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Sophisticated English for 4yo?

(70 Posts)
Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 15:44:39

Good afternoon! I really need your help please. I will be sitting my kid for independent schools admissions in a year time, and one of the main requirements is a broad vocabulary and rather sophisticated English. Could someone please define the meaning of "sophisticated English" in relation to a 4yo kid, and how can I make her sound more sophisticated? I'm not English and wasn't born in UK, so really need advise from native speakers and language specialists. Thank you very much for all your comments!

LIZS Tue 01-Dec-15 15:51:29

I would expect that they would use complex sentences (I like this because...) , be able to hold a conversation about a toy, picture or favourite book and follow instructions.

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 15:57:38

Thank you LIZS! I'm really stressed about my LO's language at the moment. But we have a year, so hopefully something good will come out of it... Would you be able to recommend any books or cartoons for 3-4yo to improve English?

AnyoneButSanta Tue 01-Dec-15 15:59:05

I assume they're looking for the sort of precocious "adult" use of English that makes strange adults laugh indulgently in shops. Your best bet is probably to read to her, a lot. Hit the library and grab every book aimed at the under eights, let her pick some that she fancies but if she's predominantly picking picture books, also try and steer her towards more challenging "chapter books" (with a style and subject matter that appeals to her). Try and mix it up a bit, but even bloody Rainbow Fairies is better than nothing. I'm sure we can give you loads of specific suggestions, maybe on another thread.

LIZS Tue 01-Dec-15 16:07:12

Agree, just pick a variety of books from the library starting with favourites such as the Gruffalo and Room on the Broom and read them together. Does she already go to preschool?

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 16:19:46

She started nursery this Sept, but only for a couple of mornings. The trouble is I only realised she needs advanced English about a month ago when started reading all messages here about assessments. She speaks good native language using complex vocabulary and words like "delicious ", but her English is so basic (if none at all), I feel like crying sometimes.
I bought her Stick Man book and she liked it, also for the last month I've been talking to her mainly in English, and she does show some progress. But her English is sooo far away from her native language, and she seems to favour the native one at the moment.
Talking about books - could you please recommended exact titles or authors so I can search for these in shops/libraries? It's a deep forest for me sad

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 16:22:29

AnyoneButSanta, I really need specific suggestions. Can I PM you?

AnneSansTete Tue 01-Dec-15 16:23:15

My ds (3) is obsessed with the Thomas the Tank engine tv shows. As a result he speaks like a 1950's prep school kid. That might do the trick.

AnyoneButSanta Tue 01-Dec-15 16:35:07

Do you have a native English speaking partner?

Re books: I'd start with getting yourself a good book guide like and (you could choose very cheap second hand copies because both of these are a few years old, but it doesn't matter because classic children's books are classic forever). Then just go to the library and browse. Take your time, settle down in a comfy chair and see what she likes the look of. Most libraries will be split by age so you can start with big toddler picture books, then move on to "first readers" and mini chapter books, then real books.

For a four year old with shaky English I'd start with anything by Julia Donaldson then move on to Shirley Hughes.

AnyoneButSanta Tue 01-Dec-15 16:37:34

A good list from the Guardian

AnyoneButSanta Tue 01-Dec-15 16:39:43

Booktrust best books for under 5s and Booktrust best books for 6-8s

BertrandRussell Tue 01-Dec-15 16:40:17

But presumably the school will know that she's not a native speaker?

AnyoneButSanta Tue 01-Dec-15 16:46:50

Yes that's true, they'll know that a child who's fluent in a different language will probably catch up and overtake her monoglot classmates very quickly. I guess it's easier for them to make that call if it's a language like French where they'd have a native speaker on the staff to do an assessment, rather than Pashtu or something where they likely wouldn't be able to see her at her best.

The problem with the OP switching to speaking English at home is that you wouldn't want to risk DD losing fluency in native tongue - she will inevitably gain fluency in English through immersion and it's only this artificial school entry hurdle that's even making it an issue.

TheOddity Tue 01-Dec-15 17:26:44

Hmm that's a toughy. I would say you will not have time in a year to give her the complex kind of vocabulary that a four year old monoglot will have, especially if you don't speak English at home. However, she will have gained a good grasp of basic English in a year if she is attending a nursery hopefully. I do think their criteria needs to be based on you having a bilingual child and would be asking the school about this and if they have a speaker of her first language to review her language. Most billingual children favour a language and you can't really speed up a process like language acquisition artificially. Reading helps but time with other children at school will make the biggest difference in my experience with my own child. We read a couple of books a week in the community language but he still much prefers English (his mother tongue) books. Go to the park a lot, they need to be around conversations and being forced to talk, talk, talk.

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 18:01:05

AnneSansTete, thank you - I will try this TV show. She likes watching Peppa Pig, The Hive and nursery rhymes now. But she's also in love with various vehicles, so train should be great smile

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 18:15:29

AnyoneButSanta, thank you for the info - I will check tonight.
No, my husband's native language is also not English. We both are from Russia (so here it is - the big secret is out), but he came to UK much earlier then I did, so his English is better. However he works ling hours, so all the talking, most of it, is left to me.
BertrandRussell, these schools don't really care how good your kid is in his/her native language - first it's no use to them, second they can't really test it much. They say at open days they have lots of bi-multi-lingual kids, but kids willing to get in to school must speak good English.
In terms of ruining her native language (and I do feel aweful about it) - it will be easy for me to restore it later, but I want to do everything I possibly can to get her a chance to be accepted in to one of those top independent schools. I would personally love to go and study there myself if I could!

PettsWoodParadise Tue 01-Dec-15 18:33:16

Usborne young reading series is great for not just vocabulary but cultural references including fairytales and classics in very abridged form. Most libraries have a selection of them.

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 18:37:48

TheOddity, I know it's not an easy project sad I did start talking to her 98% of time in English at home. She shows a progress in understanding my instructions, comments and questions, but of course not the way she understands everything in Russian. When she started talking actively after 2nd BD, she was saying half of words in English, and half in Russian, but later she started to favour Russian. Also I didn't pay too much attention to it thinking she will just pick it up at school. However, as it appeared, independent schools want your kid to talk fluently from the start, while state schools are fine with whatever your kid has to offer in terms of language.

Ofelia15 Tue 01-Dec-15 18:44:29

Thank you, PettsWoodParadise - we have recently discovered Usborne books, and she seem to like it. But I still have to look closely what they offer. Also my DD won't open a book if she doesn't like pictures there, so that adds to the trouble of finding good language together with good pictures

BertieBotts Tue 01-Dec-15 18:50:15

It's a shame if they reject because of this, because from a linguistic point of view it's actually better for her long term if you concentrate on Russian at home, as that is the minority language in her situation.

I wonder if it's worth looking for a private Speech and Language Therapist and seeing if they can offer any kind of advice or coaching.

LIZS Tue 01-Dec-15 19:42:09

Picture books are fine. They really aren't expecting her to have a command of English classics. More t be able to concentrate , follow a story and talk about it. Do you gave a story time at the local library or children's' centre? Listening to music and singing is good for vocabulary too. Usborne farm and train stories are good as they follow the same characters. You can get a cd to readalong.

angelpuffs Tue 01-Dec-15 19:46:36

Hi Ofelia
The best way to get her fluent in English is to only talk to her in English at home- if that's possible. Your english sounds good and that will be the best way for her to pickup the nuances that will make her language more complex.
Although she might be capable of catching up quickly once she starts school, the school won't be able to see her full potential if her English is stilted and they will have so many applicants with perfect English that she will need every advantage she can get. It might be worth getting her an English tutor...?

PettsWoodParadise Tue 01-Dec-15 20:22:05

Also don't stress too much about it. Bear in mind most independents have a large intake at age 7, year 3, by which time if they have been at a local state infants school her language will have come on leaps and bounds too. The early years teaching in state schools is often superb which is why many go through it and then switch when their DCs are that bit older.

titchy Tue 01-Dec-15 20:42:46

Is there any reason you want to start at a selective private aged 4? Why not look at 7+ entry, and let her spend 3 years in a state school.

Keep speaking to her in your mother tongue - that's the best long term educational advantage you can give her, and it's free! The problem with her learning her English from you is that it isn't your first language, and her own English will be stilted as a result unless you are absolutely fluent which you don't appear to be.

Dustylaw Tue 01-Dec-15 21:55:42

Titchy has made a very good point. Please don't stress over getting your child into an independent school at this age. First of all, there are entry
points at older ages and lots of children don't join private schools until later. Second, primary schools (ie free, state primaries) can be great and even better than the independent alternatives, depending on the individual schools. In short, don't assume that the independent equivalent of your primary school is automatically better - that is not the case in the UK. Do please go and have a look at your local primary school options because they can be a great choice. Lots of parents in London especially will switch between state and private so don't get stressed that you are in some way failing to provide the best if you chill out and opt for your local primary. However, the advice about spending time together in your local library (if you are lucky enough to have one) is spot on no matter what you decide to do.

By the way, any school which turns down a 4 year old nearly-bilingual child for not being 'sophisticated' enough in English usage sounds like it's far too up itself to be worth bothering with.

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