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DC's at English school, maintaining second language has anyone managed it?

(26 Posts)
pombal Wed 23-Oct-13 17:46:14

Hi all,

I'm an expat Mum, been out of the UK for 10 years and my 2 DC's were born here in Portugal.

The local state schools are dire in our area so we have made the decision to send them to a private international school nearby.
It's great, small classes, DC settled in very well, educationally really good, but the language of instruction and playground language is English.

Am trying to maintain their level of Portuguese but it's really tough. We speak English at home, friends out of school are English etc.

Has anyone lived abroad for any period of time and managed to maintain the second language without it being through school?

DH thinks they will 'just pick it up' but I'm not so sure.

They are primary age at present so I'm thinking that as they get older, there will be more options for out of school activities, non English friendships etc.

Am interested in hearing any experiences.

SoldeInvierno Wed 23-Oct-13 17:51:42

Yes but I speak the minority language to my DS and ensure he spends a few weeks every summer in my country with family, but without me. It is hard but possible

SoldeInvierno Wed 23-Oct-13 18:07:52

Sorry. I misread. If you are living in Portugal, then picking up portuguese should be feasible. Do they watch portuguese telly? Are there portuguese children in their international school? All that should help.

pombal Wed 23-Oct-13 18:21:16

Hi Solde - can I ask is the minority language your mother tongue?

SoldeInvierno Wed 23-Oct-13 18:41:14

Yes. That why I said I misread. I guess you speak English at home because that is your mother tongue, right?

runningmad Wed 23-Oct-13 18:43:58

Well I suppose if they don't have Portuguese at school or home, you need to provide it elsewhere and more than a few hours a week.

Where we live, I know kids here going through English school who pick up no more French than a child in the UK picks up doing GCSE French, because they are never exposed to a French environment, despite up to 95% of the population speaking it where they live.

SoldeInvierno Wed 23-Oct-13 18:45:04

My niece, who is spanish and lives in Spain, had a saturday job as a teenager playing with English children to make sure they learnt Spanish. Their families were in identical situations to yours. Do you know any Portuguese teenagers that might be able to fo that?

pombal Wed 23-Oct-13 20:00:25

Hi Solde- yes we speak english at home. The children watch some portuguese tv, but English as well and I read them a story in Portuguese everyday, but we don't have the day to day chit chat going on at home.

I've thought about the teenager idea as well, I think it would help.

Runningmad - this is the situation I want to avoid. Can I ask what ages are the children you know with GCSE level?

For example if they are 10 ish that might be ok, still time to improve, but if they are leaving school in France with that sort of level, that's a worry.

MistyB Wed 23-Oct-13 20:58:40

We are in the situation Runningmad describes and I don't see my kids picking up the language very well. It is a sad consequence of the schooling decision we have made for very good reasons.

lalasmum11 Wed 23-Oct-13 22:22:23

In the same situation. My oldest daughter was 5 when we moved and she went straight into an international school. She only knows a few words of the local language but she has started lessons at school now. My youngest was 2.5 and has been fully immersed in the language for a year and a half through nursery and speaks it fluently. However we will be sending her to the international school in another year, so hoping she will hold onto her fluency. I like the teenager idea.

runningmad Thu 24-Oct-13 05:40:47

Some of the children are now adults, all age ranges, it's very easy to go through life here and not have to speak the local language. The way to get around it is to have children in the local language between the age of 0 and 6 if possible, then continue with after school activities in that language, changing to English for school. Learning to read and write in the local language can come later.

pombal Thu 24-Oct-13 10:25:36

Thank you Runningmad - this is valuable info. My DC are still very young so it's hard for me to know how things will pan out.

lalasmum- I am in a similar situation, DC went to portuguese nursery and can speak portuguese although English is much stronger but now they are at international school I can already see their level slipping.

It's just such a dilemma, I really love the school they are at but is it really right to deny them the language of the country of their birth sad

lalasmum11 Thu 24-Oct-13 11:43:59

Do they have Portuguese lessons at the school? They start Danish lessons here from 7, and they run them at different levels. There is also after school classes.

pombal Thu 24-Oct-13 13:58:47

Yes they have a lesson a day but the classes aren't divided by level so at the moment they are learning Colours, numbers etc. which having come from a portuguese pre school is a big step back.

I don't mind at the moment as they are still young and if it takes them another 5 or 6 years to become fluent, that's fine.

I just want to know its possible and judging from other people's experiences and my own perception of the situation I have a fight on my hands!!

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Fri 25-Oct-13 05:28:12

There are many many long-term expat kids in Hong Kong who speak no Cantonese so I don't think you pick it up by osmosis unless they socialise with locals who dont speak English (that, to be fair, is a major issue here- most locals I come into contact with speak close to fluent English).

Are you and your Dh fluent in Portugese? If so, can't you just speak in Portugese at home, at least say, at weekends?

pombal Fri 25-Oct-13 09:09:33

Thank you for your replies.
It's good to get the benefit of other people's experiences.

Richman- my DH doesn't speak Portuguese, so it's difficult at home although I do speak to them and read stories in Portuguese, not as much as I should.

The situation here is very similar, the only locals who want to mix with expats speak English and want their children to have English friends to play with so they can learn English.

I'm never in a situation where everyone else is a local. Usually there's a mix of expats - German, English, Dutch , French and a few locals and the language everyone speaks is English - gah!!!!!

runningmad Fri 25-Oct-13 15:26:53

A lesson a day of a foreign language over 5 or 6 years in never going to achieve fluency. Where is the need to speak? There isn't one. 2 of my kids have been learning Dutch 4 to 5 hours a week for almost 6 years. They'd both pass a GCSE Dutch with A* probably now, but no way are either of them fluent, because when only 5% of the local population near us actually speak it as home language, there is absolutely no need to use it, when 95% of the local population speaks French. A complete environment regularly, consistency and with a need to speak Portuguese would do it.

OneLittleToddleTerror Fri 25-Oct-13 15:30:07

I can confirm what RichMan says. You need to make an effort and don't believe they can just pick Portugese up. They go to an English school and have English speaking parents. You might need to set up private Portugese lessons for your DC if you want them to speak at least some Portugese.

calendula Fri 25-Oct-13 15:40:23

In my experience (I have grown up bilingually myself, have 3 bilinugal children and am a language teacher) complete fluency in two languages is dependent on them both being spoken regularly, because they need to be - not just for fun, in different environments.

Since it seems to be unfeasable to speak Portuguese in your home I would make sure that your DC do their after school activites in a Portuguese environment and that you look into the teeenager idea at weekends.

Bilingualism doesn't just happen - children need to be exposed to language regularly and need to be challenged to extend their vocabulary in the less active language. This means that children also need to speak to adults or at least more proficient language users if they are to develop beyond a basic functional level.

pombal Sat 26-Oct-13 10:32:44

OK, so from reading the replies, no one has really managed to maintain the second language in an international school environment.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Can I ask a couple more questions?
Those of you with DC at local schools, did you find that they were slower to read/ write initially?

Also my older DS was very shy and inhibited at portuguese pre school. He has really come out of his shell in an English environment.. Did anyone else have this experience? What age do they start feeling confident in the second language?

Sorry for all the questions, but this has been a real dilemma for me and really appreciate hearing others experience.

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Sat 26-Oct-13 10:59:33

If it makes you feel better, I am struggling to maintain DC's first language (British English). Re Halloween

"Hey mom, can me and Dexter go trick n treating to get some candy?

Wtf? Who died and made you American grin

I do know people who have maintained it in an international school environment, but the non-English speaking parent uses the second language exclusively at home. Obviously this has it's own challenges.

runningmad Sat 26-Oct-13 13:50:01

It's quite possible to maintain a second (local community) language in an English school, it's dependent upon several factors, such as the linguistic make-up of the children - if most children are in fact Portuguese first language speakers, the playground is likely to remain as Portuguese, or the amount of time outside school a child spends in the second language environment - in childcare, after school sports, at friends' houses where English is not spoken.

At local schools where we live, children go to pre-primary for 3 or 4 years before starting primary at the age of 6 years old. They spend this time unknowingly practising pre-writing skills, in terms of holding a pen and forming letter shapes, in practising recognising distinct phonemes (sounds) and their relationship with letters - some letters represent several phonemes, some combinations of letters represent phonemes etc. So compared to English curriculum where many children have never benefited from pre-primary and go straight into cramming in 1 year in Reception class what other children in some European countries learn in 3. So yes learning to read and write might be slower in Portugal, I have no idea, but don't assume a slow and late start will lead to lower standards at 18.

I suppose children feel confident in a second language learned from school, once they are fluent enough to talk it to mother tongue level. For a 3 year old, that's usually after 9-12 months, for a 10 year old, that might be after 2 years. The older at the start, the longer it can take.

Living Sun 27-Oct-13 05:53:35

Not much help but I'm in a similar situation and it's tough going. My son is/was fluent in French through attending French nursery full time. He moved to English lanauge school for reception and keeping up the French has been a struggle (I/my husband don't really have the level to speak it at home). To make thing's more complicated, French isn't the language of the (GCC) country we're in so it's not being spoken around him either.

We're doing four hours of 'tuition' a week (aka let's speak in French) with a teacher and another boy in the same situation. Not sure it's going to be enough though.

pombal Sun 27-Oct-13 06:26:59

LOL@ richman smile - candy indeed!!

It just seems so strange that living in a country doesn't guarantee fluency.

Running - my DC did three / four years at preschool and were/are 'playground' fluent but not native level speakers.
This is one reason we decided on international school as we felt that they were missing out educationally because they didn't understand the content of the lessons.

My eldest is nearly 7 and couldn't read and only knew how to write his name.

From reading your replies I have formulated a plan:

Employ local teenager for half day at weekend.

Speak portuguese/ read story at home every day - prob 1 hour max as the DC hate it if I speak another language and DH doesn't understand.

Find an after school activity they like.

Summer school in July/August .

Do you think that would work. Is it overkill ???

calendula Sun 27-Oct-13 23:05:20

This seems like a good plan to get started. It will make sure your DC can communicate in P. but they will probably lag behind their peers. This will become more obvious as they get older, but don't let this put you off trying. Every little bit is better than nothing.

My oldest DS spent the first 5 years of his life in the UK bilingual with English & language 1. We then moved to the country where we live now and kept up the English at home with both parents speaking English. Language 2 only spoken outside the home. DS now completely bilingual English & language 2 and has functional use of language 1 that he uses a few times a year.

DC 2 & 3 are exposed to English at home - I speak only Eng and DH speaks language 2 (I speak lang 2 well). DC2 speaks very fluent and grammatically correct Eng, DC3 fluent but more dodgy grammar.

DC1 speaks Eng to DC 2 & 3 but the 2 youngest speak lang 2 together.

As you can see there are many alternatives and outcomes but the clue is as much exposure as possible as early as possible.

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