Children learning 2nd languages

(13 Posts)
brixtononmymind Fri 07-Feb-20 09:53:01

Hello all - grateful for any experiences. DH and I are in fortunate position to be able to move abroad for few years (or longer if it goes well) for a family adventure. We're thinking of France or Spain - it's a quick turnaround as we'd aim to be there and settling before FOM ends in the Brexit transition period and we've only just made this decision so not a lot of time! Would love for our kids - DD1 and DD2 ages 7 and 10 to attend local schools and learn a second language. Not worried about 7yo as she's younger, very adventurous and loves learning. 10yo is more difficult. She's emotionally resilient and can be helped through difficult situations, but I don't want to traumatise her! She's a bit resistant to change anyway, but usually ends up rolling with it. Does anyone have experience of going into a new school at a similar age and having to learn a new language? Good or terrible (leaving aside if possible other difficult circumstances like being a refugee or having a hard time at home)? Any teachers out there have experience of kids with no English coming into their classes under these circumstances? My DD1's class has many kids who came with no English and have thrived but not in the past year or two. I'm so up for this, and lived abroad as a child and loved it, but I want it to be a good experience for my kids. Massive thanks for all tips (we'll endeavor to learn as much as possible before we go) and experiences. xx

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notnowmaybelater Fri 07-Feb-20 11:33:56

How are you going to ensure indefinite leave to remain if you have only been there a few months by the end of the year - does one of you expect to be employed? It would be a great shame to move the kids and not be allowed to stay!

On the second language acquisition by immersion for a ten year old I would just say that although it's doable expect to work at it. Do not assume that your children will be fine - they might not be on their own, they might need help (even the seven year old) and they may well fall behind academically and need to repeat a year or do a year again. They may be very unhappy for many months. It's not nothing and children are not always endlessly flexible.

I taught secondary school children in England who took considerably more than a year to start to work at anything like their level after arriving without much English, and a Portuguese boy who joined year seven who developed selective mutism and was still communicating by drawing by year nine (though he fitted in well socially and had lots of friends despite not speaking - he was a talented artist and sports player).

An American girl left my youngest's German primary school four months after joining year four because she was deeply unhappy and understood nothing - she was the only child in the school who didn't speak German. Youngest was only in year two (and a boy) and she wasn't interested when he told her he was English, but I can't totally guarantee he did the cognitive gymnastics and actually spoke English to her as he often didn't really register which language he was speaking at that age, and it's really hard for bilingual children to speak the minority language out of context with a new person when surrounded by speakers of the majority language! The girl was moved to a private international school taught in English.

I know that's doom and gloom, I'm sure you'll also get replies from people assuring you your children will be fluent in six months, but I just wanted to point out that this move would be asking a collosal amount of your children - obviously you don't have a time machine, but you've left it seven years too late to be easy IMO!

Do you or your husband speak French or Spanish? I also knew families with two English monolingual parents who's children were born here who still ended up moving their children out of state school to private English medium school because the children's German wasn't good enough to reach their academic potential! Those families lived somewhat in an expat bubble and the children only spoke English in class and had English speaking friends and social lives, and being born in the country wasn't enough. In one of the cases there were also processing issues not diagnosed until late primary age exacerbating the language issue. Not all outgoing children have a natural talent for languages!

I'm not saying it's a bad idea - just to go into it with your eyes very wide open, your sleeves rolled up, boxes of tissues and chocolate at the ready and do absolutely loads of research - it's crucial you chose schools with experience of supporting immigrants and that you are prepared for either or both of your children to struggle and need massive amounts of emotional and practical support.

Add into that the fact moving for the medium or long term is a massive emotional rollercoaster for adults too - you'll question and second guess everything and even your sense of identity takes a hit unless you're already fluent in the language and can slot right into the community (even if you are fluent this takes work, as people who move to Australia or Canada or the USA will usually also attest).

Good luck - but weigh up the pros and cons carefully.

Don't forget that you'll need to stay at least 3 or 4 years and continue to expose your children to the language after your return to the UK for it to "stick" if your move is temporary - and on the other hand that if it goes well you may have a huge problem if your eldest is 14+ and settled in France and you want or need to return to the UK!

ChilliMum Fri 07-Feb-20 11:56:00

Do you speak either language, could you start speaking the language to them at home before you come?

I dont know anything about Spain but we are in France.

School has a more academic focus than in the UK (think whole books with pages of the same letter over and over to perfect writing), grammar every day (french grammar is quite complicated), not much in the way of creative subjects (art, music, drama) most of this is covered through periscolaire which provides the wrap around care (lunch time is not covered by school; home or peri are your options). Its very tough for non speakers (dd was 6 when we moved and went straight into primary so we have been through it).

That said the teachers were amazing and we got ongoing help and support all the way through primary for dd (1 teacher also took the time to correct a note I sent in grin). Ds was a toddler and is 9 now. He has spent his whole school life in France but still gets extra support as his grammar and vocabulary is not sufficient for his age (I can speak french but not particularly well so I don't hear if they make mistakes).

I would be mostly worried about your 10 year old. If they will go into the last year of primary (born 2010) then you will be OK but I think college would be horrendous without having the language (plus there is constant assessment - and no allowance made for second language speakers).

I don't want to be the voice of doom as tbh I would reccomend to anybody that they try living in another country. It has been an amazing adventure for us, good times and truly awful times but i wouldn't swap it for anything. However, you will really need to prepare your older child or consider one of the bigger cities with a bilingual school.

Good luck to you all though. I hope you can make it work.

bloomwild Fri 07-Feb-20 12:13:03

If your aim is a family adventure (with your plenty of funds and time), I'd encourage you to rent a place in France or Spain for the years 2020 and 2021, and spend all your holidays there. That's 12 weeks of school holidays a year, about a quarter of the year. So about 6 months over 2 years.

If your aim is another passport (you mention FOM) then take a good look at rules on this in the relevant country.

If your aim is 2nd language for your children (title of your post) then know that via language teaching at school in the UK, with exchanges abroad, you can become fluent. I am in three languages. No need to move a 10 year old abroad.

Your scheme to suddenly go and live overseas seems nice for you but not responsible for your children. In fact, you already seem to know how it would likely be for your 10 year old.

English is not really a good example, because it's a language that for 100s of reasons is maybe the most easiest to pick up in the world.

Sorry, but never, ever be optimistic about finances or moving a whole family overseas, to a new culture and language and education system. Don't even be realistic. Be pessimistic and look at the worst case. It may turn out well, but it would be like Tarzan swinging from one branch without another in view.

If you both have jobs in the new country, or need to move for career, or will properly settle there, then fair enough. But there are other responsible ways of having adventure and learning a language.

Frenchfancy Fri 07-Feb-20 22:08:54

10 is not a great age to be moving. If they turn 11 before the end of the year then they will need to go to college in France in September which would be incredibly hard. I've seen kids do it and they nearly always fail to reach their potential.

A 7 Yr old with no SN should be OK.

brixtononmymind Sat 08-Feb-20 07:07:06

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses, including the cautionary ones. Lots of opinions and things to think about. If things proved too difficult for the 10yo we could move her to an English school as they are available in some of the places we're considering, and we could make it a criteria. We're doing some visits in March. Frankly, with children in England reporting some of the lowest levels of mental wellbeing in the developed world, getting my eldest out of the pressure cooker of year 6 SATS (we're in a super competitive part of London with year 5 parents already drilling their kids & stressing) is part of the attraction. Children moving from yr6 to secondary where we are get sent all over the place so likely she would be split from close friends then anyway. Anyway, we will continue to consider our options and figure out what works for all of us. As I said, I lived abroad several times as a child and look back with great memories of seeing different cultures and exposure to different languages (I went to English schools though).

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thatmustbenigelwiththebrie Sat 08-Feb-20 07:26:41

I would say French schools are more pushy than English ones (I used to teach primary there). If you're moving to avoid a hot house environment I think you've picked the wrong country grin


brixtononmymind Sat 08-Feb-20 08:05:02

That's a fair point (and bonus points for great user name!) Anyone with experience of the Spanish system out there with comparable wisdom to share?

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denby7bur Sat 08-Feb-20 19:10:18

We did it (France). Eldest was 11 and went straight to collège with zero French. Picked up the language very quickly and made lots of friends. In hindsight it helped that we live in a very rural/non English part of France and my DC were minor celebrities!

They didn't like the older years though as collège (we moved too) is very different to UK schools - long hours, very academically focused, lots of learning by rote (my DC used to get into trouble for having an opinion, that kind of thing), according to them: really boring.

However, they've all come out of it alive. Academically advanced in some ways (esp languages), extremely mature and resilient from the life experiences.

I'd say go for it as long as you go into it with your eyes totally open and don't expect day to day life in France (esp in the very looooong winters if you are rural) to be better than UK.

Also the language is soooo important - I speak it well (and read/write it better) but I still spent much of the first 6 months of the DCs' schooling in tears of frustration trying to understand how everything worked! I had to rely so much on DH who is bilingual.

It's also very hard to make adult French friends in France. It is not like the UK (and other countries) where you can make instant friendships. I spent 6 months bonjouring everyone at the school gate and then gave up when they just used to stare at me in horror. It's worth it if you can push though. Just be prepared for it to be very hard at first/at times.

brixtononmymind Sun 09-Feb-20 08:49:14

Thanks. Appreciate the benefit of your experience and I am glad to hear it worked out for your family. I fully expect that the things I'm expecting to be the most difficult may not be and the things I haven't thought of may be the most difficult. Good info about making friends in France. I love that your kids were minor celebrities. My eldest would be in to that! Merci encore.

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fussychica Sun 09-Feb-20 15:37:38

We did it when DS was 10. Rural Spain, state school but 17 years ago. He had 18 months in primary before moving up to secondary and needed all of that period to get comfortable in the language before getting on with the subject knowledge. DS did all his secondary schooling in Spain and left with an excellent level Bachillerato (A level equiv), returning to the UK for university. He now teaches Spanish and French in the UK.

He was a very bright and confident child who thrived in Spain despite being thrown in at the deep end. He coped in Spanish after a fairly short time, fluency took longer. Be aware the more British children at the school the more they are likely to stick together and the longer it will take to learn the language. Only you know your child but 10 is pretty much as late as you can leave it as they still have a school year of primary to adjust before the work really kicks in. Also be aware that job opportunities for the young in Spain are still very poor so you and /or your children will probably have to leave when it's time for them to seek employment.

shellyandlayla Mon 10-Feb-20 08:35:07

You have loads of good advice, and I know you didn't specifically ask for advice on residency but it is something to be aware of. I can't help on Spain, but certainly here in France there will be income limits when applying for the residency permit. So yes, absolutely a good plan to get in before the end of the transition period, but make sure you will qualify for residency too (apologies if I'm repeating what you already know!)

Also, if you have a trip planned to the areas you're considering try and arrange visits to local school - you'll get some kind of instinct as to whether it could work or not.

I'm not trying to put you off, I've been here for 16 years with my two - eldest was 2 and DS2 born here so no real advice on moving with older children. But I can say they have had opportunities and experienced they never would have had (or we could have afforded!) if we'd stayed in the UK and I don't regret a thing about bringing them up here.

brixtononmymind Mon 10-Feb-20 10:08:10

Thanks fussychica and shellyandlayla for your comments.

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