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need advice about schools
Thread poster: clairemulrooney
Local time: 08:09
Italian to English
+ ...
Jan 31, 2008

my 3 year old attends an Italian state nursery and the teachers have asked to talk to his father and I about his 'problems' at school: they feel he is not participating fully and has comprehension problems: He is simultaneously bilingual in English and Italian and we know from home that he understands fully, but sometimes replies in the other language: none of his teachers speak english and I suspect that he is taking advantage of the opportunity to 'not hear' and do his own thing in class. what I'm worried about is his being labelled at such a young age as somehow 'difficult' or 'slow', when we feel he is perfectly normal for a bilingual child: has anyone been through a similar experience? any advice or consolation?
thanks, Claire

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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:09
Spanish to English
Not my area but... Jan 31, 2008

I was hopeless at bringing my daughter up in two languages and she is bilingual in spite of me, not thanks to me but whatever.

I just wanted to comment on the idea of a three-year-old being slow or not understanding.

There seems to be a trend nowadays to be comparing children's abilities at ever younger ages, when every child develops at different rates in different areas. I have several friends whose children were slower than the norm and these children have all ended up being the high achievers and intellectuals of their generation.

So it is good that the teachers want to comment on what they see in your child and you should look into it as you are doing, but don't ever let anyone label him.

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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
My three year old Jan 31, 2008

speaks Hebrew and Spanish at home, and is at a mostly English nursery. We know she understands everything they say, but until recently, she showed zero interest in speaking the language, and given her very stubborn nature, they thought she didn't understand.
We were lucky, because the teachers know our family, and trusted us when we explained the situation to them (that it was just her being her). We asked them to watch her interaction with other kids, and they noticed that she was playing with them with no problems whatsoever, language wise. So...they treated her like everyone else, and made her do what everyone else was doing, even if it meant repeating everything and insisting. Eventually she started using more English at school, and figured out that we were on to her, and started listening in class.- well sort of. Don;t worry. If the teachers are good, they'll trust you and look at it differently and not as a language issue.

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Marlene Curtis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:09
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Advice about schools Jan 31, 2008

I was in the same situation as yourself many years ago when we moved the whole family from Brazil to England and my children, then aged 4(twins) could not speak English at all and were, for a while, laballled as slow and as having a kind of handicap.
I think you situation is much better in that your child is fully bilingual. Just explain the situation to the teachers and talk to your child quietly, about speaking Italian in class. (tell him, for instance, that his nursery friends are not as lucky and clever as he is, to know two different languages and ask him to speak Italian in class so he can be understood.)
As to the teachers, show them how proud you are to have such a clever child and make them understand the advantages of being bilingual.

Good Luck!

Marlene Curtis

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United States
Local time: 07:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Small children have a logic of their own... Feb 2, 2008

We put our daughter into a bilingual (English/French) daycare in Montreal when she was 2 1/2. She was used to hearing my speaking to her in English while her father would speak to her in Spanish and we would speak to each other in both languages.
After a few months the daycare workers and director told us that the whole day would pass without her saying ANYTHING.
This wasn't too big a surprise to us because under our bilingual regime she had not started to talk until she was 2 and until then had used sign language, shouting and her older siblings as interpreters as means of communication. Also she would talk non-stop for at least an hour when we went to fetch her (as a reaction to having been silent all day?) We thought that she was reacting against the introduction of French.
We explained to her that Mireille (her favourite caregiver) "had her own language" but it took her some time to respond at all, although after a year she would answer in either English or French.
After two years she went to preschool at the same (French-only) school as her older siblings and she integrated there perfectly, so much so that one afternoon in October she announced to me that "Mom, I don't want to talk that stuff that you and Papa talk(!!!)"
Four years later, although she was in an English school, her best friend and playmate was our bilingual neighbours' daughter to whom she spoke in both English and French.
Now, at 16 and after 5 years in Spain she is now fluent in English and Spanish but is more hesitant in French, as it is not her mother/father tongue, though she knows when her non-native teachers make pronounciation mistakes.
Do explain your home situation to the teachers/caregivers concerned and let them understand that much as you value Italian as a language you want to maintain your child's mastery of English by continuing to use it at home; tell your son he is privileged because he can speak English and Italian, but he has to use Italian at school; it wil sink in sooner or later.
At age 4 our son felt traumatized when we tried speaking French at home to reinforce his learning; he began to cry at the dinner table and kept insisting that "This is an English house!"
And my brother refused to continue speaking Spanish when we moved to another country when he was 5; English was the language of my parents' home and he "forgot" Spanish even though he had gone to school in that language; and although at age 5 he made a big scene in a Paris restaurant because "if these people aren't speaking English or Spanish, then they are speaking something that doesn't exist" he now is fluent in English and French and only has a a very tenous grasp of Spanish.
I suspect the moral of all of this is that children learn from the unspoken messages as much as the spoken ones - so if you really value your child's bilingualism, you will have to reinforce it as best you can, making friends with other families and inviting playmates over; this and switching languages at home will definitely help, by "disassociating" them from the family context.

Good luck...

[Edited at 2008-02-02 01:38]

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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:09
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Don't give up for a moment! Feb 3, 2008

All the previous replies give good examples and good advice.
The main thing is, do not even think about not speaking English at home all the time, or "give him a break" to practise, catch up with his Italian.

Make him feel it is normal to speak English at home, and Italian is school. That way you can maintain the continuous development of both languages. Any break in this continuity could result in the rejection of the other language at a crucial time, as I know now, to my children's cost and regret.

My older son progressed very well in both languages up to about the age of three, but when his brother came along, circumstances, young brother's stubbornness and my inexperience caused the break and we all regret it ever since, because it is much more difficult to catch up later.

It is much easier for a child to absorb both languages at this young age, and it doesn't matter if it takes a bit longer to speak well, or what the teachers say. Obviously, the teachers don't have enough experience with bilingual children. Tell them, your child is receiving a gift for life, and they should take it in their stride.

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Local time: 02:09
French to English
+ ...
may be slow at first...but smarter eventually Feb 25, 2008

From my experience, my now 6 year old son - who is being raised with 4 languages - was definitely slow compared to his age group. At age 2, 3 and 4, his language and comprehension skills were very poor. He eventually started catching up. None of his teachers expressed concern though. He is 6 years old and thriving now. He can speak, read and write Arabic, French, English and has excellent receptive skills in Urdu. I regret any worries or pressure I had put on him and on myself. So be patient. It might take time but it eventually all comes together. Some schools or teachers are not well informed about multilingualism. You can either educate them or find another school. Just don't give up to the pressure and switch to Italian only.

All the best,


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