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My son (8,5 yrs) has concentration problems and has a very poor short term memory. His performance in the class is extremely poor. His symptoms are similar to ADD. We are Dutch and speak Dutch at home (and sometimes other languages as well, Spanish, Papiamentu, but not much).
My son is in 3rd grade English class and has French as second language at school. The second language means that in the secondary school some subjects will be taught in French. The school advised me to change his second language to Dutch because he may have troubles in the secondary school. His French report has been up until now excellent (for 3 years). He never had Dutch and so he is 3 years behind in spelling and grammar. We live in Germany and my son has learned himself to speak German (without an accent). He doesn’t mixed up the languages when he speaks and people always complement him or us on how well he speaks the different languages (without any accent). He takes a long time when he wants to say something, though and a lot of time he even forgets what he wanted to say.
Could it be that my son is confused because he speaks 4 languages?

I appreciate your reply since they started today with the Dutch lessons.


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Ann, I got a little bit confused about how your son is learning 4 languages. My humble opinion is that your son is not confused about the four languages. He’s thinking about what to say in a language (sort of translating for one language to another) but i could be wrong. How much exposure your son has to the four languages per day?


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thank you very much for your reply. My son is in the English class and has every day 1 hour French lessons (mandatory by school). During playtime at school, soccer, trumpet lessons, church and tennis he speaks German to the children or teacher/trainer. At home we only speak Dutch to our kids. I guess the average of exposure to the languages per day would be: English (4 hrs), Dutch (8 hrs), German (4 hrs), French (1 hr).
One day my daughter was talking and she used a German word while she was talking Dutch. My son said “Oh Mum, she said a word in German, that’s not right because she is speaking Dutch”. I told him it’s okay to do that because at least she continues speaking. From there on he started to ask what a particular word is in another language instead of trying to find the word himself. But still sometimes he doesn’t speak up or forgets what he was saying.
I tried to make a very long story very short and I hope it’s clear.

Thanks in advance for any help and/or advice.

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Ann, your son has a good amount of exposure to english, dutch, and german. In my opinion he needs to be expose to French more time. I’m not sure your son has a problem. I don’t know if he has been learning 4 languages since birth or not. But, i think when you introduced all the languages to him is a factor too. I think he’s absorving all the languages, but somehow it is taking him longer to absove all of them. We have a friend whose son has been learning 3 languages (2 asian languages and English). This boy understands English but does not speak much, even though they live in an English speaking country and he attends an English only preschool. Every child is different some learn very quickly and some don’t.


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I agree that your son does not sound confused at all, but rather, is contemplating what he will say before he says it.  Take into consideration the great precision with which he operates in these languages: teaching himself German, correcting his sister’s Dutch, learning a language without any audible accent, etc.  He seems to have a very detail-oriented personality and is clearly very intelligent; that could be affecting how others perceive his language-learning, including his teachers at school.  They may not be getting the best portrayal of his abilities because they aren’t seeing the full picture, but based on the above I’m sure he’s capable of completing the secondary schooling in French.

I agree that if you want him to truly become fluent in French, he will need much more exposure to it.  Consider speaking with the school about their recommendation to have him take secondary schooling in Dutch and see if they are flexible.  For example, maybe they could admit him to the secondary language course in French with the conditition that he receives extra tutoring or perhaps they could leave it open for him to try again in French next year, in which case he would have to catch up on his own.  Just some alternatives so he doesn’t lose the French completely. 

Good luck and congratulations on such an intelligent child!

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Thank you Becky,
i do think that the school doesn’t have a good portrayal of his abilities and disabilities. The problem remains that he is not performing in the class. Right now he is getting special need support because they think he has ADD. Personally I don’t think he has ADD. There are several people who intensively worked with ADD children, observed my son and they all say he doesn’t have ADD. The pediatrician tested him and she also said he doesn’t have ADD. A psychologist wherewith the school works tested him and said he has ADD. Now the school is treating him as ADD even though I told them about the pediatrician and the other ADD/ADHD teachers.
From this school’s point of view, they say it could be easier for him to have his mother tongue. They think that because he has a very poor short term memory, it costs him much more effort to perform in another language than his mother tongue.
My son is indeed getting too little exposure to French but nevertheless he is extremely fluent in it. He has a great vocabulary and can communicate with French speaking persons without a problem. His teacher was amazed that we cannot speak French. We have a French friend where he started to go every Wednesday afternoon and I am planning to put him in a French course as well. I do buy books for him in French as well.
It seems to me that he loves French. My husband speaks very little French and whenever he doesn’t want to do his homework, my husband speaks French with him and he does his homework in 10 min (could normally take 4hrs or more).
I have the idea that my son cannot motivate himself to do what he doesn’t want to do. I told the school that I am afraid that he is not motivated to take Dutch and that his problem would then be worse. Right now the school decided to leave him in the French class as second language because he’s not motivated to have Dutch instead.
Him not performing in the class concerns me very much because the school is planning to put him out of the school. He says that he finds everything boring but he really seems to have troubles with maths even though he says he loves it. Does anyone has ideas on how can I test whether he is too smart and that’s why finds it boring?
Thanks for any advice

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I also suggest that you get a copy of a “1000 words” type book in all of his langauges to keep around the house.

You all could make up stories in all his languages that use a certain vocabulary from the books. Such as a kitchen vocabulary story could be about a clumsy boys misadventures in the kitchen when he wanted to help his mom bake cookies in the oven, but instead just got in the way by knocking over pots, pans, lids and spilling sugar in the sink.
His mom told him to clean up with a mop, but he grabs a broom and knocks over the oil and flour, making the floor treacherous.

The End. You get the idea.

Playing these language oriented games could help him get his words out faster. Play games like memory (the cards that you turn over to reveal a picture) using only the vocabulary from one lang at a time.

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It does not sound like a problem with the languages. It sounds like you have a problem with the school possibly misdiagnosing your son and it does sound like your son may have some other underlying issue, ADD or not. I think you should strongly consider an assessment to figure out the exact problem. I also think you should try to complete the assessments before you speak to the school. You may be in better position if you bring official written assessments professionals and come seeking their help in properly addressing the issue.

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Thank you Nadia,

That’s exactly what I was thinking. I told the school that my son doesn’t have ADD and they got upset. I am afraid that they won’t help him because they are upset with me (they seem to be that unprofessional).
Right now, my son goes to a psychologist and he is doing his best to really find out what the problem is. So finally after meeting several doctors, this one seems to really do some effort instead of labeling my son with ADD right away. By October I should be able to know what the problem is.

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