Imagine the United Nations, but with nap time and crayons. At Hamburg International Kids — a bilingual daycare centre in the heart of Eimsbüttel — toddlers from all over the world come to play, sing and colour with English and German speaking staff.
At Gute Leute Magazine, we love to showcase Hamburg’s diversity — but we don’t often get to venture into the world of kids. To find out where the international toddlers of Hamburg hang out these days, we had a chat with Janina Wiegmann (24), one of the caregivers at Hamburg International Kids. As I ring the doorbell, I realise that I haven’t set foot inside a daycare since my own toddler days, more than two decades ago.
Hi Janina! How do you sit on these tiny chairs all day?
“You get used to it! It’s easier if you open your legs a bit, like this.”
Oh, that’s better, thanks! Tell me, what’s your job here?
“I’m a certified education worker and one of the native German speakers here at the daycare. Basically, my job is to speak German with the kids while I take care of them.”
So how does this bilingual daycare work, exactly?
“It’s simple. Our English-speaking staff only speaks English to the kids, while our German-speaking staff only speaks German. In that way, the children become familiar with both languages in a playful way.”
Doesn’t that get confusing?
“The opposite! Because we always stay consistent, the kids quickly learn who speaks which language. The kids themselves can answer in whatever language they prefer at that moment. Actually, this is the approach we also advise to parents in bilingual families.”
I see! Where do the kids come from?
“Let me show you. These photos on the wall are all the kids currently in my group. We have Japanese kids, some from the United Kingdom and the US. This one is from the Netherlands, this one from Syria, one from Greece and one from Bosnia … We also have some German kids.”
Wow, what a diverse bunch! But that means not all of them speak English at home?
“That right! But their parents still find it important that their kids become familiar with English and an international environment from an early age. That’s why they take their children here.”
What happens if a kid speaks no English or German at home, at all?
“It can get tricky. We have Syrian boy right now, whose family doesn’t speak German yet, only his father speaks a bit of English. In the beginning, we had to communicate a lot with our hand and feet. You can say a lot, actually! For the boy it was frustrating at first to not understand what was happening, but later he just started to copy what the other kids were doing, and now he’s learning English and German, bit by bit.”
That’s amazing! What about yourself, are you bilingual?
“Haha, not at all! I’m from Munich, and my parents are German. Actually I’ve never been very good with languages. My English improved a little bit after I travelled in Ireland and Scotland, but still, I didn’t feel very comfortable speaking English.”
And now you work at a bilingual daycare! What happened?
“I know! If you would’ve told me that five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now I’ve been here already for three years, and I’m so glad I got offered the job. My English has improved a lot, simply by listening to my English-speaking colleagues. Slowly I got over my shyness for speaking English.”
What’s the coolest part of your job?
“Tough question! I love my job especially because the kids and parents come from all over. Everybody brings their own cultural backgrounds to the table, so I learn a lot of new things. We celebrate all kinds of holidays that otherwise I never would, like Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, and we also had a Syrian day where we ate delicious Syrian food.”
Sounds great. Too bad I’m no longer a toddler, otherwise I’d sign up. Are there any free spots?
“There might be! The group with kids from 1 to 3 years old has a total of 15 spaces, and the group with kids from 3 to 6 years old has 20 to 30 spaces. If anyone’s interested, they can always contact us to see if a spot is available!”
Thanks for your time, Janina!
Janina Wiegmann works at Hamburg International Kids, a bilingual daycare centre for kids ages 1 – 6, located in the heart of Eimsbüttel. If you’d like to know more about them, visit their website.