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Bilingual child, separated parents

(19 Posts)
Octopus3 Wed 06-Jul-11 21:11:56

Ok I am about to get divorced with H. Our dcs are brought up bilingual. Being separated means that they will only hear one language at home (the minority language). They will (hopefully) see their dad on a regularly basis but it will not be 50-50.

Now the issue is that dc2 has quite a few problems with english - the majority language. His teacher, this year, has been fantastic and he has made great progress but:
- he is still well behind his peers verbally
- he is still missing quite a bit of simple vocabulary (so unmderstanding can be an issue for him)
- and as a result is behind both in reading and in writing (eg his sentences aren't always understandable when he writes but then orally his sentences don't always make sense either).
- he is still difficult to understand so struggles to make friends/communicate with children in his class
- we went back to France for 2 weeks in May. His teacher immediatly saw a difference - he was more difficult to understand, had more of an accent and struggled more with englisf for a while after that trip.

As a result of our separation, his input in english at home will be greatly reduced. So what should I do?
- have some time in the day where I will speak english to him and try build his english up
- carry on speaking just french and trsut he will improve by 'just' being at school
- somethingelse?

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:13:51

Stick to French, he'll definitely 'get' English sooner or later.

Octopus3 Wed 06-Jul-11 21:15:59

I know. Part of me think I need to stick to french because otherwise both dcs will end up speaking english to me.

But then I still have this little voice telling e i ought to do somethig to help dc2 improve his english.

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:17:13

I speak to my DD only in Polish, DP only in English, her brother in a 50/50 mix of French and English. She started going to a jardin d'enfants few months ago for a few hours per week and has already picked up some French. IMO the language of the country you're in will always end up as being the first language for a child.

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:20:09


No, no, stick to French, otherwise they very well might end up speaking English to you. It happened with DS: Born in NYC, me Polish, dad French. Spoke Polish to him. Moved to Paris, thought that he can't handle 3 languages (ex and I spoke English between us), so I started speaking English to him. And voila: my own child doesn't speak my mother tongue. Very starnge feeling, that. Totally self-inflicted, obv.

How old is he and how long have you been in the UK?

Octopus3 Wed 06-Jul-11 21:28:17

dc2 is 6yo and ... he is born in the UK!!!

Still haven't quite understood why he doesn't a good handle of english. I have been the main carer when he was little but he has been to childminder/nursery and the like since he was a baby.... I think that he learned very quikly to tune out to people speaking english as it was too much for him so learnt little in these 5 first years.

Octopus3 Wed 06-Jul-11 21:29:33

The issue too is that, next year he will be in Y2 so is expected to have been learnng to read for 2 years. He is about a yearbehind (writing and reading) and I am worried this will impact on other subjects (problems with readig instructions for example)

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:35:54

Does he have friends that he sees outside of school? Could you try to arrange some playdates?

I have to admit that although I only speak Polish to DD, I do read books in English to her, just because I love a lot of them and can't stop myself from doing it. So, perhaps, you doing homework with him etc is ok. Although I guess you do it already confused-sorry, I always leave DS to it and forget that most parents aren't like that grin.

It is a bit odd that he's not speaking English well by now. Hmm. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to seek an opinion of a specialist? Sorry that I can't be of more help. I would think that he will catch up soon(ish), though, if there isn't any underlying problem- I don't see why he wouldn't.

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:38:50

In any case, keep on bumping this thread, there are lots of knowledgeable people here who will hopefully be able to advise you better than me.

Octopus3 Wed 06-Jul-11 21:47:08

Thank you winny.
Haven't arrange playdate because ... he doesn't really have friends. He tends to stay on the edge of games etc.. because it's hard for him to speak and to be understood. So I've always had the impression that it would put too much pressure on him iyswim.

He has been seen by a SALT here. She said he was fine but then they aslo said a little boy who is autistic (and had communication issues) didn't need any help either!

ChunkyPickle Wed 06-Jul-11 21:50:03

His french is good though?

Part of me says not to worry, that if he's reading in French at the right level then the English will catch up.

Another part of me says that if he's learned to tune out the English for some reason then perhaps there's something going on that needs to be addressed - I think that you switching to English would just mask a problem (if there is one, and he's not just very single minded about ignoring English) and you need to find out the root cause of the poor English.

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:53:03

I would try to maximise his time when he needs to speak/listen to English. Boy Scouts, judo classes, music lessons, football, whatever.

Does he see you speaking English often i.e. with your friends, shopkeepers etc?

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:53:36

And what language were you and H speaking between you two?

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:57:34

And perhaps a melodramatic interpretation of things: since you and H are divorcing, were there a long time full of fights or tension? And could this have anything to do with it i.e. DS taking your side subconsciously (plus you being the primary carer) and associating English with 'bad' stuff?

Total bullshit, probably, sorry. Bit it is strange.

winnybella Wed 06-Jul-11 21:58:15


Ellle Wed 06-Jul-11 23:01:46

Every child is different, and it looks like the language approach you used worked fine for your dc1 but your dc2 is struggling with English.

I think your idea of having some time in the day where you can speak English to him to try to build his English up seems like a good one. You can set the rules, it could be English time while you are helping him with his homework, or at bedtime reading stories or while doing something your dc2 is interested in, any TV shows/moviea he likes in French that he could watch in English? Or if you are too worried about changing the language for your dc2 then maybe you could get him a tutor to help him with his English for a while?

I'm no expert, my only experience is my 2y ds. We use the minority language at home approach (even though my husband is English) because we live in the UK and I thought like you he'll learn the English from school and the community.

His minority language is far more advanced than his English, he can already talk in sentences whereas he only knows a handful of words in English and struggles a bit at nursery because the teacher can not always understand or guess what he is trying to say.

So what I do now is expand his vocabulary by saying that you say this in this language, and at nursery/in English they say this. And little by little he is gaining more vocabulary in English and already starting to string words together; but all the talking, and explanation of words is in the minority language, and so far it hasn't caused any detriment to the level of his minority language, it is still the preferred one, but he knows there is another language that in specific situations can be useful for him to know as well.

I've also found that he loves watching Peppa Pig (he saw it at his cousin's house), and as that doesn't seem to be available in our minority language we watch it in English. Now he can say "naughty daddy" wink

Octopus3 Thu 07-Jul-11 14:45:26

So lost my post a few times so I will try again.

H only speaks english so that's the language we use between us. the dcs ahve always heard me speaking english in the house.

dc2 french is good enough for me. Not as good as the one of a monoligual french child but when we are in France, he will go and play with children he doesn't know whereas he stays on the sides here in the UK. Social side is a big issue here and is linked with ahow confortable he is with the language used (OK with french, not so OK with english).

In the home, we always have had things in both languages, books, DVDs, bed time stories and even games! So in some wasy, there is some input in english at home, not like if the only place he uses english is at school.

I really have no idea of why he is finding it so hard. It has always been like this (Actually the nursery staff had noticed it when he was 1.5yo - but I dismissed it thinking he would come round to it with time).

Perhaps I should fond a SALT privately and have another evaluation done.

Re the influence of H on his language skills.... I am probably too partial to evaluate that. Suffice to say that I've asked him for years to spend more time speaking to his son on a one to one basis (even his mum told me it would a good idea) but he has never done it sad

fraktious Thu 07-Jul-11 14:58:50

IMO you need to stick to French and find other ways to maximise English input. There are some good ideas upthread but I do feel you need to find something he excels at whilst using English to create a positive association with the language, particularly if he finds school difficult and is socially isolated.

A SALT evaluation by someone experienced in dealing with bilingual children is worth a shot.

Could you afford to have someone come and play games etc in English once or twice a week? Maybe a student teacher, SALT or similar?

Octopus3 Thu 07-Jul-11 15:10:13

fraktious, a student teacher/SALt is a fantastic idea!

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