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When Your Bilingual Child Goes to School

Rita Rosenback

Columnist, Multilingual Parenting at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Rita is a Family Language Coach who supports families by creating tailor-made Family Language Plans. Read more under "Columnists".

Latest posts by Rita Rosenback (see all)

Do you worry about what will happen with the minority language once your bilingual child goes to school? Do you wonder whether it will still be the means of communication between you and your child, or whether the majority language will take over? If you are a bit concerned, you are not alone, but there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and your child and to maintain the minority language. 

When your Bilingual Child Goes to School…

Time Spent at School

There are many reasons why schools, where the medium of instruction is the majority language, can have significant influences on how your children use their languages. For one, their time spent in a pure majority language environment increases significantly. Your child will get used to only speaking the majority language for a big part of the day, so it is no surprise if the use of it continues when your child comes home from school.

Something fun, exciting, upsetting or worrying often happens during a school day, and it is so much easier for your child to tell you about it in the language it happened.


Allow your child to “let the steam off” in which ever language – you can pick up the topic again later in the evening in your language. This way you can use the vocabulary that your child needs to be able to describe whatever happened.

Allow your child to “let the steam off” in which ever language. Click To Tweet

Friends

With school comes more friends and most or at least many of them may only speak the majority language and your child will want to be just like everybody else. Speaking a different language may not fit in with this thought. With more friends often also comes peer pressure and an expectation to be part of the group and again, the minority language might be at the losing end. For you, as a parent, it is important to continue to stay consistent in your language use and show your pride in your own language to counteract this.

Your child will want to be just like everybody else. Speaking a different language may not fit in with this thought.

School-Specific Vocabulary

Going to school introduces your child to a whole new world which also means words that you may not have been using in your day-to-day lives in the minority language. This is another reason why it can be difficult for your child to describe something at school. Prepare yourself and your child by making sure you know the school-specific vocabulary in the minority language. Do you know the words for all the school subjects, for ‘locker’ and ‘morning assembly’ in your language?

Read why your bilingual child may avoid speaking your language. Click To Tweet

Homework

Then there is the question about homework, which will all be in the majority language – if you need to give your child a hand, which language should you use? There is no simple answer for this, as it does not make sense to try to use the minority language in all situations, for example with spelling or if a specific counting system is used in maths. However, when you feel it is appropriate, ask your child to explain the task in the minority language. In addition to bringing in the language, this will also make your child rethink the issue at hand.

When we translate something into another language we process the topic in more detail than when we only talk about it.

It may well be that your child notices a solution to the task just by having to translate it into your language!

Due to all of the above, it may well happen that your child avoids speaking your language. What could you do to prevent the minority language from losing ground? If possible, increase the exposure to it. As this may not always be a realistic solution, do your best to intensify the exposure. Do keep it fun.

For some more ways to practice a language, click here.

Good luck on your family’s multilingual journey!

Related Posts

An earlier version of this post was previously published on www.multilingualparenting.com


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Rita Rosenback

Columnist, Multilingual Parenting at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Rita is a Family Language Coach who supports families by creating tailor-made Family Language Plans. Read more under "Columnists".

Latest posts by Rita Rosenback (see all)

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