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About This Blog

This blog is for anyone interested in raising their children in a foreign language--meaning a language which neither of the parents speak natively.
We have used the approach where both parents speak the target foreign language (in our case, German) to the children. Neither of us is a native German speaker, yet we have spoken German in our home for the past 20 years and have 8 German speaking children. In this blog, we hope to share our successes, our lessons learned and a few of the insights that we've gained along the way.

Starting School and ESL (Second Batch of kids)

Starting school has been a little bit different with my second batch of kids than it had been with the first batch, although there are a few similarities.

My little Jonathan is currently in Kindergarten. Just like his oldest brother, Ben, we also put Jonathan into the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. The difference between the older 5 and the younger 3 kids, is that the younger ones have spoken almost exclusively German and their English is not nearly as fluent as the older kids at the same age. The younger ones still communicate with each other in German to this day, where my older kids had switched to English by this age. About a year ago, I was starting to get concerned that Jonathan would just not be ready for Kindergarten. We had already held him back one year, since his birthday is the end of August (right before the cut-off), but we were still concerned that he would really struggle with English in school. I had been observing him in his church Sunday school class and saw that he really didn't participate much. When the Sunday school teacher asked him to do something, he would usually smile and nod whether or not he understood. I also noticed that the other children could tell that he didn't understand everything. They were all very nice to him, they just didn't interact with him as much. The thought crossed my mind about introducing more English at home, but I quickly dismissed that thought. I knew from experience (with my older batch of kids), that once you introduce the majority language (English) at home that there is no going back. I decided that his English exposure needed to come from a source that was outside the home.

So, I enrolled him in a preschool. It was a good experience for him. It was fun to watch his English and his social skills improve. Having two siblings only a year younger than him, he really didn't have much of a need to have lots of play dates. Most of his playing was with his siblings in German. So, in preschool, it was fun to not only see his English improve in leaps and bounds, but to also see his social skills expand. He is naturally a very social and well adjusted little guy, but without being able to communicate in English, he was limited with how much he could interact with friends.

On a side note, let me just add that we did get together with friends during those preschool years (when they were between 3-5 years old). I don't feel like my kids suffered that much by not being able to speak English. They couldn't communicate complex ideas in English, but at that age, they really didn't need to. I was always amazed at their ability to communicate with friends despite their language differences. If you've ever seen kids from different cultures and language backgrounds play together on a playground, you can get a good feel for how my kids interacted with others. They used sign language, laughter, simple words that they had learned and lots of active play. I guess, having been thrown into a foreign language environment myself at age 6, I knew that the social setbacks of not speaking their peers' language would be temporary.

So, back to Jonathan's school situation: Preschool definitely helped Jonathan prepare for Kindergarten. It also put me at ease, because I observed him interacting and playing with multiple children. I saw that, even though he couldn't speak English at the same level as his peers,  he would be able to manage just fine.

Before school started, I talked to Jonathan's teacher and to the ESL teacher. I explained Jonathan's situation. They agreed to have him participate in the ESL program. Everyone at school was very supportive of Jonathan's bilingual situation. The principal just "loved" what we were doing with our children. The first few weeks of school, Jonathan struggled a little to understand everything. His teacher noticed that he sometimes didn't understand what she was asking, but she noticed him taking cues from the other children's actions.

Jonathan was tested just a few weeks into the school year. Here are his results:

I found it interesting, looking at the National Percentile Rank on the right of the chart, that Jonathan scored above average in everything except "Oral Language-Total" (29th % ile) and "Oral Expression" (11th % ile). His reading-writing, broad English ability, applied language proficiency and his language comprehension were all above average. I think this an amazingly accurate reflection of his early language exposure. He was exposed to lots of English growing up. He constantly heard English spoken by the adults and teenagers in his household. He also heard lots of English in the community. He was understanding much more than we gave him credit for. However, he had not been speaking (using) much English, so his ability to produce language was below average, because, of course, he hadn't been producing much English at home...he was only hearing it.

At the time of this post, Jonathan has just started the second half of his Kindergarten year. He tested out of the ESL program in November...meaning that he had already improved so much that he no longer qualified for ESL help. His oral ability is close to that of his peers. He interacts, plays, talks and jokes with his classmates. He still has his cute German accent and still struggles expressing more complex thoughts in English, but his progress has been amazing. I have no doubt that by 2nd grade, his English ability will be indistinguishable from that of his peers.


nancy john said...

In today world English is become a global language and we must learn it

ielts essay

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