What to do if your child speaks German and you don't:

If you're an English speaking expat living in Germany, your child will probably soon start to speak German with you as well. Here's what you can do against the language barrier:

1: Don't demand too much of yourself

If your child says something and you don't understand a word: Don't panic. Many expat parents fear that they will lose connection with their children, once they start learning and speaking German. If your child says something and you don't understand, simply let your child know that it is speaking a language that you don't understand yet. For most of the parents, self-criticism is the crucial issue that they have with their kids speaking German, because they often feel that they should speak German as well. You have to get rid of this belief, because otherwise you will make your child feel bad and confused.


2. Make your child teach you

Turn the problem into a blessing: Your child is mastering a very difficult language with ease and joy. Let your child teach you! Make a game out of it and enjoy the fun that your child will have, when it can show you something. Children love to teach, especially their parents. It will also help build self-confidence in your child.


3. Appreciate your child's effort

Your child is trying to adapt and it has to learn the language to be able to socialise. You can appreciate this by recognising it. For example, you can say something like "I love it when you speak German."  or "Thanks for learning German so fast."  This will give you a better feeling as well.


4. Recognise your child as an individual

Try to step back as a parent and consider that your child is an individual human being, like you are. Understand your child's struggles, instead of feeling left out, just because you don't speak the language. In keeping the respect for your child's individuality, even if you feel left out, you build a strong foundation for your relationship with your child.


5. Consider making a trade

It can be helpful to make a deal if there is a fundamental issue in your everyday life communication. Make a compromise and make a deal out of it: No German speaking in the morning, when things have to be done quickly. Or German only when we're driving in the car. Or agree on a strictly English speaking lunch. The most important point is to remain playful and not let your child think or feel that German is a problem, even if you are struggling with your own feelings of frustration. Try to hide it as best as you can. Later in life your child will be tremendously thankful for this.


Continue reading: Living in Germany and feeling depressed? How built-up issues can increase abroad.


I'm Natalie Marby, an English speaking therapist in Hamburg, Germany. I am half German and half British and I offer psychotherapy in English, especially for expats living in Hamburg. To contact me, you can send me an email or call me: (040) 46090233. (Please don't forget to send me your phone number and the times I can reach you). I look forward to hearing from you!


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