Trilingual but only really using english + which bilingual school?

(7 Posts)
giraffecrossing Sat 28-Jan-12 18:00:50

I'm looking for a little advice regarding my 2.5 year old son. He is learning three languages - english with me, french with his dad, and spanish which is the language where we live.

We have always done OPOL, though my husband and I speak english together so it is the predominant language in the home.

My sons english is really quite fluent now and he can communicate his thoughts really well.

He does have a few french words which he sometimes says, but generally he replies to his dad in english. I've never heard him string more than 2 words together. We recently spent 3 weeks in France with family and I thought he'd start saying more whilst there, playing with cousins etc. There wasn't a major difference. When we left him with his grandparents they said he never said a word all day and he's normally a bit of a chatterbox. I reminded him he needed to speak french to people there and he replied "I no speak french, french too hard for me". Aw.

Its a similar story with spanish. He has words, but no real phrases. He is exposed to spanish every day, hearing us speak it and it being spoken to him directly by native speakers.

He watches cartoons in all 3 languages and we read to him in english and french.

We are starting to consider his schooling as the bilingual schools here all start from nursery age and we will probably send him when he's three. Our conundrum is whether or not we should send him to the french/spanish school when he is not confident with either language. I know it would improve in that environment but I can't help imagining him trying to talk to people in english and getting nowhere sad Also the school doesn't have a great reputation with the quality of english they teach and I do worry about his level of reading and writing in english for his future.

So I guess I just wanted to hear from others who might be in a similar situation and hear your experiences/thoughts.

Thanks.

AussieCelt Sun 29-Jan-12 06:18:52

Well it sounds like a shyness/psychological issue - if he had language problems all of his languages would show issues, however as English is the home language and the language you speak to each other in front of him, then it's not at all surprising that he prefers to speak it. Some multilingual kids can be a bit funny about speaking one of their languages if they feel it doesn't keep up with their dominant language - either from being a perfectionist or realising they're most competent in the dominant language.

We have 2 kids, our household runs on 3 languages and there's a fourth at school. DD has always been a confident speaker and has never shied from any of the languages (in fact has inherited her parent's obsession with language), always finding ways to deal with gaps. DS, just really starting to talk, is nowhere near as verbal nor as confident as his older sister. He's a grunter, is reluctant to talk (partly because his sister has conveniently become his spokesperson) and gets very shy in certain language situations.

Given that the dominant home language in your situation is English, and that the societal language is Spanish (which will, without any doubt, become his dominant language at school age), I would go for a French school. That way you have a bit of a balance: English at home, French at school and Spanish socially. That's the way we basically did it: 2 parental languages at home, a 3rd at school and the fourth the societal language.

Your son is only 2 1/2, you'll find as he gets older things will even out.

giraffecrossing Thu 02-Feb-12 14:35:35

Thanks for your reply. My son is quite shy by nature so there may well be a link. He seems to be coming out of himself a bit more though so maybe that will make a difference.
We are leaning towards the french school for just the reason you mention.

Luanag Sun 12-Aug-12 23:44:13

At 2.5, your son is very young. You don't specifically say whether he goes to nursery, but it seems from your message that he doesn't and therefore spends most of his time with you. This means that English is the dominant language for him, and therefore it's only to be expected that it is his strongest.

As Spanish is the dominant language in the society, his Spanish will definitely improve as soon as he starts school. But if his dad wants him to speak in French, he should not accept that your son speaks to him in English at all. The key to teach a language is to create a need for the child to speak it, and therefore if your son understands that his dad won't really speak to him unless he communicates in French, he'll soon start using it.

My husband and I are raising two trilingual children, and I've recently started writing a blog about it. You might find it useful: http://trilingualfamilylife.blogspot.co.uk

noramum Mon 13-Aug-12 12:13:22

My DD only started speaking in the minority language when she was 4.5 and realised she has to if she wanted to communicate with non-English speaker when visiting Germany (parent and home language).

Before that she would just be silent, use single words or two-word sentences or come to us and communicate her needs in English.

With your set-up at home I would go for a French/Spanish school.

@Lunang: I don't see a need to "force" a child to use a minority language. My DH tried your approach, the result was that DD just refuse to speak to him at all. We gained nothing apart from a couple of miserable weeks and tears and tantrums (from DD and DH) at home. The whole atmosphere was quite poisoned. Such an approach can work but it can back-fire quite badly as well.

We found that gaining a good passive knowledge results in an active use of the language even at home without force. We just returned from a 2 week holiday in Germany where DD only had her daily reading book, a bit of a holiday diary to write and one English-speaking Ipad-app. The rest was all German. Not only did she speak German to the German playmates but also to us and still does.

Luanag Mon 03-Sep-12 15:02:14

I never meant that you "force" a child to speak a language. I'm not sure how your husband did that so I cannot comment. But a parent not accepting that a child speaks the community language to them does not mean forcing. There's ways to do that without forcing...

One way, as you found out yourself, is to travel to our respective countries, which helps the children understand that they have a need for the language.

Luanag
trilingualfamilylife.blogspot.co.uk

natation Wed 05-Sep-12 21:16:04

Where we live, there are bilingual French- English schools where there are classes with few or no native speakers of French and again sometimes few native speakers of English, leaving the children with the only example French or English as coming from the teachers. There are also French-English schools where every child MUST have native level French or English. The difference in the level of especially French in the children in these schools is quite large. So what I'm trying the say is that the home languages of the children at a bilingual school can make a great difference in whether a child will become fluent in any real time-frame. If you're looking at a French-Spanish school and few of the children actually speak Spanish at home, it's not going to be the best environment to support the need to speak Spanish. If this is the case in schools where you live, I'd go for a monolingual Spanish school.

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