My journey and gathering memories continues now in Germany where I am until the end of July 2014. I will return to our little village of Schweindorf and visit with family and friends you may read about in my book A Past Worth Telling.
I believe it is important to know foreign languages in order to become a more tolerant and flexible individual. In the language-learning process, we learn more about ourselves. During both of my Fulbright Teacher Exchange years to Germany in 1990-91 and 1994-95, I was able to bring our two children to Germany where they were immersed in the culture and language. Since I teach German, our two children had some basic phrases and words before we traveled abroad. Language teachers know that the best age to teach languages is when children are young. It is child’s play to them. Our daughter was three and our son was six the first year in Germany. He started first grade there and learned to write in cursive. Our daughter was in a kindergarten for ages three to five. It was exciting for me to hear them in their imaginary play at home. They switched to all German after only a matter of weeks. One funny incident happened when their grandmother visited from the U.S. She spoke no German and repeated to our daughter several times that she did not speak German. Our daughter turned to me and asked me in German what was wrong with Grandma. Was she dumb? Why didn’t she answer her questions? Our daughter did not understand what Grandma meant because she saw her mouth move, but no German words were uttered. After several attempts to explain to this three year old, I think she finally understood that Grandma could speak in English and not in German.
At the end of our first Fulbright year, both children became fluent in German and had a reverse cultural shock in the US upon returning. Suddenly they were surrounded by English . Once again their imaginary play was all in German, then a mix of English and German and finally all English. I knew that once our children had spent one year in Germany and attended German public schools, they would have the German language for a lifetime. So when the second Fulbright Exchange Year came in 1994-95, it was just a matter of weeks until they were quite comfortable in the language. This time they were in second and fifth grades. Upon our return, both children then continued at home with some German but at school started French. As a parent, I have observed our children be tolerant and compassionate with others and believe it is because of our years spent in Germany living and speaking in German and immersing ourselves in the culture and language. If only more students could have the opportunity to live and study abroad, and in the process, learn more about themselves and others.