OPOL is Great but . . .

(first published four years ago)

When my German husband and I first decided to have children, I knew in my heart that at least their first years would be in Europe and most likely in a Germanic country. Lo and behold, as is the case with almost everything in my life when it comes to my dear husband, I was right (insert the ¨I told you so dance¨).


I travelled back and forth to the States when my daughter was young twice a year so she could get some of the ¨Americana into her blood¨ –  you know, it is all in the water. The trips had, of course, nothing to do with my being homesick (although even at the time I was in strong denial of that to myself and everyone else) or my desire to buy the both of us some fabulous clothes that I could not find in Germany. Germany had nothing like Target or Marshalls.  Gap had closed its store on the Köenigstrasse in Stuttgart only months before my daughter was born. So two times a year I took the flight from Stuttgart to Atlanta, thank goodness it was non-stop, and trudged home to my mom’s place for weeks at a time. Mind you I had also been doing this before my daughter was born but now there was the urgent need to have her immersed in the culture and language of America. When my son came along, things began to change. We had moved to Switzerland when my son was six months old and I was trying my best to become more settled into our life in Zürich making it home only once a year.

Before we had kids, my husband and I discussed ad nauseam the best way to support both languages in our home and outside. We decided for our family that OPOL – the one parent, one language system – would be best. In addition, I supported the idea that all media should be in American-English as well all kid’s movies and music. Did I mention that I only spoke English to Thomas, and vice versa, although my German really is quite good? I didn’t mention it? Ooops.

The system was great. Over the years, almost six now, we amassed quite the DVD and book library and not to mention the crafts which had to be American. My suitcase, and that of anyone coming to visit from the States, was chock full of anything I thought would help the kids in ¨their¨ pursuit of a perfect English. I even bought some of the books that are for 7th graders studying American Art because, and I think many an expat moms would agree, ¨You never know if what you see will be available again so buy it now.¨ The term ¨hoarder¨ can also be used.

So now we are in Canada which (shhhh, do not mention this to anyone up here) is for me just like being in the States as far as the language is concerned. We still practice OPOL but now my husband is on the short end of the stick. Not only does he travel a lot right now making OPOL really ¨one parent, the other one is not here so by default there is only one language.”  Which brings me to my bone of contention du jour: we are now watching kids movies in German.


Friday night is in our family movie night and this week, a mere nine weeks after arriving, my husband put his foot down on movie night. ¨No more movies in English,¨ he declared. ¨Really,¨ I thought. Hmmm, this is going to be bad. I hate dubbed movies, even if they are cartoons. Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria are from the Central Park Zoo, not from the Hamburg Zoo. But even I see the importance of supporting German in the house. The kids right now speak German only with their dad and it is not enough. Their German is deteriorating at a pace almost on par with mine. I actually tried to speak to the kids twice now in German, thinking that while we are in an English speaking country we can use the ML@H method where the family would speak the minority language at home. ¨You do not speak German.  Only Daddy does,¨ was the response I received from my three year old. Well, okay then. And that was the end of ML@H.

I understand that I should lighten up about it. Last week, under my own initiative, I went to our local library and checked out two children’s books in German and I even read to the kids in German. For some reason, reading a book was acceptable for the kids. And to be honest, it was good for me also as I no longer speak any German. And the best of all was that we all enjoyed time together doing something very different and at the same time very comfortable and comforting . . . reading in our mother-tongue.


Gute Nacht und bis Morgen!


  1. Brigitte Fessele

    After the move to Canada, I thought that when I visited, perhaps I should speak German with the children, which happens to be my mother tongue. But their response was, Mimi, you can’t speak German, only Daddy! Of course, I knew how they meant that. So it was quite alright to read books together in German, and we did, taking turns reading paragraphs. E-mails are also ok, and I make a point of writing them in German, even if every now and again, I have to double-check a word 🙂

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