As a German language educator of more than forty years of experience, I knew the intrinsic value of beginning language learning at an early age. Since most US schools do not begin foreign languages with children as early as two years, I decided to bring my children with me when I became a Fulbright Language Teacher in Germany. The only “formal” training our two children, ages 6 and 2 was a BBC program newly published called Muzzy which had been designed for children. Daily for six months, our children watched two Muzzy programs and learned basic German phrases and vocabulary.
It is unclear to me why US parents often select Spanish instead of German which is the easiest language for English speakers. German and English belong to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Many German words are used regularly in English: angst, kindergarten, kitsch. English evolved from German and shares the same linguistic DNA. In fact 26% of English vocabulary has shared roots with German. French and Spanish are popular choices, but it is German which is the grandfather language.
Before we went to Germany for our first year living abroad, I sang songs and said prayers before meals in German. My husband and I are multilingual and now our children are as well. One important difference I noticed in German schools was the emphasis on language learning at an early age. It is literally child’s play. I observed our two as they progressed through a German Kindergarten (for 3-5 year olds) and first grade. Within a couple of months, both could hold their own and speak with native German children. For parents not as fortunate as I to have studied, lived and taught in Germany, there are multiple resources online and many of them are free.
There were four years between my first and second Fulbright Years so my children were then in grades 2 and 5. By this time, it did not take long at all to be back into the language and culture. Most German children did not even know our daughter was a native American. My son had similar experiences and parents and teachers alike wondered how quickly the German students learned and spoke High German. It was because of how they had been taught at home and what they heard me speak and how Muzzy communicated.
If you want your children to learn the easiest of languages, German, and it is not offered at your school or when you want to start, I recommend using Muzzy or one of the other great programs online. You as a parent can learn and speak along with your children. This will give them enormous advantages later in school and in careers. Our daughter, a Registered Nurse, regularly reports of speaking German with some of her patients. Our son has had use of his foreign language experience as a lawyer.
Push your local schools to begin teaching German for example in pre-K where it is ideal. German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe and one of three official working languages of the European Union. In sheer numbers, German is the second most-spoken language on the continent of Europe. When it comes to native speakers, German remains number one.
Parents need to do their homework and learn that German universities are free, German companies are global market leaders and Germany is an economic powerhouse. I had firsthand experience studying in Heidelberg at the university for three years. That experience alone remained with me for a lifetime. As a parent and having passed on the experience of living in and studying at German schools, I gave our two and education which has remained with them for their young lifetimes.
As a parent and an educator, I decided to offer my own German students the experience of carrying on conversations in German with peers at German schools and did this for almost 25 years. Each time, students reported how great it was and how much alike they are. What a masterful method to teach tolerance and understanding.