Teaching your kids English when living abroad

(15 Posts)
isthistoonosy Wed 13-Jul-16 14:15:42

We speak English as a family and I speak it to the toddlers (18months and 3yrs)and they understand but they rarely try to speak it back to me, except for the odd word that they don't know in Swedish and this is becoming rarer for the 3yr old.

So I'm starting to think its time to activly teach them but not sure if its a bit too early for phonics, or/and just insisting they talk to me in English. What have you all done?

FYI, OH and his family speak a Swedish dialect, nusery speak standard Swedish. There are no international / bilingual schools near to us, and I think their mother tounge will be classed as Swedish so I'm not sure they will get any specific English help even when they get to school.

hesterton Wed 13-Jul-16 14:21:07

I think you need to only ever speak English to them, and increasingly expect English responses if they are to get what they want. In the meantime their dad needs to only speak Swedish. Read English books and follow text with your finger. English wall charts etc. English flash card/domino type simple word games. Swedish ones in the home too for dad to play with them. It's a gradual thing, but worth persevering at.

Okkitokkiunga Wed 13-Jul-16 17:13:45

Ours are being brought up bilingually. I speak only English and DH only speaks French. When we were abroad they also watched TV in English (school was a third language) DD separated the three languages straight away when speaking but DS didn't. He understood French but replied in English. By about 4 he was speaking both languages and his vocabulary was wider than DD's at the same ages. Now they just flip between the two languages. I started teaching DD phonics when she was 5 as we were going back to UK.

lifeisunjust Wed 13-Jul-16 22:57:50

We speak English at home. French education. 18 year old went into English state boarding aged 16. I have done ZERO English tuition for the kids. My 18 year old is predicted around 600 UCAS points from 5 A levels and 1 AS level. That with no English education for the previous 6 years. Teachers had no idea of his lack of formal English education. He was top in 4 out of his 6 subjects academically, he's above average for sur but not a genius I don't think. The next 2 will probably do GCSEs and A levels privately too.

Relax. Your children are tiny.

English is a very powerful language. It is almost self teaching.

Natsku Thu 14-Jul-16 05:14:57

Just keep talking English to them, always English. My daughter would only speak Finnish until a bit after three years old (a trip to English made her start talking English after she realised the children at soft play couldn't understand her!) but I just kept on replying in English and it eventually sunk in.

SuiGeneris Thu 14-Jul-16 06:01:02

I would also make sure you have lots of English DVDs, apps and games and think about creating opportunities to play and speak in English with other children. Our two DC (4 and 6) speak my language at home between themselves, with me and with their nanny and the local language (English) at school, with their father and with local friends. When thEy were smaller all of their (very limited) TV, books and majority of their games were in my language, and we always spent almost all the holidays in my home country. Is that a possibility for you?

Schwabischeweihnachtskanne Thu 14-Jul-16 06:32:38

There are plenty of children who refuse to speak their mother tongue although they understand it.

People always say it will come automatically, and to a degree it will - but especially where the mother tongue is only the language of one parent, and the other has the local language as mother tongue, it is not automatic that the child will eventually start speaking the mother tongue "like a native" at all.

DD has a girl with an American mother and German father in her class at her German secondary school. I've never met the mother but met the father while we were dropping our DDs off and waiting for them to leave to go on a trip - he asked me how I made DD speak English, as his American wife has always spoken English to their DD and she has never spoken English back, but has always replied in German. Now at age 12 they do English at school and unlike my DD his is not getting effort-free As in English but Bs and Cs... She understands the language but won't "produce" it, which also means she can't spell it and when she writes the grammar is not as automatic as for a child who actively uses the language.

The answer to how I've made my kids speak English while otherwise totally immersed in German and local dialect (they have been in the local system since age 3 and we have no native English speakers locally) is that I've insisted on English when speaking to me the same way I insist on them saying please when they ask for things... When you are actually 100% immersed in another language outside the home I actually think that is the only way if you want both languages to be equally strong - just as I ignore my kids asking for things, or if necessary remind them to ask nicely, if they ask rudely, thus ensuring they ask politely, I treat speaking to me in German the same way...

When they were under about 4 all TV was also cbeebies, but as they have got older it is also nicer if they can discuss TV with friends so now I have no "rule" about TV. DH and I rarely watch German TV though (because it is mostly crap - DH is German and prefers English TV). As a family we watch films in the original language if that language is English or German - so it works out that we watch some in German but most in English.

I still read to my kids every night that I do bedtime (I work a few evenings) and I always read in English - I think this is massively important and it is the main reason I still read to the older 2, who are perfectly capable of reading to themselves. DD reads voraciously but mainly in German (though if a book she fancies reading is in English she will read it). DS1 isn't a great recreational reader but loves the Beano, which I have a subscription to specifically to keep their "kid English" topped up, and reads that cover to cover in English, which is all good IMO grin

When we had a CD player in the car up until a few months ago I always had a new English audio book for any anticipated longer journey, and everyone listened to those together - as they got older Roald Dahl and Famous Five were good, earlier nursery rhyme collections and Percy the Lighthouse keeper, Mog etc.

So read to them and treat replying in the language they are spoken to in the same way as you regard saying please and thank you, and watch English TV and have English audio books in the car, would be my tips grin I do think it requires a degree of work but absolutely does not require any formal "teaching".

Good luck.

Schwabischeweihnachtskanne Thu 14-Jul-16 06:36:21

Percy the Park keeper.. and some Lighthouse keeper whose name escapes me! Seem to have blended two separate small children's series in my head!

isthistoonosy Thu 14-Jul-16 11:38:56

Thanks Sch

I need to sort out some CbbC for them, although they only watch 15-20 min a day in the week. More at weekends but that tends to be kids films in English or the News (normally in English).

When did you start being forceful about the language? I've always repeated in English, and now I've stared to ask the older toddler to say it after me but he is quite shy to try and say the words in English.

Schwabischeweihnachtskanne Thu 14-Jul-16 11:51:29

Isthis right from the start tbh. My focus has always been that we don't mix languages - I know a lot of people think mixing is ok, but it's just muddling IMO. So if someone speaks to you in German, you reply in German (Sweatshirt in your case obviously) and if someone speaks to you in English you reply in English - it's only polite IMO grin

I didn't let them mix even as small toddlers, but maybe I'm mean grin They didn't seem to mind to any greater degree than they minded having to say please and thank you grin

The older ones remind the youngest not to mix - they're quite hot on it.

On the other hand I allow she'd loadsof TV - you can't be strict about everything and I pick my battles grin When DD was 18 months old she was up for the day at 5am and didn't nap and I was 6 months pregnant - I used to record endless Something Special for her to watch - Mr Tumble is probably more responsible for her English than I am, and once DC1 uses English fluently and copiously it's self perpetuating with DC2 and 3 grin

Schwabischeweihnachtskanne Thu 14-Jul-16 11:52:33

Swedish not sweatshirt shockblush

Schwabischeweihnachtskanne Thu 14-Jul-16 12:31:16

Tbh I have probably had it far easier than you in terms of establishing English as mine were all home with me til the month they turned 3. That did give me the chance to firmly establish English as mother tongue. All of their German was behind their English until age 4/5 - though even before age 3 all of them spoke perfectly reasonable 3 year old German and better than some monolingual German peers, English definitely is their mother tongue. I have probably given a false impression as prior to age 3 none replied to me in German, it was more dropping German words into English out of laziness. DC1 has actually never in her life spoken to me in German except for the benefit of German friends standing right beside her... My boys do try speaking to me in German, DS1 especially (he is my most "German" child tbh), and I respond in a bit of a "Language Timothy" self mocking yet seriously meant way with "English DS1" and he rolls his eyes and switches to English. It tends to happen just after he gets home from school not when we've been together all day - I think he finds all transitions harder than DD, including linguistic ones!

Okkitokkiunga Thu 14-Jul-16 14:32:55

I forgot to mention, as Schwab said DH and I speak our own language and expect response in same language. We don't "understand" if they don't.

Natsku Thu 14-Jul-16 14:57:16

I do the 'don't understand' thing too if DD talks to me in Finnish. TV definitely helped too - we watch Simpsons together every day (though that's probably going to lead to Americanisms I will then have to correct) and she used to be able to watch Cbeebies but now they don't show it here.

Natsku Thu 14-Jul-16 14:58:10

Reckon she'll end up picking up Danish from the adverts on Boomerang though as she watches that so much grin (no idea why we have Danish Boomerang)

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