Raising a Bilingual Baby

With our trip to Germany approaching (!), I have been thinking a lot about the need for Greta to be exposed to the German language and our plan/approach to raising her bilingually.

The problem is we don't really have a plan.

Sure we have talked about her being bilingual. We talked about it before getting married and we discussed it when we found out we were pregnant but we have never actually sat down and thoroughly mapped out a plan.  (Does that make us bad parents?) I (we) just assumed Matt would talk to her in German and she'd learn it, expose her growing brain to the language and we will be good, right? Well, we are 7 months in and I have to repeatedly remind Matt to talk to her in German. It's really hard. I think mainly because I don't speak German well, so he never speaks it in the house (unless he's extremely mad ie: putting together ikea furniture lol, drunk, or just finished having an in depth German conversation with someone). He speaks German when we Skype with his parents but not as much as he used to as his parents converse with me in English and try to include me in all aspects of the conversation.

I've concluded lately, that raising her bilingually is going to take a lot more time and work than I first expected and it's going to take me working at it as well too!  Over the past 6 years, I have made attempts at learning German, when I realized that Matt was 'the one'.  I took night German classes for 3 - 3 month sessions, my best friend speaks German so she tried to help, I bought German language CD's and listened to them on my way to school and work. I tried a lot!  I had some success - I know the basics. Alphabet, numbers, colors, basic travel questions, foods, etc. My problem is sentence structure, phonetics, and just the overall speed people speak. It's funny, at our wedding I did the thank-you speech to his parents in German - they were so impressed (!) but do you know how long it took me to learn how to say that 5 minute speech? Months. I had what I wanted to say translated by my teacher and then I practiced, practiced, and practiced some more! Then unfortunately, I let what I learned slide. I got busy with life, with school, and all my work felt like it never happened. Matt and I had discussed that we would set aside one day a week where he would only speak German to me and I had to respond in German only as well, but that only lasted a few weeks. His parents are repeatedly on our case to work at it -- and I really do want to learn, visiting would be soooo much nicer if I knew more than 15% of what was going on! 

I don't want Greta to be in the same situation as me. She needs to speak German fluently to have a good relationship with her grandparents, to preserve her roots, and to potentially use this gift of a second language and citizenship to her advantage for future endeavors. So as parents we have a lot to do!

After watching this TEDTalk (guys! are any of you TEDtalk nerds like me? I could seriously spend the day watching them) it seems we are at a critical time for Greta to at least hear the German language, and it really works out well that out trip to Germany is during this time! The following are some of the plans that we have leading up to her 1 year birthday:
  • Matt will primarily speak to Greta in German when playing, reading, and spending time with her. The past week he's been very diligent with this, and if he does say something in English he usually repeats the German version after when playing with her.
  • I will read 1 simple German book to Greta everyday. This is primarily for my benefit, I plan to learn Germany at her level as she grows and hopefully we will both come out fluent in a few year. 
  • Oma & Opa will speak German to her throughout our visit and during weekly Skype visits. This should help to to better distinguish German sounds from English sounds she has primarily heard. 
I plan to do a little more research and planning leading up to her first birthday to decide what method we will use to teach her the language but right now exposure is all we can really do. In the future, I hope to utilize Skype visits with her cousin (who is 7 months older), my friends daughter (who is 2 months older), and Oma & Opa will facilitate in her language development. I feel finding daycare and schooling which offers German would be extremely beneficial as well, but I have yet to find anything in our area, my friends who have bilingual children (French) really benefit from a French daycare but that is easier to come by in Canada than German.

In the meantime, I'll be working on my German! Wish me luck, bitte!

Do you have experience with raising a bilingual child? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. Great post Kelli! Actually its funny, I put a baby einstein from youtube on for Hazel yesterday and went to do the dishes and thought I heard some strange sounds from the living room, turns out the one I selected had a German.. or possibly Polish voice over! haha! I think its awesome you are committed to raising Greta bilingual, my Husband is full Dutch but grew up in Canada and his parents never spoke it to him! I sometimes really wish they had! Best of luck as you get back at learning yourself! :)

  2. Thanks, Hannah! I hope that she's happy when she's older than we made this decision. If Matt's family lived here it would probably be different - the fact that she'll probably visit and spend time herself in Germany when she's older I believe it is the best decision, especially since she & her cousin are so close in age!

  3. Sounds like a great plan. I'd love our son to be bilingual (Spanish) since we are here in Southern California...but have yet to formulate any plan about it! I learned all mine in school.


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