Bilingual Baby Brain

It’s no secret that Mrs Lighty’s brain ain’t what it used to be. I’ve written previously about the fact that as mothers, our brains are so completely overcrowded with thoughts of our offspring that there’s not much room for anything else. This is why, all too often, when it comes to the likes of holidays, our littlies are more than catered for with every conceivable type of daytime outfit / nighttime outfit / spare outfits / outfits to sleep in / outfits to swim in / food / drinks / toys / books / transport / black out blinds / baby monitors and every other piece of baby kit we can think of, that it’s a miracle if we even manage suitable underwear for our own haphazardly thrown together outfits, let alone the likes of accessories and jewellery.

So with all of these things swirling around in our minds, is there even the tiniest bit of room for anything else? Anything, like perhaps, another language?

Once upon a long time ago, Mrs Lighty had something of a passion for language. I don’t profess to be very good at it – because I’m not – but I suppose in many ways, this was the start of my love affair with writing. I started local Spanish lessons at the age of 8, and went on to study it to GCSE level alongside A-level French. But it was German that really stole my heart; that most functional of languages, with maybe not such a pretty sound to most but which makes complete and utter sense to those in the know. I went on to study German to degree level, with a year spent in Austria where, I also decided, as is Mrs Lighty’s hair brained way of things, to start an evening class in Italian (if you’re ever looking for a challenge, I highly recommend trying to learn Italian in German when you’re a native English speaker!).

But, alas, over the years my German has become somewhat angerostet (rusty). They say if you don’t use it, you lose it, and it’s unfortunately true. What they don’t tell you is that if you have a baby in the midst of all this, your brain turns to mush to the extent that some days you’ll struggle with your mother tongue, let alone a different language all together (of course, if you’re talking about vocab from In the Night Garden, then you’re a pro).

So when we recently booked to go to Monschau, in Germany, for the bank holiday weekend, I must admit that the nerves did kick in. Try as I might to get my brain to switch to German mode in the lead up to the holiday, as I used to be able to do pre-Baby Lighty, it felt like there was nothing there. Like that space in my brain reserved for my German tongue had slowly slipped away, like the grains in a sand timer, and now there was just a kind of static fuzz buzzing around that part of my head.

A much younger Mrs Lighty in the days when my brain would work in both English AND German and I could take an old lady to hospital after a fall on tour (true story!).

Every time Mummy or Daddy Hatchy, or Mr Lighty, said, “oh we’ll be OK on this trip, as Mrs Lighty will do the talking”, a shaft of fear would go through me. No, no, I wouldn’t be able to do the talking. I felt like I simply HAD. NO. WORDS. Which in itself is unusual, because, let’s face it, there’s never a time when Mrs Lighty is speechless.

Guten Tag!

But all of a sudden, as quickly as those grains slip through the sand timer, our trip was upon us and we were in Germany…and Mummy Hatchy was handing me the phone number for the apartment owner and I was having to ring to say that we’d arrived.

A moment of fear struck me. Could I do this? Could I really do this?! Well, it turns out it’s a bit like riding a bicycle: there they were, the words! They’d come back!

Maybe I just needed to be in Germany for them to come back, soaking up the words on signs and shopfronts? Although as we were only just across the German border, there hadn’t been much time for that. Maybe it was adrenaline that got them flowing? Or maybe I just knew that I had to exercise that part of my brain in this situation, and so there the words were? Whatever it was, I’m grateful; grateful that I’m not just defined by baby brain.

And with the words came a little bit of new found confidence: the last time I’d used my German, it was in a business capacity, and within the travel industry at that; suddenly I was no longer having to ask about coach tours or boat trips, about set menus for groups or whether a guided tour was available, suddenly we were in the realms of der Hochstuhl (highchair), der Kinderwagen (buggy) and die Kinderkarte (children’s menu). And if I wasn’t sure of a word, I’d ask how you say it in German, something I wouldn’t’ve done previously. Perhaps being a mother opens your eyes – and your ears – to continuous learning, as we learn with our little ones every day?

Perhaps being a mother also means that you don’t mind looking a little silly at times, too, which translated (ha!) to not worrying what the locals thought of my attempts at speaking the lingo. Who cares if your very Essex-sounding German means that you create a queue at the ice cream shop, because you can’t remember the word for cone?! The people behind you will have to find patience in their hearts. Who cares if you don’t know every single regional dish on the menu?! You’ll find something you can recognise and eat, and maybe you’ll try a local speciality along the way. As long as you try, people will generally be very helpful and complimentary.

Oops…created a bit of a queue outside the ice cream shop with my dodgy German!

And even Baby Lighty took it in his stride when his Mummy was speaking a strange language, even in those times when I’d turn to him and speak Deutsch, because my brain hadn’t switched quickly enough back to English (never my forte, I would make a terrible interpreter). At 15 months he already says a fair bit in English – “doggy”, “bubble” and “what’s this?” being his favourite words and phrases – so who knows, perhaps the fact that he took it all in his stride means we have a budding linguist on our hands?! Furthermore, his book collection includes some picture books in German and he has a French-speaking baby walker, courtesy of a hand me down from our French neighbour, so why not? 

And now, since our trip, I’m even more determined to find a baby language class…if nothing else, it will keep my brain from becoming further angerostet still. Old MacDonald’s Farm sung in German is always useful…right?!


With very many thanks to Mrs Jacky for her proof reading skills on this post and her help with the technicalities. 

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20 thoughts on “Bilingual Baby Brain

  1. You are amazing! I can barely speak English these days, let alone another language. I’ve never taken to languages, having done French and German at school, but it’s something I’ve always wished I could do. I am proud that I can count to 12 in German though! I’d love Alfie to be bilingual as I know it would really open doors for him, so it would be great if you could get Baby Lighty in to some baby language classes.

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    1. Not sure about amazing, my German is now distinctly Essex! I really want to find a baby language class but I’m not having much success. Baby Lighty does seem to have taken to talking though, so hopefully he’ll have an aptitude for language! xxx

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  2. I’d love to be able to speak another language fluently. I was good at French at school but always wanted to do Spanish as it’s more widely used, mainly know holidays. I should have more loyalty to German really being half German! #dreamteam

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    1. Haha, yes you should!! German maybe doesn’t sound so pretty but it does make complete sense once you have a basic knowledge of it. I much prefer Spanish over French (mainly because it’s easier and I have a love of Ricky Martin!!). Thanks for reading my post πŸ™‚ #DreamTeam

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  3. Sounds like you did great! And to be able to speak another language is such a wonderful accomplishment, even if you don’t get it perfect. I wish I’d embraced languages at school, but we had such terrible teachers! Now I’m living in the German part of Switzerland, and I think my 5 year old daughter is going to overtake me in language learning any day now! #DreamTeam

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    1. Ooh but Swiss German is a completely different thing again! You’ll come back completely fluent though, and how lovely for your daughter to be bilingual! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post πŸ™‚ #DreamTeam

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  4. Wow! I am totally in awe of your language skills! I kind of related this to that feeling when you holiday in Spain and all the basic words you learnt on a holiday 5 years prior come flooding back. Good for you to encourage baby bilinguals! Let us know how you get on! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub x

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    1. Yep it’s exactly like that summer holiday feeling but on a larger scale! I definitely want to find a baby language class but haven’t been successful so far. Haven’t given up my quest yet though! Thanks for having me on #coolmumclub xxx

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  5. Love that you thought you would remember German when in Germany LOL! Fab post πŸ™‚ I did German too at school, but sadly since, I can hardly mutter one word. That ice cream looks worth the wait. Thank you for linking up to the #DreamTeam xx

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  6. I completely understand where you are coming from with this. I’m the same with French and I panic when we go to France wondering how on earth I will be able to communicate and yet once I’m there it all comes back to me. Just like riding a bike as you say. Thanks for sharing on #fortheloveofBLOG X

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    1. Ah well I’m glad it’s not just me. French is a lot harder than German though, at least I have the fact that German is very logical in my favour! Thanks for hosting #fortheloveofBLOG πŸ™‚

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  7. Wow! You are so talented Mrs L! I did A level French and German and GCSE Spanish, but as you say, I can barely remember any of it now 20 years on. Learning Italian in Germany must have been mindblowing! I could have done with a sprinkle of that myself though as I took my Dad to a particularly non-touristy area of Napped for a birthday trip to Pompeii some years ago. I’m ashamed to say that I just assume that we’d get by without my having taken the time to learn a few phrases. We ended up having to walk into local bar /tavern type establishments and literally point at our mouths for food. We weren’t offered a menu or anything like that. They just nodded and brought us a meal. I think they brought pizza one night and steak and salad the next so we didn’t do bad really. It opened my eyes though as I had that naive arrogance that everyone would understand me if I spoke English loudly and slowly enough. *face-palm* Lovely post. Coming to see you through #coolmumclub xx

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