one million words

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On love & perserverance

Parenting promises free lessons in perseverance. They say pick your battles and I do but some struggles are non-negotiable. Like teaching my kids German. When my son was an infant my mother pulled me aside, urging me to commit to pass on our native tongue. My parents not being able to communicate with my husband felt bad enough. Our kids would bridge the communication gap. I needed to make it happen. No matter what.

I have met many adults who wished a parent had passed on their native tongue. However it didn’t used to be cool to be bilingual. Early immigrants commonly feared their children would not adapt well if they retained their native tongue. Turns out kids are more adaptable than they let on.

Some try to pass on their native language and it won’t work. Meaning the child will refuse to reply in the secondary language. This is frustrating and feels like failure. It’s hard not to give up when all your efforts seemingly fall flat. The gap between efforts and tangible result is bridged by perseverance. Anyone can learn to persevere.

In this case it means offering my linguistic gift by speaking German no matter what. My kids do not applaud my efforts. Instead their mouths keep chatting along the path of least resistance. This too is normal and not to be feared. It’s an invitation to grow in perseverance.

When our son was born I hadn’t spoken German (on a daily basis) for nearly a decade. It felt awkward at first, like drawing a picture with my left hand. Slowly the words emerged from the past and claiming new space in our secret language world.

Initially my efforts seemingly paid off. Ours son’s first words were German and for the first couple of years he seemed to favor his second language. We managed to take 3 trips to Germany before he was 3. Each trip added books and CD’s to our bilingual collection. He was hooked on Winnie the Pooh in German and sang, counted and chatted effortlessly.

One day around age 3, he stopped. His German had been on the decline. No one but me understood him and at last it dawned on him that I understood English as well. From then on, he answered in English.

Seven years later I continue to speak German to my children. They’re fine with it but most days pass without my kids uttering a single German word.

My mother once told me as long as you understand a language, you have the ability to speak it if you chose to. This seems to be true. My kids will speak German if and only if they absolutely have to. On the phone with my parents or in Germany. (a very cost effective option 🙂

Last May I watched my kids running around having a blast with their German cousins. Suddenly all those days of sticking with German felt worth it. I think the kids sensed it too. But soon they forget. I have been guilty of taking the path of least resistance too.

Last month I created a reward chart: Speak more German. Read a German book- get a sticker. Ask for what you want in German- get a sticker. The chart is taped to the inside of our pantry door. At night my 4 year old will rip the door open, toss a German book at my feet and demand her sticker. Progress sometimes looks like that.

Incorporating German into our busy lives is not effortless. It takes intention, an ongoing determination to make it work. The rewards are not immediate. But each letter, word and phrase holds a tiny promise of understanding another world.

For me each tiny word is another pearl on the string of perseverance. I don’t often see the big picture either. But today, I am choosing to not let that stop me. Today I am choosing to lean into the tedious daily thing that seemingly yields no fruit.

Parenting promises never ending opportunities to do just that. Because love always perseveres.

What part of your life is begging you to greater perseverance?

Vday2012

Our 3 bilingual when I-feel-like-it cherubs on V-day 4 years ago.

9 Replies

  1. JC

    This is so true! I’m so glad that my mom spoke with me – if nothing else – no accent when I speak my second language…very important. I’ve actually been complimented on my English when there 🙂 On another topic, I hate to say it but Jaden did not understand my German when I spoke with him the other day – one year of German – was it him or me? Ha! At least my German makes Lena laugh.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Well done Swedish mama. As far as your German efforts- that’s a pretty typical response. My kids favor native speakers without English skills (i.e. grandparents and cousins)… as far as responding appropriately to everyone else- myself included- good luck!

  2. Stephanie

    Thank you for the encouragement to persevere….. although the struggles are different, the struggle is real.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- indeed. But so are the rewards! Hugs.

  3. Tara

    This week…homeschooling is begging me to greater perseverance. 🙂 Somehow I cannot get my sweet girl to understand that if 1-2 hours of school at home is TOO MUCH SCHOOL, a full day at school with homework in the evenings isn’t going to be any less.

    1. Astrid Melton

      I hear you! We have the exact same problem, even with the kid who has had 3 years of all day school. Hello, perseverance!

  4. Same here. My kids are 11, 14 and 16 and I still only speak English to them and they still only reply in Swiss German. I have decided to stick with it, hoping that some day they will be thankful.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Nice work. It’s not in vain and hopefully someday it will be appreciated. Those are tough ages to speak a language other than your friends.

  5. Lois

    Astrid, I applaud you for your perserverance. You truly are honoring your parents and your German heritage .
    One day your children will be eternally grateful. Keep up the good work it is worth the effort.

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