Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Language Skills

The time has come... tomorrow we head to Germany for an extended visit. During this visit, all family members (except my mother-in-law who was with us when she was born) will meet our daughter for the first time! They will hear our middle son speak actual words and sentences. It is amazing to realize how much changes in just two years.

I have to admit that I am a little nervous. Not necessarily about the flight, despite the recent high alert issues at airports, since that is pretty much out of my control. In fact, I am very excited about the flight since it will be a direct flight (usually we have to transfer to a different plane) to Copenhagen followed by a car ride into Germany. Strange to think that we will leave one country, arrive in another and then drive into a third - all in less than 24 hours.

The aspect that is worrying me a bit is my language. It is easy to get away with speaking German to my children in the US since (1) German speakers are delighted to see that I am making the effort (2) German speakers don't have any personal attachment to me or my kids so they aren't worried that my kids might not be learning correct German language skills (3) non-German speakers are usually interested and excited that we are raising our children bilingually.

But what will family in Germany think? Now that my two oldest children are speaking in complete sentences, asking questions that demand detailed answers, and are sometimes unwittingly challenging the limit of my language abilities in German, I am worried that family in Germany will start to feel concerned. Will they feel that I am holding my children back linguistically when they hear how imperfect my language skills are? Or will they be delighted that I am making the effort? I assume it will be the latter but when it comes to these kinds of issues, it is always hard to know how family, who are emotionally involved, will react.

In the end, I get along very well with my in-laws so I'm fairly certain they would feel free to discuss their concerns with me - if they have any. The catch is that they are all Northern Germans, which means it sometimes takes them a while to get around to saying something. But when they do say something, it means they already will have taken the time to consider their thoughts first.

What it really reveals is that no matter how confident I sound, no matter how much encouragement I get from others, no matter how many times people share their delight in the effort I am making, deep down I still feel insecurities and question myself. Life is not lived in a vaccuum and the impressions and comments of others have an impact. On the other hand, maybe this is the way it should be? Maybe it is my insecurities that keep me open to new ideas and allow me to adjust and come up with new plans as needed. But it also means that if I get out of balance and lose too much confidence, then comments from others might have more impact than they should. Balance is the key.

So, we will see what happens and what kind of conversations we have about raising children bilingually. It will probably not even be much of an issue since the pattern is to speak German with one another anyway. Most probably won't even think about it. They probably will be delighted that their grandchildren, neice and nephews, and cousins can communicate with them without any problem. Beyond that, our conversations will most likely be about changes in life since we were last there, politics and the meaning of life.

Stay tuned and I'll let everyone know how it went when we get back in September.

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