How can I help my child at home?Extensive research has shown that it takes 3-5 years for students to reach oral English proficiency, and 4-7 years for them to achieve academic English proficiency. Click here to read the article. Therefore, your child will be using a lot of energy at school trying to learn so many new things. At home, your child can finally “be himself.” He is with the people who love him and know him. His behavior may be difficult. Many of our international parents report that their children are tired and angry when they come home. They may act disrespectfully and not want to help at home or do homework. This is usually because of stress. It is very difficult to learn quickly in a new language.
Stages of Cultural Adjustment
Most language learners go through stages of cultural adjustment. Here is a summary of the stages of cultural adjustment for both adults and children, including some simple stories about the changes in behaviors, feelings and attitudes you may experience.
- The “WOW!” Stage: “I used to be scared, but now I’m not!”
- An eight-year-old glowed with excitement. He chattered in his home language. He was delighted with his new colored markers, the books, the gym and the school lunch. So many children wanted to be his special “buddy,” his helper in this new school. His parents reported that he was happy at school and that he had many friends. They were surprised and relieved. St. Louis was such a nice place!
- The “OH, NO!” Stage: “I used to be a giant; now I am turtle.”
- The child looked around. Everyone looked different. The food was different. No one understood him because he didn’t speak English. The teacher had a big smile but made no sense. In his own country, he was a successful student. Now he felt like a baby. He couldn’t write. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t even play with anyone. He was sad and angry. He cried when no one could see him. He began to hit other students. He refused to work. His teacher and classmates were upset with his behavior. He told his parents he wanted to go home. He wanted to return to his old life, to his old school, to his old country. He missed his grandparents and his friends. They were feeling the same way. The challenges seemed too difficult. They felt that they could never learn English well enough. They never could make friends. They could never be successful.
- The “OK, BUT NOT GREAT” Stage: “I used to be lost, but now I have a map.”
- The child began to do some of the classwork. He was able to speak in two or three word phrases. He continued to use gestures or drawings to communicate. His teachers and friends helped him. He found he could understand the directions and even distinguish some words and sentences. He knew the class routine. He was still sad but less angry. He was becoming more comfortable in his new school culture.
- The “I AM HERE” Stage: “I used to be a stranger; now I have friends on two continents.”
- Now he had friends. He spoke, read and wrote well enough to join in the class activities. He welcomed the newest student to his class and volunteered to be her “buddy.” He showed her around the school. He showed her where the supplies were in the classroom. He told her when lunch was scheduled. He had settled into being part of the learning community. He shared stories of his homeland and his new life. He talked in both languages. He and his family felt comfortable and more balanced between their two homes, two languages, two different ways of living.
- The “BACK HOME?” Stage: “I used to be a child in one land; now I know more. I used to study in one language; now I have four!”
- One more “stage” of transition often occurs when the family returns to their home country. They expect to have no confusion or “shock” because, after all, it is “home.” Yet, a similar confusion and a similar “homesickness” period may happen. It too will pass. The student and family readjust to being bicultural, bilingual and at home in two (or more) places. Hurrah!
Should we speak English at home?
We encourage our international families to continue to use their native language at home. Research points to the benefits of bilingualism for all children (and adults).