5yr old struggling in second language (French)

(4 Posts)
justwondering72 Wed 10-Feb-16 10:02:19

We are all English at home, DH and I are both native English speakers. We live in France, and both our kids are in the public school system here. My oldest, who is now 9, started speaking French around halfway through moyenne section (age 4) and his French is excellent (several of his friends parents tell me that, unless you knew otherwise, you'd assume he was French when he's speaking with them or his friends). My younger son is in grande section (age 5). In October his teacher flagged up a problem that he was not speaking any French with her, in fact he was totally reluctant to speak at all. She arranged some extra tutoring in school, plus some one-on-one time with a RASEED chap (he seems to be a general tutor for any kids experiencing any difficulties). After a couple of months of this, we were told that despite this intervention, he still wasn't making progress. He is a quiet, shy boy (with adults), and they didn't know whether this was holding him back. But clearly, after 2.5 years in all French school, he really 'should' be speaking it by now.

So we have taken him to an orthophoniste (speech / language therapist)... her diagnosis is not yet complete, but she has already told me that he has a slight language delay in both English and French, and that he's going to need some fairly intensive work with her to catch up before the end of the school year (he's meant to go into CP next year). She's more concerned though that he seems very reluctant to work with her, he's clearly not enjoying it and doesn't want to be there. So she's already suggesting that he may need some sessions with a psychologist to get to the bottom of that. She doesn't think that he's autistic, or anything like that, but she seems to think it's odd that he doesn't jump with joy to be doing the sessions with her.

For me.. I think he's shy with adults, he's getting a bit fed up being made to speak French with all these new grown-ups and being tested all the time. He's only met the orthophoniste twice, and I know from experience that he takes a while to warm up to people. In school, he's a dream pupil in every other way - he does what he's told, he works hard and well (his fine motor skills are excellent), he's got friends and plays with them happily, and his teacher told me last week that he's really coming out of his shell with her, speaking more freely etc. But there is a lot of catching up to do before CP.

Long story.. here's the question!

What can we, as non-French speakers, do to help him improve in French? We've been doing a lot more playdates with French friends who don't speak English, cartoons in the morning are in French, we try to read at least one book in French each night. And trying to be supportive, encouraging and all the rest of it.

My personal feeling is that he'll get it just fine, given time. But the system doesn't seem to want to give him time. And I'm worried that between us - school, RASEED, orthophoniste, home - we are actually going to put him off speaking French because he's feeling the pressure to perform.

TIA for any advice / been-there stories.

jenpetronus Wed 10-Feb-16 10:19:18

I can't give you any constructive advice, but just wanted to say I think your approach is absolutely the correct one. You know your son better than anyone, also, that he has friends he communicates happily with is really important and will build his confidence. I really think pushing and persuading him is detrimental, he'll get there. He's 5. The French system is obsessed with intervention, and all these "specialists" need to justify their worth.

We are English speaking & I have two boys in the French system too - DS1 14 and DS2 is 7. When DS2 was in Grande Section they had a visit from a nurse to check developmental milestones and general health - I have no objection to these checks and was invited to sit in on the examination - I was horrified! The tests lasted maybe 45 minutes, and the nurse got crosser and crosser if DS2 couldn't answer something - he was clearly tired and hungry by the end, and frankly bored and fed up with her as I was too! So she recommended we see our GP for referral to an orthophoniste too - our GP (who is great) laughed and tore up the nurse's recommendations, said if the nurse spoke two languages as well as DS2 did she'd be surprised, she (the nurse) was out of her comfort zone and referred him as she didn't know what else to do.

Point of the story was to highlight how much the French system is not very well equipped to cope with bilingual children, and they often panic and try and make them fit into their rules for monolingual French children. Of course you want the them best for him, and you don't want him suffering or falling behind, but I really would try and keep building his confidence, believing he will get there in his own time and trusting your instincts. Good luck!

tradernix Wed 10-Feb-16 18:56:16

We're in a similiar situation to you. My daughter is 4 and is in Moyenne Section and has just been referred to an Orthophoniste for similar reasons to your son, although she does speak French...it's just not full sentences yet. Like your son, she's been in France since birth...but we only speak English at home.

I've been living in France for 16 years and raised my husband's sons from his first marriage and I can absolutely say that the French are obsessed with Orthophonists!! Almost every kid you will know will have gone to one before he finishes school at 18. So as far as that goes I wouldn't stress about it...it's par for the course...for monolingual kids as well as bilingual. (They're not just speech therapists by the way...they also teach kids how to read, how to behave better and how to learn).

Don't forget also that it's quite common for bilingual children to be behind their peers at the beginning...and then at some point, when they're ready, they race way ahead.

I'd also say that I've heard countless stories of mums stressing that their son (it seems to be more boys for some reason) not even talking by age 4 (I mean no language at all!!) and totally freaking out about it and then one day, it suddenly changes. My Nephew was like that and he's at Uni now...it's absolutely no reflection on their eventual academic ability. Different kids grow at different rates.

The last thing I want to say is when my husband's kids were young the teacher at his son's primary school told him to stop speaking English to his son at home because his French was suffering. So my husband stopped speaking English until the boys were about 8 or 9 years old. By then it was too late. Now they are 70% bilingual...their English is not great at all. Whatever you do, don't stop speaking English to your son if you want him to be able to speak English well...English is and will remain the minority language and as such needs to be maintained.

Your son's French will come....lay off the pressure about it if it's stressing your son...and just trust him because French is the majority language and will be increasingly so.

turdfairynomore Wed 10-Feb-16 19:11:07

I teach P1 in NI. In my class this year I have a child who is from a mixed English I Chinese background. She speaks only Chinese at home to mum. Spoke no English at all through two years of pre school-used gesture mainly. We are nearly 6 months into school year and while I hear definite phonological disorder in her English-she talks LOTS!! She can joke around "you wear Palace Pet crown-you like princess Mrs turdfairy" and she can tell fibs "I not throw coats on floor....no! P2 boy is bad"!! (I watched her and her friend giggle as they ransacked the cloakroom!!! Don't give up just yet!! With confidence....and a patient adult in school -does that exist???l....it will come??

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