When One Language Plays Catch Up

A few months ago, while my son was talking to his American Grandma on the phone, my wife and I realized we had a bit of a problem.  He naturally understood everything she was saying, but he kept trying to answer in German.  Having to coach him from the background was a little difficult, but what really bothered me was that I was sure my Mom did not get the impression that his English was very good at all.  This was definitely not the case, as his English vocabulary was only slightly behind his German vocabulary.  This is not particularly surprising, though, considering myself and Lightning McQueen (from the movie “Cars”) are the only English speakers he regularly hears.  He did, however, have trouble remembering to start his sentences in English when talking to an English speaker.  Whenever I reminded him to start in English, he finished the sentence in English.  There were some minor grammatical mistakes, but what do you expect from a 4-year-old?  Especially a bilingual one.  Either way, we decided to come up with a solution to even out his two languages.  After all, when Grandma lives across the pond, the phone is the only time he gets with her.
(Photo: http://www.theenglishisland.com/)
(Photo: http://www.theenglishisland.com/)

So what did we do?  Well my genius wife came up with the most amazing and simple solution…….he would only speak English at home. She would continue to speak German to both of us, and he would still speak German anywhere else it was appropriate. Our house, though, would be “English Island” for him. What purpose would this serve? Why did we think this would be effective? Well, since the only problem was him not remembering to answer English with English, we needed to create more situations where it was necessary. The theory went a little something like this: by creating a “border”, inside which he must speak English, it would help him remember to switch languages when appropriate.

Well, here we are back in the present and the results are in. It worked like a champ! As matter of fact, it worked so well he is already back to business as usual. That was the point in the first place though. Not a change to the plan, just a minor course correction. And now that we are back on course his vocabulary is growing like wildfire too. So it actually turned out to be a win-win situation. All I can say is, thank goodness for my wife and her clever idea.

*Disclaimer:  Previously, I accidentaly published an unfinished draft of this post.  Therefore, I also removed all comments related to the unfinished post to avoid confusing or embarassing anyone.

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