Your Mother’s Tongue — And your Child’s Crying

May I rant?

One of the kids in Rocket’s class, I’m guessing a bit over age 4, can’t speak English.

Mother can speak it, accented but well enough to be understood. She takes college-level computers. Not sure about the father.

Every day, the kid cries and cries. Teacher talks to mother, they plan when mother will come pick the kid up, usually 1st recess. Mother tries to explain this to kid, who’s crying too hard to listen.

I talked with the mother today. They’ve been here at least a year, and he’s been at daycare before that. They only speak the native language at home. The kid won’t speak English at home.

Listen, lady, it’s not like you can’t speak English, at least well enough to teach him the basics! If you couldn’t, I’d have some sympathy, but as it is? It is not fair to the teacher (and therefore to the rest of the class) to expect her to teach a whole new language to your son. It is not fair to your son to make his first, lasting impressions of school a scary place with no one who can talk to him.

There’s a high ethnic population around the school. Talk to them. Find friends who can speak both languages, especially with older kids who will speak English but understand your home language. Maybe find a translator to help him learn enough to get comfortable. Don’t rely on the school to do it all, because, and here’s the sad truth, they don’t have the money, nor do the have the guts to admit it — they’ll promise you and reassure you, but in the end they’ll find a loop-hole and shove him down it.

It works fine for some kids, they socialize and adjust. But for others it’s too much. I’ve seen many kids who don’t have a language barrier have a tough time starting school, and the language barrier just makes it worse.

I talked to her today. Didn’t want to interfere too much, or get too involved or too pushy. Tried to be sympathetic. Just suggested she teach him at home. She claimed her English wasn’t good, I told her she spoke it well enough. She also said her husband had said he’d learn English in daycare. I suggested she speak one language in the morning, and one in the afternoon. She said he refused to speak English at home. I said what they’re doing now wasn’t working. Just look at how much he cries because he can’t understand the language.

I hope I did the right thing. I’ll add a few prayers just in case.

PS According to all the speech therapists, and we saw about five, and did the recommended seminars, even kids with speech problems can learn more than one language at a time, so long as it’s only one at a moment. As in, English in the morning and Spanish in the afternoon. English with Mom and Italian with Dad. English at home and German with Oma. English outside the house and Chinese inside. Mixing sentences is confusing. But if you keep them straight, the kid will end up fluent in both languages.

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One Response

  1. LJ is pretty good for ranting 😉
    To speak the native language at home to the point to refuse to speak that of the host country is the easiest way to ghettoise your own family.
    But it’s pretty common among immigrant people. I know a lot of them who do just what you describe, probably hoping that the children (with the help of some sort of divine intervention) learn the language sooner or later. 😦

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