Q&A: moving child from preschool in one language to preschool in another language

N writes:

"I was wondering if you or your readers might have any suggestions or
advice on moving a preschool-aged child to a new daycare. More
specifically, moving to a daycare where the language spoken is different
from the child's language?

Some context: My wife and I are very keen on raising our nearly
3-year-old son to be fully bilingual in English (his primary language)
and French (my wife's primary language). From the age of 10 months he
has gone to the same daycare where the sole language spoken by the
caregivers is the language he is fluent in: English. We're thinking
about moving him to a French day care, but are a little concerned about
how traumatic / frustrating this might be for a child who speaks very
little French.

If anyone has any experience in this situation, or experience with
switching daycares, I'd love to hear how it went for you, how your child
adapted, and the challenges you faced."

I think this is one of those situations that's going to suck in the short term. So if you're prepared for that now it'll be easier on all of you.

the thing that will probably help most with the general switch is to tell your son about it with enough time so that he can prepare mentally, and so that he can say goodbye to his current caregivers and friends there, but not so far in advance that he gets worked up about it over time. That sweet spot seems like a week or two. (If you can keep in touch with the other kids and the caregivers he likes, that's a very good thing.)

Making sure he's seen and spent some time at the new place before he starts there full-time will help, too, so he has a firm idea of where he's going and that there are fun people there, too, and nothing to be afraid of.

I'm not really sure what to do about the language switch, since you haven't been speaking too much French to him before now. Maybe you can figure out what the phrases and questions and commands he's most likely to need to understand right away are, and start using them at home. That way he'll at least understand a little when he first gets there.

Have you talked to the director and staff at the new school about ways to ease the language transition? They might have some more solid things you can do before and during the transition to make it go more smoothly for him and for you two.

In the long run, it will have been easier for him to switch now than when he's older. So it will be a benefit to him. Knowing that, though, the first few weeks might be tough.

Has anyone been in a similar situation and have advice to offer, even if you didn't switch languages?

51 thoughts on “Q&A: moving child from preschool in one language to preschool in another language”

  1. We live in America, and speak English at home. Both my daughters have started French-only preschool at 2.5. I don’t really speak any French; my husband does but it’s not his first language. Both kids have done great and (though both are pretty verbal) neither ever complained about the switch. In the first year they spoke primarily English at school and the teachers answered back in French. My oldest is now 6, finishing kindergarten, and I’d say by about age 4 she was perfectly comfortable speaking only French at preschool all day long. I do think it helped that it was a 5 day per week program from the beginning, but really, their little minds are so adaptable at that age that you’ll be surprised how easy it is.

  2. I haven’t done this myself, but a couple of friends have. One family lives in Ontario and elected to have their children attend francophone daycare and elementary school (the family is 100% anglophone at home. they have terrible midwestern accents like I do). I don’t remember if they had any huge problems when their first transitioned – whatever they were, they were short-lived. I think it helped that both parents are making an effort to become more fluent and will speak to him about school in French at home. The younger child seemed to transition seamlessly, but then the system was already in place for the family.Another friend moved her family to Marseilles for a year. At the time, her girls were 3 and 6. Both had had a French speaking babysitter who spoke a little French with them, but were nowhere near conversant. The 6 year old picked up the language within a month and still speaks fluently and corrects her mother’s accent (which is fabulously fantastic for a nonnative speaker) and grammar. The younger one definitely had a harder time (this may also be due to personality. Older is outgoing and focused on being a good student. Younger is very shy) – she ended up pulling her out of preschool each day at lunch and having her attend half-days instead of full. It ended up being difficult for the mom (who was working on her masters at the time) but very helpful for the child, who couldn’t muster 8 hours of playtime in a language she wasn’t super comfortable in. Given how shy she is, though, that may have been the case if they had stayed home, too – and they probably would not have had her in full time group daycare if they were at home – more like half-day preschool plus a babysitter. HOWEVER, within a couple of months, younger was comfortable in French and they noticed some cool things – she stutters heavily in English (or did at the time. 2 years later she’s grown mostly out of it) but didn’t stutter at all in French. I think it was something about not having an expectation of proficiency – she (in her little head) felt more free to make mistakes without freezing up.
    For both families, it was a positive experience in the end. If we had the option in my community, I would absolutely take it. I’m jealous that the poster can!

  3. My family has been living in rural Sicily since January, and we enrolled our son (who is now about to turn 4) in the local scuola materna (a Catholic preschool) where no one speaks any English. None of us spoke any Italian before we came, so the transition was a bit tough–perhaps hardest because my husband and I felt like we could not adequately express ourselves to the teachers, which was frustrating. But we spoke with several friends who have taught ESL and did some web research, where we learned that in most cases this kind of immersion situation takes a few months of getting used to: The first month is just about getting comfortable, the second month is more about getting to know some other kids and a few words and the third is supposed to be the month when the child settles in and begins to develop some more language skills. We have found this absolutely to be the case. While Elio is still a bit shy about speaking Italian at school, he understands everything that is going on, and at home he is constantly surprising us with new phrases and words. Of the three of us, he is definitely the most comfortable with this new language now. I would say that most of his problems with school have not been language-related but just cultural and kid-oriented–things like rebelling against having to wear a smock every day, the rather tight structure of school (they sit a good deal), etc. But all in all, I think it has been an incredibly positive experience, one that he has drawn tremendous confidence from.

  4. Finally something I can weigh in on.We moved to France when our daughter was 2 and she started going to a creche (daycare) here at about 2.5. None of us spoke French upon arriving and I would say the transition was hardest for me!
    Our daughter did wonderfully, but I think a lot of it comes down to personality and timing. She’s a chill kid and even as a four year old now, is not the easiest to understand in English, so not being understood in French didn’t phase her. She learned the rhythm of the place, repeated what other kids said, and by the end of the year, could speak French. 2.5 was a relatively easy age for her, so it all went smoothly.
    Two bits of insight that came our way–the place had kids of ages 1-3 and apparently she played with the younger, less verbal kids initially but switched over to same-age kids after a few months. She was just toilet trained and it was important for her to know how to express such basic needs ahead of time as Moxie said. If your wife is French speaking, he probably knows such phrases already.
    As a 4 year old and now in French public preschool, the differences are starker to her now. Her best friends are at school, but occasionally she’ll ask to see “English” friends. This might be her feeding off of me because it can be hard for me to deal with French speaking playdates and the like.
    Overall, it’s been a great experience, one I wish I’d had so I wasn’t at sea in our life here.

  5. You might have to give it a few weeks, and he might not say much at first, but before you blink he’ll be speaking French like he’s heard it all around him his whole life.I know it sounds like some trite fairy tale or whatever, but this is really what happened to my son over this past year. We moved to Israel from the US–he started nursery school here in September at just shy of 3 1/2.
    His teachers speak enough English that they understood him at the beginning, but they spoke to him only in Hebrew after the first week or so. Some time in December, they told me that he wasn’t “allowed” to speak in English in school any more. He had no problem with this whatsoever, talks to his teachers and school friends in Hebrew (even the other native English speaker), and switches to English at home.
    His grammar isn’t perfect, but he’s just 4, so his grammar isn’t perfect in English either. He’s making mistakes that I think are really typical of his age–mismatching noun gender + verb, using the command form of the verb in female only (because it’s usually directed at me or one of his teachers), not catching the “exceptions” to the rules. But really, really good enough.
    He’s been mistaken for a native speaker a
    couple of times, and I nearly passed out from surprise, but there you have it.
    If you’re going to switch, I think a pre-reading is the ideal time. My daughter was 5 and was already a fluent English reader when we came and she’s had a harder time learning Hebrew. It’s coming (Hebrew a much easier language to read, but harder to speak, in my opinion), but it’s taken longer and been more of a challenge.
    Anyway, back to my son, this was his first school experience–he was home with me before that–and with the move we talked about it a LOT. He was shy and not quite himself at the beginning of school, but now he’s really blossomed. Loves everything about it.

  6. I am a native English speaker living with my French husband in France. My son was, from the beginning, primarily an English speaker. At 2 years, I enrolled him part-time in a French language daycare. He was verbal enough to tell me that he didn’t like it “because the ladies don’t speak English”. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I had the option of taking him out, which I did. However, school here starts at 3 years old, so when he entered school, he spoke a handful of words in French. We talked about how the people at school would speak French, and I bought a picture book with all the school-related items named in French, and we read that together over the summer. Still, the first couple of months of school were rather hard (of course the separation itself was part of the issue). This year, however, he is completely bilingual, and has no problems whatsoever switching between the two languages when the situation demands.I agree with Moxie that the sooner the switch is made, the better, and to inform the staff of his language situation, if for no other reason than to make sure he’s not considered ‘disobedient’ when he’s simply not understood a request! Also, if it is possible, I would suggest setting up some playdates with other French-speaking kids. My boys found it easier to ease into the language with friends their own age. The other kids were very patient at explaining and repeating, and the (usually physical) games they played meant that they could follow the action to get some context, too.
    Would your son accept your wife reading to him in French? I’ve always read to mine in English, as French is (of course) the dominant language outside our home, but if he will let her, that would be a good way to start introducing the language. Reading French stories would also give him some shared references with his new playmates at daycare. While some of the stories at school were translated from English, there were a few stories and characters which seemed to be typically French.
    Best of luck to N.

  7. Hi. I live in Germany. I am american and speak only english with our kids and my german husband speaks 50%german 50% english with our children. That being said, our home family language is english, and therefore the kids all spoke primarily english until age 3 when they entered a german-speaking Kindergarten. They all had a rough time at first. Number one struggled for a few months, number two half a year and number three somewhere in between. I think it was an easier situation for us, than you might have, because our kids were surrounded by German outside of school, as well…grocery shopping, playground, neighbors, public trans, radio, etc. The French speaker in your family might consider really stepping it up during this time. The environment of a school makes a big difference, and if the daycare has great people, great ambiance, warmth and care, then it makes all of the difference. Friends of ours here, from Italy, tried an Italian school for their son, and it never worked well, partially due to environment and somewhat due to the fact that introducing another language was really hard at that time for their little one. I want to echo Moxie’s sentiments about it possibly being tough at the beginning. The idea that kids just absorb languages like sponges and it’s lickety-split easy is a notion that is sometimes wrong. There can be a struggle, because at this age there is so much going on already inside of them, and not being able to fully communicate with or understand one’s environment can be frustrating at any age.FWIW my husband learned Russian fluently growing up in Germany just from his father speaking with and teaching him.
    My advice would be to give it some time at the daycare and bump up French at home.

  8. I agree with the others that earlier is better. They’re such little sponges, and I think sometimes we perceive a situation according to our own challenges/concerns. As @collected orange said, I think that kind of transition is (sometimes? often?) so much harder on adults who typically have a harder time learning a new language.Our little guy started at a francophone daycare (we’re in Quebec) when he was 11 months. I was worried too about the language thing as I only spoke English to him at home. (His dad who is bilingual speaks primarily French to him, but he was definitely hearing me speak way more, and his Dad & I speak English to each other.)
    Even though at 11 months he was pre-verbal, he understood some things I said to him and I was worried he wouldn’t understand anything they said at daycare. Language wise, the transition went OK I think. His first words other than Mama were in French. The mother tongue for most of the educators at his daycare is Spanish, so he hears a fair bit of that too. I think he even understands some Spanish as well, and we’ve started reading a few Spanish books at home. So yes, sponges. Total sponges. And at almost 2 he can follow instructions in both French and English. And uses a few words in both languages.
    As others have suggested, I think the key to easing the transition language-wise is to have your wife start speaking French to your son at home. We often say words and key phrases in both languages, one after the other, to help our son make the link. Maybe this could help your son with the transition. Especially if your wife focuses on words and phrases that he is likely to encounter at daycare.
    The biggest challenge for me in my son attending a francophone daycare staffed primarily by people who speak French as a second language is that sometimes it’s challenging to discuss issues at the daycare as we’re all not speaking our native tongue. We manage though, and I stick with discussing the important issues until I’m sure everything is heard & understood.
    Good luck! And remember your end goal – for your son to be bilingual. As Moxie said, it might be a bit rough for a few weeks, but that’s the short term. If it’s the right move for your son, the right daycare, and you stick with it, he gets the great gift of speaking more than one language and may even pick up a third or fourth language.

  9. I don’t want to hijack this, but am I the only one who wants to know more about Kate’s life in rural Sicily?? Can you give us a quick “why” and” what”? I totally understand if you don’t!

  10. The following is purely anecdotal and second-hand at that: My son has attended an English-speaking day care in the US midwest since birth. A coworker of mine who is a native of China moved to the US and wanted to enroll her son in childcare at age 2.5 years. She also brought her mother with her from China to care for her son during the day while she was at work. The language at home was Chinese (mandarin, I think).She enrolled her son one to two days per week for months and months and months. It was miserable. Her son acted out at school, was violent toward the other kids, and had potty accidents (when he had been trained at home since 12 months). Some of this is his personality, I suspect. However, some of it was that he was not exposed to any English outside of school and one to two days a week wasn’t enough for him to learn the rhythms of the day and key phrases. It was difficult for the caregivers to speak to the mother about the bahavior as well, as her English is heavily accented and broken.
    Now, at age 5, he is enrolled full-time, and his English is very good, so good, that his mother is concerned he is losing his Chinese language. His behavior has improved remarkably as well (although he still exhibits far more antisocial behavior that other kids in the class).

  11. Like Lisa, I’m fascinated by Living in Rural Sicily Kate—and also all these others! Who are these fabulous people and how can I get their lives, at least for a week or so? This topic is providing me a nice little escape from my Tuesday blahs. Viva la Moxites!

  12. I hope I’m not out of line in this, but I remember reading Kate’s (who commented above about moving to Israel) blog after they had moved and while her son was transitioning to school in Israel. As she pointed out, it was tough for him at first. What I remember is that he wasn’t talking to anyone and wasn’t really interacting at school. I believe she suspected at the time that he was taking it all in, but the teachers were concerned. Of course it turned out that he was indeed taking it all in and once he started to get comfortable to the place and the language, he started participating and speaking awesome, as she attests to above. I’ve also heard similar stories from others.I just wanted to point out that even if your child does not appear to be getting it at first, give it a little time. Let the kid have time to adjust to the new place and the new-ish language. My daughter is also the type to not look like she’s “getting it” when she is really taking it all in and processing. Something to consider.
    Side question: I’m having trouble finding kids books in Italian in the US. Previously, I ordered a few from amazon, but their selection has been severely limited and I’ve not been able to get ANY lately. Local stores don’t really carry any. Does anyone have any suggestions for where I can order some (ideally without a huge shipping fee from Italy!)? TIA!

  13. @Lisa and @Rudyinparis (who’s not really in Paris): I know! I’m off to check out that Kate’s blog right now to see if she explains there! And this is part of why I love Ask Moxie: great international crowd!

  14. When Noah started at his Italian pre-school/kindergarten at 3, his primary language was English. His passive Italian was very good but his Italian was pretty limited seeing he spent most of the time at home with me (I’m an Australian living in Italy).From the word go he had absolutely no difficulties following instructions or understanding teachers or communicating with other kids. His spoken Italian did show improvement immediately,especailly his pronunciation, but it has taken time to get to ‘near’ native level. At 5.5 his Italian is still not at the same level as that of mono-lingual Italian kids, (and neither is his English as good as mono-lingual Aussie kids), but he is now completely bilingual, something that he wasn’t when he started out in kindergarten.
    Achieving bilingualism is a long process. Cetainly not something that happens after a year of kindergarten, or at least that is what I have found.

  15. My daughter entered a French immersion program when she was four without any prior experience with the language. It was difficult on her at first, I think, though many of her classmates spoke English so she was able to understand them from the beginning. It took about six months but the light bulb went on and she is now speaking French to her teachers spontaneously and even at home. She is not fluent but she is acquiring new vocabulary at a high rate. Every child [and parent] has a different experience but there should be no issues with switching your child at this age. Good luck!

  16. There are French immersion schools here and I have several friends (all English-speaking) who’ve started their kids there at 3 or 4 (as we hope to do). From what they’ve said, the language just wasn’t that big an issue for the kids – they were much more concerned about leaving their friends at their old daycares, getting used to a new teacher and new building, having a more structured class, and so on. So chime that what parents see as huge may not be the biggest issues from the kids’ point of view.

  17. I’m similar to some other posters here. I’m the native English speaker (American), we live in Denmark, and DH is the native Danish speaker, though totally fluent in English.Our daughter was born in Denmark, so she’s always been exposed to both languages, though a lot more English at first because of me. Then she started daycare at 10 mo., when she was pre-verbal.
    She is now 4 years old, and pretty much just recently got on level with the monolingual Danish kids of her age. In English, she understands everything, and knows many many words, but does not piece together a whole English sentence. I am working on it more now, and she is enthused about being good at English. What helped a lot was getting English nursery rhyme books. Also, I got a couple of books on raising bilingual kids, and they have helped me see that I was *really* attached to the idea of her being fully bilingual. I am backing off a bit now, knowing that the likelihood of her learning English is very high.

  18. A website that I have found to be useful for parents trying to raise bi or trilingual kids is http://www.multilingualliving.com/ – My husband and I both speak English and live in the US but speak multiple languages and have been trying to figure out how to make it all work – I find a lot of support from that site plus tips on where to get different materials in different languages

  19. Children at that age are much more fluid about language. If you think about it, they’re learning English still and it doesn’t function the same way as someone older learning a language. We have to translate from our primary language into that foreign language whereas they are more likely to learn them somewhat concurrently. My point is that while we might consider it more disruptive and shocking, they might not.

  20. My son started in a Spanish-immersion preschool a month or so before he turned 3, and it was no problem at all. He’s endured a lot of school/day care transitions, so that part was easy, and the language thing, like previous posters have said, is just not a big deal to kids that age. I think that, depending on the child’s personality, the hardest part is the transition to a new routine, and the language is just part of that – not nearly as a big a deal as you would think.In the long run, however, it will be totally worth it. My son is finishing up his first year and already knows more Spanish than I do. He can understand just about anything that is said to him in Spanish, although he doesn’t always respond in Spanish. And he’s even starting to learn to read in Spanish! It’s just amazing.

  21. I teach French Immersion kindergarten. None of my students speak French at home, and about a third of them did not attend preschool in French. My language of instruction is entirely in French, and (with the rare exception of a child with a language-processing disorder), the children manage the second language with enthusiasm and grace. Remember that, even in their first language, young children are used to not understanding much of what they hear — think of having an adult conversation with a spouse or friend, which goes entirely over a child’s head, even if the conversation occurs right in front of them. Children are way more tolerant of ambiguity than adults, more patient with themselves, and better about using non-verbal cues to make meaning of something. Assuming the caregivers are warm, caring, patient, your kiddo should be just fine. It is often more worrisome for parents who can’t always udnerstand the songs and expressions their children bring home! Good luck!

  22. I don’t have any experience with multiple languages, but I did want to comment that never in your life is your capacity to learn as high as it is when you’re a toddler/preschooler. It’s amazing how much kids learn in such little time between birth and 5 years old, isn’t it? So the best time to make the switch is exactly when the OP is doing it – now. Good luck!

  23. Very helpful question! I’m thinking about moving my son to a Spanish immersion preschool and am very curious to see what everyone has to say…

  24. There is so much good advice here from people with first hand experience, that I’m hesitant to weigh in. But I wanted to add two things:1. My husband’s boss’ kids speak a total of 4 languages fluently- the Mom’s native language, the Dad’s native language, English, and French. French came from immersion preschool, as the parents are conversant in French, but don’t speak it at home.
    2. I’ve been surprised by how much language my 3 year old daughter can pick up from DVDs. We’re teaching her Chinese (long story), and she’s picked up a lot from DVDs. I think the DVDs are good for vocab, but you need the native speaker to get the accent right. So if you’re feeling a bit stressed for time, but want to introduce some key words, maybe look for a good DVD or two aimed at young kids.

  25. My husband and I are pre-dominantly English speaking but wanted our son to learn Cantonese because of our culture and French because we live in Quebec. N is almost 2 now and has done a great job of picking up all three languages. He is able to understand all three languages and uses words/sentences from all three languages.One of the main things we did was to find people to speak to him solely in each of those languages. His daycare is a francophone lady and there is only French there. At home, my husband speaks English and I simultaneously translate myself. I’ll speak English and then translate the same sentence in Cantonese. His grandparents speak Chinese to him.
    The transistion to daycare was hardest for us because N had heard little French before starting at 12 months. By 15 months, the educator told me he was understanding everything. N also didn’t have the option of hearing English during the day as the educator only spoke French.
    In short, the earlier the transition the better. Most children, as mentioned before, can soak up languages easily. One last thing…always go with your instinct. I had a friend who wanted her 4 year old son to learn French but the daycare was not accomodating. They would not speak English at all and the child was becoming overly anxious (holding pee & poo over a number of days). She finally switched him to a billingual daycare where the amount of French would be increased with time.

  26. My husband and I are native English speakers living in a Spanish speaking country. My son started a bilingual nursery school when he was just shy of 2 years old. He has half the morning with an English speaking (albeit heavily accented) teacher and half the morning with a Spanish speaking teacher. The music and PE teachers only speak Spanish…so all in all his school time is probably about 3/4 Spanish.As far as we can tell, he hasn’t really had any major issues at school that are due to not having native Spanish speakers at home. However, before starting nursery school, he and I had been going to ‘Mommy and Me’ classes in Spanish for months. Also, we speak only Spanish in the house if the housekeeper is here, and we speak Spanish when we are outside the house if there are Spanish speakers around. Much of what little television he watches is in Spanish, and we read a lot of books in Spanish as well. So…our situations are not exactly identical, but hopefully this information is of some use. My understanding is that if you want your kid to have equal fluency in both languages, they have to be exposed to the second language at least 30% of the time…so that’s what we’re trying to do. Most folks that I know who are in your situation will have each parent speak only their native language with the child.
    I have seen quite a few English speaking families come down for a year or so and plunk their kids in all Spanish schools and they are very quickly and happily speaking Spanish. If I was in your situation I’d try to have the French speaking parent only speak French with the child, read books in French, etc and be eager for French immersion school to start…he’ll be fine!

  27. Slightly relevant – my boys are being raised multilingually, English and my primary language. They hear both languages at home (dad and me), but more English. He was in day care from about 18 months, and until he was about 3 or so, he was fine with speaking English only at school and never at home. At 3, it was like a switch flipped. He realized his friends spoke only in English, so he refused to say anything other than English. After going back to visit relatives for two weeks just after he turned 4, he is now back to willingly switch between languages, but English remains his primary language.In this scenario, I think switching day cares where all the friends speaking will make the switch much easier, and honestly, kids pick up languages easily.

  28. I am so thankful you posted this topic, Moxie, and to all those who have commented so far! We are moving to Spain in 6 weeks with our 5 year old and plan to send her to the local Spanish school. I am anticipating a rough transition initially, but am hopeful that moving over the summer will allow some culture and language acclimatization before school actually starts…

  29. We are an english-speaking family living in west Quebec (a 10-minute drive from Ottawa, where much more english than french is spoken). We sent our 3 girls to french preschool ‘cold-turkey’ figuring it’s easier to pick up another language when small than as an older child. They went from an all-english preschool environment to a totally french one at about the age of 2.5 to 3 years old. All 3 of them (now 6, 11, and 12) spoke little in the classroom for the first 4 or 5 months, and then seemed to transition to speaking french perfectly almost overnight. It was like their brains needed to take it all in for a while. Now they all attend a 100% french primary school and are happy and indistinguishable from their francophone peers for the most part. We speak english at home almost all the time, and the biggest problem now is that sometimes I can’t understand their homework! My husband’s and my spoken french has gotten better as a result of the girls being schooled in french. We sent the kids to school in french instead of english on purpose — there is also a good english school system here — because it is a big advantage in the (Canadian) working world to be bilingual.

  30. We’re planning to put our son in a Chinese preschool at age 3.5, after raising him bilingual English/Spanish. I’m not worried about it at all. The school says the “playground language” is still English. He’s young, it’s immersion and I think he’ll pick it up quickly. He’ll learn that Spanish is for mom and his babysitter, Chinese is for school, and English is for dad and much of the rest of his interactions. So many people in the world grow up learning more than one language and kids have resilient and absorbant minds. I think Americans can tend to be overly fearful on this issue. If there is a short-term rough period, it’s in exchange for a life-long benefit.

  31. Alma- my parents and I moved to Seville when I was 5 and they put me in kindergarten in public school (not a fancy one either). I started with no Spanish, and knew so much when we moved to Bolivia the following year they skipped me into second grade. Then when I moved back to the US halfway through the following school year, I repeated the last half of second grade to bone up on my English skills and learn to print (Spain touchy kids to write in cursive right off the bat). Eventually everything worked out great because we moved to Miami and I was able to enroll in a bilingual IB school.My parent’s friends enrolled their son in an international (English-speaking) school, and he learned virtually no Spanish during the same year I was learning to speak it fluently, so the school immersion seems to be what makes all the difference. Good luck with your move! What city are you moving to?

  32. We enrolled my son into an English-only preschool when he had just turned 3 years old. Until that point, his primary language had been French and he knew very little English. I worried myself sick about his ability to communicate his needs, etc. but the teachers were well aware of the situation so it ended up being a non-issue. At the age of 3, there isn’t much chatter between kids and language never seems to be a barrier for kids to play together. My son spoke fluently by the end of the year and the language ended up never being an issue. I think others have mentioned it – but cover the big ones when it comes to vocabulary (bathroom, happy, sad, hungry, hurt, etc.) and you’ll be fine.

  33. Just another resource for families looking to raise their children in bilingual or multilingual environments:http://www.bilingualism-matters.org.uk/
    The FAQ section is particularly useful: it was adapted from a pamphlet ‘Raising Bilingual Children’ written by colleages of mine, Antonella Sorace and Bob Ladd, who are both professors of linguistics, and who are also a bilingual (Italian-English) couple who raised two Italian-English bilingual sons in predominantly English-speaking Scotland.
    Among other things, the researchers who are involved in Bilingualism Matters are happy to answer emails from families/teachers/others about the issues surrounding bilingual language acquisition.

  34. @caramama, you’re right–that post that you’re thinking of was about six weeks after school started. The hardest part for me was to parse (or not) what was a potential mis/communication issue vs. a first-time away from me issue.Definitely by December things were much better. And now it’s like picking up and dropping off Norm from Cheers.

  35. My son is just completing a (school) year at a Hawaiian Language immersion school after attending a part-time regular school for the year before that. We live in Hawaii so English is the first language for all of us and is what is spoken at home. My husband and I both took Hawaiian language classes in college and my husband grew up hearing Hawaiian spoken at home (he is Native Hawaiian) and prior to starting in immersion school we spoke some Hawaiian to our son. Our son will begin kindergarten in August at the affiliated k-12 immersion school where Hawaiian is the sole language of instruction from k-4th grade and then will receive bi-lingual instruction from there on out. The teachers told us that on average it takes the kids 2-3 months to make the transition in to the new language and we did find this to be the case, our son was understanding more but not necessarily speaking more in Hawaiian at that time. Now 9/10 months in he speaks Hawaiian easily in school (wouldn’t say he’s fluent b/c his vocabulary is still growing) and will often switch back and forth with us at home. I have also noticed that the kids both in the preschool and on the K-12 campus (located next-door) will all switch back and forth.For the mom moving to a Spanish speaking county with her older child (5/6?) and starting school there: I know a mom who started her son in Hawaiian immersion this year in 1st grade, 6 years old. We were talking about how his transition was going back in February so I don’t know how things are now but she did say that he had been struggling a bit. She mentioned that he had become a bit more withdrawn/shy/not as outgoing in school but that he liked his new school although there had been some talk of going back to an English language school. Her experiences were that she could tell her son was “picking it up” in terms of understanding what was said around him but that he didn’t yet feel comfortable in speaking. They were also getting tutoring for him in Hawaiian.

  36. Going back and reading all the comments again and say sueinithac’s comment that reminded me:my son, like a lot of boys, was having enunciation problems and there had been talk of seeing a speak therapist I knew that he’d grow out of it but that he might need some help. Well his problems were mostly with double consent sounds, and since there are no double consonants in Hawaiian (a lot of double vowels) his enunciation issues at school have been almost nonexistent. We still work on him at home with his English pronunciation but it is improving with age.

  37. (more coffee please …)Speech therapist – from my last post
    Switching back and forth on the playground – in the post before that

  38. I’m currently living a version of this! First, background: I’m American, married to a delightful Swedish man, and we have raised our 5-y-o in the United States. I am fluent in Swedish, and my husband has never said a word to our daughter in English. We are now living in Sweden temporarily (my husband is a university professor and is doing a sabbatical here at his hometown university), and my daughter has been in Swedish kindergarten.What’s not clear to me from your question is how much French your son has been exposed to. Does your wife speak French to him, and do you speak French? I think in many ways our situation has been made easier in that we can, and often do, have both languages going in the same conversation – in other words, if my husband talks to our daughter in Swedish, I’m not excluded from the conversation. So when we got here, my daughter’s passive understandng of Swedish was really good, although she didn’t produce much.
    Now her default language is Swedish, and she answers me in Swedish when I speak to her in English! It’s a remarkable change, and I’m now beginning to wonder if it is possible to achieve some sort of happy medium when we go back to the US (speak Swedish at home, speak English at school, rather than flipping a switch back to 100% English).
    I have to say, though, the transition was HORRIBLE when we first got here — the tantrums, they were many, and it was an extremely rough couple of months. I mean, ROUGH. But it became clear to us relatively quickly that the problem wasn’t so much the transition to speaking Swedish – that happened really fast. The problem was that *everything* was new – new school, new friends, new house, *everything*. So if you do go to the French-speaking daycare and it’s bumpy at first, do NOT assume that the language is the only reason, or even the primary reason – it could just be the transition to a new place.
    One thing that’s been fascinating is watching her accent in Swedish move from English-speaking to native. As it is now, listening to this child you can’t tell that there’s anything unusual about her linguistic background. And, although this sabbatical period has been hard on me for a variety of reasons, it’s been totally worth it for what it has meant to my husband and for my daughter’s bilingualism.

  39. I’ll second the recommendation for the Multilingual Living website (http://www.multilingualliving.com/). It’s a great resource!It’s interesting to note that N assumes his son doesn’t understand a lot of French, even though his mother is a Francophone. In my experience, even if children at this age aren’t actively using a language, they are still retaining quite a bit of knowledge.
    Our daughter (2.5 yrs) recently switched over to just speaking English. We only speak French in our home, & are part of a French speaking playgroup, but she’s going to an Anglophone daycare & seems to have decided that most folks speak English so that’s what she’s going to do as well (& this is true – we live in the US!).
    Her father & I were dismayed when she stopped responding to us in French…but lo and behold, when we Skype with our (French speaking) relatives/friends on the weekends, our daughter pipes up in French with no hesitation – sometimes coming out with vocabulary I had no idea she even knew. It’s really amazing.

  40. My data point: my son was in English language day care until 2.5 years. At home, I speak German to him, my husband Turkish. When he started talking, it was mostly in English, a German or Turkish word here and there. That being said, he understood German and Turkish well. He started a German immersion pre-school and became completely German dominant within 3 months. The transition was a breeze (we did several drop in visits over the course of a month before-hand.) He’s always been pretty mellow and good at transitions– he acted like he’d been going there his whole life after a week. He’s now been there for 9 months and speaks to me exclusively in German, even on the phone! That being said, his English language continues to develop (we live in America, so of course, it’s everywhere). As for Turkish, it’s still more on the understanding side, not so much the speaking side, though he picks up some when we visit the grandparents.You know your child best, but, honestly, the transition, however tough it is, will pass and it will be very, very worth it to have the additional foreign language reinforcement at pre-school (IMHO).

  41. Wow – tons of thoughtful responses here, everyone – it’s really appreciated.To answer the question that’s come up a bit, my wife has been sporadically speaking french to him since he was born, but never full-time, which in hindsight was not the best move, but c’est la vie. (ha ha, I spoke french there! Ahem.)
    My son could very well have been absorbing the French he’s been hearing, but he definitely doesn’t answer to most french questions and often ignores the request completely until it’s spoken in English. Come to think of it, that’s probably just his way of controlling the situation…
    Anyway, I think we may suffer the transition and move him over, as most people’s experience mirror what I had though; that moving him now would be better than later. The main reason we’ve been hesitant is he’s very accustomed and attached to his existing day care’s staff and children, and he’s *never* been good at transitions.
    Again, the responses here are much appreciated. If I could buy each of you a frosty beverage, I would (and a box full of bacon chocolate for Moxie while I’m at it).

  42. We are American and have two daughters, the eldest is 4.5 and the younger is 2.5. We live in an East Asian country and the eldest has attended preschool in Mandarin for a year. My husband only, only speaks Spanish with the girls and I only, only speak English. The community language is obviously Chinese and the girls speak to each other only in Chinese. It’s rather funny to us, but rationalize that it’s the eldest play language at school and playing with her sister should therefore be in Chinese (the youngest, who is more verbal, would speak any language for a moment in her sister’s court).In August we will relocate to another East Asia country (that does speak Chinese), and have selected a Chinese school for (eventually) both girls to attend to ease the transition of the move and continue their Chinese proficiency, for at least for two more years, then switching to an (English speaking) international school to track them for university in the states. We realize they may never be able to read and write Chinese if we don’t seriously pursue it, but if they are communicative we will be very happy. It’s all been an amazing adventure. Somehow we are currently in Paraguay for three weeks at a training course for my husband and the girls are thriving in Spanish… Ah, to have those receptive brains…

  43. I used to be an international school preschool teacher in Japan in an English immersion environment although some of the children where native speakers but the majority of them were full Japanese children who spoke NO English when they arrived with us at age 2 or 3. It was tough for the kids at first but ALL of the children adjusted within 3 months. Some quicker than others.There will be tears. Firstly because it is a new place and then second because he will get frustrated trying to communicate but I can safely say it is not something you will regret down the track.
    My son will enter Japanese kindergarten at 3 because we simply won`t be able to afford international school (unless I teach at one and got discounted education for him)- he is only 5 months old, we live in Japan and I speak to him ONLY in English but he does get Japanese from his dad and from other outside sources. We go to English playgroup once a week or so and speak on Skype with his relatives in Australia and also some other friends here in Japan that are English speakers. I imagine his English will be better than his Japanese when he goes to school but that that will quickly change. I am not concerned because I have seen MANY kids make the adjustment and ultimately being bilingual will help him later in life.
    Good luck!

  44. I would like to share my family’s experience with languages too. French is the language for conversing with our 21 month old son (my husband is the native speaker and I am reasonably fluent) and English is the language of his daycare (as well my husband and I speak mostly English amongst ourselves). Our son’s vocabulary consists of a mix of French and English words. What amazes us is his comprehension of both languages and how he may use a word in one language but understands that there is also a word in the other language for the same thing, though he may not say it. It speaks to the vast capacity of young children to learn new things and how seamless the languages are for him.I would encourage your wife to start speaking and reading with your son in French as much as possible. Initially my husband spoke French and I spoke English with our son until just a few months ago. But then it occurred to me that he was in an English speaking environment most of the day so I switched to French in the home as well. In the past few months, his vocabulary and comprehension skills have really grown in both languages. All the best to your family.

  45. I know this post is a bit old, but wanted to pipe in with my 2 cents as well.I’m an American married to an Armenian, living in the US. I speak fluent Armenian and my husband is getting closer and closer to fluent English every day. We have a 9 month old daughter, Ani, who cries fluently in both English and Armenian (ha ha!).
    I had heard somewhere (tho don’t have a link or book title to back it up) that the best method for producing a bilingual child who understands both languages fluently is to have one parent (or other person – grandparent, caretaker, etc.) speak consistently in one language, and the other paretns consistently speak the other language.
    For us the first few (say 6 months) I mostly spoke Armenian with my daughter as its what I speak with my husband and I had a hard time transitioning back and forth between the two. It’s kind of weird speaking one language to one person and then turning around and speaking another language to someone else (especially when that someone else doesn’t respond back just yet!) 🙂 After talking to a mom of bilinugual children and her passing on of advice that bilingual children should ideally learn both languages fluently before 3 yo I switched to English (about 98% of the time – I slip up every once in awhile).
    Ani is still basically pre-verbal. She has one word in her vocabulary so far “uh oh” which she learned from me repeating every time she dropped a toy on the floor. My husband is a SAHD so she gets mostly Armenian interaction during the week. I spend about three hours a day around Ani while not at work and then on weekends. My parents live nearby so she sees them about twice a month and gets English time with them as well.
    Our plan is eventually to bring my mother-in-law over from Armenia to take care of Ani so my husband can find a job so the mostly Armenian “day care” will continue until she starts pre-school.
    Our/my biggest concern is how to continue the Armenian language once she does start (pre)school and everyone else (i.e. friends) are speaking English. How do we make it cool to continue to speak Armenian? I’m hoping that as my in-laws are unlikely to ever learn English that that will be her motivation to continue speaking. We also hope that once Ani and #2 are older (#2 hopefully to be born sometime in 2012?) we can convince them of the utility and “coolness” of having a “secret” language with each other when out in public.
    Anyway. I love your site Moxie – I stumbled across it one day or was it night, looking for sleep advice (of course!!!). Like everyone else who praises your site often relate, I love that this is a non-judegmental, do-what-works/gets-everyone-the-most-amount-of-sleep kind of site rather than a “I can’t believe you follow (insert name/method) with your child.”
    And thanks to everyone who posts here – it’s a wealth of information and if nothing else another method to try when things go wonky with baby’s sleeping / eating / pooping / growing….

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