By Jet Sichterman
When a young child enters a school or school-like environment in a different language than the one(s) they speak at home with the family, the transition might be concerning for parents. Will my child be adjusting well? Will she be learning the language quickly? Will he be able to inform the teachers of his needs? Will the teachers be patient with her and support her emotional reaction to potential communication frustration? Some very valid questions to ask and there are things you can do to make this change easier for your child. Today, I will share some tips for preparing your child for this new situation.
As with all major changes, children can be (need to be) prepared in an age-appropriate manner. A good preparation helps both you and the child realize that this change will sometimes be exciting and fun but might also be challenging and scary at other times. You might even consider some strategies your child can apply when facing these challenges.
– Refer to similar situations. If the child has been in a school-like setting before, tell them it will be mostly the same but people speak a different tongue that they will need to learn. If you and your partner speak different languages at home, say ‘you know how mom and dad speak differently? At school they will speak differently from mom and dad but you will not be able to understand what they are saying at first, you will need to learn this’.
– Show confidence & optimism. Inside, you might be very worried for this transition. Your child will look at you to find some instruction as to how they should feel about this change. If you are scared, your child may take over this fear (after all, you are the one that knows what is coming). When talking with your child, express that you believe they will adjust and make a positive experience out of this. It may not always be easy, but most children will adjust and learn the new language more quickly than you will!
– Visit the school. Before the actual start, visit the school as much as you can so that your child can become familiar with the environment. Most schools in the Netherlands will have some ‘wen-dagen’ (acclimatization days) to ease young children’s transition to the new school. Even if that is not the case, you can visit the school building and look at it from the outside, watch the playground, maybe get a tour inside and meet the teacher.
– Learn as much of the language as you can before the start of school. Maybe you can find a tutor for a few weeks or months before the school starts to make your child more familiar with the language. You can also help your child become more familiar with the language by learning some basic words that he will surely need (food, drink, toilet, teacher, sick, counting 1 to 10, etc.), learn nursery rhymes in the new language or watch television in that language.
– Discuss with your child how to communicate with the teacher, in case they cannot follow the instructions or find it hard to express themselves. Share these strategies with the teachers too so that they can respond appropriately when your child communicates their discomfort.
There are many things you can do to prepare your young child before starting school in a new language, but the most important thing to remember is that prevention is better than cure, and with a good preparation you may be able to prevent a great deal of communication frustration for your child in the classroom.
Next on this blog: starting school in a new language (teacher tips)