One of the things we love about this area of southern Germany are the castle ruins scattered over the countryside. For the most part, the original ones were built somewhere in the 11th and 12th centuries, and were destroyed in the Thirty Years War, which trampled over this region like a rampaging herd of dinosaurs repeatedly in the 17th century. We’ve been driving around, checking them out in the incredibly cold mist we’ve been having every day lately. Of course, this means our seven year old is completely over castles now it seems. *sigh*
St Michael’s Monastery
The above is not actually a castle but someone’s house, directly below Heidelberg Castle.
My son is seven years old, and through various twists of fate he has attended an English language public school and a French immersion public school Canada, and now attends a German/English bilingual private school in Germany. We’ve gone through the language/school transition twice now, both with a major international move and without. While I’m not a speech pathologist, a teacher, or a child psychologist, I have gone through this as a parent a couple of times now. As we adjust to our new life in Germany, I was struck by how many similarities there are between our time settling in to French immersion school and German school.
Here are three things we’ve learned, living through this major change twice now.
Ease into it.
If you have a few months to prepare, use them. Ask the school your child will be attending for some tips and resources in the target language. Download game-like apps to give your child a feel for the vocabulary (we love Gus on the Go in particular). Check the Netflix options for shows in the target language, but look for ones a few age levels younger so the speech is simpler. It’s ideal if it is a show your child likes and knows well already. Pinterest is great for language resources, and so is YouTube (here is my French immersion resources board, and my Learning German board). Obviously don’t throw it all in there at once, but try something every couple of days.
Support, but don’t push it.
Once they start school, it’s tempting to try and speak to them in the target language (if you know it), or expect them to come home with new vocab every day. Don’t forget how exhausting learning a new language is – and if your child is staring in a new school in an immersion situation, they’re doing a new job in a new language too. Keep things as mellow and predictable as you can at home, and keep the extra curricular activities to a minimum until they settle in. Though, if there’s an activity they really love and feel confident doing, definitely go for that. Learning a new language can be a real knock to even confident kids, so anything that bolsters the ego is terrific.
Give it time. Lots of time.
It may seem like they will never speak the language, or that nothing is going in, but be patient. With our son, it takes about six months before little words and phrases start popping out at random. If you can, spend some time learning the language too if you don’t already speak it, and ask them to help you. Kids love teaching their parents something. If you’re really concerned nothing is sticking, talk to their teacher. I really recommend waiting at least six months though – and know that speaking the language is one of the last things to come.
Have you made a language transition with your children? Any tips to share?
Moving to a new country as a family, as opposed to a free-wheeling young adult, dumps you deep into the everyday minutiae in ways that’s hard to predict ahead of time.
Our son attends a German/English bilingual school that runs on the local curriculum, rather than an international school (which are in English, and generally stick to North American IB programmes). Most of his classmates are German, as are the parents, and it gives us a window into local holidays. We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year, as we were still getting settled in our flat and our son had a cold. I’m just getting to the put where I can figure out the names of the spices and the cuts of meat I need in German – I didn’t really want to start running around trying to find North American groceries in a small town. Next year I’d like to have a nice get together with our German friends and introduce them to our celebratory autumn meal. Remind me next September and I might get it together in time!
Halloween is not really a thing here, while the kids had a dress-up party at school, there was no trick or treating as far as we could tell. No pumpkins in windows or front steps. Stores had some decorations, but it was pretty low key. Halloween itself also happened to fall during Herbstferien, the autumn term week-long break. I warned our son about the lack of Halloween excitement ahead of time, and promised that Christmas is a Big Deal. Judging by the displays already up in the windows,
On November 11th, Germans celebrate St Martin’s Day, or Martinstag. We trundled down to our local main street, and followed an actor dressed up as Saint Martin in his Roman gladiatorial gear and riding a horse. The children carry homemade lanterns, and there were several marching bands playing Martin songs, which we didn’t know, but many others sang along around us. We reached one of the squares in the Altstadt to watch a very short play about Saint Martin tearing his cloak in half to give to a beggar, the tasting of the first glass of wine from this year’s harvest, and the handing out of Martinsmännchen, person-shaped sweet bread figures.
There’s something amazing about walking down these streets, knowing children have been running around waving lanterns every November for 400 years. It’s one of reasons I was so keen to move back to Europe.
The Weihnachtsmarkts start at the end of the month, and we’re lucky enough to have a particularly lovely one in our little town. Now I just have to figure out how to do Nikolaustag on December 5th.
It’s coming up on three months since we moved to Germany. We’re in our proper flat now, and are slowly unpacking, and possibly the more annoying part of the equation, recycling the boxes and paper.
I’m very glad we had moved to the UK first, because seven years there was like a crash course in dealing with bureaucracy. Now that we’re dealing with it here, in a different language, I am not surprised by any delays, or the random hours a given office or bank is open. Thankfully I’m not working at a traditional office job, so I can trundle around to the drivers license place at 10am on a Tuesday, to hear we need an eye test that no one told us about the first time. But at least I didn’t have to wait two hours in a queue to hear that.
Things are both easier and harder, being in a medium-sized town rather than a big centre like Berlin or Munich. About 150,000 people live in our city, but it’s part of a long stretch of towns and cities around the rivers Rhine and Neckar, along with wineries and farms dotted all over. A smaller city means people are friendlier, but also means there isn’t a big English-speaking community. We’re not really into cloistering ourselves in an ‘expat’ community, though when there is a language barrier, it can be a bit harder to make friends. Our German is improving slowly, even before we’ve started lessons – Christopher and I managed to buy three carpets, and even get a couple cut to size and edged, all in German. Don’t ask me to say my phone number in German if you’re in a hurry though, it takes me nearly 2 minutes to get it all out.
This huge park is in the middle of the city, and easy to reach by transit. There are many many playgrounds, and we just stopped at three or four as we wandered. Elliot’s favourite was right next to the big biergarten surrounding the Chinese Tower. You can ride a beautiful carousel from 1905 for €1 a go. Terrifically, no adults are allowed on it, so you can sit for a minute.
Check out the surfers on the Eisbach canal at the far south end of the park. It’s mesmerizing.
If you’re exhausted, you can flag down one of the pedicabs for a ride or a tour. It’s not cheap – €35 or so will get you a tour. A cheaper option is taking out a pedal boat on the lake, it’s €10 for half an hour.
The biergartens serve the usual bratwurst, french fries, soft pretzels (brezeln), sauerkraut, onion salad, and potatoes – as well as giant vats of beer. You can bring your own food as well, so if you’re planning to make a meal of it, swing by a REWE or Edeka beforehand for some vegetables.
Easy to reach by bus, the zoo can easily take up a whole day. There are several playgrounds, and a little mini theme park called Kinderland complete with ride-on cars, a minitrain, a beautiful carousel, and a digger. Kinderland involves buying tokens for the rides, so keep that in mind.
In the middle of the zoo there’s a biergarten right next to the biggest playground. There’s also a sit down restaurant on the terrace above if you’re looking for burgers instead of sausages.
It’s worth checking the schedule of feedings and shows before you head out. The shows are in German, so if you don’t speak the language it’s a bit less interesting. We watched the acrobatic pigeon show, though, and it was fun anyway. The pigeons kept landing on people’s heads!
Our favourites were the Bat Cave, where the bats fly around your head and occasionally bump into you, and watching the penguins zip through the water.
Ask at the entrance gate for a map in English, and one in German to practice your animal names!
We visited Taxisgarten, a local biergarten recommended by my husband’s colleagues. Again, it’s furnished with a playground, and features the usual food options. It’s beautiful on a warm summer evening, with lights strung up in the trees. You can bring some of your own food here too, so bring some extras if your kids are like mine and will only eat Brezel.
Where to find playgrounds >> should you be in Munich and need to find the nearest playground, try this great searchable outdoor playground (spielplatz) database. You can plug in your children’s ages and where you are, it will give you the closest playgrounds. It’s in German – I’m sure you can find your way through, but if you’ve got the Chrome browser with the translation plug-in it makes it very easy.