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Language learning for kids and adults

Language learning for kids and adults

Our favourite language learning app for kids, Gus on the Go, has free language printables.

We’re counting down the weeks until the big move to Germany, and I’ll answer the third most often asked question: do you speak German?

Um, not yet?

Our nearly seven year old has been in French immersion, so his reading and writing education has been entirely in French so far. He speaks quite well, and understands loads, and though it might seem a bit crazy to pile on another language now, he’s been taking it in like a sponge. Thankfully French and German have quite a few parallels.

We’re not pushing hard on the German with our son quite yet as he will be attending a bilingual German English school, and I suspect he’ll be better than we are a few months in. However, just to get him going, we downloaded our favourite language app for kids, Gus on the Go, in German. They also have a terrific set of free printables on their site as well – fortune tellers, flash cards, and more.

Look at my 9% fluency! Whee!

My husband and I have been spending about an hour a day on Duolingo, and for a free app, it’s incredible. We have access to an earlier version of Rosetta Stone, and while it’s helpful and a bit pickier when it comes to translation, we’ve both found we spend the most time on Duolingo. My husband also likes using Busuu, it focuses more on conversational German.

Our favourite complement to Duolingo, however, is German Pod 101. Their audio lessons are hilarious, and I’ve learned a few basic rules that make it so much easier to get through intermediate Duolingo lessons. The Accent Improvement lessons are excellent, and having transcriptions of everything readily available has been a lifesaver. The little cultural tips are invaluable to us, as we’ll be making Germany our home for the next few years. They have a free option where you can get access to the audio lessons, but it doesn’t cost much to get a membership that includes transcripts. They have an app as well. The Newbie series of audio lessons have been a big hit in the car on the way to school too.


Expat Tips for Families: Before You Go

Expat Tips for Families: Before You Go

Having relocated to England, moved back to Canada, and now preparing for our second relocation, this time to Germany, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned, though this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. There’s no substitute for talking to other expats about their experiences, so take note of number three and join some online groups!

Expat Tips for Families: Before You Go - Erin at Large

Research schools early – and decide if you’re going international or local

This was a big headache in our latest relocation to Germany. Our son was going into Grade 2 in Canada, in French Immersion. School fees weren’t covered in our relocation package, and the average International School (a school run on American curricula, and entirely in English) costs about 15k-25k a year per child in Europe. However, if your children are young, and you are going to be staying in this new city for awhile it’s worth researching your options. We found a private bilingual German/English school that runs the German curriculum, for a fraction of the cost of International School, plus our son learns German. If they are preschool or kindergarten age, it’s worth going the local (and free) route. Added bonus: they can translate for you in the grocery store until your own language gets up to speed.

Get an after-tax take-home salary estimate from your employer

It’s tough to figure out what your actual take-home pay will be when you’re talking about a country whose tax system you are unfamiliar with. You should be able to get an fairly accurate estimate of your take-home pay from your HR department. Things like pension schemes and mandatory deductions are hard to predict ahead of time. Getting an accurate take-home salary number makes it much easier to budget ahead, and figure out things like what kind of school fees you can afford, what you can rent, and all that stuff.

Don’t just throw out all your stuff

I can tell you from experience, you will end up re-buying half of it on the other side. By all means, do a thorough stocktake, and use this time to figure out what you really love, but don’t go crazy getting rid of everything. If you’re paying for your own shipping, question your shipping company thoroughly about price bands – partial container shipments are available, and sometimes it depends on weight and cubic dimensions, but not always. Sit down and do the math about what it will cost to replace things on arrival compared to shipping it. We have done this process both ways: paid container shipping and paying for it ourselves. In both cases, we wished we had shipped more of our things. If you’re not paying, ship everything you may think you need, even if you’re not sure (except electronics – see below!). It’s worth noting that if you’re shipping your belongings in a container, the shipping people will pack it for you. They don’t want you claiming insurance on broken dishes because you can’t pack well. It’s glorious having them do it though. It will spoil you for intracity moving forever.

Join as many expat groups as you can find

Search Facebook for ‘Expats in xxx’ for local groups, and often your own searches for other things around your new city will pop up with expat forums. A good one is InterNations, they have volunteer on-the-ground reps that organize events in many big cities around Western Europe. It’s a good place to get hooked up with another expat’s furniture as they move to another location.

Start figuring out which of your electronics work

Make a spreadsheet. This sounds ridiculous, but when you start walking around your place and looking at all the things you use that plug in, this rapidly becomes less silly. Check every device to see if it is dual voltage. Most devices with a big chunky block on the power cord are – things like computers are usually dual voltage. Most small kitchen appliances are not. If you’re going from 110v (North America) to 220v (Europe) you will fry anything that isn’t dual voltage. Literally, smoke comes out and everything. You can get step-down converters, which are very different from adapters and expensive, that allow you to get a North American plug straight into a European socket. All of which are different by the way, so you’re going to want to check. Eventually, you can get European power adapters for things like camera battery chargers, computers, and other dual voltage electronics. Big items like KitchenAid mixers and food processors with big motors are a lost cause however. The motor is so powerful, it will need a giant, expensive, and noisy converter to function, and most people say it’s not worth it.

Know some things will go wrong

No matter how many spreadsheets you make, schedules you prepare, and forums you read – things will go a bit pear-shaped at some point. You will sit on the bathroom floor of your new apartment, and wonder what the hell possessed you to move so far away. You’ll have a wobbly in the grocery store trying to figure out where things are. It’s fine. You’ll also have incredible moments when it seems unreal you’re living here. It’s a grand adventure.

Any other tips you’d like to share?


The next move: Germany

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

For someone who doesn’t like to travel, I move a lot.

Back and forth across Canada a couple of times, then to England for seven years, and then back to Vancouver for five years, and in a little over two months we’re moving to Germany.

We’re lucky in that both our move to England and this move to Germany has been through relocation programs with my husband’s company. Though the first time we did this, we were in our mid-twenties. Now we’re older, and have a child. A few more moving parts to the whole thing.

I had never been to Germany when I said yes to this move. After many years in England, I knew a little bit what to expect. And the opportunity to live in Europe again, for our son to live there and gain a wider understanding of the world – it was just too good to pass up. I am again giving up a job and a network. My mum is here. You would think, as a person with anxiety issues, doing something as bonkers as volunteering to move across the world to a country I have never seen that speaks a language I don’t know would be completely off the table.

Trust me, there are moments my anxiety takes over and I think I must be completely nuts to do this. But I think that’s normal human anxiety talking, rather than my extra special brand of worrying.

Somehow, this is okay. More than okay, an adventure. So follow along as we prepare for yet another giant move, and I fill you in on our second round expat journey.