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Hase & Eagle - struggling a little with homophones in both languages

(15 Posts)
WidowWadman Sun 02-Dec-12 23:43:08

Child 1 is almost 4, pretty clever (if I say so myself), but currently gets quite frustrated with German words sounding the same as English different words. All not helped by her trying to learn reading and writing at the moment.

Any ideas of how to make it easier for her?

Bonsoir Mon 03-Dec-12 07:30:28

Which languages is your DC1 trying to learn to read and write in?

WidowWadman Mon 03-Dec-12 07:44:57

German and English. We live in England, and German is her minority language.

NulliusInBlurba Mon 03-Dec-12 08:12:32

So she reads eagle, which sounds the same (or at least very similar) as the German word Igel, meaning hedgehog?


We have the opposite situation to you - we live in Germany and English is the minority language at home. My DDs are now well out of that stage, at 14 and 10, and are revoltingly, confidently bilingual.

I'm afraid the real way to sort this out is by strictly segregating the languages as much as possible, so she associates eagle with English and Igel with German. Do you do OPOL, or is it German only at home and English only outside? What about getting pictures of the main problems with the words underneath, even pinning them up in her room? So an eagle with the English word underneath and a hedgehog with the word Igel.

There are minimal differences in pronunciation between English and German homophones which my DC learned to pick up on once they were a bit older. From that point onwards they were never confused. However, you have to be prepared for even clever children getting confused between differing aspects of German/English orthography. My DC are educated bilingually, so learn how to write English and German at native-speaker level. Yet it is common for children at their school to adopt one set of conventions in the other language - the most common is to write every noun in English large, or to write nouns in German small. This is all part of the learning process for a bilingual, but if your DD is not going to a bilingual school you have to be prepared that her teachers will not realise why she is making those particular mistakes.

I'm afraid the motto here is 'Augen zu und durch!' (or possibly Augen auf und durch)

Bonsoir Mon 03-Dec-12 08:12:35

Is she learning to read in a school context, or is she learning to read at home? IMO it is very important to differentiate the context and materials - a bit like OPOL. My DD learned to read French exclusively at school, using Bien Lire et Aimer Lire (a very old-fashioned French phonics method) and learned to read English exclusively at home/with a tutor, using Jelly & Bean. She was never confused for a minute.

noramum Mon 03-Dec-12 12:22:38

We have the same constellation but so far didn't get any problems.

DD only now starts to read and write in German after being secure in English, her school language. She is in Y1 though, we left it during her Reception year to give her confidence in the whole approach of reading/writing first.

WidowWadman Tue 04-Dec-12 06:38:53

She's in preschool and will start school in September. They do jolly phonics in preschool, and she has picked it up from there, I just do the same with German with her at home (driven by her, she really wants to learn). I don't have any proper textbook for her, either, just making it up as I go along, looking with her at her German language kids' books. Maybe that's the problem.

Bonsoir Tue 04-Dec-12 09:50:33

I would definitely not teach her to read without some kind of book/scheme that is highly differentiated from the scheme she is using at school. Otherwise she will constantly, in her mind, be referring back to the Jolly Phonics scheme she is using at school because you have provided no alternative visual framework for German. Get a nice very German scheme (so no German of ORT!).

noramum Tue 04-Dec-12 11:48:07

Bonsoir: if your child is good with Phonics there is no need for any reading scheme. My DD is in Y1 and fairly fluent, I think she recently brought ORT 8 home.

She now started reading her normal German books. Yes, we explain some of the special pronunciations but I really don't want to go back to any reading scheme as DD was bored to death with ORT, Jolly Phonics etc as the stories were just awful for her.

As soon as she had the majority of sounds firmly in her grasp she just swapped over and decided reading is fun. The last I would want is going to back tormenting her with - in her words - baby books.

Bonsoir Tue 04-Dec-12 13:33:10

That's only because you left it too late. It is important to teach phonics early, or else children have a lot of difficulty with spelling later.

noramum Tue 04-Dec-12 16:31:11

Bonsoir - you must be kidding. My daughter is 5.5 how can that be late when a German child doesn't start school before they are 6 or 7 and still are able to learn to read and write.

And if I see how my DD spells words in English phonetically then I just hope that one day she will also learn how to do it properly. I often correct her because she doesn't spell silent letter or one sound can be spelled in a variety of ways.

But as I don't believe in the "phonics hard-core" I may just stop talking.

Bonsoir Tue 04-Dec-12 17:31:40

It's got nothing to do with cultural expectations of reading age, but of ensuring children learn to read in parallel in both languages.

But if you don't believe in phonics and you want your child to read and write fluently in two languages, God help you!

NulliusInBlurba Fri 07-Dec-12 07:27:41

noramum - just don't worry, sounds like you're doing it all fine. Of course you haven't left anything too late - the British just have an obsessively unrealistic idea of when children should be reading. <chuckles at the idea that 5.5 is somehow too late for anything>

IME you don't teach children to read two languages in parallel - you establish reading in one language then transfer those skills to the second language. This is standard practice at my DCs' school, where they were alphabetised in year 1 (at the age of 6) and spent a year learning letters and reading (and at risk of sounding like a 'bad mother', I honestly have no idea if they used phonics and really don't care, since it worked), then at the beginning of year 2 they went on to reading in the second language, of course at a higher level because they're not starting from scratch.

Of course it's different if the two languages are in different scripts, but English and German are close enough to cause few problems. I remember once, when DD1 was at the start of year 2, we had bought a book in German as a present for a friend - one of the Conni books, but the proper hardback readers rather than the paperback Pixie picture ones - picked it up and just started reading the whole thing fluently aloud. That was simply using skills from a year of reading English. All she needed help with was the umlauts, the ess-zett, and that ie is consistently eee and ei is consistently aaiiii. Within a week she was almost as fluent in German as she was in English. By seventh grade they were doing Schiller in German lessons and Shakespeare in English lessons at Gymnasium.

Oh, and AFAIK German schools don't use reading schemes at all (ours certainly didn't) - there are just a number of early reader books, but not graded in the ORT way. And the Germans still somehow learn to read, almost all of them. Amazing, really.

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Fri 07-Dec-12 07:41:31

I have same set-up as Nullius and oldest child is 7 and in 2. Klasse in German school.

We did English phonics before dc started school, so he was aware of the basic sounds and reading after a fashion. Reading in German fell into place extremely quickly - it is his strongest language because he is educated in German school, went to German kindergartens previously and only hears me speaking English on a regular basis; despite this he is pretty much bilingual, with transfer of some forms from German (and also some, but fewer, the other way). He does come up against situations where he pronounces English sounds/words the German way but I just explain 'in German it's x, in English it's y [except when it's z and then it's sometimes abc...!'] and he picks it up. I'm not sure we would have managed this so easily without the grounding in phonics. he is reading pretty much fluently in English now and can almost always decipher an unfamiliar word.
I should also say we are extremely strict about OPOL, which is a bit of a PITA on occasion because we moved to a tiny town last year and people stop and stare when we walk across the market square speaking English <sigh>. But I reckon it's necessary in this situation.

IMO you have an advantage with the minority language being German as its pronunciation is more predictable and (for want of a much better word) logical internally.

What Nullius says about the minimal differences in apparent homophones (e.g. the 'i' of 'Igel' is a slightly different, brighter sound than the 'ea' of 'eagle'), which children pick up on with time and listening - difficult if one language is very much the minority, but all the more reason to do as much of certain things as possible, e.g. film and TV watching, in the minority language.

And finally, nearly 4 is really young. It will come. smile

natation Fri 07-Dec-12 09:00:50

At the school where I have experience, in the bilingual class they do start with phonics in English at at 4-5, in fact a bit in the 3-4 class too, they'll start writing more formally in English in the 5-6 year and just a little bit later in French. The French comes a little after I suppose because English is the majority and French the minority language. They follow the English national curriculum in English and French.

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