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Six months in: Finding our feet

Six months in: Finding our feet

We’ve been living in Germany for six months now, and it feels like we’re finding our feet. Our son has settled into school well, and the German words are flowing a bit more often (as are his corrections to our German!). Letters from the bank are less confusing, and I’m pretty good when faced with a wall of German signage.

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Our German washing machine

It’s very isolating, walking around and not being able to exchange small talk with the person next to you in any way. I can make my way through most cashier interactions – asking for a bag, understanding how much things are (just about), and saying have a nice day and goodbye. If I have time to plan ahead, I will work out what I need to say but I get flustered very easily. It’s ridiculous, everyone is incredibly patient and friendly about my halting German. More than friendly, nearly everyone seems thrilled I want to learn. Of course, they also want to practice their English, so it can be a battle to get someone to keep speaking German with you.

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As the weather slowly warms up, I’ve noticed the tourists starting to appear. Our little city has nearly 12 million tourists come through every year, so by next month I expect to see many more. We spend most of our time outside the Altstadt where most people go, but it makes me smile seeing people standing on our bridge and taking photos. Even when they back into the bike lane. I swore in German the other day when it happened, so that’s a step forward I suppose!

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Flammkuchen, mid-devouring

The food thing has been the hardest adjustment. German food is very regional, so what you hear about as ‘German’ in other countries is often only a very small window into what’s available. Where we live, there is a lot of Flammkuchen, which you can get in France in the Alsace and Lorraine region as tarte flambé. It’s a kind of flatbread, baked in a wood-fired oven, with creme fraiche, lardons (bacon), and leeks or onions. It can be very rich, it’s not something I eat regularly. There are the sausages, of course, and there seems to be quite a bit of weißwurst around, the Bavarian white sausage. Frankfurt has a vinegary green sauce that they apparently put on everything, I quite like it really. Swabia has its own distinct cuisine, but they are a bit east of us, so I don’t think I’ve had proper Swabian food yet. Because we are so close to France, we get quite a few very good patisseries and cheese shops, one of which he asks to stop at every day on our bike ride home from school. He and I often have a dinner that mainly involves half a baguette each, smeared with good cultured French butter and sea salt, when my husband is away.

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Post-school quarkballchen break at the French patisserie

I end up making a sort of hybrid meal of things I’ve learned here, with what’s available, from recipes I know from living in Canada and the UK. Strange things are difficult to find: broccoli is often sitting yellow on the shelf, and if it is green, it turns yellow within a day when I get it home. The ubiquitous-in-Vancouver kale is not often in the shops either. Cabbage, of course, in many, many varieties, is everywhere and very fresh. I’ve adjusted to using Savoy cabbage in place of kale. We’re on the edge of a wonderful wine region, so I take every opportunity to try out the local product.

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Walking home from school

My son gets a hot lunch served at school, and occasionally I hear reports of potato dumplings or pancakes for lunch with ham and cheese in them. I’m pretty sure he’s had more of the local cuisine than we have.

I wonder sometimes, will he remember Canada if we stay here until he is older? I was keen for him to experience Canada when we moved from London back to Vancouver. We don’t know when we will go back, but I can easily imagine him turning 10 before we do so. Seven through ten are such formative years, how funny to think he will experience them here. As I watch distressing things happening in the news, I think it can only be a good thing to feel yourself a citizen of the world, and meet as many different people as you can when you’re young.

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Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

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.

3 tips for kids learning a foreign language

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.

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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.

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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?

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App review: Gus on the Go French

App review: Gus on the Go French

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Language vocabulary apps – it sounds like a chore just thinking about them, let alone suggesting my son should try one. Memories of boring lists illustrated with dated line drawings pop up in my mind.

The other day, however, I woke up from a nap (bliss!) and I was body tackled by my 4 year old, asking me whether I knew the word for watermelon in French. And, well, no, I didn’t.

‘Pastèque!’

Hang on, he didn’t know any French when I fell asleep. What happened?

Apparently, my husband had downloaded Gus on the Go for French on our iPad.

Through a combination of picture matching, repetition, and games, Gus on the Go covers an amazing amount of vocabulary. In that hour I had been sleeping, Elliot picked up 30 or more words, and the next day another 20. The third day he skipped all the instructional elements and went straight to the games – there was hardly any loss of knowledge at all. I know this is an example of preschoolers being little sponges, but it amazed me.

The process is this: your child touches simple illustrations, organized into sets like home, animals, food, transportation, etc and hears the words spoken by a native language speaker. Once they’ve completed some simple matching quizzes, the games are unlocked. To be honest, these are more matching images to the spoken words, but in the guise of helping Gus the owl fly up a tree, helping a horse win a race, capturing the right objects with bubbles, and that sort of thing. Getting most of the matches correct wins a trophy and unlocks more games.

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Even though children progress through different vocabulary sections, the games still throw in a few from sections they’ve already completed. So when they’re capturing numbers with bubbles after hearing the French words, a cow will appear, or a pair of shoes, to keep their knowledge of the previous sections fresh.

The best children’s apps are navigable by a little person from the start, and Gus on the Go is right up there. He pops it open and is deep in learning new words within a minute. It’s been incredibly well designed, both in the speed of forward progress and navigation. My son chooses it quite often all on his own, which is an impressive badge of approval. He loves to show off his skill with the app to all his friends and family.

I checked out the developer’s website when I was writing this review, and they have a lovely selection of free language printables for downloading including number flashcards, mix-and-match clothing vocabulary blocks, zoo animal fortune teller, and a transportation wheel.

Incredibly, Gus on the Go is available for 22 languages: French, German, Cantonese, Spanish and more, on both iOS and Android. For only $3.99, this is an incredible deal for a solid language app. Suggested age range: 2-6 years.

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