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Schools and bilingualism- your experience please

(10 Posts)
SuiGeneris Fri 29-Jul-11 15:13:01

We're currently looking at possible nurseries and schools for DS. The one we prefer, however, has a headmistress who, when asked how the school supported bilingual children, said that there were no remedial/extra lessons and that she advised families to speak English at home and stick the children in front of the TV.

I disagree strongly with both things, in that we do not watch TV and that we plan to move to minority language at home when DS starts nursery/school, to avoid him losing his mother tongue (my language). DH is English, so DS does get exposure at home for the moment, as well as at playdates and various activities. The comments from the headmistress have really put me off the school that would otherwise be our natural first choice. So, am I over-reacting? What are your experiences?

TooTiredtoGoogle Fri 29-Jul-11 16:41:08

Head sounds awful. I'd definitely stick with minority language at home and start looking for another nursery/school.
At the primary school my DD is going to attend, they recommend you stick with minority language at home as children very easily pick up community language. True, remedial/extra lessons are a thing of the past, but a child whose home language is not that of the community can get extra support whilst learning and adapting within the class environment (at least that's what happens at DD's school).
Also, minority languages are very much celebrated at DD;s school and also the school where I'm a governor - both schools are OFSTED rated Outstanding.

cory Mon 08-Aug-11 11:07:55

tbh I have never asked the advice of any teacher as I always assumed that I knew more about bilingualism than they do. As both dcs had a good command of the majority language when they started school, I didn't particularly think any support would be needed and that was probably correct. Occasionally, I have come across teachers who are keen to ascribe any slight problem to the child being bilingual but I try to ignore them.

noramum Wed 10-Aug-11 15:44:22

When we got all the school enrollment forms from DD's infant school they ask what languages the child speaks at home and what the main language is.

The school commented on it and told how many other languages the pupils speak and how they celebrate the different cultures. Like having parents over at particular holidays and tell how the other country has its own tradition.

DD started nursery with 11 months and her main/active language is English despite both parents are German and we only speak German to her and English input like music/books/TV is fairly limited at home.

Therefore I wouldn't worry too much. Yes, it is important that the child speaks the school language but unless something is seriously wrong I wouldn't change the way I speak to my child. As language is very much an emotional tool the teacher seem to have no idea about bilingualism. For me it even feels wrong to speak to my DD in English.

SuiGeneris Thu 11-Aug-11 13:56:30

Thank you both. I guess the best course of action is, as Cory says, to ignore the school and not ask them for advice. The reason I asked the question was that I was hoping they'd say they encourage children to see their mastery of the minority language as an asset. DH speaks the majority language to DS, so I expect DS will have a good understanding of it by the time he starts school...

EnglishMumInSouthOfFrance Sat 13-Aug-11 21:01:23

Hello, DS was born in France but I've always talked to him in English. He started école maternelle at three here in France and everything was fine until he left for primary school and we came across a teacher who was against the idea of other languages being talked out of school (!!!). He had an awful year in CP with the teacher telling him and us regularly that all his problems were due to me talking to him in English and letting him watch English TV. She told him that he had to stop taking English (despite DH and myself having informed the school that we were sticking to English at home). It's true that he was a little behind on language skills but we reassured him on several occasions that if he didn't understand something in class he needed to put his hand up and ask. He would come home in tears because he'd been punished for not doing his work because he didn't understand, and when we asked the teacher if he'd asked for help she replied that yes he had, but that she had her lesson plan and she was sticking to it, she wasn't about to waste time answering DS's silly questions. We changed school at the end of the year, he redid his CP year with a wonderful teacher (of Moroccan origin; bilingual herself) and DS now enjoys school. He's nine now and still not top of the class, but he's doing just fine, the difficulties he has are nothing to do with having two languages to deal with (and more to do with him being a bit of a day dreamer!). Hope this helps.

shakesrear Mon 22-Aug-11 12:17:08

I'm an American in the South of France and I've been speaking exclusively English to my children from day 1. My first 2 daughters (4 and 6) have skipped a grade and my oldest is in a bilingual school now that she's in primary school. It has never been an issue, but they do speak to me in French only. I've continued on in English though and now my oldest can speak and read in English very well. Both of my daughters are very interested in a number of other languages too.

I would definitely ignore the teacher, but try to stay friendly with her anyway. You're really giving your child a gift when you teach him another language from birth.

NotJustKangaskhan Mon 22-Aug-11 12:41:26

Sui I too would be very uncomfortable with a head teacher like that. Mastery of an additional language should be seen as an asset, and I would be concerned - as language is very much wrapped up in culture - on how they would handle 'non-English' cultures in the school.

Mjolnir Mon 22-Aug-11 14:39:42

It would be better to have a school which was supportive of a minority language, but if other considerations (expense, distance, etc) rule that out then so be it.

My experience is that children pick up the majority language easily and so the minority language has little impact on the school.

If they want to be aware of particular issues and celebrate the diversity that is great. But equally, if they want to ignore it, that shouldn't affect your continuing of it in the home.

SpamMarie Mon 22-Aug-11 20:31:54

I grew up in a similar situation (albeit 20 years ago). Despite my other language being rather mainstream (my mother is French and that was what I heard most at home as an infant) the school nurse labelled my language skills as 'behind'. My mother (who speaks perfect English, as do you by the look of your post) angrily retorted that I had a far broader vocabulary than most children my age, it's just that my words were spread over two languages, and I had a habbit of picking whichever one I found easier to pronounce (so nothing was yellow, it was jaune instead).

With all four of her children my mother found that once we had started school, we switched to English (even with her at home, much to her chagrin) automatically. By the second year, we all had above average reading and writing abilities. I went on to achive a first class degree in German and Dutch as well (no family links at all!) which just goes to show that teachers can talk c**p sometimes. I'm sure my early exposure to multi-lingualism must have helped my later language-learning endeavours. I'm sad to see attitudes have not changed so much in the UK.

I did spend one year of my childhood in a french primary school (CM1) and I have to say they were extremely encouraging regarding my bilingualism. I struggled to keep up purely in French at first, but was fine and completely bilingual within a couple of months. The teacher I was placed with was a specialty language teacher though, so I really think it does depend on the individual.

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