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Speaking English and French in Germany

December 5, 2011

The family at Maria's house

L to R: me, oma, aunt Dorothea, cousin Xenia, aunt Maria in Langenselbold

The sad thing about my family is that my oma (grandma) speaks German, but can’t communicate with half her grandkids.  Or even see them on a regular basis.  I’m starting up German again, and yes, I’m kicking myself now for being a stubborn child and stopping German when I could easily be fluent right now, but as it is I only speak English and live halfway across the globe in Seattle.  Similarly, my little 5-year-old cousin Laura lives in Marseille, France and only speaks French and English.  And now with the world domination of Dora the Explorer, will likely take on some Spanish instead of German.

And on that same theme of just speaking German and not worrying about if it sounds perfect, I can also take inspiration from my cousin Laura and her French mother.  The two happened to take a quick two-day holiday in Germany while I was there and we all met up at a café in Frankfurt on a Saturday afternoon.  Though Laura is a shy girl, she still weaved in and out of French and English without hesitation.  In her case, she’s fortunate enough to go to a private school where students are taught in very small groups and have a French teacher 50% of the time and an English teacher the other part.  She also has an American au pair, so there’s that.

Laura and me

Cousin Laura and me in Frankfurt

On top of Laura speaking with ease in two languages, her mother Nicole is French, but also speaks English and German.  Now in her situation, she also lived in Frankfurt for 17 years, so there’s that.  My takeaway from it all: the most fluent of speakers clearly have constant practice and immerse themselves as much as possible.  And lastly, they just do it.  Hearing my family members switching back and forth between two and three languages helps keep me on track with my own studies and confident that one day I too will be trilingual.

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