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Did your DCs just "pick up the language"?

(24 Posts)
GreyElephant Wed 19-Sep-12 07:43:33

So our background is...we have been in Switzerland for 17 months, DD has just turned 3. She started at the local Jardin d'enfant in March, aged 2.5. Initially she attended one morning a week then two and now she is going three mornings. She is the only foreign kid in the Jardin d'enfants.

The other day her teacher complained about her lack of French. The teacher speaks a little English and seems to converse with DD in a mix of French and English. I have told the teacher to only speak French but she won't. DD speaks to the other kids in English with the very odd French word thrown in. Whilst out and about with me she speaks more French, "Bonjour, merci, au revoir, ciao ciao, pardon, comment ca va, chocolat". That is about it.

Out of school her closest playmates speak German, Dutch, French, Swedish and English, so she is used to playing with other children and not understanding what they say. It doesn't affect her fun.

But i feel i need to improve her French. Any tips? We have bought her French DVDs, Dora etc which she does watch but it doesn't seem to be helping her. And am i expecting too much of her? How did your young DCs cope with foreign languages?

LadyMargolotta Wed 19-Sep-12 07:48:51

She has only been going there for six months? And just three mornings a week? That is not very much. Also, she is very young. In these circumstances, I wouldn’t rely on her 'just picking up the language'.

Can she go to school more often? Out of school activities in french?

CoteDAzur Wed 19-Sep-12 07:53:27

Get a French babysitter who doesn't speak any English.

Find playmates who don't speak any English.

Put on French language cartoons for her.

vvviola Wed 19-Sep-12 07:54:44

We moved to Belgium when DD1 was 18 months, by the time we left 3 years later, I would say she was totally bilingual French/English pity it didn't stay that way

But she was in a French speaking crèche full time, then moved on to the local maternelle. She probably heard more French than English during the week.

One thing that did help (both her French and English) was trying to be strict with one person one language. We never spoke French to her (not that our French was good enough) and we made sure her carers only spoke French.

I think at a v young age they need that division.

I'd say if you can get her some more time with exclusively French speakers (babysitters maybe?) it might help.

vvviola Wed 19-Sep-12 07:57:30

Oh, and the other thing is that her passive language will come on a lot quicker than her spoken language. You might be surprised at how much French she actually understands even if she isn't speaking it.

We also thought DD couldn't speak much French until we left the room one evening when her babysitter was there - and she instantly switched into French. She just wouldn't speak it if there was anyone around who spoke English.

crazygracieuk Wed 19-Sep-12 08:03:23

My son picked up German after about 9 months in Kindergarten every day. (age 4)
Dh and I only spoke English to him and he watched his programmes in German and the odd English DVD and adult programme like Top Gear on BBC World.
His Kindergarten teachers only spoke German to him.
His sister picked up German faster. She also went to daily Kindergarten and watched same TV as ds1. She was younger (age 3).

Interestingly, German people commented that they had picked up the local accent rather than the accent on TV so I think that their friends and teachers at Kindergarten had more effect on their language acquisition than watching TV and listening to audiobooks in German.

natation Wed 19-Sep-12 08:11:43

not enough hours in French I think. With experience of watching children in a monolingual creche (1-4 years), just under half are mother tongue, just over half are second language, the gap in language skills between the full timers is huge compared to those who attend 2-5 mornings only. Last year, not a single part timer was fluent after the year, most didn't even speak but did have passive understanding, whereas most of the full timers were indistinguishable from the mother tongue friends. Quantity, need and consistency are the supposed 3 conditions which lead to most successful fluency in another language.

natation Wed 19-Sep-12 08:20:10

There also does seem to be some children who really really don't learn the other language when they know that mother tongue is also spoken. That is why bilingual French-English schools are often completely disasterous for English speaking children - know a child who after 3 whole years in bilingual, rejected completely the French, has finally been put in to English only, I'm sure if he'd been put in a French only environment, he would now be bilingual. I'd be extremely unhappy to have a carer in a French language jardin d'enfants speaking English to my child, you've made the decision to choose French and the English is counter-productive. For the first few weeks in a strange environment, I'm sure the odd word of English might have been helpful, but long term it is very bad.

GreyElephant Wed 19-Sep-12 08:26:23

Unfortunatly she can't do any more mornings at her Jardin d'enfant than the current three a week. We could put her in another Jardin d'enfants but she would probably be with other expat kids which i doubt would help.

Like the idea of a French babysitter, might try that. Thanks!

Portofino Wed 19-Sep-12 09:33:46

My dd went FT to Maternelle at 2.5. For the first 6 or so months she didn't speak much at all in French, though she seemed to understand everything. It then clicked in.

LadyMargolotta Wed 19-Sep-12 10:26:11

Either a french speaking babysitter, or a kind local, who can spend time with her, reading to her in french for example? I know people who have done this.

Frakiosaurus Wed 19-Sep-12 10:44:27

I would be having serious words with the teacher about the franglais. I'm sure she's doing it to help but your DD won't learn French if she isn't hearing it and being spoken to in it. French babysitter, even a local high school student who can do a few hours playing takes in French, will give her that interactive boost to start producing words in French.

steppemum Wed 19-Sep-12 13:23:05

the short answer to your question is no they don't always.

we lived in Kazakhstan, ds went to russian speaking childminder 2 mornings from age 2. most activities outside home were in Russian. He never voluntarily spoke Russian. He did begin to understand childminder after a while, but never talked to her, and never used the phrases he knew outside in the playground. In fact he played alongside other children or on his own and never tried to interact, even as he got older.

My dh is dutch speaking and always spoke dutch to him at home. He understood it all, but never replied in dutch.

This changed when
1. he went for 1 month to dutch pre-school when we were in holland for a while. His passive dutch soon became active (aged 4 and full time pre-school)
2. when we sent him to a Russian school when he was 5 1/2. No-one knew any English he was forced to speak Russian and then he finally started speaking it in the playground (outdoors in playground all day in summer) and he finally made local friends.

I didn't realise this wasn't normal til dd came along. As soon as she started talking she spoke dutch to dh and russian to russian speakers. She interacted in playground with other kids, throwing in any word she knew to make herself understood, or playing alongside with no common language. Had we stayed she would have been tri-lingual by the age of 5 or 6.

We were always told kids just pick it up and they learn it so easily when they are young. Well, that is true, but not always.

As a teacher, when we had a non english speaker come into school in sept, we used to reckon that they were speaking single words by christmas, short phrases by easter and short sentences by end of year (not totally fluent) that was for full time, and the time line pretty much holds true if you work out the equivalent time, so if they are half time, same process would take 2ce as long.

my ds though didn't go into full time til he was 5 1/2 and then he got it, so don't feel you have to send her in for more pre-school just for language.

steppemum Wed 19-Sep-12 13:25:22

forgot to say my ds (and actually my dh too) really struggle to speak their 2nd language in a mixed language setting. He finds it hard to speak english to mum and dutch to dad. He can only really do it when he is in a mono-lingual setting.

natation Wed 19-Sep-12 15:34:49

Wise words from step-mum. A wild guess at the current level of exposure to French being about 1/3 of full time, I'd expect fluency within 3 years instead of 1 year, not that it quite works out like that, but you can go full-time at école enfantine perhaps at age 4, so that would make quite a difference, if you can't get a greater exposure before then? As long as you don't think there are underlying language issues, your daughter will become fluent, just will take time. It's not a race!!

There is the other thing that some children won't speak the other language in front of their parents. I know a child who won't speak English, the 2nd language, in front of me. The child chatters away to the other children in English, but if that child knows an adult is listening, then suddenly goes mute again. Quite frustrating for trying to assess level of language. It's the 3rd time I've come across this, the first 2 children who did this are now the biggest chatterboxes I know, both just decided one day that maybe talking to other adults wasn't so bad and forgot their inhibitions and now hard to keep quiet.

steppemum Wed 19-Sep-12 16:49:02

btw it is steppemum - as in the rolling Kazakh steppe grin

tb Mon 24-Sep-12 16:08:39

DD came to France the month after her ninth birthday, nearly 6 years ago. Before we moved, we calculated she'd been to France 20 times - everything from a 2-day hop to 3 weeks holiday. Just before her fourth birthday, she started babbling in French sounds on holiday, much to our surprise.

When we moved, she had the odd word - 'pain au chocolat' 'mousse au chocolat' etc, but no phrases. After 18 months, she went up to college without being held back a year - and she'd gone from year 4 to the equivalent of year 5 overnight in the move, due to her birthday being in October.

For the first year or so in college, she had extra French lessons until her teachers objected to her missing their lessons. In her last year, her teacher told us that she was the only 'anglophone' who didn't speak French with an English accent, and her brevet form came home with her nationality given as French (but place of birth Macclesfield hmm)

She is now starting to lose her English, and knows French words for things that she doesn't know in English. Sadly, she doesn't like reading.

I had a friend whose mother was Danish, and whose father was Italien. She was born in Cheshire, and was trilingual. She failed either Italien or Danish 'O' level because she couldn't do the translation, as she couldn't work out which was supposed to be the foreign language.

Bonsoir Mon 24-Sep-12 17:19:47

Three mornings a week with a teacher who has let her know she speaks English isn't enough for your DD to learn French. She really ought to be in all day school in French if you want her to learn properly.

ripsishere Tue 25-Sep-12 06:26:39

We moved to Thailand when DD was 2.6. She started at an English medium school, but had daily Thai lessons from the age of 4. By the time she was 5 she was fluent in speaking, less good at reading and writing.
She would not have picked the language up passively. it took an enormous effort on her part, plus playing with Thai nationals to get to that level.
It has, I feel, given her the gift of linguistics. She is able to converse in German and French having been taught those for three and one year.
She's now learning more French and Malay.

ZZZenAgain Tue 25-Sep-12 10:24:41

children will vary in how much input they need before they grasp the language and are willing to use it. My dd spent a year at German kindergarten starting aged 2 before she spoke any German at all. She was there from 8-3pm 5 x days a week. After the second year she was fluent. I am not sure if her active vocabulary was the equivalent of her German friends who had German as mother tongue and sole language in and out of the home, perhaps not. Based on my experience, I would say two years of immersion but your dc may learn differently to mine.

ZZZenAgain Tue 25-Sep-12 10:26:49

Russian however she picked up very easily with much less input and exposure. Why that may be , I really don't know. However, once she began to speak it, I paid for her to have actual lessons in it so I think she leant it more as a foreign language rather than acquired it as a mother tongue.

I would question whether a 3 year old needs to be put into full day school, that sounds too much to me, unless needs must of course.

I don't know how directly comparable my experience is, but my eldest only ever went to half day Kindergarten (8.30-12.30). She started at age 3 and when she started school her school teacher said she didn't know without checking which child was "The English Girl" (she was the only non 100% German in her class to start with). We moved here when she was 19 months and her English was well ahead of average but she only knew the odd German word (Bauch, Popel!).

My DH is German though, and although we use English as a family language and he said he didn't start speaking German to the kids til recently, and still only if they initiate it and I'm out of the room... she had input from his side of the family (though only a couple of days a month) and more importantly we live in a village with no English speakers locally and she was very outgoing so having children to play with led her to communicate early with them I guess - she was already speaking relatively age appropriate German before she started - from Mama-Kind Group, hours every day in the playground playing with neighbor kids, and to some extent from days with Oma and Opa. My 5 year old speaks better German than his Bavarian best friend according to the friend's own mother grin but that has come automatically from being in a German environment with the house full of his sisters (and now his) friends for as long as he can remember, as well as Kindergarten I guess.

I would aim for 5 mornings of "school" rather than full days, and more socialising with French friends as perhaps being in a multilingual environment is making not understanding and playing without language being important "the norm"? Also the French teacher speaking a mix of English and French certainly sounds very unhelpful for language acquisition and does need to be stopped, if she is the main adult modelling French to your DD!

raenbow Wed 26-Sep-12 08:44:59

My son ( in Portugal) was just like this, spent first year at Jardin looking and listening Single words/ yes/ no responses to questions.Then came back in September year 2 and there has been no stopping him since. He is now fluent ( he's 7 now) and I would consider him bi-lingual as he learnt English and Portuguese together.
I think as far as going full time the expectation in countries like France and here is that all children attend 9 to 4 or 5 . The same here in Portugal. I gave up work in the UK to spend ore time with the kids and then when I got here found that they were out longer than in the UK!!

AdoraBell Wed 26-Sep-12 17:04:52

Mine did, but that was because we employed a maid who spoke only the local language them used a kindergarten exclusively in the local language. Also their friends and our neighbours were all local. This, of course, meant that I struggled, but the DDs didn't. They were just over two when we moved abroad.

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