Pin It
Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

When Language Immersion Doesn’t Come Easy

By
Immersion isn't always easy/Amir and Salma/(c) Cami Stewart

My son has learned three languages in his short lifetime. Now seven and half, Amir was born in Spain, but was instantly privy to a world where three different languages were regularly spoken in his home environment. His father—who speaks Arabic with his family members—and I communicate to one another in Spanish, and my native tongue is English. As his primary caregiver, I felt it was important to speak to Amir in English, and it became the language he was mostly surrounded with in those early years, especially after we moved to the United States when he was only six months old.

 

Two and a half years later, however, we moved back to Spain. This time, Amir was introduced to Catalan in public school.  In the classroom, both instruction and teacher/student interaction is in Catalan, but the children speak Spanish with each other. School at that age is still a lot of play, as it should be, and no homework. Even so, Amir didn´t fully comprehend Spanish—and Catalan not at all—but luckily he had a patient, understanding teacher and we made it through that first year.

 

Over the summer, I tried my best to expose him to Spanish naturally by taking him to parks and playgroups where Spanish was spoken. He was always nervous and shy to approach the other children so I would start talking to the kids, introduce Amir and ask if he could join them. They would play and I stayed on the sidelines acting as a translator when needed.

 

Despite my efforts, the following year Amir was nervous to begin school. He still had a hard time communicating with his peers and didn’t understand the teacher very well. He had homework every day and although the assignments weren’t difficult, they were written in Catalan. To help, we dedicated an hour and half each night to homework, with the first step of translating everything into Spanish and then English if he didn’t know the words in Spanish, and then persuading a six year-old to actually do the work.

 

Halfway through the school year I realized we needed help. My little boy was so frustrated. He seemed sad and depressed. He would get upset easily and didn’t want to go to school at all some days. He told me that he felt lonely and wished we could move back to America where everyone speaks English.

 

Even small things like talking to his classmates proved difficult. We found a private tutor and started taking him to Spanish classes three times a week. Immediately we saw an improvement. He was much more confident speaking and understanding Spanish; his teacher confirmed that his Catalan had improved as well. Now that he was able to understand Spanish he could begin to follow along in Catalan. (Instruction is given in Catalan but when a student doesn’t understand the teacher can explain in Spanish. Now that Amir was able to grasp Spanish better he could comprehend Catalan better.)

 

It seemed as if all along, he had just needed someone to sort out all that jumble of Spanish in his head. He started making friends and was happy to feel more included. His teacher commented that he participated more in class and homework became easier because we didn’t have to spend so much time translating. He ended the school year with good grades and appeared more relaxed and happy. It felt good to see him understanding his world better.

 

Over the summer we continued the Spanish lessons, but at one point reached a new obstacle: he didn’t want to go anymore. Every day became a struggle to get him to class, and eventually I stopped trying. Instead, we began to have our own Spanish class at home for an hour a day.

 

Deciembre-2012

 

Last summer, we read, completed grammar and vocabulary worksheets and played games—all in Spanish. I could tell Amir was improving and that he enjoyed our study time more than the structured tutoring sessions. In order to make sure he returned to school with confidence, I kept up the daily sessions and purchased the textbooks he would be using during the school year—one of each in Catalan, Spanish and English. We started school eight months ago and despite my anxiety, Amir is doing really well. He has a few good friends that he plays with outside of school and reads and understands everyday Spanish. We still speak mainly in English but sometimes when he wants to tell me about something that happened at school he explains it in Spanish.

 

People who know us, of course, have opinions about our situation. There have been those who chastise me for speaking in English to Amir and Salma, my two-and-a-half-year-old, who already is more comfortable than her brother speaking in Spanish and Arabic because she has had an almost equal exposure to all these languages.

 

august-2012-LA-RESERVA

 

There were even those who declared I wasted my time taking Amir to Spanish class. Others say kids are sponges and will easily pick up a language, but I disagree. Yes, they do absorb a lot, but that doesn’t always make it easy to actually understand and speak the language. I needed to have structured learning time in Spanish for Amir to be successful in that language.

 

While I do feel it´s my job to teach my children English, outsourcing Spanish classes for a time was exactly what Amir needed. I know eventually he’ll speak Spanish better than me, and without this pesky American accent I can´t seem to shed. Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to help him learn and understand better. I knew from a young age I wanted Spanish to always be a part of my life, and also that I wanted my children to speak the language. They were lucky too in that along the way a few other languages were thrown in. I’m excited for my children to grow up with so many opportunities this multicultural life offers them, even if at times it can be a challenge.

© 2013, Cami Stewart. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


9 Things You Should Never Say to Adoptive Parents

Have you made any of these mistakes?

Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief

Language Resource Library for Raising Bilingual Kids

The most comprehensive list of language learning resources

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Cami lives on a Spanish island in the sea with her husband and two children. In their home English, Spanish, Arabic, Catalan and French can be heard. She works from home as a Spanish/English translator as well as dedicates her time to the Online Homeopathic Consultation (naturalhomeopathichealth.com) that she co-founded with her husband.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsJamie   |  Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you so much for your post on your precious bou on his language learning. My husband and I are in the same boat, we have two children a 6 year old boy and a 4 year old girl they are both attending an international school in India. Oh I forgot to say we are from America who speaks English and we don’t know any other language but that and have been here a year and still can’t speak hindi. Our children are not enjoying their school, they the kids are mean to them and they don’t like learning Hindi. So I’m at a lose because I need them to go to school so that I can go to school, but I don’t want them to hate india. I want them learn Hindi and gain friends . Do you have any ideas for this problem? Should we take them out? Anywhere we take them it looks like they will be the only white face there. Thank you for taking time to read my plea. Jamie









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!
[easy_sign_up phone="0"]

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@Daniela You speak BS, you have never seen Franconia, or you're a Franconian girl. In the second case, I know that no intellectual conversation could be made with Franconian people, because you'r...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Raising Bilingual Children