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Old 27.02.2018, 09:28
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Misery in the local school -- what next?

Hello all.

I thought I would reach out to the collective for some help. We arrived in Switzerland (near Zurich) during the summer and my 11 year old boy has been attending the local school primary school. DaZ classes and teachers have been great, but the whole experience of the local school has been a misery for him -- he feels like the odd man out, doesn't understand whats going on, teachers are speaking 1/2 swiss german, math is well behind where he was in the UK, French (which he has a leg up on) is taught in German, and he is bored, frustrated, isolated, and feeling like a daily failure. Did any of you experience this? What did you do?

All helpful comments greatly appreciated!!
Thanks.
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Old 27.02.2018, 09:53
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

What did you expect from a local school... the teacher and children switching to English specifically for him? To put an 11-year old into a school that he doesn't speak the language of is of course going to make him feel different and isolated, that should never have been in doubt. For him it will be a gruelling couple/few years to learn the local language fluently and will undoubtedly cause him to fall behind the other students unless he gets a lot of additional tuition, which will in turn possibly make him even more frustrated. There is rarely a quick win to putting a kid into a foreign school.

Maybe it would be clearer if you could list what you expect the school to be doing and what you imagined would happen?
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:00
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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What did you expect from a local school... the teacher and children switching to English specifically for him? To put an 11-year old into a school that he doesn't speak the language of is of course going to make him feel different and isolated, that should never have been in doubt. For him it will be a gruelling couple/few years to learn the local language fluently and will undoubtedly cause him to fall behind the other students unless he gets a lot of additional tuition, which will in turn possibly make him even more frustrated. There is rarely a quick win to putting a kid into a foreign school.

Maybe this topic would make more sense if you list what you expect the school to be doing and what you imagined would happen?
try to be kind richdog and show some emotional intelligence!

the OP is reaching out for help and suggestions and not some tough medicine. when you have kids you will be a little more sensitive.
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:03
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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Hello all.

I thought I would reach out to the collective for some help. We arrived in Switzerland (near Zurich) during the summer and my 11 year old boy has been attending the local school primary school. DaZ classes and teachers have been great, but the whole experience of the local school has been a misery for him -- he feels like the odd man out, doesn't understand whats going on, teachers are speaking 1/2 swiss german, math is well behind where he was in the UK, French (which he has a leg up on) is taught in German, and he is bored, frustrated, isolated, and feeling like a daily failure. Did any of you experience this? What did you do?

All helpful comments greatly appreciated!!
Thanks.
Hi there. It’s a case of bravery and perseverance. The additional language lessons the school (should) provide will start his road to mastering the local language and he will get up to speed pretty quickly but there isn’t a fix beyond helping outside as much as you can (speak German if possible at home) and giving lots of confidence boosting messages that he will soon understand and will have a new skill to his bow.

And as you point out in areas such as maths he’s ahead so when the language ticks into place he will be coasting in that sucject while the others catch up.

Our daughter went to the local school and yes for th first six months it was tough, but in the end it’s so worth it. She speaks French now truly like a local while mum and dad still stagger on with poor pronunciation.

Tell him to keep his chin up and persevere.
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:03
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

There’s many an 11-year old in British and Canadian schools feeling much the same!

It was a massive change for your son, but kids are resilient sponges and with your support and our old friend, time, he will fit right in there.

There can be advantages to being the odd man out. I went to school with the only American in west Lancashire: at 16 he milked his difference for all it was worth and gained a huge circle of friends both in and out of school. I met him again when he was 60. Sadly he recounted his school days in Lancs were the best years of his life...
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:08
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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Hello all.

I thought I would reach out to the collective for some help. We arrived in Switzerland (near Zurich) during the summer and my 11 year old boy has been attending the local school primary school. DaZ classes and teachers have been great, but the whole experience of the local school has been a misery for him -- he feels like the odd man out, doesn't understand whats going on, teachers are speaking 1/2 swiss german, math is well behind where he was in the UK, French (which he has a leg up on) is taught in German, and he is bored, frustrated, isolated, and feeling like a daily failure. Did any of you experience this? What did you do?

All helpful comments greatly appreciated!!
Thanks.
Have a chat with the teacher. At age 11, he's at the upper end of kids picking up the language quickly and, compounded to this, he's old enough to feel his inadequacy.

Most of the teachers can speak at least rudimentary English because they have to teach it so maybe the teacher can help your son out when he is obviously stuck. Yes, it's bit extra for the teacher but they are used to having to deal with an array of kids with different needs (not just linguistic).
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:16
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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try to be kind richdog and show some emotional intelligence!

the OP is reaching out for help and suggestions and not some tough medicine. when you have kids you will be a little more sensitive.
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:18
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

Talk to the teacher, ask if there is anything that they can suggest.

Also talk to the child. Explain that you understand that it is tough going, offer your emotional support, and also accept that he's going through this through no fault of his own (and tell him that). He's 11, the injustice of it all is probably a major concern. Ask him what you can do to help. You can take the "I know it's a bit hard, but you're a smart kid, and I know you'll be stronger for it" line, but those are just words.

How many friends has he made? His language skills will improve significantly if he's embedded in a circle of German speaking friends (even if they're only practicing their English), and he will fell less isolated.
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:19
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

Apparently foreign children are entitled to have free language lessons. I know it's just a drop in the ocean but still.
Also, here in Zurich, newcomers at different age can go to a special school where the focus is mostly on language and then, if they deal well with it, they go to local schools closer to their home. At this school all kids are foreign so I believe they share experience. It's sort of an adjustment at different levels but it counts for school (a child doesn't need to repeat a year).
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:23
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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Old 27.02.2018, 10:50
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

Have you looked at eventually moving him to Gymnasium? This may be especially important if his math's knowledge is ahead of local school's program - loosing motivation in this age is very easy.
Gymnasiums along Raemistrasse have got well tested enrollment tracks for foreign students. However, for entrance test some hours with private tutor may be required. There are private teachers around who specialize on "preparing for Gimmi". Not cheap... But worked perfectly for both my daughters
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:55
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

You probably can't do much about the language directly, but maybe a private tutor (ideally a local high school neighnour looking for cash in hand) could help with the school workload and deeper understanding.

You could probably help with the integration - make him the guy to be friends with by having schoolmates round for whatever is cool for an 11 year old (probably video games and popcorn/hotdogs). You can't buy friends - but you can buy/bribe enough interaction to help with the process of making friends.

Also English is cool for Swiss kids - get him to help friends with that.
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Old 27.02.2018, 10:56
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

Is he into sport, football maybe?

Get him joined up to a local club ASAP. If he loves a sport like football he doesn't need language to communicate and can get stuck into being apart of a team, boost his self esteem and help him not feel so isolated.

He will find his feet.. he just needs a helping hand. Ring the Gemeinde as they will have a list of possible clubs he could join. Talk to his teacher too, tell her how he feels.
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Old 27.02.2018, 11:41
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

You only came in the summer ... it does take longer I'm afraid! Especially for the shy ones. As his German and in particular his Swiss German improve it should get easier. After 6 months your son is still in the shallow region of the language acquisition curve. If he hates feeling the odd one out then the Swiss German will be important: encourage him to be brave about using it, even in small ways. If the group he's with keep switching to German German for his benefit, that reinforces the feeling of being different.

In hindsight the single most useful thing for my son, who was a bit younger when we came here and is quite far along the shyness spectrum, would have been if we could have got him interested in playing football (impossible). Or Unihockey is very popular around here. If he's outdoorsy, how about the Pfadi? I.e. Scouts? No direct experience - but around here, the boys who are members seem to be a nice bunch (or rather, have grown into nice young men...).
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Old 27.02.2018, 12:58
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

Coming here with a child aged 11y old is hard because next year he will have to decide if he wants to take the gimi test or not. and this test is based on German and Math. It is not impossible but he will have to work hard and make friends.
The good thing however is that at that age most kids are more comfortable with speaking English I noticed. I saw that with my son's friends. I noticed that they are not shy anymore to speak English with me and their understanding is also much better. So, tell your son to be brave, tell him to ask his friends to do like a tandem, he speaks to them in English and they answer in German, see also if you can find a teacher to give him support lesson if the school teacher doesn't provide any. Encourage him to watch cartoons in German, it helps too.
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Old 27.02.2018, 13:59
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

I feel for you, my children were a few years younger when we moved over but it was a hard time.
Not the weather for it at the moment, but do you live somewhere where children play out? My children seemed to learn a lot of swiss german playing out with younger kids, rollerblading, skateboarding, football etc.
Do you speak German yourself? Joining a village club like the Turnverein can be a good way to help the whole family integrate and show your son you're making an effort too.
My friend's son who's a similar age, not sporty but good at maths, found chess club a great place to make friends and increase his confidence.
For Scouts you can go to Pfadi or Cevi (linked to YMCA), they run lots of residential trips and my children found them to be very inclusive and friendly and are now enjoying doing leadership programmes.

Good luck!
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Old 27.02.2018, 15:03
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

I really feel for you and for your son. It's a very tricky age to start school here.

When my daughter was in the fourth class two boys joined with no German at all. They had each other, which was a good support, although I think in the end it also made it harder for them to really concentrate on the German.

Even so, by the end of the sixth class they were both pretty fluent, and able to comfortably go on to the Sek with no problems. One even tried the Gymi test, but more for the experience of it.

I agree with the others who have said find an activity or activities outside of school. This way he can both widen his circle of friends and get more exposure to German.

I would see the fact that maths and other things are below his current level as a positive, as he can focus more on the language. It will happen but he can't expect it to happen straight away, which is tough but just the way it is.

As for the Swiss-German in class, this is a tough one. The teachers are supposed to use High German but many don't. There might be other kids for whom this is an issue, too.

I'm assuming he's in the fifth class, in which case he has another year and a half before high school. I wouldn't even consider anything to do with the Gymnasium at this stage. Just focus on the language. He can try apps like Duolingo as a way to build his confidence, and for straight out learning of vocab Quizlet is amazing. He should also have homework club after school and I would take full advantage of this, as, at least for my daughter, it was her teacher who was always there, so it's a good opportunity to get a bit of extra help.

Good luck!
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Old 27.02.2018, 16:19
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

My kids entered local school at 10 & 12 years old. The first year was tough for them as well. The 6 to 9 months stage is probably the toughest. They are expected to understand quite a lot by now, yet don't understand so much, which is very frustrating. For us things really improved around the 1 year mark.
The thing with maths is, that he may well be ahead, but text based math problems will be difficult for him, because of the language. And in grade 5/6 so much of maths has to do with language as well. With French, it really depends on the teacher. Have a chat with him/her to ask if, when he/she asks for translations, he can translate to English instead. Because really, they should not even be doing translations into German. We had this problem, too. When I actually brought this issue to the attention of the teacher, her testing improved. I had to help her understand that the test she was doing was actually a German test for my son, not a French test, and why, she only then realized this.
Has he made any friends? Joining extra curricular activities is probably the most important thing to really connect socially, as well as for improving language skills.

My daughter refused to speak Swiss German for almost 3 years, but now it is finally happening, and she can also understand pretty much all of it. It does complicate the language learning issue. Again, speak to the teacher to make him/her aware.
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Old 27.02.2018, 16:41
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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Do you speak German yourself? Joining a village club like the Turnverein can be a good way to help the whole family integrate and show your son you're making an effort too.
Thanks, Rayne, I think this is excellent advice.

@CANbbp, you may very well find that your balance on that tightrope of looking out for your children on one hand, and letting them make their own way on the other, will become easier the more German you speak, read and write, and the more Swiss-German you understand.

I'd like to encourage you to get cracking and do your own German homework daily and visibly. Live out the integration you'd like your children to experience. As they Go Out There each day to learn, they might feel better knowing that you understand them because you are working hard on the same issue.

Be their example of the one who labels the furniture on Post-ist, in German, or carries around a little stack of flash-cards, or has downloaded a language app that you actually use while waiting anywhere. At least a few times a week, do a family vocab session. If anyone amongst you is competitive, that might be a motivation.

Demonstrate to the children that when you speak to strangers, or someone at an enquiries desk, or the doctor's receptionist, and most especially any parents and teachers you meet, you always begin in German, trying it as far as you can get. Doing this helps to shift the mind-set that "they" ought to be speaking to any of you in English. After all, for some, English may be only their third or fourth language. When a letter comes from school, face it squarely as a challenge, pick out any words you recognise, and then look up the others and try to learn some right away, before resorting to Google translate (a good second step).

One day, you'll step out of Migros and suddenly smile as you realise that the entire interaction took place in German! That's a really, really good day.
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Old 27.02.2018, 19:20
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Re: Misery in the local school -- what next?

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I'd like to encourage you to get cracking and do your own German homework daily and visibly. Live out the integration you'd like your children to experience. As they Go Out There each day to learn, they might feel better knowing that you understand them because you are working hard on the same issue.
OP, have them help you with your lessons. You're virtually guaranteed to be the slower learner, enjoy the effect on their self-esteem.
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