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Teacher is very nice but she does not understand me - bilingual family

(33 Posts)
rrbrigi Mon 12-Nov-12 11:14:18


First of all sorry for the long thread and thanks for reading.

We are Hungarian family in England and speak only Hungarian at home with our DS who is 4.5. There are 2 reasons for this, one of them that he wanted him to learn Hungarian and he is perfect from it. The other one is that we want him to learn English as a native speaker (without any accent). His English is not as good as like other English children, but he understands English and can answer in a couple of words. He started a Montessori nursery when he was 2 and this nursery was good for his education (math, reading, science etc...) but was not good for his English speaking. In the nursery they could do whatever they wanted (what they were interested), so lots of time my son chose to do things alone and quiet.

He is in Reception now. He is a very clever boy. He can read in Hungarian and his English reading is somewhere in Yellow level (Oxford tree level Blue). He can count at least to 100 or more and add and divide number under 10. He knows the shapes, patterns, time etc... He has a very good understanding about the world. But all of these are coming in Hungarian and not English.sad

So my problem is that his teacher cannot see how clever he is. He was in pink level books and I asked the teacher at least 20 times so she moved up him to red level, but these ones are still easy. She does not think my DS understands the book, even if I say he understands them. At home he can tell me the story (in Hungarian only) what he read in English. His comprehension is very good in Hungarian and not in English. But of course he cannot tell back a story in English if his English is not good enough. The teacher thinks that my DS cannot even count up to 20 and he does not know the shapes and he cannot add up or divide confused. My DS is very perfectionism child, he never answer to a question just if he sure the answer is correct. He needs time to think about the English answer and probably the teacher does not wait for the answer. At home I try to help him to develop his reading, math etc, but it is getting to be harder and harder, because my English is not too good and explain the phonics or adding up numbers for him to English is very hard for me. Also I do not know a lot about these subjects because I had my education in Hungary. E.g.: I do not know how they approach time tables in school, or I thought him the phonics (alphabets, 2 letters, 3 letters like ai, oo, th, sh, air, ight) but do not know what is next.

I do not know what to do or is there anything I can do? It is important for me, because the secondary school where I would like him to go is a selective one and he needs a good SATS at the end of Year6 (at least level 5 but level 6 would be better) to get a place. I am a bit sad because I think if he would speak English as a native speaker they would cater his education better.

Do you have any experience like mine? Shall I wait until he catches up with his English? But it can take for a while (I think at least a year).

Also is there any possibility or example that the school can provide a special need teacher next to him, because his first language is not English and this holds him education back? The last time I asked the teacher told me he does not need because he can catch up English alone.
Just to tell you the school (he is in) has a very good reputation and his teacher really very kind lady and my son loves his teacher a lot. I do not even know what I would like from the school to do (guess help his English develop more quickly) or how I would like them to approach it?

Thanks for reading it and for any advice help you can give me.

sashh Wed 12-Dec-12 08:35:16

I taught a Polish girl.

She arrived aged 14 with no English and two years later passsed 10 GCSEs.

Just give him time.

He probably has a bit of 'first language interference' and if he is not confident the answer is right, because he knows it in hungarian but might not know the English Grammar he is staying quiet.

vesela Mon 10-Dec-12 21:11:58

We speak English at home and live in the Czech Republic. While I've been pretty strict about sticking to English at home, I've started to read to my daughter (5) in Czech sometimes, as well as in English.

My advice would be to continue to speak to him purely in Hungarian at home, but to maybe make more time for reading English children's books together. That way you don't get into the habit of speaking English to the detriment of Hungarian, but you're doing something to help develop his English vocabulary.

(Does he like cats, by the way, or was that just an example? There are lots of good children's books about cats - Diary of a Killer Cat, Good Cat, Bad Cat, The Cat Who Wanted to Go Home, a whole series of books called Rain Cat, Ice Cat, The Cat who Wasn't There etc. etc. by Linda Newbery, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats...).

And my daughter is 5.5. and I'm thinking about secondary schools smile Completely normal.

slippyshoes Fri 07-Dec-12 18:15:36

Your son is 4.5 and your worrying about secondary schools?! Think you need to get your son more comfortable and confident in expressing himself in English, otherwise it seems a little pointless in investing all that time in teaching him all the maths or science, unless of course you're planning on returning to Hungary where he can be a rocket scientist, in Hungarian.

Have you lived in England all his life? Does he/do you not have any native English speaking friends from baby classes, play groups, nursery, work etc you can invite round/go visit/spend time with in a relaxed, non-schooly/competitive environment? Do you do any activities (e.g. swimming, clubs, music classes) where he could be surrounded by English but in a fun way?

I'm not going to tell you how to raise your child but being successful in life is about more than learning/knowing lots of stuff/educational achievement. It's also about social skills, getting on with people, being able to communicate well.

scooterland Thu 06-Dec-12 15:04:10

I completely agree with zipzap. If he is a perfectionist too he will instinctively know he is better in Hungarian. It's both more comfortable and he can express his ideas in a more complex way that reflect his intellectual maturity so given the choice, this is what he will go for.

Of course he needs exposure to native English but clearly this hasn't been enough so far. Of course he needs to make friends who speak English etc this is part of the socialising bit. But you showing more confidence with the language and making it fun would greatly help. You could just have half an hour a day or so, just speaking English and learning expressions in a fun way. I think you also need to make English friends, if you haven't already so he sees you interacting in English and having fun.

Language learning is far more complex than just being exposed to the native language. There might be reasons (perhaps not so obvious) as to why his progress in English is not as fast as you would like.

It sounds too that at 4.5 he may have had quite a few changes in his life, in school environments etc ... If Montessori didn't pay much attention to language learning then obviously that wasn't great for him, if you show diffidence and hesitation at using English at home/outside then he is picking that up. If you haven't already done it, it may also help for you to explain why you expect him to learn English and speak it so well.

zipzap Thu 06-Dec-12 10:43:59

Why not designate one day a week as an English at home day (and an occasional weekend day)?

It sounds like he is happily secure in his Hungarian. Having a little English would help to give him the day to day vocab - getting up, getting dressed, having dinner, kids tv, playing games etc. It would also help him to see that you don't have to answer everything perfectly first time, if you struggle a bit for the odd word but then see it's ok to try things.

Could you also get him to teach you what he has been learning, even if you already know what he's telling you, again to help build his confidence?

Weissdorn Thu 06-Dec-12 00:58:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

scooterland Thu 06-Dec-12 00:32:44

Judging from your messages your English is a lot better than you seem to think. It might be he wants to practise English with you because it feels safe. And why not? Who cares if your pronunciation is not at native level. At least you could act as a sounding board for him to build his confidence.
Your son will easily pick up pronunciation from peers ( probably already has) with the right exposure so your input would probably help him rather than hinder him.

scooterland Thu 06-Dec-12 00:20:49

He needs to speak English outside school. Doing sport etc in English and socialise. The Chinese/Spanish idea is frankly a waste of time and is probably confusing the poor child esp if he is expected to learn the au-pair's language.
This all sounds rather pushy, even if you don't mean to be. I agree you need to speak Hungarian to him but equally I don't think speaking some English at home for fun will do any harm. It will show him that you are willing to have a go and might encourage him to as well. Equally, however harsh it might feel you need to get real. He needs to speak English lots if you want him to improve. Who cares he counts to 100 in Hungarian? Unless he does in English the teacher is not going to know and whilst you can tell her he does, she is teaching him English. She is not questioning his intelligence, merely telling you ( politely) that his English needs to improve. Getting an English speaking au pair sounds the best way to do that at the mo'. Have you checked your local library to see if they offer language support sessions for ESL children? Ours ran such sessions last year ran by volunteers.

rrbrigi Thu 15-Nov-12 09:30:03


Thanks for your advice. I will let him learn English and Hungarian only.

ClareMarriott My English is in the level as you can see from my messages (not too good to teach him anything), my husband English is a lot better (he did a PGCE in England). But because I spend more time with our son he likes to speak English with me better than with his dad.
Once again thanks for your thoughts.

cory Wed 14-Nov-12 23:07:04

Another voice for concentrating on his English and Hungarian. If you were perfectly happy with his competence in English, then you might start thinking about a third language, but you started this thread because you were not satisfied that your son's language acquisition was progressing as it should be. This is not the time to start loading something else onto him.

If he is showing himself uncomfortable with playing with English children because he struggles with the language, what on earth makes you think he would take happily to spending his time with a new adult who spoke a language he doesn't understand a word of? Remember, he is older now that when you had the Spanish au pair and probably more self conscious. And how many years do you reckon you would have to supply Chinese au pairs for him to become fluent enough to use the language in an adult career? Quite a few, I imagine.

Personally I would go on as you have been doing: speaking Hungarian at home and letting him learn English at school. And yes, a few playdates would be fine, but don't stress over it: he doesn't have to demonstrate all his knowledge aged 4. He won't be sitting his SATS for many years yet, and frankly you have no idea whether the secondary school you like the look of now will still be right for him when he is 11. Schools change, children change- you don't know what either will be like in 7 years time.

ClareMarriott Wed 14-Nov-12 15:21:21

rrbrigi As Bonsoir has said , I would concentrate on the Hungarian and English. Your son can speak to you in Hungarian at home, but it seems he has'nt been exposed to as much English as he could be, due to his being in nursery and now reception. As other posters have said, it would seem a good idea to speak to his teacher and find out what his level of english ( and maths etc ) are at the moment and how he interacts with other children . Can he go to out of school activities ? Can you meet up with any other mothers and arrange playdates or going out to the cinema ? How good is both your DH's and your own level of English ?

Bonsoir Wed 14-Nov-12 11:15:35

I would concentrate on Hungarian and English and stop Spanish, Chinese etc. Your DS needs to learn English and he will learn it through exposure. School is great and some extra-curricular classes in things he loves will help too.

rrbrigi Wed 14-Nov-12 10:06:19


So do you think if I leave the English learning to the school and a couple of after school lessons (probably 2 lessons per week) and not introduced at home with an English speaking au-pair it would not be enough for him to learn English perfectly? I would not like to accept but you probably right.

nation I would not like to agree or disagree with you how we should raise a child, because all of us has different opinion. But in my house of course everybody and I mean everybody has choices and opinions and we respect each other choices and opinions as far as we can regardless the age of the person. We can discuss things and everybody can tell how he or she feels about it. But he also know his choice has consequences.

I did not mention it before but we had a Spanish au-pair with us for 4 months and she did not speak English so she and my son spoke Spanish to each other. Although my son does not speak Spanish now, but he understands a bit and when the au-pair was here he was speaking Spanish with her. Tell the true, he loved this Spanish girl a lot and it helped a lot.

But if I need I can wait with this au-pair things a couple of years confused

Bonsoir Wed 14-Nov-12 08:39:48

You need to chill out a bit. Your DS needs time to catch up on his oral English skills. His teacher's job is not to assess his intelligence in Hungarian, but to ensure he has acquired basic skills in English.

natation Tue 13-Nov-12 18:22:55

Do NOT speak to your son in English!

The Chinese idea is well, I won't say exactly what I think other than to say it sounds completely crazy. Chinese is several spoken languages, which one do you want him to speak. If you can't speak the language the au-pair is speaking, how are you going to know which Chinese language they actually speak?


Asking a 4 year old if they want to do play dates? Why are you asking his opinion? Who is in charge? Sorry this sounds harsh, it is, but listen to the advice above.

noramum Tue 13-Nov-12 14:50:39

I agree, you need to get more English into your child. Forget the Chinese, get a AU/NZ/CAD au pair, join 1-2 after school activities where he needs to talk. Maybe introduce English-time at home where TV or story tapes are only in English.

Begin bi-lingual is great but school is vital so the school language needs to be more in his daily life.

mignonette Tue 13-Nov-12 12:11:57

Ask the teacher to recommend the 'best fit' children to invite round? Ask what games he plays in the playground and who with?
Soft play centres, zoos (if you agree with them), adventure playgrounds, sports clubs, chess clubs etc. Anything very interactive where either the activity or the surroundings are the distraction, will take the pressure off of your son to 'entertain'.
Approach the parents in the playground and tell them what you are trying to do. Ask them if their child can come to the cinema/playground/cafe etc and invite them along too if they would prefer that. It may take time, the British can be reserved but persevere. And yes, involve the teacher and classroom assistants in this. If your son gets involved in school sports and after school activities, then you will naturally meet other parents and children.
Could you join the PTA-Parents & teachers association? it may help you form relationships too.

rrbrigi Tue 13-Nov-12 12:03:56

That is a very good idea mignonette. smile I will do that. Thanks. Do you have any more ideas how I can take the pressure off from him to "entertain" his friends?

I know he is not the most popular boy in the school, but he has a couple of friends from his class and couple of more from the older girls. The teacher told me he still searching his place socially but he is in the right way.

One more things please, could you kindly help me and tell me how to do it? How to invite his friend to cinema, to the park, to meal or to home? Is their parents are coming too or will they agree to it? (Not if I have any problem, because I would not leave my son alone and perhaps I would have a problem if a parent would like to take my son to cinema. They are so young.) How to approach it? Shall I ask my son teacher? He is in a school where very few children who are not English (around 2-3 %) and I am afraid they would not let their children to come with us, because we are not English or because they think we cannot speak proper English (and we won’t understand their child etc..).

mignonette Tue 13-Nov-12 11:44:50

Please don't bombard him. He needs to become comfortable with one foreign language and culture (English) before you inflict another (Chinese) upon him. He sounds like he is giving you clear messages about the speed of progress he is comfortable with but maybe you need to encourage him a little more regarding socialising with his peers. At this age, play is not dependent upon total fluency in another language-most games can be played happily without too much conversation. Try to support him in making friendships by maybe taking him and an English friend out for a meal or to the park/cinema etc. Actually, English language films in a cinema are excellent learning tools in the culture and colloquial language whilst taking the pressure off of your son to 'entertain' a friend.

fraktion Tue 13-Nov-12 11:37:30

You won't be able to get a Chinese (as in from China) au pair because of the immigration restrictions. Rather than a Chinese au pair try getting an Englidh speaking one from Australia/Canada/NZ. Then if you see a measurable improvement in his English you'll know that works for him and you can consider another language later (but Chinese is vanishingly unlikely). That's assuming you need an au pair for other reasons. Remember they frequently aren't trained as childcarers or specialists on language acquisition so they wouldn't be my first choice for boosting language skills unless you can give them ideas for activities.

I understand that you're concerned and there are things you can do. A positive early school experience is important and it can be frustrating for a bright child whose language doesn't reflect their capabilities. I know people look very dimly on tutoring at this age but a tutor with a specific focus on improving his vocabulary and expression NOT literacy and numeracy may be the way forward.

Finding an activity he enjoys that he can do in English will be key. Part if this is personality - in my experience chatty, confident, outgoing children who really want to communicate pick up language sooner. Children with an ability to draw on their inner resources don't need interaction in the same way and consequently only learn what suits them (which isn't what suits others).

rrbrigi Tue 13-Nov-12 11:21:31

Refuse to speak English with him is a bit hard on me. sad If he speaks English with me I answer back in English, because I appreciate the effort he makes with speaking a foreign language (English) with me. But I also emphasize for him that how the teacher and the children speak English in the school is the best and far more better than the English we speak at home therefore he need to learn the English from them and from TV or any other source where the pronunciation is native. And yes, I need to accept that in this way his English will develop slowly. But honestly how I can teach him to speak English, when his pronunciation a far better now than mine. In a year time his vocabulary will be better as well.

We try to speak Hungarian with him, to show him our culture and language and because it is a very hard language to learn and probably a bit because it is easier for us (for me and my husband).

And I thought to have an au-pair who speaks only Chinese with him, helps him to learn one more language (what is and will be very important in the economy).

I think in this way he can see some differentiation (school teaches English, family teaches Hungarian and the au-pair teaches Chinese). He won't be able to play out us, because the people in the school only able to speak English, we can speak only Hungarian (or very little English) and the au-pair can speak only Chinese.

I think as soon as we start Chinese the better chance to be fluent in it and also think there is no any affect on his English (because mainly he will learn English in the school and after school activities). But please tell me if you think it will affect his English learning.


lljkk Tue 13-Nov-12 10:52:06

You're giving a Chinese au pair to your son for Christmas? He's 4. 4.

If you refuse to speak English to him get an au pair who speaks English only, he needs that constant reinforcement to pick it up.

He may never set foot in China, but he needs to become confident in English now.

rrbrigi Tue 13-Nov-12 10:43:38

Thanks for your answers. smile thanks

The play dates is something that I already asked from my son, but he is not happy with it, probably because he cannot chat with an English child easily. And he is a type of boy who does not want to do something than he won't. Even if I invite somebody he just would walk away into his room or something. He has a couple of friends in the school (around 5), but when I ask him if he would like to play with them after school, he tells me no. So I just tell him, if he ready to play with them after school, let me know and I am more than happy to invite the children.

The afterschool club is a good idea and I will find a drama school for him. Probably this is a good idea isn't it?

I let him watch TV in English, but sometimes he complains and asks me to change the language to Hungarian. He has an IPad and he plays with it in English.

His English is not as bad as you might think about my first message. He reads his books in English and sometimes he chat (a couple of words, sentences) with me in English. He can count up and down in English but he understands the numbers, math in Hungarian a lot more. I think he is frustrated that he is not as good as his class mates and he cannot tell a story or express himself as brightly as he can in Hungarian. By the way his nursery teacher told me he could be a very good writer if we want him, because of his creative thinking and how he speaks. I do not know how she found it out in English [hmmm]. I think the biggest problem his perfectionism. He wants to do everything perfectly. E.g.: if you ask him do you like cats? He would like to answer something like this "I like cats, because they are etc.. and saying "Yes, I like." is not enough for him. He always wants to describe things that work for him in Hungarian, but not in English yet. And because he cannot do it in English, probably he won't answer.

It is very hard not to think about his SATs test about his future. Because most of us from the Eastern countries coming to leave in England (or any other western countries) because we would like an established future for our children (because they could not get this in Hungary).

And thanks Sam100. I will ask the school, if they can help for him if no any ( or very little) improvement until the end of this term.

Oh and one more things that I would like to ask from you. I would like to bring a Chinese au-pair for my son from Christmas this year to learn Chinese at home and I do not know how it can affect his English language learning. I am not worried about his Hungarian, because my parents from Hungary live with us and they do not speak English and my son loves them so he has to communicate with them in Hungarian.

Thanks for all of your answers.

Ellle Mon 12-Nov-12 19:51:02

I second using TV to practice your target language (in this case English).
We use the same method as you (minority language at home). My husband and I only speak Spanish to my son. And I do not watch TV at all with my son because I thought there is no point as it would only be in English and I want to reinforce the minority language as much as possible.

So I tried to find as many good children shows as I could in Spanish, either DVDs or on Youtube. With the exception of Peppa Pig which I couldn't find in Spanish, and I got him the DVDs in English. For a while there was a phase where he only wanted to watch those whenever I asked him if he wanted to watch something (he is allowed to watch a certain amount of TV -DVDs- every day). And what I noticed is that slowly he started to play on his own in English, using everything he had been learning from watching the shows.
This worried me a bit because up until then, he always used Spanish at home whenever he played by himself or with us.

So, I changed the tactic and slowly introduced or suggested only the DVDs in Spanish (my target language), and now it's back to how it was before.
At the moment he is just crazy about Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which has audio in Spanish. He is now using every now and then spanish words from Spain, which I find interesting (I'm from Southamerica, and his Spanish is Southamerican Spanish).
Anyway, children's shows in other languages are great to develop that language further. Find some shows that he is really into, and let him watch them in English.

On certain occasions, like when my son told me he wanted to tell his friends at school about Jake and the Neverland Pirates in English but asked me how to do it because he only knew how to say it in Spanish, I let him watch a few episodes in English just so he could also acquire the vocabulary he already knew in Spanish, in English as well.

The other idea mentioned, socialising with friends from school who only speak English will also help, but if possible a one to one playdate would work better.

And do not worry about his English. Your son must be on the phase where he is passively acquiring all the vocabulary he needs in the new language, up to the point when he will suddenly start talking in that language without even realising it. It is a process just as similar as acquiring the mother tongue language and the language explosion usually seen at about 2 years old. Just give him time and support/help as much as possible until he is confortable in English, and then your worry will be how to keep the Hungarian alive now that the English takes up most of his every day life!

Sam100 Mon 12-Nov-12 19:38:09

Schools get additional funding for pupils that have English as a second language ( I think it is called ASL funding). Ask school if they are using any of this additional funding to help your son with his English language. In the meantime you also need to work on his English at home. Get some nursery CDs and learn some English songs together - do some flash cards with English words. Watch some english tv together. Get him to read his English books to you in English.

Btw your written English is great! Don't worry about an accent - that will probably disappear as he gets older and chats more with friends at school.

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