Experience with kids learning German

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Hi!

Moved to Freiburg in March 2019 with two kids, 7 and 10. My 10 year old attended those “immersion” classes for foreigners and picked up some German pretty fast (although he already has ability for languages...) but my youngest is going to a regular Grundschule and it’s been 6 months and he is still not talking at all!! Understands some things going on and what people say but not much at all.

Does anyone have experience with how long it takes for children to adapt/ get some fluency? Although we are originally from Brasil (native Portuguese speakers, the experience in learning German I’d say it would be about the same...). 

He will start to stay in the afternoon at school, I’m hoping that would help.

Any experiences/ testimonials are welcome. I’m really concerned! 

Thanks!!

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Have you spoken to your son's teachers? They should be able to give you advice on how best to encourage his German.  When my daughter was in Grundschule, all the teachers advised that play, social, sport activities with other kids is the best way to learn and increase confidence.  Various things to try and encourage...

 

Arrange play dates with other kids, German versions of his favourite TV shows/films etc.  Ask about school holiday play groups. Private tuition would help.  Again, ask the teachers about this.  Many students offer this kind of tuition for an hourly rate of around 10-15€. There are also various tuition franchises. Have a look on eBay Kleinanzeigen i.e. https://www.ebay-kleinanzeigen.de/s-nachhilfe/freiburg/c268l9354.

 

Good luck. 

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Hello emkay, 

thank you for your reply. You are right, I will reach out to the teachers first thing and then try to find a private class... He is doing social activities but I think the fact that he talks Portuguese at home also “slows down the process” a bit... but the school should give me some solution as well, at least trying to integrate him more... let’s see. Thanks!

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For a 7 year old, such a big change is still pretty 'fresh' in his mind. He may not really understand yet that (from our POV) he has to learn a new language to do all the weird things adults want of him (school, activities, etc). Kids' brains are sponges, and he is certainly picking up a lot although it may not be obvious. I'm sure he will be speaking German better than you in a few years! He is making progress even though you may not see it. That said, he may not yet feel confident/convinced on the output part of language, i.e. speaking. As you say, not speaking German at home also diminishes his 'need' to try. Does he have regular playmates? Maybe you can invite some of the friendlier kids around to your home, so that he sees and understands that German can also be a language used at home -- even if you don't speak it amongst yourselves. This can help make it seem less odd and alien. 

 

Otherwise, whatever gets him speaking with peers. Teachers and private tutors can only do so much if the motivation isn't there. Watching programs in German is of course useful, but without actually knowing, I'd guess hearing/understanding German isn't the real issue. 

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We, too, were told we should speak German at home.  That still makes me snort with disbelief.  The kids learned German at school and at play, while we continued to hone their English skills.  

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3 minutes ago, katheliz said:

We, too, were told we should speak German at home.  That still makes me snort with disbelief.  The kids learned German at school and at play, while we continued to hone their English skills.  

 

I shudder to think what my children's German would have been like if we had done this.

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6 minutes ago, snowingagain said:

 

I shudder to think what my children's German would have been like if we had done this.

 

Their German would probably would have ended up being perfect either way, but their English would definitely be much worse if you hadn't spoken English to them. 

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15 minutes ago, Smaug said:

 

Their German would probably would have ended up being perfect either way, but their English would definitely be much worse if you hadn't spoken English to them. 

 

 Yes in the end.  But they did not have to go through the pain of unlearning crap German grammar.  And that was a bonus.  They pretty much only had to unlearn horrible pronounciations of "Regionalbahn" and "Philosphenweg".  Oh and we had a bit of a laugh with Noahs Arche.

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1 hour ago, snowingagain said:

Yes in the end.  But they did not have to go through the pain of unlearning crap German grammar.  And that was a bonus.  They pretty much only had to unlearn horrible pronounciations of "Regionalbahn" and "Philosphenweg".  Oh and we had a bit of a laugh with Noahs Arche.

 

:D

 

I lived in Berlin for around 10 years before I realised that the M29 bus to Roseneck was not going to Rose Neck. Thankfully no children were harmed in the making of my stupidity. 

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Per my understanding you should only speak the language at home if you do speak it correct. I got the recommendations to not even try reading books to them in any other language I am not fluent in.

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16 hours ago, alderhill said:

For a 7 year old, such a big change is still pretty 'fresh' in his mind. He may not really understand yet that (from our POV) he has to learn a new language to do all the weird things adults want of him (school, activities, etc). Kids' brains are sponges, and he is certainly picking up a lot although it may not be obvious. I'm sure he will be speaking German better than you in a few years! He is making progress even though you may not see it. That said, he may not yet feel confident/convinced on the output part of language, i.e. speaking. As you say, not speaking German at home also diminishes his 'need' to try. Does he have regular playmates? Maybe you can invite some of the friendlier kids around to your home, so that he sees and understands that German can also be a language used at home -- even if you don't speak it amongst yourselves. This can help make it seem less odd and alien. 

 

Otherwise, whatever gets him speaking with peers. Teachers and private tutors can only do so much if the motivation isn't there. Watching programs in German is of course useful, but without actually knowing, I'd guess hearing/understanding German isn't the real issue. 

True... it really is a big change, especially at this age they are finishing their literacy process. I’ve asked at the school to talk to the teacher let’s see. 

Also, the home is where children feel safer when living abroad so having the mother language spoken I think it’s more comforting...

 

No way I’ll attempt my German with him poor thing. It’s enough to buy bread and get around. Maybe in the future a little... ?

 

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Just now, dj_jay_smith said:

In the future he will be helping you!

 

Or, altnernatively saying "Shut up Mum! Your German is so bad it is painful to listen to"

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I agree with others who say that 6 months is not a very long time, and it's not surprising that your 7-year-old is still primarily reception-oriented rather than production-oriented when it comes to German. Moreover, in a way it's been less than 6 months, assuming your child wasn't in immersive German-language environments for hours every day in the school holidays.  And I'd underscore the suggestions to get your child involved in German-language activities (sports clubs and team, arts and crafts classes, story-telling events at the local library, etc.). That brings all kinds of benefits, including increased exposure, broadened vocabulary, intensified social motivation to comprehend and produce language, and so-on.  Having said that (and as you know) operating in a new language is exhausting, so having those activities on the weekend (including whole-family activities, such as attendance at German-language cultural events, local tours, story-times, etc.) is a good idea instead of adding them to school-day afternoons when your child is likely to need to have a break from deciphering Deutsch.

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2 hours ago, GabiNasser said:

Also, the home is where children feel safer when living abroad so having the mother language spoken I think it’s more comforting...

 

No way I’ll attempt my German with him poor thing. It’s enough to buy bread and get around. Maybe in the future a little... ?

 
I wasn't suggesting YOU use German with him, just that other kids from his classes or playgroups or whatever come over and fill your halls with German -- from them -- speaking with him. He associates home with speaking Portuguese, so getting German spoken in the home can help familiarize German more for him. Be proactive, but I wouldn't worry too much either.

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On 16.9.2019, 06:59:41, GabiNasser said:

He will start to stay in the afternoon at school, I’m hoping that would help

 

This will make a difference and when he is ready, and needs to start speaking, he will.

 

He still has the time to gain confidence before his ability to join in, the 'Mündliche' part of his marks, becomes really important.

 

Just don't turn it into a battle or an issue, I suppose. Perhaps he could become your official speaker whilst out and about? If he is willing? My kids did it for years, and it made them think a bit more about their German. I fully expected them to help with explaining information leaflets etc. to me, and it gave them value within the household which I think they felt good about. 

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Difficult one - when my eldest son arrived in Germany (aged 7) he could read and write English (level 2/3) - after a year in a school in Leipzig he could read or write neither English nor German.  He was pretty much shoved to the back of the class and ignored for 2 years.  We, beside ourselves with worry, recruited various private tutors (of varying abilities - because we were not able to assess their pedagogic skills in Ger).  It was an expensive business.  Actually all a bit of a nightmare.  He only resumed reading English fluently - aged 12 - German - aged 16.   But he did achieve an Abitur. 

 

My middle son (arrived 2).  We managed to get him into a Kindergarten aged 3 and it worked.  He is super bright - but learning to read and write in German presented problems.   Physically disabled - he was terribly bullied in school.  I would say with 14 he was equally proficient in both English and German. 

 

My youngest born in Germany - was slightly behind the other children in the class.  Mainly it was an article issue.  However, by year 3 he was achieving grade 2 in German.   Again he was bullied in School - this time - being older and wiser - we immediately pulled him out of the state school and went private.   He speaks 3 languages now - English, German and Spanish.  

 

For many children I think it is not only the language they struggle with, but also what the language means to them socio-culturally.  If a child associates the language with negative experiences then learning it can be problematic.   If they are teased in school for their "Fehler" then this can have a negative impact on their confidence.  Confidence really is the A and O of learning a language - if you are too afraid to fail - well it´s a tricky one isn´t it?

 

Self identity also comes into it too  - language is an integral part of how a child perceives itself..  Their voice being what they are willing to project to the outside world - the front of stage.  One of my main bugs here in Germany is the whole idea of "Integration" - which usually means denying a culture, a  language and a voice.   Sadly integration for many children is about hiding their difference - rather than embracing it.    Because being different can be very tricky - even painful at times.   

 

I guess the sad fact of the matter is that I completely underestimated the impact on the children.   When we moved here I thought it would be easy - the transfer from one Anglo-Saxon culture to another.   I could not have been more wrong.   Would I do it again...

 

 

 

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