Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kids on the Field: When your Kid Hates the Language

So, remember when I said you all need to think of this series as a conversation starter not as a "Liz knows oh so much about raising kids on the field?"  Yeah...this is a perfect post to keep that disclaimer in mind.

Ok, so if you haven't figured out yet, we have three boys.  One is our little professor, talked at a year (didn't walk until 17 months though!), he absorbs the world around him.  He was 4 when we left for language school and he did well with the all Spanish preschool program.

Our middle guy is our engineer.  This kid at a year was studying the baby gate to figure out how it worked and how he could get around it.  If I don't know where he is, most likely he's trying to construct a zipline between our mango trees.  He was 2 1/2 when we left for language school and struggled more with the all Spanish day care situation.

And then there is our baby, who I am pretty sure is say "Hiya" and "Hola" already at 13 months.

But our middle guy is the one who I am praying hard for these days in regards to the language.  He is just flat out frustrated and doesn't want to have anything to do with Spanish.  He is hating Sunday School right now because it's Spanish, he doesn't want to listen to Spanish music or TV and well, just pretty much shuts down.

So.  Help!!! We aren't trying to pressure him into it, but the kid does need to go to Sunday School.  And he needs to be able to function here because we live here and will for the foreseeable future.

So, how about you?  Have your kids gone through this?  What helped?  What didn't?  Thoughts on the issue of kids learning their host language?

Other posts in this series:
Cloth Diapers


  1. I think this is tough one, and I am very interested in the feedback. we're in our first month on the field, and so far my kids are reluctant to try the language at all (I speak it minimally). I've tried not to push them too hard beyond introducing themselves, but I know they could learn quickly if they were willing to try. We'll see what happens in the next few months. I'm wondering if lessons are a good idea or too much pressure. Thanks for bringing this topic up, Liz!

  2. Don't push him! Our children have all gone through a period like that with English. Pressure on them always made it much worse. Personally, I try to stay near them, ready to help, when they're feeling stressed about language. Although, I also try not to directly translate for them, because I also don't want them to learn to rely on that.

    Here's a very specific example of how I would like it to work. :-) In Sunday school in the states, if the teacher asked my child a question, and she understood, but answered in Russian to me, I would say, "Can you tell the teacher that you want the red one? You can just say 'red.'" But no pushing beyond that. If the child was feeling confident, she'd repeat. If not, the teacher heard what I said and got her answer. No real translating, though.

    The flip side of that is that they try much harder when I'm not around. But I think that may be because I've helped to build their confidence by staying close earlier on and whenever they felt stressed.

    I recently talked to another missionary mom, one who came to the field when her children were older. She said that with each one of them, they had to come to a point where they accepted the fact that they were here and that this is life. Before that, they were kind of in denial of everything, and that included refusing to speak the language. Each one did get to that point eventually, though. :-)

    Oh, and this is what I always say: relaxed playtime with other children is the best language help I know of!

    1. Phyllis! I really like this idea of being near them when they are feeling stressed about this. They both went to day camp this year and their counselor was an American friend of ours who speaks both English and Spanish and Elliot did tons better...because it was a good hybrid, not just all maybe I'll get to hang out in the kindergarten Sunday school class this week :)

  3. Liz, I agree with what Phyllis said. You know that our oldest is completely against the idea of anything Spanish. And the more he feels pressured to speak, the more he shuts down. So, we've decided to stop talking about it and let him realize for himself that practicing and speaking a 2nd language isn't some sort of punishment, but is necessary and useful. The less we emphasize it, the more we see him busting out random vocab here and there. And yes, inter-language play is the best! I too struggle with this topic but have come to a place where I have to just trust in the Lord's timing. There's nothing I can do about it!

    1. yeah, I am working on letting go of it...I just feel so bad for him, because he gets so frustrated and angry about it...

  4. I feel like I dont want to push my kids.
    My children are 7,5,3 and 1.
    The oldest goes to language once a week and cries every time. Each week I think, should I make her do this?
    The next younger two have picked up language here and there and speak it to strangers or friends as they would in english (sometimes shy and sometimes not)

    we have been here 1 year and my oldest has pretty much no language. We are in this city for a short time longer (maybe 6months max) and then we are moving to a situation without any english speaking people.
    Should I push her more here where she can use both if needed so that she can make friends there?
    Should I hold off and hope she picks it up there?

    I have heard its hard for girls to play without language and that 7 is a hard age since the language is established but still developing so then the comprehension for a seconed is limited.

    thoughts on this?
    I'd love advice!

  5. I agree with the no-pressure approach, particularly if you've been on the field less than 6 months! We put our boy into a pre-school for a month on the tail end of the school year after being here just 1 month, and it was a mistake! The poor kid was riddled with anxiety.

    He was ready for it a year later.

    I think friendships and playdates are the best. What worked for me was getting together often with mothers and their kids.

    Also I think children's learning quickly can be a myth...They learn well, but it takes them a while too because they don't have our adult strategies. Just my opinion. :-)

    1. I remember you saying that before Olive...and how your husband was in school for a whole year in the states before he really understood. It's good to keep in mind...

  6. so, semi success today with Sunday school!! He fought going, but last night we had talked about what happens that he likes and gave him key vocabulary words and he used them all on his own! I also went with him and sat with him the whole class. It was much better than it has been, but we still have a long way to go. I also talked with our pastor's wife today about it and she prayed for Elliot, that God would open his ears and his mouth to Spanish. So sweet! And I do believe there is a spiritual element to this too! thanks for all the advice ladies!!

  7. we put our kids in local schools and had lots of people in the house that spoke french - but we never required or demanded it. some of our children preferred that we do their homework in french. others didn't, but were clearly learning the language and communicating at school. their teachers at school were also excellent about not pressuring them to talk. eventually, their desire to communicate with friends and with people they liked won them over, even our most reluctant children.

    i also translated/helped in some situations the way phyllis described.