It’s not easy being an expat parent in Germany: between juggling work, learning German yourself and figuring out how all those basic things you used to take for granted work, there isn’t much time left for anything else. So when your children start going to Kita or Schule in Germany how can you help them learn German when you probably can’t speak it well yourself?
Thankfully, there are a ton of resources on the internet (even some for free!) to help you and your child learn German.
1. Automate the Process of Your Child Learning German
eKidz.eu is an app for kids to practise learning German IN German. They can read books, follow along when stories are being read aloud, build their own story boards and more. Children can even adjust the playback speed of audio narration to suit their own level of proficiency. The stories are geared towards kids and come with animations and colourful pictures to keep your child engaged and to help you use context to learn new German vocabulary.
The bonus is, of course, that this is an app for iPad. You can take it anywhere, even use eKidz.eu offline, and you can always mute the playback function, or give your kid some earphones so you can have some peace and quiet.
Price: free for now, but they’ll soon switch to a freemium version or free trial period in the near future. Find eKidz.eu on the App Store here.
2. Flash Cards, Memory Cards and Other Helpers
Playing games with your kids to help them learn / practise German helps you learn the language at the same time, too! You can make your own flashcards on colourful paper, or you can use online flashcard programmes such as quizlet.com or Anki.
Quizlet is a popular online flashcard website where you can either create your own sets or use sets created by other people. Quizlet has a lot of helpful features and games where you can make studying fun as well. And, Quizlet is totally free!
If you review flashcards for a few minutes before bed every night, you’ll be learning new vocabulary in no time! You can also put labels on household items, such as “der Kühlschrank” on the fridge in the kitchen, “das Obst” on the fruit bowl, and “der Spiegel” in the bathroom. These everyday reminders of German words is an effortless way to engrain them in your brain.
3. Watch TV Shows and Movies in German
Watching kids’ TV shows can be especially helpful for both children and adults as they learn as well because the language is normally spoken slowly and clearly, with a lot of visual cues to help you understand what is going on. The added bonus of doing this is nice, relaxing time with your children that doesn’t feel like “studying”, but can still help you both learn German!
There are also a ton of movies in German that are available from streaming services like Netflix. Depending on the age of your child, you can choose something appropriate. At the beginning of your journey to learning German, watching a whole movie in German may be too mentally exhausting, so you can watch a movie in German with English subtitles. The next step is watching with German audio with German subtitles– and there you are relaxing and watching a movie while working on your German! Try going for movies with German as the original language though as it can be quite unsettling watching your favourite Hollywood actor barking at you in harsh German…
4. Listen to Radio and Podcasts in German
Just making an effort to be constantly around the German language, even if it’s just playing in the background while you’re driving to school or cooking dinner can be really helpful to develop your pronunciation, grammar intuitions, and reinforce vocabulary. If you think about it, this is how babies learn to speak a language, so you should try to take advantage of your children’s brain’s ability to absorb information passively without having to force them to memorise words and grammar rules.
For adults, there is also a podcast called “Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten”. This podcast is exactly what it’s named: slowly spoken news. This is a great thing to listen every day to work on your auditory comprehension, learn vocabulary, and keep up-to-date on current events.
Another podcast that is popular and well done for German learners is called “Coffee Break German”. This podcast is basically a recording of a man having a German lesson with a teacher, so they discuss grammar rules, sentence structure, and pronunciation in detail. They even sometimes have short segments where they discuss cultural items from German-speaking countries. The “Coffee Break German” podcast is broken into ~30 minute episodes, so they are easily digestible and there are already a couple of seasons out, so feel free to start from the beginning! You can find “Coffee Break German” and “Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten” anywhere you can find podcasts, including Spotify and the Apple podcasts app.
These are just a couple of examples, but there are a ton of podcasts that are in German available for free. If you try to have something playing in the background whenever you can, you and your child can be working on your German all the time.
5. Encourage social interaction
Your kids will soak up the language through their environment, while hanging out with friends, and of course at school, too.
If you still have the nagging feeling like your kids are lagging behind the benchmark in reading and writing, then you can rest assured that this is common for bilingual and multilingual children. A leading child psychologist and speech therapist wrote here in her blog that children who grow up learning more than one language simultaneously often confuse the two (or more) languages, are slower to start talking, might have speech impediments and other signs of ‘delayed’ learning progress.
She cautions, though, that it’s more important to make a child feel socially accepted with his or her peers rather than focus too much on the slower language development (potentially) caused by growing up bilingual. And if you think about it, that makes sense: feeling ashamed, embarrassed or left out one’s group of friends only makes that negative feeling grow stronger, and makes the grow larger, reinforcing the feeling…. it can be a vicious cycle.
A great way to avoid that, or breakthrough it, is to let it be. Use the tips above to ‘help’ your child learn German in fun ways that don’t feel like work. And of course, set up as many play dates (preferably with native German-speaking children!) as you can.