Off topic: Bilingual French/English Preschool for a Spanish-speaking 4 year old?
Thread poster: Tracey
Tracey  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
French to English
+ ...
May 24, 2007

Hi everyone,

I am English, my husband is Mexican and we were living in Mexico for the last eight years. We have a four year old daughter who completely understands English but who only speaks Spanish. It took her a long time to start talking properly (at least 3 years old) and as she was going to a Spanish-speaking preschool (no proper bilingual schools where we were living), she immediately picked up Spanish. I speak Spanish with my husband but around 90% of the time I speak to my daughter in English even though she always answers me in Spanish. Sometimes it's difficult for me to keep speaking English to her when she's answering me in Spanish and without thinking I start speaking Spanish to her although I try to stop myself doing this.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, two months ago we moved permanently to Vancouver and I wanted her to start preschool again as soon as possible. Due to the fact that the school year is nearly over here in Canada, the only school that would take her so late was a bilingual French-English school (the teachers speak to the children in both French and English but more French than English) which I thought would at least get her out of the house and socializing with other kids. The problem is that she doesn't seem to be picking up any English (or French) although of course she's only been there for a month or so and although she plays with the other children, she doesn't talk to them.

My question is should I leave her there next year and maybe help her to learn a third language or should I look for a purely English speaking preschool so she can focus on her English first? I would love her to learn French at some point as well (I lived in France for 6 years) but don't want to confuse her too much.

I'm probably worrying too much as we've only just arrived and from all of your posts, it sounds like kids learn very quickly but I would just like some reassurance/guidance as to whether I'm doing the right thing.

Thanks for any advice you can give me!

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Nicolas Coyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
Spanish to French
+ ...
My experience May 24, 2007

Hi Tracey,

First of all, as you are probably aware, each child has its own learning curve for everything. One day, your daughter might burst out in a French or English logorrhea when you least expect it. Because she is nevertheless absorbing all these new words since she´s interacting with kids, although not through words (on her part).
I have heard cases where kids simply refused to talk at all. Parents needed to take them to a doctor and ended talking English only (granted the two cases I have heard about involved a more "difficult" language, like Greek and Hungarian). Your case is different. Your daughter still talks.

I have two boys (6 and 3). When the older one entered preschool in 2005, we were living in the US. He had the same combination as your daughter (I am French, my wife is Colombian).
I have always drawn a clear line between languages : dad is French (only), mum is Spanish (only) and the outside world is English.
We then moved to Colombia, and he entered a bilingual Spanish-English school, so we had to shift weighs a little, namely to introduce a little English at home (through DVDs, music and tale CDs),
and my wife sometimes helps with French (when I am too busy and since this an overwhermingly Spanish environment). I sometime help my son with his homework in English, and even tell stories, but we first have a special introduction that we call "English time" to make it clear that I speak English only for a reason, and that exchanges with dad are still in French outside of this window. I find it less confusing for him, as he perfectly switches from one language to another as we announce "English time" or "bonjour".
As for the little one, I have made a point of talking to him in French. Now that he is more at ease in Spanish and in French, he is sometimes nearby when my older son and I do the homework, so I invite him to participate in our conversation with very basic stuff still.

I would recommend you wait, and if you see that the problem is still there or worsens (but I doubt it), see a doctor (not sure of the exact medical specialty). At least, in the US, pediatricians were of very little help and advice. Perhaps, given the bilingual context of Canada, things are different over there.

I would give you two pieces of advice : don´t let her feel the pressure. Altough you might not say anything about it, she might feel you worrying about this language thing and the fact that you would really like her to speak three languages. In other words, relax. Some kids, like my little one, stand back, listen, learn things and when THEY feel they´re ready start at once and usually do a very good job.
The ideal situation (at this stage, at least) would be that her teachers don´t switch between languages, that she had a clear idea of who she should talk to in which language (that involves you as well : stick to your English!).
I hope I have not made it more confusing. Anyway, that is my experience...

Best of luck.

[Modifié le 2007-05-24 05:17]

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Local time: 21:33
French to English
+ ...
give her time May 24, 2007

and yourself...

doctors have said to me "there is no difference in the time a child takes to start speaking when they are bilingual"
ALL the parents I have spoken with say the children are picking everything up, they just take a little (or lot) longer to come out with it.
I would stick it out with this school if you like the atmosphere and attitude of the teachers. Your daughter needs regularity.
Don't worry (pot calling the kettle black) they all grow up.

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Sylvia Germroth Nordebo  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:33
Member (2006)
Swedish to German
+ ...
Dont worry - just give her time! May 24, 2007

Hi Tracy,

My son is 22 month now and bilingual german-swedish, he goes to a swedish preschool, there are no bilingual here. Looking at the words he already uses (about 80) there are a lot more Swedish words than German allthough he understands a lot when I speak to him in German. If somebody else than me talks German with him he usually doesn´t answer, it seems as if he thinks that this is a weired way to talk, obviously he expects the environment to speak Swedish.

Before my son was born I read some books about bilingualism and also multilingualism and it doesn´t seem to be a problem at all for children to even get along with three languages. That doesn´t mean that they start with all the languages at the same time and that they use them in the same situations but they can learn three languages without problems. The most important thing is that the parents always use their language speaking to the child, which you obviously did. Everything else is just a matter of time. If she already speaks Spanish, fine, the rest will come.

So in my opinion your first thought that she should begin preschool as soon as possible to get in contact with children is right.
It is not unusual that children who grow up bilingually need more time for learning to speak. And considering that she has only been at the new preschool for about a month, I think it is not so strange that she hasn´t begun to speak there yet. I mean, there are not only the new languages but also new children, a new environment. Only that might have an influence. At least she plays with the other children, that seems to be a good sign that she gets used to the situation.

In my son´s preschool there is even a boy whose parents lived in Greece since he was born. The father is Canadian, the mother Swedish, but the boy spoke mostly Greek. For him it took about 4 month to begin to speak in preschool (well he´s about 3 years old).

I think you don´t have to worry so much, one month is really short when it comes to language learning. Just give her time!

Best regards

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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:33
English to Dutch
+ ...
General well-being May 24, 2007

Hi Tracy,

just wanted to let you know that I very much agree with the previous posts.
I have friends who moved to the Netherlands recently; of this family, only the father knew how to speak a little Dutch.
The kids (7 and 4 years old) went to school here right away, and so they were immersed in Dutch language. At first, they did not speak at all, and when they did (if there was some necessity), they spoke Portuguese.

However, after two months they began to speak in Dutch. The oldest kid even tells his mum and dad to speak Dutch outside their house, because 'we are living in the Netherlands now, remember!'

In other words, much has to do with whether or not a child feels comfortable in their environment. If your daughter is otherwise feeling comfortable and safe in (pre-) school, she should be doing fine right where she is.

Good luck!

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Ileana M. Pop  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:33
Romanian to Italian
+ ...
Don't worry! May 24, 2007


I was a little girl when I moved to Italy and I don't even remember when and how I learned Italian.
My mother says that my father tried to help me by learning it translating from Romanian, but it wasn't good for me, so they let me just do it my way, keeping speaking to me in Romanian.

In that period I was watching TV all day, Italian cartons, movies, programs... but I did not speak any word at school for 2 months.

When I began speaking (fast, correct, without accent) it was such a big surprise for my parents and my teachers, but not for me. It was just a consequence of the inputs I received all that time.
Since then Italian is my mother language: I keep speaking Romanian very good, but Italian is now my dominant mother tongue.

So, don't worry.
It will be no trauma for your little daughter.
She'll find her way to interact with the other children but she will need her time.
In my opinion you should not change you habits: keep speaking with her in the way she is accustomed to. She changed country, not her family!

Good luck!

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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
my 32-year-old "baby" ... May 24, 2007

I would be very patient and not try to force your child into a preconceived mold.

My daughter was born in Mexico, and although I'm a native speaker of English, she heard mostly Spanish for the first 3 years of her life. Then we moved to the United States, and my husband had trouble learning/speaking English. My daughter had just turned 3 years old, and, surprisingly, she began speaking English exclusively.

A very frustrating time ensued for me. We'd have dinner conversations where he'd speak Spanish, she'd speak exclusively English, and I'd end up being nothing but a translator. I even had to cope with my (ex-)husband's rage over her refusal to speak Spanish. Nothing we tried worked.

Then, when she was about 9 or 10, I began sending her regularly to Mexico for extended periods in the summertime (where she has about two dozen cousins), and the rest is history.

She finished high school in California, returned to Mexico, and she is now a bilingual teacher in an English-Spanish school there.

So, while the solutions people have suggested above sound creative and reasonable to me, if they don't work for your baby, my advice is: don't push it. Let the child come around to things in her own time.

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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
Concentrate on French and Spanish May 24, 2007

Hi, Tracey.

Since you live in Vancouver, I would not be concerned about her learning English; it will happen naturally and inevitably when she enters public school and begins to play with English-speaking schoolmates and neighbours. By then you will be glad for the boost her Spanish and French have received at home and this year (and next year, if you leave her in the preschool one more year). If she is like the majority of children in a similar situation, it will not be long after starting public school before she refuses to speak anything but English.

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Tracey  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
French to English
+ ...
Thanks! May 25, 2007

Thanks a lot to everyone for all of your advice and I know you're all right, I just need to relax and wait for it to happen so for the moment we're going to stick with the bilingual preschool next year and see how things go. It's reassuring to know that there are so many other international multilingual families out there who've been through the same and to hear your stories.

Thanks again.

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momo savino
Local time: 21:33
+ ...
OPOL and more May 26, 2007

Hello Tracy

1 - As a bilingual and mother of a child who I try to teach a second language to, I have been wondering myself what would be more suitable for him.
I have followed with him (who is now 5) the OPOL approach. One Person One Language. In the beginning I had to make an effort beacuse I wanted him to learn Spanish (my first learned language) but I left Spain 30 years ago and I am used to speak and think in more than one language. Mainly Italian. When my son was 4 months I started to force myself not to speak any Italian to him. I did it! I speak Spanish to him even when (most of the times) he speaks Italian to me.
One of my siblings is doing the same with her 2 children. But she sometimes uses Italian.
The three children respond in two different ways i.e. my son (OPOL system) hardly speaks (but understands perfectly) Spanish; my nephew (2 month younger than my son) speaks in Spanish a lot while his 3 and a half sister behaves like my son. They do not meet but twice or thrice a year and always for short periods of time.
2 - As a teenager I moved to a bilingual area. Euskera and Spanish were the languages. Among our neighbours there was a family who used Catalan and Spanish becuase one parent was Catalan. Their 8 year old girl suddenly stopped to speak at all. She was not mute of course. Psychologists suggested her parents avoid speaking Catalan (as the entourage was Euskera speaking) and reintroduce it after some time.
3 - I have a Spanish speaking friend who (luchkily) married a Spanish speaking woman. I say "luckily" because they live in Italy in a bilingual area: German and Italian. One of their four children speak the three languages. The other three understand the three but use Spanish and German (because they attend a German school).

When I was pregnant I found an interesting website on this topic. I can't remeber the URL but if you browse "OPOL bilingual families strategies" you will find many a site.

The reason why I say that Spanish is my "first learned" language is why I started Catalan as 6, Italian as 8, Euskera as 12, English and French as 15, German as 18, Greek as 24. Sometimes I get a bit confused on the languages I speak less.

Good luck to all the bilingual families and hope my message be useful.

momo (bilingual child and trying-to-be a bilingual mother)

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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:33
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
We are discussing tri-lingualism, after all...! Jun 29, 2007

Hi people - and thanks Tracey for telling us this most welcome story about one of the most wonderful things that can happen in life: the ability of our own offspring to communicate with the outside world.

There are some closely related topic threads, you'd better follow them for some extra advice and experiences:
Trilingual speech problems -
Rules of trying to raise a child trilingual -
Raising twins in a trilingual environment, possible?!? -

Best luck!
Regards from Montevideo,

[Edited at 2007-06-29 11:30]

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