Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hot topic: Transitioning a child into immersion

This from a reader:
My daughter was no stranger to immersion. I started her out early. At age 3, she was exposed to a French music class once a week. At age 4, she enrolled at Ecole Bilingue on the East Bay for a year. She never had any meltdown, or negative experience at EB and picked up quite a lot of French by the end of the school year. Due to a change of circumstances, we moved to the City and got her in an English K class. I tried again to enroll her in an after school Italian class. That was when she started to dread learning a foreign language. A lot of stress, crying, fear,etc., which compelled me to drop her from the Italian class. This year, she just got into Spanish Immersion and as expected, total stress and fear for her. I believe she never cried this much, my brave and sweet little girl. My husband and I don't speak Spanish and we're literally ordering Rosetta Stone at the time of this writing to try to support her. Is there anything else we can do to help her relieve her stress level? School is supposed to be fun at this age!


  1. French, Italian, Spanish...I wonder if maybe your child is just confused from all the different exposure to languages.I think it's great what you're trying to accomplish but maybe you should stick with only one language besides English for now.
    Have you thought of finding playgroups with native speakers or toys/books that talk in Spanish as well? At age 4 I feel the emphasis should be on fun and not so much academics when it comes to learning a new language. We have a bilingual household ( not Spanish though) and while I only speak to my kids in my native tongue they still prefer the language of their environment( English). I think you have nothing to worry about, your child has many years to master a second or third language. Best of luck.

  2. Be patient. By the end of two weeks, she'll have adapted. That's what the Spanish Immersion kindergarten teacher at my school says happens, and he's done this for ten years.

  3. My child speaks two languages (because her dad is a foreign national). I thought it was a wonderful idea to add a thrid, so I signed her up for a spanish afterschool program. She hated it. I amade her continue. At a certain point in first grade, her dislike was so strong, I let her drop it. Right or wrong? Hard to say, but she quite proudly keeps speaking her father's language and has never had a good thing to say about her time in spanish (she currently is in 5th grade).

  4. Although I don't have first hand experience with it, my friends' kids took anywhere from a week to almost a year to adjust to immersion programs. I think the commonly accepted wisdom is to expect a six month ugly transition period. Anyway, I think the mandarin parents council has some wisdom on the matter. Check out their site.

  5. Not everyone seems to have the same facility to learn additional languages. We know a couple where one parent's native language is Spanish and the other parent's is English. Both parents are fluent in both languages and speak both to each other and their kids. The older child (15) has been quite receptive to Spanish while the younger (11) staunchly refuses to have anything to do with it. The older is quiet and studious, the younger a social butterfly. Go figure.

    I also have heard many times that if a kid has even mild dyslexia, a second language can create a huge amount of stress.

    Your daughter is going through a big transition right now--new school, new language--and she sounds like a demonstrative, emotional type. She's only been there a week. If it's really not going to work for her, a public school can't expel you, but they can and should contact you and tell you there's a problem and suggest you look for another school or transfer to the general ed thread if your school has both. If you can't find an acceptable public, there are open-enrollment privates that could probably take her for the year, or if that's not an option for you, you can hold her back and try again for an English-language kindergarten next year.

    Good luck, and don't beat yourself up if immersion does not work out for your child. Not everyone is destined to be bilingual.

  6. I don't think it takes most kids six months, but I guess it is best to be prepared for the worst. Reassure your child that her teacher understands English and she can speak to the teacher in English if she needs to communicate something. Talk to the teacher about the issue outside of class and see if the teacher has suggestions. Arrange some playdates with classmates if you can so that she is excited to see them in the morning and can feel comfort from being with her friends. I'm sure you've tried some of these things already and it's hard to see your child so unhappy but for 99% of the kids this will pass.

  7. It is WAY too early even to be thinking about reaching a conclusion that immersion may not work for your child. Give the transition some time. There is a lot going on in your child's life right now. Some kids are more resistant than others but take off after a bit of time. Others start right in enthusiastically. When my son started kindergarten he was not upset like your daughter but he was completely distracted and uninterested, and it took him longer to start understanding and speaking than other kids, but he is right with the group now. The beginning is not necessarily a sign of whether your child will flourish in immersion.

  8. I think the problem is that she had too many languages without going in depths, which causes confidence problem.

    My daughter speakers English, Spanish, Mandarin and she is starting in Cantonese immersion. We consistently tell her that she is smart because she knows so many languages, so she is very happy at the new school.

    So, my suggestion is to encourage her and praise her. Tell her that she is special because of all the languages. Tell her all kids will go through some difficulties at the beginning and she will catch up soon.

  9. Hang in there....our daughter stood by her cubby for the first two months of her Spanish immersion preschool, and after that, everything was fine. But we were really heartbroken and worried at first. Don't will pay off.

  10. Stick with it. Be patient. She'll be fine. My kids are both in immersion. The majority of kids in their classes adjusted in two weeks and were comfortable. A few took much longer. I've also found that the kids really start to shine in the language after they return from holiday break in January and February. This is when I started to realize that my kids might actually pick up this language. Also, many students in my kids' classes are trilingual. If kids have strong parental support from both parents, they tend to do well. It takes both parents being excited and supportive. Kids most often get into trouble when there's a learning disability.

  11. To August 23 11:15am:

    How did your daughter learn English, Spanish, & Mandarin prior to Kindergarten? Is she fully fluent in all three?

    We tried, but couldn't get all three to stick. We eventually dropped Mandarin, much to our chagrin, so she could at least be fluent in at least both Spanish & English.

  12. 11:15 here.

    I speak Mandarin, my wife speaks Spanish.

    No, she is not fully fluent in all three. She prefers to speak English. When my mother-in-law comes to visit, then she became fluent in Spanish. She understands Mandarin, but not quiet willing to speak until I took her to China for one month.

    We are not stressing her. We are happy that she understand all three, and willing to speak Mandarin or Spanish depending on the environment.

    There are different thoughts on learning languages. Personally, I believe that as long as she can understand, she will be able to speak in the future when the situation arises.

  13. Tell your daughter that most of the words are the same in French and in Spanish.
    both my kids are in Sp. Imm. and the Spanish has really help them understand French better. I speak French to them 25% of the time and I have seen great progress once they realized how similar both languages are.
    First two months are a little frustrating, but it soon will get better.

  14. YMMV, but I think it is better to be truly fluent and literate in two languages, able to talk or write articulately about politics, science, literature, business, what have you, than to speak 5 languages but have the vocabulary of a kindergartener in all but your native tongue.

  15. My daughter also just transferred to immersion in the first grade. She attended k at the same school and is outgoing, social, and has very high level of verbal ability. She knows many of the kids in her new class. But is still extremely anxious and unhappy about the switch. But she is getting used to it and is not asking to go back to the GE as she did the first week-I think because she know she can't go back.
    I accept that the adjustment will take time. It is very disorienting to not understand what is goning on. I sat in on the first hour of class a few times to help her orient herself and follow along with the class.
    Try to get her to talk about her fears and express how she is feeling. Don't offer too many explanations or solutions. She needs time and support.