Today’s guest post is by Michaela Hansen, the founder of Granny Aupair, an initiative to send young-at-heart grandmas all over the world. Founded in 2010, initially the grannies were only from German-speaking countries, but today more than 1,000 Grannies of various nationalities have travelled to over 50 countries.
My name is Michaela Hansen. At the age of 21 I was a mother-of-two, and my dream of going abroad as an au pair had ended early. Almost 30 years later, while watching a TV show about young au pairs abroad and seeing some of them have problems with their duties, I wondered: “why should only young women get the chance to do this?” It was like an epiphany – like a flash, and the idea for Granny Aupair was born.
I am now a grandmother myself and find that older au pairs have more experience of life and tend to be more efficient. They draw on a wealth of life experience and take the daily challenges in their stride. They know how to run a household and many have raised their own children. Our Grannies are between 45 and 75 years old, active and curious. They love doing useful and interesting things, are eager to find out about other cultures and customs and want to improve their language skills.
Did you know that you can invite a “granny” as an au pair to your home?
Every year families around the world hire young women aged 20-or-so to take care of their children and housework, tasks that experienced 50-plus women can do easily and often more efficiently. A Granny Aupair helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return. Becoming part of a family makes it easier to immerse oneself into life in a new country. It’s a win-win situation for both sides, as the idea of au pair is based on mutual help.
As part of the family the Granny Aupairs play, paint, bake or sing with the children and – important for multi-lingual families – often help the children improve their minority language. The agency’s philosophy emphasises cultural exchange. The grannies experience a new country off the beaten tourist track. They live with a family and are integrated into the daily life of a new culture. Language barriers, different customs and mentalities must be mastered. But this challenge also provides the opportunity to develop and learn something new – for both sides!
One of our host mothers, Sonja from Puebla, Mexico, originally from Germany tells how the Granny Aupair helped her daughter Sofia learn more German:
– How has the Granny been able to help Sofia with her second language?
The Granny was a total enrichment when it comes to language, as she only talked German to my daughter Sofia. My daughter, who was then four years old and six at the time of the second visit, learnt so many new words and could speak German quite fluently after Uschi’s stay. It was also advantageous that we visited Germany after that – Sofia had no problems with making herself understood and understanding the language. Spanish is the main language in our environment both at school, with friends and her father.
– What is your favourite memory of the time with the Granny?
There are so many lovely memories about the time with Uschi. For instance, when Sofia’s school had Granny and Grandpa Day, when the grandparents can offer to contribute something in the school for the group like reading a fairy tale or crafting. Sofia visits a Mexican Montessori school where no one speaks German and we are the only “foreigners” in the school. Uschi and I prepared a German lesson for the children. Apart from Sofia, this was everyone’s first encounter with the German language. Uschi was so brave and delivered the German lesson. I supported her morally and with the language as she speaks no Spanish. The lesson was a total success, the children received gummy bears when they were able to pronounce ‘Gummibaerchen’ correctly. Since then the school offers German as an extra, as they had a large demand for it following Uschi’s lesson.
– What has been the best way for Sofia to pick up German skills?
Through many conversations with her, talking, taking her seriously, games, songs, baking, painting Easter eggs and above all reading aloud stories in German. Correcting her in a natural manner by repeating the wrong word correctly in a spoken sentence. For instance, if the child says “I knewed it” then say: “It’s great, that you knew it.”
– What do you think worked best “teaching” a language?
Living together with a Granny who only speaks the second language. Thus, the child knows in which language the communication must take place. We have had good experiences in having the Grannies speaking no Spanish and thus speaking the second language with her comes naturally. Also, participating in family life. The daily interaction and the joint activities are important to convey the language naturally.
We also interviewed Sofia’s Granny Uschi.
– How were you able to help Sofia with German?
I was lucky that Sofia, who was four years old during my first visit, already spoke a bit of German with her mother Sonja. In addition, Sonja had deliberately chosen a Granny who speaks no Spanish. Thus, Sofia had no choice but to think about or describe a word like ‘bow’ or ‘umbrella’, if she could not think of the German expression, until I could understand her. This furthered her skills enormously.
– What is your favourite memory of the time as a Granny?
There is no one favourite memory, there are many.
– What was the best method for Sofia to learn German from you?
There was no “method” for me, this harks of “lessons”. I just spoke German, taking care of the correct sentence construction, explaining the right form. If necessary, I corrected through repetition. Talking, talking, talking …
– What helps the Granny adjust to a culturally different environment?
Anyone travelling as a Granny should like people regardless of who they are or where they come from. You should be curious about the world and spontaneous.
Another granny, Elisabeth, was with a bilingual family in Australia when their daughter was only 14-17 months, so did not talk much yet.
– How were you able to help the children with their minority language?
By talking exclusively German when we were alone.
– What is your favourite memory?
We had fun visiting numerous playgrounds or kicking a ball around. It was a pleasure to watch her acquire more and more skills when eating, walking, climbing stairs, balancing on all kinds of boards or playground toys.
– What was the best way for your “granddaughter” to pick up the language?
In her case: by listening – as she used no phrases yet but single words. But she understood nearly everything we said in German or English – you bet!
– Any recommendations for other families hiring a Granny?
Make sure your idea of upbringing is supported by the Granny. There should be no contradictory rules for the child.
– Do you have any tips for what works best for “teaching” a language?
Like any kind of learning activity: repeat, repeat, repeat. Children learn by copying.
(Photos: © Granny Aupair, unless otherwise indicated.)
Thank you, Michaela!
Not every child has a grandparent who can come and stay, play and talk with them. I love this idea of connecting families and grannies across the world by inviting them as au pairs! Who would not want someone to help you with taking care of the kids and help them keep up with their languages?