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The title says it all.

I am not a native German speaker, but I have achieved C1 level (according to the Goethe Institut). I no longer live or work in Germany, and haven't visited for some time, however I have regular conversations with German speakers of all levels in my area (United States), read, write, and listen in the language.

However, as a non-native speaker, even at the C1 level, I sometimes forget the genders for things and I am sure I miss some of the nuances of some words.

So when my child is born and gets older, should I attempt to speak with her in German, or read books to her etc, despite not being a native speaker? Will my C1 (non-native) fluency derail her ability to learn the language?


Note: My wife is at an A2 level, so she will only be speaking with the kid in English.


Edit: My goal is to have her be able to speak German well with me and, when possible given our busy lives, our local USA based German speaking community. Ideally, it would be great if she could also read and write with some level of fluency.

I am hoping being raised in this way will open up her possibilities for university, should she choose to go. At the very least, I am hoping it will give her the opportunity to experience another culture.

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  • The way this is written, I don't think it's a good fit here - it's just asking for an opinion. That's not really a good fit for Stack Exchange sites, including this one. You could possibly rephrase in a way that could be usefully answered; in particular, the idea is to ask about how to make the decision, both by providing what your end goal is (do you specifically want your child to learn German? Are you thinking it might benefit her beyond the language itself?) and then either asking how to achieve that goal, or asking if you're right that (end goal is met) by teaching her German. – Joe Jan 18 at 19:50
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    Right now, we don't know if you're asking: "If my end goal is for my daughter to know a second language, can I reasonably achieve that given my partial fluency", or, "If my end goal is for my daughter to be more well rounded, can I achieve that by teaching her a second language?", or, "If my end goal is for my daughter to be a better language learner..." etc. - you need to clarify those, and then we can answer those questions - one of them only, please. – Joe Jan 18 at 19:52
  • @Joe I'd really like her to learn the language, at least to the level I know it. I can read, write, speak and listen well but I know that I will never be a native speaker -- even if I continue to improve, learn, and practice. Is my partial fluency going to derail the whole thing? – The Dude Jan 19 at 15:04
  • Seemy answer here: parenting.stackexchange.com/a/39653/36241 – Solar Mike Jan 19 at 20:17
  • @SolarMike So what you are saying is, having a decent command of the second language is good enough? How decent is good enough though? – The Dude Jan 19 at 21:59
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I would recommend it, having grown up in a household where several languages were spoken, including languages my parents speak fairly fluently as well as some that were only dabbled in.

It gave me both something general and something specific. The general advantage it gave me was an appreciation of different languages and language itself: how people use it, word choice, word history, and so on. It's never occurred to me to question the point of learning a new language — which in my life as a high school French teacher has meant having to step into my students' shoes to understand their point of view better. :) In my personal life, I've put a lot of time into learning a couple of languages well and a few others enough to read and speak a little, besides learning random tidbits of still others.

I owe my parents for this tendency, which I consider a lasting joy in life. It wasn't until later that I found out there are people who aren't automatically excited to hear another language out in public or learn a new word. This difference of opinion caused some friction between me and an old girlfriend once... so be warned of this danger if you raise your kid multilingually :)

But it also gave me something specific. My parents both speak some German, both quite well (it was the native language of 3/4 grandparents), but they never used it in a full conversational way in front of me and my brothers. Instead, it was their code language at the dinner table. And today, I don't think they would call themselves completely fluent. But in my own German learning, I've found that a couple of things come more easily than I'd expect: the sounds and the bizarre syntax. I assume this is because of the early exposure. Even if I didn't learn enough to pick it up in my childhood, my brain was being primed for some of the patterns I'd later experience.

So while there's no need to pretend to be a fluent speaker and have all your conversations with your kid in German (which would be tough anyway at your level), I think occasional use of phrases and words you're confident in, as well as self-study to grow the base of what you can offer, could certainly enrich your kid's life.

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  • I could manage to have most of my conversations with my kid in German, but the question is -- given that we are Americans and not Germans, what is the point? My wife and I have German heritage, sure, but also Polish, Lithuanian, English, French, Italian and Swedish. We are the quintessential American muts. – The Dude Jan 20 at 17:31
  • I would much rather have them be able to use the language well (speaking, writing, reading and listening), but understand that it is a foreign language and mastering it may bring opportunity in the future. – The Dude Jan 20 at 17:32
  • @TheDude When you know different languages, your brain knows different ways to express or consider things, concepts. This gives mental flexibility... Like you already know, this can and will open many doors for your child through their life. Maybe in your situation, having all conversations in german is not the best idea, considering both your environment, and your level in german, but as much as you can sprinkle in the young brain, as much it will benefit them in my opinion. – Manuki Jan 31 at 14:13
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Should I speak German with my child given I am not a native speaker but C1 level?

This depends on how "good" your German really is. "C1" isn't a particularly great metric for this.

Small kids are great at learning multiple languages if it happens in a "natural" context, i.e. through daily interaction with a native speaker on every-day stuff in a consistent way. "Mom speaks English + Dad speaks German" works well for this. "Dad speaks sometimes German, sometimes English" less so. It helps if you can commit to speaking ONLY German to the kid and if you are truly comfortable doing this. Raising a child is an emotional roller coaster: do you feel that you can/want talk German when you are really upset or really happy or have something very difficult to discuss with your child ?

So if you want it to stick and be effective, you need to do it consistently and the more opportunities you create for your child to interact naturally with native speakers, the better.

On the other hand, there is very little potential harm in trying. There may be a small delay in developing the dominant language but this is rare and more often than not the dominant language benefits as well.

Worst that can happen that you lay a "wrong" foundation for the second language, i.e. bad accent or grammar that will be hard to undo. Case in point: when our English/German/Spanish speaking kids made it into a US high school, there was finally a German class available. After talking to the teacher, we pulled them out immediately: the teacher's accent and grammar were horrible and there was clearly nothing useful they could learn from that teacher. I have no idea where on the "A1-C2" scale this teacher would score but the problem here is that standardized multiple-choice tests are useful at assessing vocabulary and grammar theory, but not at how comfortable you are with the language in every day situations.

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  • The C1 test consists of performing reading, writing, speaking and listening -- the latter in front of an examiner. Here is an example: youtube.com/watch?v=hijT9CCnH9Y I am sure it has changed a bit nowadays with COVID and everything, but probably not by much. – The Dude Jan 20 at 16:45

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