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We are two German parents and we are living in an English speaking country. With our child - who just turned three - we speak German, whereas all other people (our friends, his friends, the kids in kindergarten) speak English.

We are now moving back to Germany. What can we do, so that our child does not lose the ability to speak English, especially, if there are no native English-speakers around? Our English is rather faulty.

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Hi Sebastian and welcome to the site! Just to check, is there anything specific to your situation that you feel the other questions under the [bilingual] tag don't cover? For example parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/67/… might be helpful to you. –  deworde Feb 15 '12 at 12:51
    
Thanks for your comment, @deworde. I may have to extend the question a bit, as I have not clearly stated, that there is an interruption of English language input. There may not be native English-speakers around. –  Sebastian Langer Feb 15 '12 at 13:06
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Look for English-speaking ex-pats in the area you're moving back to, especially ones with small children... –  Benjol Feb 17 '12 at 6:29
    
@Benjol: Very good -- you should put that in an answer! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Feb 17 '12 at 12:19
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6 Answers

(by popular request)

Look for English-speaking ex-pats in the area you're moving back to, especially ones with small children...

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I think you should let them watch some english Children's TV programs with CLOSE CAPTIONS turned on, and talk English a little bit at home with them, so they know "English is a fun game we play with mom and dad" as well, that German is their primary language.

As a person who grew up in an all English household, and who learned German in high-school, but French as a young child, I know that the benefit that you get from having already experienced a language as a child below 5 years of age, never evaporates. Your child will of course be fluent in English, if they continue to have some media and school exposure to English.

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I second the other answers suggestion of looking for expats.

A few notes:

  1. Your kids will forget a second (even first language) if it is not reinforced.

  2. They learn language (and other behaviours) to talk to their peers even more than their parents. This means that there is very little you can do directly but also that you can be very effective by influencing who their peers are.

  3. Fortunately, English is cool for children in Germany. So, if you get them exposed to English-speaking kids, then they will try hard to speak English with them. Arranging play-dates with expats is one way. Major cities might have organised children activities in English too (which might lead to other, more informal, play-dates). Another idea is to vacation in an English-speaking country and give them opportunities to interact with other kids there (if you can afford it, of course, but you might be keeping contacts in US which make it easier and cheaper to set up than it would be for others).

This is based on my reading of research on the subject (I recommend this book, by the way: Raising a Bilingual Child).

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Check out age appropriate language courses, here is one example I found in my hometown Hamburg. Only one hour per week should be plenty to keep your child from forgetting what it has already learned.

Just be careful to avoid groups that try to hammer as much knowledge into your child's brain while it is still too young to defend itself, they seem to be very common now in Germany :-P

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That sounds quite encouraging. How come, that it is just one hour per week? Is that your own experience? –  Sebastian Langer Feb 15 '12 at 23:55
    
One hour is as much as my wife and me can manage, since we both work full time. In our experience (which covers about one month now ;-) it is certainly enough. –  Treb Feb 17 '12 at 10:46
    
@Treb Indoctrination instead of education is common everywhere unfortunately. –  tomjedrz Feb 19 '12 at 4:33
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I've not been brave enough to try to teach my son German, my best non-native language, but our son is growing up as a bilingual Japanese-speaking child in the US.

In our case, we have the advantage that mom is a native speaker of Japanese, but we've observed that this is not enough; several parents we know have children 3-10 years old that simply refuse to speak Japanese, even though they can understand most of what mom or dad say in Japanese, simply because that's not what their friends are using.

However, mom is closely connected with other Japanese-speaking moms around our city, and this has reinforced the value of speaking Japanese, because so many friends of the same age as our son are also speaking Japanese. I'm convinced this is the single most important thing for retaining and improving the non-dominant language. It's absolutely no problem for our son to learn the dominant language where we live; my son speaks an odd mix of English and Japanese to me (he's only 2, so he's not completely code switching yet), but it does take some social reinforcement to make the non-dominant language seem worthwhile to a child.

If I were going to move back to Japan, the single most useful thing to help our son's English skills would be to develop a network of native English-speaking friends with children. I'd make sure we spent at least some time each week reinforcing those friendships with other kids and creating opportunities for them to play and eat together. I'd emphasize the same thing in the unlikely event that we moved to Germany; send the children to the local schools if practical, but make sure they have a mix of Japanese-speaking and English-speaking friends that they see frequently (and perhaps somewhat separately from their friends that are only speakers of one language).

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Germany, France and other European countries are very "xenophobic" when it comes to foreign languages -- Even foreign TV shows are dubbed into local language and people can spend their lives without being exposed to foreign languages. You are the kid's only hope of retaining his English. If you will not speak English to him, it will be lost for sure.

I have an example involving a three year old child from my clos family. My wife's father was born in Germany and lived there until he was 3 as a refugee of WW2 in the years after the war. Once his parents left Germany for good, only the surviving remnants of a larger family, they refused to speak German to him ever again and wiped Germany from their past. They immigrated to the new State of Israel in 1949, adopted a new language, Hebrew, and never spoke German again. So, he went from German as a first and dominant language, to a point where today he doesn't even remember he spoke it, and doesn't speak a word of it.

My wife's father had an advantage your child will not have, even though he lived in Israel which was then full of native German speakers who immigrated out of Germany and Austria, he still could not preserve that language.

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