How I can help my bilingual child prepare for a private school

(21 Posts)
brandis Sat 09-Feb-13 10:42:43

Hi everyone. DS is in Year 1, attends an outstanding-rated primary with high KS1 results. He is bilingual but I have not been concerned about his attainment because he loves reading, is very confident at school, has a lot of friends and is imaginative (e.g. likes making his own activity sheets for every member of the family and keeps writing me postcards smile).

I vaguely contemplated sending him to a private school from the very beginning but he didn't get through twice - mind you, we were applying to probably the best selective school in the area and one another. Since then I've felt very happy with his state school. And then suddenly a few months back we got a letter from that other school offering us a place that had become available. I was not expecting it and thought long and hard - by then I had decided that he would try for a private school for Year 3 with the main intake. So we didn't take the place. I just didn't see the point of moving him at that time.

4 months on, I keep getting signs that perhaps DS is not really progressing that well and I was a fool not to have moved him to a good private school when offered a chance to do so without exams. A few of friends' kids are at a more advanced reading level, their vocabularly is wider. Suddenly I am not that hopeful of DS any more. And very worried, and beating myself up.

So the reason I am writing here (apart from whining obviously) is to ask for your experience and maybe some tips? Can a child make a big progress between Year 1 and Year 2? How can I help him with his studies to make it really effective - keeping in mind that we don't speak English at home, so even when we spend time together and play and take trips (i.e. doing all the things that are supposed to enrich their vocab) we will be speaking another language.

Thanks in advance. smile

JoanByers Sat 09-Feb-13 12:49:58

My son in Y1 was very behind (bilingual parents). He was in state school nursery/reception, private thereafter. There were concerns from the private school when he as admitted (he turns out to have Asperger's Syndrome or similar), but he made good progress in Y1 and subsequently, and now in Y6 appears to have been accepted into all the schools he applied for (which are v. competitive/academic).

If you want to find out more about your son's abilities, I would get an EP report.

I can't comment about not taking the private school place, as obviously we did and it worked out very well, but I would say that Y3 assessment tends to be more competitive/academic than Y1,so if you are worried about him passing at Y3, then you should have put him in at Y1.But hard to say, children develop at different rates, DS didn't show a lot of promise age 5, now he is 10 he has far more facets, music, maths, history, chess, etc., so you can readily see that he is very bright.

brandis Sat 09-Feb-13 15:10:00

Thanks for sharing your experience, JoanByers.

Well, that's the thing - if I had been worried about him back then I would have put him in private. But I didn't have any concerns about him before and he must have been able enough to stay on their books and get offered a place eventually.

Anyway, there are non-selective schools in our area so we do have a back-up option. But I am preparing him for the school which has been our first choice - hence welcome the advice.

trinity0097 Sun 10-Feb-13 08:18:55

If you are concerned about your child's vocab, then you switch to speaking English at home for a significant proportion of time. E.g. Could you say that weekdays are the other language and weekends English? English is a complex language, that can't be entirely learnt by following rules, children need to be immersed in it to progress well.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 19:58:14

Well, DS is at school from 8 am until 5.45 pm nearly every weekday and has football and swimming on the weekend. So I would think he is immersed sufficiently - if anything he is exposed to English much more that to the other language. Also there are other non-English kids in his class and some of them speak more fluently. I am not sure how they are doing overall - I can only judge by their spoken language.

I am really keen of preserving his first language - surely there must be a way to maintain and develop both.

Your dc is, what, 5? Nearly 6? And in school nearly 10 hours per day. Why so long?
Do you think he is not progressing enough because he is knackered?

trinity0097 Sun 10-Feb-13 20:13:43

But most of that time will be in conversation with children, children need to hear a decent amount of high quality English in order to widen their vocab, this type of thing comes from everyday interactions, not through narrow teaching in class.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 20:44:07

PureQuintessence, I work full-time and so does DH. So DS often goes to breakfast club and after-school club. He doesn't look knackered - the afterschool provision is brilliant there, and often when I pick him earlier he would prefer to stay there longer.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 20:47:50

trinity0097 - sorry, I don't get your point. Are you saying that children from working families (i.e. those that go to afteschool clubs or to the childminders) are doomed because they are not getting enough high quality English around them?

ReallyTired Sun 10-Feb-13 20:52:54

"I am really keen of preserving his first language - surely there must be a way to maintain and develop both. "

You are right to preserve his first lanuage. It is a fundermental part of him.

I think that being bilingual is such a wonderful gift that the OP should do everything that she can to keep up both languages. A place at private school is not worth sacrificing the addtional language for. It is not fair to compare the vocabulary of a monolingual child with a bilingual child.

Children do make huge progress between year 1 and year 2. If your son is happy at his school then that is worth a hell of a lot. A tutor can help your child get up to speed academically if necessary at a later date.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 20:59:30

ReallyTired, thank you for the reassurance. DS is happy and is mostly a very keen learner but can seem bored sometimes (that's when I either switch to a different activity or take a break).

I was wondering if you tried or have had any experience with tutoring at the age of 6-7? Is that different from what I can do with him at home? There are many resources for reading, writing anf comprehension - or are these generally not enough if we are talking about exam preparation?

ReallyTired Sun 10-Feb-13 21:13:47

I sent my son to a tutor in year 2 because I had the pregnancy from hell and I didn't want the stress of making him do his homework. Some tutors are very good and some are as useless as a chocolate teapot.

It is important to choose a tutor who is a qualified teacher with up to date experience of working in a british school. It is also important to avoid an ex teacher who can't get a job in a school. The best way to find a good tutor is word of mouth. I found that asking the ambitous Indian parents is the best way of finding a good tutor.

The benefit of a tutor is that they know which method to teach children maths. Its very easy to unwittingly confuse a child by teaching them the maths methods we were taught at school. Often children will work harder for tutor. My son is eleven and he goes to a tutor for a group lesson. A good tutor will give an honest evalutation of your child intelligence. One of ds' friends had weak writing skills because he was an EAL child. He had help with his english and made progress in all his subjects at school.

Another alternative is to use the BBC bitesize website in combination with work books. The BBC bitesize website has lots of games to help make learning fun and is free. The computer game Timez Attack is great for learning multiplicaiton tables.

ReallyTired Sun 10-Feb-13 21:15:40

It is better to speak to a child in high quality Polish/ Hindi/ Chinese than low quality English. I think you are doing fine.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 21:30:59

Thanks ReallyTired, for a helpful insight.

DS's school is subscribed to an online Maths resource and he likes using it at home. It enrols children according to their level so you can see what to aim for in terms of progress.

We actually had an experience with tutors when DS was going through assessment at 4+ and 5+ for that best selective school I mentioned in the topic starter. The tutor was confident that he was the type that that school sought... yet he didn't get a place twice. So I have become a bit disillusioned with tutors at that young age.

Think I'll give it a try from Year 2 though.

PS. We are not Polish/Indian/Chinese but I agree with your point.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 21:42:05

Loved the "chocolate teapot" metaphor by the way - haven't heard it before smile smile

trinity0097 Sun 10-Feb-13 22:52:58

Brandis, I never said that, and never mentioned anything to do with working families.

I just feel that for children to have a rich and varied vocabulary in English, as well as the opportunity for bad habits to be corrected that they need the opportunity to engage in prolonged periods of conversation in English, with someone who has the ability to correct them. You obviously do, and do this in your other language, but if you are concerned about their progression in spoken/written English then this is something I would address first before pursuing other options. I rarely see children of that age correcting their friends if they make a mistake, whereas an adult would e.g. Fishes for the plural or fish, or rided instead of rode, but these are things (for example) that a young child who was not speaking any English at home could start doing and not get corrected on. The families that I have come across that really do have bilingual children who are equally proficient in both languages have all used both languages at home.

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 23:17:39

Thanks trinity0097. Interestingly, my experience with bilingual families has been somewhat different. Parents are usually proficient enough in English and in the event of mixed families (i.e. one parent English, the other is not) usually both languages are spoken at home. But for their children, English far outweighs the other language to the extent that they speak with a bad accent, have very limited vocabularly, cant read fluently and want to use English even with their own parents. So they are hardly bilingual - and parents often find it impossible to maintain the other language.

So based purely on experience, I am really reluctant to speak English at home. I do however communicate with DS in English when we do homework or read or do any other learning activity - which will probably be 0.5-1 hr a day, on weekends - quite a lot more. Of course I correct him and explain meanings of words and play them out to make sure he remembers, etc.

So apart from teaching at school that's the only 1:1 adult English interaction he is getting - I am wondering if that's enough...

brandis Sun 10-Feb-13 23:48:52

To add, DS's speech is fluent, accent-free (so I am told) and is generally correct. From what I noticed the areas where he makes mistakes are the same as with English children - irregular verbs for one.

I think I am mostly concerned by the observations that DS does not understands all words when I am reading to him. That bothers me a lot - I wonder if it's actully normal in his age? Words like 'shriek', 'stuck-up expression', 'flutters in the stomach', 'gust of wind', 'flounce away'.

I have no recollection of being a 5 year old and whether I understood everything that Mum would read to me (for that matter, she didn't do it much and as soon as I learnt to read I would do it myself - whereas I note that in the UK reading to your child is seen as a very important element of their development).

I dont think you have a reason to worry. Seems you are doing fine.

What I find help with my dc (Bilingual English Norwegian) is reading and watching good quality films together in whatever language.

Private schools seems really hot on English Literacy, and one other foreign language, especially French, German, Spanish - the usual stuff.
So if there is anything else you could do, focus on literacy and text comprehension. Not necessarily whole books, but passages from short stories and novels, and discuss what is happening there. Pick the text to pieces, if you like. And if your childs second language is not mentioned above, perhaps encourage him to take French or Spanish club at school, or at the weekend.

My sons have had a few years away from the UK, and "enjoyed" the Norwegian school system (ha, they call it school, I call it daycare) and ds1 has had huge gap in his learning. I find that what he has missed out on most is the English literacy and years and years of reading English books from great authors.

We have just gone through the whole 11+ palaver trying to get a place in an independent secondary. I can clearly see that literacy is his downfall, but I blame that more on being abroad and not submerged in text comprehension and literature more than I blame his bilingualism.

If you live here, and have an interest in his education (and it seems you have), he is in a good school that he enjoys, I would perhaps save my money and wait for the 7+ or 10+ intake. From Y3/Y4 you can enlist the help of a tutor if you are worried about his literacy. 1 hour per week one on one with a focus on literacy with a good tutor might just do the trick.

ReallyTired Mon 11-Feb-13 10:42:58

brandis,
Your written English is better than many native English people. Even if your spoken English is very bit as good as your written English, its still better to use your native language. You can challenge your son to think by speaking to him in the language you are best at. It also shows that you value your culture as much as English culture. Many bilingual parents find it really tough to keep their native lanuage alive in the home.

I am sure that your son hears enough quality English. Please don't stop speaking to your child in your native language. He can get exposure to high quality English from play dates. I think that mastering two languages requires a little more time and patience.

Lots of five year olds don't understand everything that is read to them. Developing good reading comprehension takes years.

brandis Wed 13-Feb-13 11:37:26

PureQuintessence - thank you for this useful information. Not sure about introducing one more language at this point - DS has got enough on his plate with English and our native one (he can read in that language almost as fluently as in English so I am actually quite proud of him). They do have a Spanish club in Year 1, and French will be added in Year 2 - maybe then, since I speak French too anyway.

What I find very reassuring is that DS is a very keen learner (touch wood!).

ReallyTired, thanks so much for your encouraging post.

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