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I am am mother of an almost 4 year old girl. We spoke 2 languages using OPOL system since her birth. The family moved to Germany when she was 2 year old. Since none of us is fluent in German, we continued to use our system in a new country. My daughter speaks my and my husband’s language quite well. She still makes some grammatical mistakes (uses wrong prepositions and mixes grammatical genders), but we can see her progress and the native speakers of these two languages understand her well. She is very talkative at home. She started to visit Kindergarten this fall and I can see she has a large vocabulary in German. She doesn’t really mix the languages and if I ask her how something is called in Kindergarten she knows almost everything. Sometimes when she plays, I can also hear she can construct some sentences in German, but I cannot judge how well she can really speak. The problem is, she refuses to speak in Kindergarten. I spoke to her teacher and she told me that she also has a feeling that she already knows a lot of German (when she says something, it is not so bad at all), but she just doesn’t want to speak. How can I encourage my daughter to speak more German? Should I consult a speech therapist?
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Hi, Barbara. From reading about your and your daughter’s experience, it seems to me that there isn’t the need to be concerned, because as you mention she apparently knows German well enough, but is more so refusing to use it. It could be a shyness unrelated to her linguistic competence, you don’t mention much about her temperament. It could easily be a phase. My partner refused to answer his teachers in grade school and when his mother went in for conference, she asked what they called him ‘Bob’ and she said, ‘No wonder, his name is Robert.’ That was that, no extra-lingual stimulation going on in that situation. My daughter when she was younger (4.5 yrs., Latvian-mother, English-(American)father, Chinese(simplified Mandarin)-school) would often not answer people when she was spoken to when she was younger, and there was concern by those people that maybe she had issues. She didn’t. She just didn’t want to listen or answer. But in an environment where the minority language was spoken (Latvian in America) it was a concern or point of interest, does the child speak (because too many here don’t)? She did speak and does still very well. Before consulting a therapist, I might suggest inviting one or two schoolgirls (and mothers) over to play. This way she will get some practice in her home environment, in which she undoubtedly feels brave and secure. Secondly, she will then have these little relationships to draw from in school and perhaps she will open up more verbally while there. But it sounds as if, really, things are good with her competence in all three languages, because of your hard work… They are such unique individuals, aren’t they?