Meet Mayken, from Germany, living in France

For this May entry in the Mini-interview series, I have had the pleasure to interview Mayken, whom I have had the chance to “meet” through the BilingualZoo.  Mayken is a bilingual mum who impresses me very much as her proactivity and perseverance give off her quiet but iron-strong determination. Chapeau Mayken! 🙂

Tell us a little bit about you, your family and the language strategy (OPOL, ml@h, Time & Place…) you use to rear your children bi/multilingual. I’m German, my partner is French, and we live in Paris, France. Our daughter was born here and has attended a school with a German native speaker program (5h/week) since she was five years old. My partner does not speak German but has a sufficient grasp of the language that he mostly gets what we’re talking about when it’s not too difficult. Despite that, he was on board for the OPOL method from the start, and it’s what we’ve been using since our daughter was born: I speak German to our daughter, always, and he speaks French. We parents speak French with each other. My daughter, despite hearing me speak French with her father and other people all the time, has always spoken German with me. She uses French when she addresses us both, or me and other French speakers.

What are the 5 (or more) things you did that with hindsight have made a difference on your bilingual journey, and why do you think they had this positive effect?

1-Always speak German with my daughter, no matter where we are and what language the people around us speak. This primed her to speak German with me.

2-Reading to her every day in German. For her first 5 years, I was her only regular source of German. Reading widened the vocabulary she learned.

3-Regular visits with family in Germany, especially the grandparents (who don’t speak French). Bonding, and creating the need to speak German.

4-Longer (min. 1 week) holidays in Germany with arrangements (kids club, courses…) to mingle and interact with monolingual German children. We stayed at a family hotel with a kids club for kids aged  3-7 when my daughter had just turned three. She went there for a few hours every morning for 10 days. 3 weeks after we got home, her German exploded. (We followed up with more holidays at the family hotel and at a family resort for the next 3 years.) Again, this fosters the need to speak.

5-The bilingual school. I realise we were very very lucky to have this opportunity. It is an investment in time, energy and financially, of course, but for now we manage. Five hours per week might not seem much, and the teacher reminds us every year that those 5h at school are not enough, that we need to continue at home. (This might seem obvious, but some families aren’t as consistent as you would expect.) For me, it’s a huge relief – I didn’t have to teach my daughter reading and writing and spelling and grammar in German. Also, she has German-speaking friends and classmates, and being bilingual is considered normal at her school (even for the monolingual children).

6-Resources, resources, resources. We have a ton of books in German at home, and I keep buying more; My daughter has a huge stack of CDs, mostly with stories, but also songs, and we’re getting started on audiobooks. Books of all kinds: books for reading, books for being read to, activity books, story books, fairy tales, first reader books, non-fiction books. I think we could open a library!

Recently, my daughter told me about a book her monolingual French friend had recommended – after checking it out, I got her the German version. Likewise, when she started getting curious about Harry Potter, I invested in the German editions. (I already own the English ones.)

When I started out, I asked my cousin who has older kids and a friend from high school who does, too, for recommendations.

7-TV and DVDs. We have subscribed to an offer including German TV channels so my daughter can watch the German kids TV channel, and we have a growing DVD library of kids movies (including Disney). Of course we keep tabs on her screen time, but when she watches, it’s in German. No French kids TV allowed. (Exceptions are made for the occasional family movie/show we all watch together.)

What is the n°1 tip you would give to any bilingual family on this bumpy journey?

Don’t give up! Even if you can’t invest enough time/energy/resources and don’t have options like bilingual/ml schooling, an ml community or trips to the ml country to draw on, you can still give your kid(s) an affinity for the ml, a curiosity on which they will build later when learning the ml in formal schooling becomes an option.

And you never know what is going to happen – an ml family might move into your neighborhood, or someone starts offering courses in ml in your town. It is never too late!

Mayken’s fascination with bilingualism started when her grade 8 geography teacher in Germany told her about (officially) bilingual Canada, and she went there to find out for herself. Later she wrote her diploma thesis on “The neighbour’s language in kindergartens and preschools in the German-French border area” and graduated from German-French Studies.
She now raises her own bilingual German-French kid in Paris with her French partner.


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