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Very behind in second language - any positive stories?

(8 Posts)
ilovespinach Thu 01-Sep-11 08:07:16

DH and I are English and have lived in Germany for the past 10 years or so. Our German isn't fantastic - we have always worked in English, English speaking friends etc.

DS1 is 5.5 and due to start German speaking school next year. He has been attending German kindergarten for over 2 years. We have always been advised to speak English at home and that he will pick up German through kindergarten. It's obvious that this isn't happening. His very poor German was picked up in a pre-school check last year. We were referred to the childrens hospital who concluded that his hearing is fine but that he would benefit from one on one speech therapy. We've been doing this and have seen an improvement in the last few months.

However we had a further check this week and the drs said they are 'astonished' how his English can be ok but his German can be so far behind. They were a negative of our situation and said we should include more German at home. I will try to read to the kids in German - they never let me do this normally.

In addition to speech therapy once a week, he attends a sports club after kindergarten which will change to twice a week this month, I will also get him enrolled in swimming and he plays with a German speaking friend once a week. So all extra German.

Has anyone been in a similar situation and then the second language has clicked with their dc? We have another check in 6 months and I am very worried what will happen if there isn't a significant improvement with the approach of school.

tabulahrasa Thu 01-Sep-11 08:18:08

It's not first hand experience, but my neighbours are Polish - their DD is friends with mine.

The mother's English is pretty poor, I can't have a conversation with her, the dad's is better but not fluent and they both speak to their DD in Polish. The DD's English is completely fluent, she's 10. I don't know when she became fluent, mostly because I can't ask her parents, lol, but I've known her about 3 years and she always has been.

I'd think school would make them use their second language more.

AussieCelt Thu 01-Sep-11 12:16:02

I've friends who were in a similar situation, the first year of full-time school (at 5 y/o) was a struggle, but as he neared 6 things started to work out, and eventually things took their normal course with the societal language becoming dominant.

It's not a language acquisition issue - they affect all languages, that is, a child with an organic language problem should demonstrate issues across all languages, to have one language being fine and another struggling would indicate a behavioural/psychological issue, maybe not fitting in with kids his own age or being shy etc.

Increasing the amount of German at home won't really help, all it will do is dilute his English. I would put money on his German coming up to par when whatever other issue is triggering it is dealt with.

ilovespinach Thu 01-Sep-11 15:59:15

Thanks for the replies.

Interesting post AussieCelt - I think DS has very low confidence in his 2nd language and is a little resistent to it. We are trying to work on this - maybe if we speak more German at home it will become more normal for him?

mamsnet Thu 01-Sep-11 16:06:40

He'll be fine when he goes to school.. Look at all those kids who arrive in September fresh off a plane and are fluent by Christmas. I really wouldn't dilute his English at home..
You'll look back on this when, in a few years, his German is better than his English!!

mousymouse Thu 01-Sep-11 16:07:51

agree with aussie if your german is not near perfect please don't use more at home. you will only end up with your child beeing doppelt halbsprachlich as they call it in germany. am really surprised by the drs advice.
you are on the right paths, very soon (hopefully) we will see a post from you asking us how to keep the minority language better smile

MmeLindor. Tue 06-Sep-11 08:58:23

With all due respect, Mamsnet, I have never met a child who comes off the plane in September and is fluent by Christmas. We moved to Switzerland in September 3 years ago and it took over a year until we could really say that the DC were anywhere near fluent.

Don't speak German at home if your German is not up to it. Carry on as you are, let him watch German TV and expose him to as much German as you possibly can. Work on his confidence, maybe get him to order his own drink and meal if you are in a cafe, so that he is used to communicating with adults not just with children.

The Germans are very big on therapy, so don't get too worried. DD had speech therapy when she was 6yo, and the paediatrician recommended more therapy, and that we do not let her learn French when we moved. We ignored his advice, and she is just fine. Not saying that you should ignore all the advice, but don't worry too much about it.

The tests that they do in Kindergarten are slightly skewed against those who speak another language at home - I noticed that when DS did the test that he "failed" because some of the words he should have known were words that we, as a family, simply did not use at home. And my DH is German, at that time German was our DS's strongest language.

gabid Sun 11-Sep-11 13:08:48

I read (don't know where) that laguage aquisition is most effective in a one to one conversation with an adult. Kindergarten is a group environment and maybe your DS needed more of that one to one he got from you. Have you thought of a nanny/babysitter to come sometimes to play or do things with him?

We live in the UK, I am German and DP is British. My DS is 6 and has just gone into Y2 here. I only ever speak and read in German to DCs and DS is bilingual, but he prefers me to read to him. DP is not allowed to read the longer chapter books to him, he wants me to read them in German. This makes me think that despite school his German is still stronger. I am very aware that this will change though.

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