we'll need to further investigate. and i think it is more confusing for her now because at this point, my husband speaks very good german and he's on the phone talking to people in german all day long. we also live in a house with my grandparents and my brother, so she hears lots of german there and of course she hears me speak german more because when they're around i speak as much german as possible. and our oldest daughter has basically made german her "play language" ever since she started kindergarten. so when the two are playing together, as long as they are by themselves in their room, the older one will speak german to the younger one and then they come into the living room and include me in their play and everything switches to english. must be confusing for someone who's trying to decode and imitade... i can tell she understands everything perfectly though. in both languages. so that's good.

 

 

as for english in school.... i'm dreading the thought of it. i've researched my brain out trying to find a way to either get them into a bilingual school or one where they won't have to take english at all (we'd substitute at home) or one where at least they won't be given a hard time for being way ahead of everyone else. it's SO frustrating and i'm really worried about it.

 

my hopes are that somehow we'll strike gold for some crazy reason before they start fifth grade so that we can send them to this awesome montessori school in town. that's just about the only place here where i don't think their being bilingual will mostly be a disadvantage. :( gosh, i HATE the german school system so much. it seriously nearly killed me. especially in my passion for languages...

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#15 of 20 Old 11-23-2010, 02:23 AM - Thread Starter
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einel/s- my dh had a terrible time with language in public school too- and he speaks english (and french and dutch) so beautifully now...

and, i just recently learned about the stress of the fourth grade test- it sounds terrible! do you have a waldorf school nearby? if you do, check in to see about what they do for bilunguial kids. and, the motessori might have a sliding pay scale (in case you don't stumble on the gold pile...)

 

our dd2 was also a very late talker (even w/out hearing problems, which i think would play a big role.) she was 1 and 1/2 when we came and had a few words, but after we got here....she stopped talking almost all together, and didn't start to say a lot until she was over 2. now, at 3 (birthday next sun,) she talks non-stop! she uses mostly english, but lately she has realized that we are speaking two languages (she talks about it a lot,) and is really trying to say more in german to dh and is singing more songs from kindergarten too.  the other day she was humming the song for "sankt martin" and then she looked up and said to me (in english,) really seriously, "mama, martin was a very good man."

but, her sweetest new mix-up is to say "why-rum?" lol


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#16 of 20 Old 11-30-2010, 03:38 AM
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Sweetest Confection View Post

Ticks me off a bit, that they learn English songs in Kindergarten, but the teachers don't bother to speak it properly themselves or correct the children's pronunciations (or ask ME if I could help out!). "Happy Birthday" being the song where this all came up. 


Have you suggested coming in yourself and been refused, or are you confused as to why don't they just ask?

Not being native speakers or even trained in giving English lessons, they're probably not even aware about the mistakes they're making (and it isnt't reasonable not to expect them to have a rather obvious accent), and unless it happens to be a very enlightened school, the concept of having parents volunteer in the actual classroom (as opposed to, say, sell hotdogs at the fair) may be totally foreign to them. If you haven't already, you could gently introduce the concept. If you feel they might be reluctant to try it out or just say no as a reflex, you could bring it up at a parents' evening, with lots of German parents hearing. They are going to eat it up - you might even get them to pay you for regular lessons!

 

the other day, DS' class went on a field trip to a local baking factory and I overheard a father of one of the few new kids under three ask whether he could come along as he wasn't sure his son was already able to walk all the way. he was refused "because then everyone else might come and ask why couldn't they come along, too". because they're old enough to walk all the way by themselves and it was an exception, that's why! So the father decided he had to keep his child home on the day. I wanted to shout at them both for their inflexibility which made this child miss out...


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#17 of 20 Old 11-30-2010, 03:50 AM
 
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Forgot to add that your kid might see the other kids look up to you, and realize knowing more than one language is cool!


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#18 of 20 Old 12-17-2010, 09:31 PM
 
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We live in Germany and my 4 year old son combines his English and German in the same sentence. He goes to a German Kindergarten 4 hours daily and I speak English to him and my husband German. At the U8 Dr. visit, my doctor suggested I could take him to a speech therapist to help. I just try to correct him by repeating in English if he mixes up the languages. (He says, 'ganz slowly' and I will say 'very slowly'). I don't want to make a big fuss or put a lot of pressure on the issue to make him feel like he is doing something wrong. I am curious about what forms of 'therapy' are used and if anyone has any experience with this situation or feedback about speech therapy sessions.

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#19 of 20 Old 01-29-2011, 11:11 AM
 
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Wow, I keep forgetting to come see if anything is new in this sub-forum and then I miss out on all the fun. ;-)

With my dd we did the 1 parent 1 language thing until we separated, and now I speak both languages with her. But then she stopped speaking English with me as a toddler once she finally realized that we were speaking 2 languages at home. However, when she started school, things picked up. Even though she didn't have English classes herself until 3rd grade, she realized that she already knew something that the other kids didn't and this motivated her. Today - she'll be 10 in April and starts Gymnasium after summer vacation - her English is vastly improved, but still noticebly NOT native. And honestly, I'm not too concerned about teachers teaching the kids something wrong. I'd be just happy to hear her speak more English altogether!


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#20 of 20 Old 01-31-2011, 06:59 AM
 
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I had mentioned that some of my friends were strict about the languages... and I witnessed it the other day.  The 13-year-old was going to a sleepover and asked her mom where her "schlafsack" was.  Her mom said that when she could ask her with the proper English word, she would help her find it.  Not 2 minutes later, she asked again and all was good.  My friend said she did this when they were little, too.  They would say, "Can I have some Saft, please?" and she'd wait until they could ask for "juice".  Of course, sometimes she had to feed them the word so that they could ask again, but they would repeat the entire English sentence.

 

I asked her what she does about Gymnasium, as her daughters attend regular German schools.  She said that they still need to learn the grammar, just as American kids in American schools do.  They also had some issues with the teacher marking some correct answers incorrect (e.g. the textbook used the British word "flat" and my friend's daughter wrote "apartment").  My friend told her daughter she had to do it the way the teacher expected it, even if it was stupid.  Some employers and professors will also make ridiculous demands... this was sort of the same battle.

 

Glad I have a few years before I have to deal with this!

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