In Austria - is the fact that I speak english really having such a negative effect on my dd?

(19 Posts)
platanos Thu 29-Nov-12 18:05:06

We live in Austria, children go to a local school. I speak (mostly) english to the children and although they understand, they answer in German. Dh speaks German. dc speak German with each other...My dh and I speak a mixture of English and German to each other.

Just spoken to dd's teacher...dd is struggling with German (as a school subject rather than with the language) at the moment. With the effect that she might not be able to make it into Gymnasium. To be honest, she is in the third year (has time to develop) and if she is not up to it, then that is all fine.

BUT...the teacher said that perhaps this struggle was because of the two languages at home. DH thinks that she hears a lot of English at home, and it would help her if I spoke German more. However, my german is far from perfect and I think that would be detrimental if she heard my mistakes. Plus, the things that the teacher highlighted are not to do with her command of the German language, but that she has trouble writing stories, descriptions etc...

Not sure what to do confused, hence my post...all ideas appreciated...well, actually just reading my post through I think I should stick to english. But curious to hear other stories....

alexpolismum Thu 29-Nov-12 18:15:55

I live in Greece. I speak English to my children, my husband speaks to them in Greek. When they first started school, they were behind with their Greek in comparison with their peers, as they spent more time with me, so heard and used more English.

They soon caught up with the language.

My dd makes up stories in both her languages all the time. Very creative. My ds, on the other hand, struggles with this. He isn't particularly imaginative and can't think of descriptive vocabulary.

To help him, although I am continuing to speak in only English to him, I have bought him some storybooks in Greek, with descriptive paragraphs in, to help him build up vocabulary. Perhaps you could get your dd some of this sort of book in German, to give her ideas and expand that area of her German vocab.

I have also been told my teachers not to speak 2 languages at hime, blah di blah. It seems to be a very common attitude. I'm so glad I paid no attention to them, as my children would really have missed out, and they now speak both languages very well, for their ages.

Hi! I'd like a penny for every time something is blamed on our dc's bilingualism. And it has been suggested to me many a times to drop the English and start speaking German. I am not intending to do any of that sort as in my eyes it's rubbish.

The German government wants all immigrants from Poland, Russia, Turkey etc to learn German properly (obviously) so that they will be integrated into society - thus their children grow up with 2 laguanges anyway. Their exposure to their parents' mother tongue would be much stronger than your dd's to English, as the parents of lots of those children often do not speak any German whatsoever. And if we look around the world, there arent many countries where there is only one language spoken, even in Europe (Switzerland, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain etc etc). So are all those children somehow more intelligent than ours? Why can they cope with more than one language but ours cant?

I get really annoyed when I am told that the reason for my dc's xyz is that I speak English. If they were specialists in the field of bilingualism I might give it some thought. But seriously, what does your dd's teacher know about it. She is just trying to find the reason for your dd's difficulties, and a second language always seems the easiest reason to find. Dont give uo your mother tongue!

Lottapianos Thu 29-Nov-12 18:20:28

I'm a speech and language therapist and promise you that you are doing the right thing! Children don't get 'confused' by more than one language, most people in the world grow up bilingual. Parents should speak to children in their first language, which is exactly what you are doing. Ignore the teacher and continue what you're doing.

platanos Thu 29-Nov-12 18:34:20

Thanks for those quick replies! I myself grew up with two languages and so these issues have been around me for a while. And I am aware that one language or the other becomes stronger or weaker at some points in time.

But suddenly when you hear it from the teacher... well, it just made me doubt for a while.

But now that I reflect the teacher is not very open to cultural diverstiy - she used to work at a school in a district with a lot of immigrant children and has sometimes said slightly strange things about her time there....

Thanks, I shall continue to speak english. Also, if it is that she is struggling with being imaginative, that is something that can be practised in both languages, isn't it?

cory Thu 29-Nov-12 21:21:01

Seems to be something about that particular teacher then...

I always found when dc had extra practice in their minority language, it gave their other language a boost too- so we'd come home from Sweden when they were little and the childminder would comment on how much ds' English had improved over the holidays, and I would think "that's strange because I know he hasn't heard a word of English in the last 6 weeks".

As you say imagination can be practised in any language.

NulliusInBlurba Thu 29-Nov-12 21:29:32

Teacher is talking rubbish. My DC go to school in Germany (although in a bilingual school) and we've frequently encountered the attitude among German teachers of blaming some supposed 'inadequacy' on the pupil/home circumstances instead of possibly considering it might be their own teaching that needs to improve. Also, German teachers (IME) see their role as testing and evaluating pupils' natural capacity (kids are divided into 'gute Schüler' and 'schlechte Schüler') rather than attempting to get the best out of everyone, which obviously tends to disadvantage DC from immigrant and poorer backgrounds.

It would be a pity if she didn't get into Gymnasium just because of a temporary weakness in one subject - have you thought about Nachhilfe in German, just to get her over this problem. We only speak English at home, as both DH and I are English speakers), the DC speak English with some friends at school, and they still manage to have a level of academic German which is at the top end of the scale (and they're by no means G+T), so the bilingualism will not be what is holding your DD back.

Ellle Thu 29-Nov-12 21:48:27

I was just going to suggest that, but you said it yourself: "if it is that she is struggling with being imaginative, that is something that can be practised in both languages".

Get a feedback from the teacher in more detail regarding the particular points she is struggling with. If as you say, her command of German is not the problem per se, you can practice all the other things (writing stories, descriptions, etc) in English, and she can transfer those skills into German when she is at school.

And as someone else suggested, you could get her books in German with stories, descriptive passages to boost vocabulary (if that is one of the problems), or just as a guide or inspiration for her when she wants to make up similar stories in German.

noramum Fri 30-Nov-12 12:42:24

Grr, I am German and always find it awful that teacher in Germany have no clue at all.

While I think, yes, the story writing skills can be practised in English, I would try to get her somebody to practise with her in German as well. Your DH, grandparents or other family if around. You need extra vocabulary, it is not just a one-to-one translation. She may need to take local events or Ger,an objects and German humor ( yes, we have them) into account.

ZZZenAgain Fri 30-Nov-12 12:51:23

I don't know the situation in Austria but I assume the schooling is similar to the German system. I found it is very common for German parents (usually mothers) to spend time working with their dc at home on maths and German in addition to whatever homework they are given. Since the question of what type of secondary school they will move up to is decided at such a young age, parents get to work on this early on in primary.

I agree with Nora, perhaps your dd is lagging a bit behind some of these other dc because you are not doing this extra German with her. Would you consider getting someone else in to do this if your dh is home too late or unwilling to do it?

What time is your dd back home from school? Is she home from lunchtime?

platanos Sat 01-Dec-12 08:31:40

Thanks again for the replies. I think you are right in that we need to give her more support at home. DD1 has got by without needing this, and quite honestly we have not noticed dd2's need for more help. But now we have...and will do some of the things suggested.

The strange thing is that dd2 speaks/writes practically no english, she understands but answers in german. So German is very much her first (and only active?) language. Her german vocab is pretty much native speaker level. It's more the story telling, immagination bit. Which is why I was a bit surprised that the english at home (only from me) issue was even mentioned....

She has recently started reading the Baumhaus books and loves them....thing is, I must spend some time and check that she understands them fully. And the teacher recommended some books. I am happy to listen to her stories in german (ie not do them in english and then translate because she can't do that) and dh is going to make some time to do more careful spelling checking etc. He is very willing and tries to be home most evenings, so will just have to use our family time in a different way. If it does not work, then we will get some extra help.

Thanks for your ideas, they really have helped. And it makes me realise it has little, if anything, to do with my english, but just the need for some extra support.

Hi platanos, have only just seen this thread.

Just wanted to say that it is indeed very common here for parents to do extra work with their DC outside school, in the holidays, etc. - you may have noticed all the Ferienhefte in the bookshops. grin I've sometimes thought that, unless your child is sailing through school, they'll struggle to keep up if you don't do any extra work with them as it seems to be the norm in so many families. I'm sure that your DD just needs a little extra practice with story-writing and that it has very little to do with her bilingualism.

We found it helpful to use a book that helped DD1 to practise her story writing; I couldn't find either of the books we used on Amazon to link to, but most bookshops would have a good selection. DH has also printed out picture stories from the Internet for DD1 to practise her writing.

sashh Wed 05-Dec-12 09:30:34

The teacher is wrong.

Singapore always scores highly with regard to education. Every child in Singapore is educated in English. Very few speak English at home.

Engelsemama Wed 05-Dec-12 09:52:28

I agree with everyone else here - keep speaking English.

I'm guessing these issues will come up with my own DS (only 13mo at the moment) as I speak English to him, my husband Dutch (we live in the Netherlands) and am already getting silly coments from some of DH's family about how I should speak Dutch to DS/DH and I shouldn't speak English together.

I am an English teacher and I would never tell a parent that they should not speak their own native language to their child. If a child is not getting enough exposure to a language that may be different, but as you've said, your DD speaks German to you, and converses with your DH in German as well. As an English teacher I would advise my weaker students or any students who are having difficulty to read, read, read and write, write, write if that was the weaker area. It sounds like she's having difficulties with one particular text type rather than written work in general.

Outnumbered makes a good point about DC who have both parents speaking a minority language. I have seen students who struggle more generally with English linked to this (by generally I mean speaking/listening/reading/writing - the whole shebang). Clearly not your DD's prob.

Frontpaw Wed 05-Dec-12 10:00:32

It sounds like what you are doing is right. If you were exclusively speaking English at home (the whole family) then that may put a very young child behind when they start school, but they are hearing both languages at home. I see children struggle when they only speak, read, watch tv, play with other children, etc in their home language, and arrive at school with very little English - they do take time to catch up.

Engelsemama Wed 05-Dec-12 10:12:03

sorry for typos blush

My husband is Dutch, comments not coments

platanos Mon 10-Dec-12 11:32:13

Thanks ever so much for the further messages. We have got some Ferienhefte and are doing some extra work. I have to struggle to get her to sit down and do it, but once she is doing it, she says she can't stop! So, there is hope. Next struggle: get DH to read and correct the bits that I can't. Another thread in another topic, me thinks grin.

Weissbier Mon 31-Dec-12 07:18:36

Platanos I once tutored a little girl who had this issue in English. He parents were second-generation Indian, everyone spoke perfect English at home, English was the girl's first language. After a couple of weeks scratching my head over why she got good marks in everything but creative writing etc. I realized she had almost no creative vocabulary. Everyone spoke perfect English but it was all of the 'pass the salt', 'put your shoes on', etc. variety. I gave her twenty adjectives and other "imaginative" words to learn a week and had her read various books and it solved the problem.

Totally agree with everything everyone's said about German/Austrian teacher attitudes to bilingualism - I would ham up to teacher how your DH is German you speak German of course DD's German is a priority for you and so on, regardless of what you actually do :D . To be fair they do sometimes struggle with large numbers of children arriving who don't speak German at all and pull the class level down for the German speakers, so I can understand their frustration. This is not bilingualism's fault of course, this is monolingualism (in the wrong language!)'s fault, but still, that's where they're coming from.

Chislemum Wed 02-Jan-13 17:51:22

How times must have changed in Germany: when I went to school (admittedly in the 80ies and 90ies) one of my classmates was American and perfectly bilingual. She was an extremely good pupil overall and teachers always went on about how advantaged she was due to her bilingualism.

I am bringing DS up bilingually and will stick with it: no matter what!

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