Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Teaching a Foreign Language

This is an article I, Lizzy, wrote for a homeschool magazine back in 2009, about our journey learning German as a family, and the surprises God sprung on us in the journey.  The original mouse, Didi, is on the right.

So God is leading you to teach your family a foreign language, and you are leaning towards French, because you at least remember a little from your long ago high school days.   French is not right though, you know it in your spirit, and along with that knowing comes an inkling that the language should be German.


Good grief why German?   Why would you teach a language that you barely know yourself and what possible use could it have in the Australian countryside?


This is the dilemma that Mum found herself presented with over eight years ago, but she obeyed God, and with the help of another home school Mum managed to teach her three primary school daughters the bare basics of the guttural language for nearly a year before running out of understandable resources.


We seemed to get distracted for a little while with Dad’s mother dying from cancer and being constantly hospitalised.   This kept us all on the road for a bit, travelling from her local hospital to the bigger bases in the state.   Eventually we found

ourselves in cheap nurse’s accommodation next to the Sydney women’s hospital.


Our distraction turned into God’s destiny when Mum ran into a German speaking lady in the phone line. Mum had offended numerous nurses by pinning their accents to the wrong country and she had determined not to offend any one else, but when she heard the word, ‘tusche’ she knew it could only be German, as the word was slang for goodbye.   Mum pounced on the lady, Sylvia, and discovered that she had been backpacking across Australia and working at a cattle station in the isolated outback of north Queensland, when a cyst had appeared on her ovaries.   She was immediately shipped to Sydney’s major hospital for an operation, which once completed, left her alone with no money and no way to travel home until she had recovered. So Mum invited her home with us.


Sylvia taught us German for six weeks in exchange for board while she recovered.  We labelled everything in the house and Dad was relieved when he recognised toaster and beer among the strange new words. Together we made up games that would teach us all the verbs, adjectives and nouns.  After six weeks, Sylvia left but we kept busy until eventually interest in German started to wane. Mum felt it was not right to stop, but how to revive interest? 


A parcel arrived in our mailbox from Germany which included several German children’s books with tapes.   Right at the bottom of the parcel was a dirty, stuffed, toy mouse.   We fell in love with the big footed, big eared creature who we named Didi, from the faded writing on his tag.   Didi only spoke German and as a result we consulted the dictionary with a vengeance previously unseen in order to communicate with this small creature. 


He told us a cat had come and eaten his parents, leaving him and his ‘siblings’ orphans.   He had run until he fell asleep and then found himself chucked in a dark space until he arrived here.   What a drama – but what German essays and lessons it produced!


It took us a few years but eventually we collected all his 11 ‘brothers and sisters’ and even some cousins too, who turned up at op-shops and on ebay.  These new additions to the family caused a new flux of creativity amongst the students, all of whom were now high school age.


These days the collection of mice spend time gravitating from one room to another and entertaining the newest member of the household, baby Raelee.   The German is a bit rusty, but still intact, and we are waiting for another boost to continue.


So what was the reason for learning German?   Well we are still not entirely sure.  On my part it has helped me greatly in learning languages in Papua New Guinea, a country I have visited three times on mission trips.  I have been able to pick up the main dialect Pidgin English very easily, as it is a combination of German and English words.  


I am sure there is another reason why we learnt German, somewhere off in the horizon, whether the landscape ranges from palm trees on tropical beaches or frosty mountain alps.   One day when I find out, I will let you know, but for now, Tusche!

Linking up at Thriving Thursdays at  &

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