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Sunday, 13 March 2011

A code-switching cheese hunt?

"Schnupper, schnupper, raschel, flitz, 
nach Käse sucht das Mäuschen ..." 
Na, wie heisst es denn, das Maeuschen? Ja richtig, Fritz!
"Es summt und brummt im Bluetenmeer:
Die Bienen lieben Honig sehr."
Wie viele Bienen siehst du denn da? Eins, zwei, drei, vier - genau, vier Bienen sitzen auf den Blumen.

Apologies for the extended stretch of German, but those who can make sense of it will immediately recognise a typical conversation of a parent reading with a small child. It's a fantastic book by the way (I've put the reference at the end of this post). It's one of the ones with a finger puppet and I have great fun animating the mouse, who is called Fritz, as he searches for some cheese. I think the kids enjoy it too.

Except it leaves me with a dilemma: Fritz obviously is a German-speaking mouse, but I speak English with my children. So what language do I use for my comments outside the actual text? OK, so perhaps we can easily agree that when I have Fritz ask the children if they like cheese too (to which Leonard invariably responds with his equivalent of "urgh" which would be very difficult to transliterate into English but is definitely more French than English; more on onomatapoeics in different languages perhaps in a later post) that he should ask in German. He is called Fritz after all. But when I ask them questions about the book, like for example how many bees they can see in the picture, do I do that in German or in English? OPOL says it should be English, but it feels much more natural to continue in German, and often it would just be damn awkward to flip between the words from the text in German and what I'm saying about them in English.

At the moment I tend to mix fairly wildly between the written language and English, depending on what question I'm asking, and if I've remembered that I usually speak English with the children. But I'm actually coming to the conclusion that at this stage it might not matter too much if I use the written language. Their grasp of the difference between the languages is not going to be disrupted by this practice now (though I might have to watch it with Sofia), and although we read a lot, it's still only a small fraction of their overall language exposure. I might also be being influenced by some things I've been reading lately which seem to be either anti-OPOL (such as Being Multilingual) or which report variations of OPOL working out nicely.

THE BOOK: Maeuschen Fritz, by Kathryn White and Corinne Bittler, from Brunnen Verlag. The English version (which I don't have by the way) is called Cheese Hunt, and was published by Caterpillar Books. 

P.S. I gave up on the umlauts because the blogger editor was not dealing with them very well. It kept adding undeletable line breaks when I copy pasted the umlaut-ed letters from Word (no umlauts on keyboard) - anybody know how to avoid this problem?


  1. I've faced the same question and usually it feels most natural to make comments (about the story, or "Are you listening to this or not??") in the language I'm reading in. I switch back to English occasionally, though, especially if it's a completely unrelated comment or sometimes a quick explanation of a detail I think my daughter didn't pick up on.

    I'm kind of feeling my way, though, so I may answer differently in a year. :)

  2. Thanks Melissa! I think I've actually been trying to stick to English but feeling awkward about it. So I now plan to just loosen up and not worry about it too much, just do what comes naturally. I'm mostly pretty consistent about using English with the children, so I figure they can deal with the odd exception now and again.


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