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Old 11.03.2011, 20:48
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Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Hi I am after some advice...
We have been here just over a year and everything is going fine (apart from the odd hissy fit on my part) My eldest daughter has just turned 5 and has been in Kindi since last September, she seems to be coping well and has many friends at school and generally speaking is enjoying life here.
Last month we had a parents evening with her teacher and all seemed well, she is interacting well with all the other children and progressing with her 'learning'
It was mentioned that she seemed to be a passive learner - understanding what was going on and instructions but not yet speaking any German. I came away with the impression that this was OK and it would come in time.
She refuses to speak any German with me or her Dad to the point of screaming and holding her hands over her ears. So I have been quite gentle with feeding her the few words/sentences I do know, but even then she hates me talking in German to her. I thought this was because she wants to keep it seperate from her school language ond not want to mix the two.
But on Monday when I picked her up from Mittagtish her teacher was quite aggravated with me, she spoke in German to me -she knows I dont speak it well, but I got the idea of what she was saying - that its becoming 'unacceptable' that my daughter refuses to speak to any of the teachers, and she also said children (but Im not so convinced on that) she will not even say please or thankyou, goodbye/hello ect, she just smiles and mumbles in English.

She was also shy and didnt speak much in her Australian school but after 8/9 months she was, and I was hoping this would be the same.
Since monday, she has been miserable and crying, doesnt want to go to school ect. I tried to suggest that she make an effort to speak to the teachers even if its just a word, I have tried kind and gentle encouragement, making it into a game even hash and angry 'we live in a German speaking country you have to try' tack but nothing seems to work. She is being so stubborn and just flatly refuses to speak it.
Tonight she wanted some milk before bed so we tried- do you know how to say that in German? can you teach me? but all I got was I know but Im not saying it, it ended with a hysteric crying fit and wanting to go back home where they speak English.

Can anyone offer any advice? I just dont know what else to try it seems her teachers patience is running out and they are taking a bit of a zero tolerance with her this week and she is so stubborn...

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!
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Old 11.03.2011, 20:58
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Elective mutism (chosing not to speak) can be a conscious decision, or it can be an anxiety response...

Given that she already had a history of being reluctant to speak/shy, it might be worth speaking to the Paediatrician about it.

Can you make an appointment to speak to the teacher when your daughter is not around, and really ask them about their experience, and what they suggest you do about it, and how they are managing it in the classroom and social settings.

One thing that definitely does *not* work is pressuring the child. She knows how to do it, there's some other reason why she is chosing not to use what she knows, and it could be a social reason, or an anxiety reason, a shyness thing, or linked to some negative experience that she had at some point...

It may seem a bit drastic, but the three children that I have met who were 'electively mute' - all needed to see a child psychiatrist for diagnosis and appropriate therapy...

I would be very wary of the teachers trying to 'force' her to talk if it's not a 'stubbornness thing' but rather a 'social anxiety' issue - it was really really awkward for the children that I have observed - two of them definitely had social anxiety, and the other one was the younger sister and she had a 'silence pact' with the older one...
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Old 11.03.2011, 20:59
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

I really feel for you and your daughter on this. Unfortunately, I can't offer any advice on your plight but I'm sure there are other EFers who can and will. In the meantime, take heart and stay strong in your resolve to find a solution that works well for all of you.
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:08
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

This must be hard for you!

My child is younger so I don't have any specific advice for this age group, but one thing did strike me when reading your post. I understand that you want your daughter to start speaking German, but maybe it's better that you keep speaking just English to her. She seems to want that stability, and to know that her family did not change (including language), even if everything else is so different. I'm sure she understands it well enough by now that she doesn't need your help with German, she needs your help in transitioning toward thinking it's ok to speak it.

From what you said, she seems to be quite shy. You don't want to get into the situation where she's digging in her heels and completely refuses to cooperate. To get her to cooperate, you need help from the school. Just because they say not speaking German is unacceptable doesn't mean the problem will magically get solved. What do the higher-ups in the school say? You heard from this one teacher, and she could have had a tough day... you need a plan to help your daughter accept change, accept German, and forcing her will be counterproductive.

Have you observed her in play-dates with any of her German-speaking classmates? Oftentimes kids will learn from other kids, even things that they refuse to do with adults.

Sorry this is a bit disjointed, but I would say, speak to more teachers in the school. They must have dealt with this before. Ask their advice and make a plan together with them. I hope your daughter weathers this rough stage soon!
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:08
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Since you said that you do not speak German well, I am wondering (perhaps you've shared this info before, I'm sorry, I do not recall), does your husband speak German? Is that his "mother tongue"?

One thing that may help is IF he does speak German, have him speak so at home but you maintain speaking English. Perhaps (and I'm no child psychologist by any means) your daughter is feeling like she somehow needs to forget speaking English and only switch. Maybe she needs some reinforcement that is really is awesome to speak BOTH.

Also, perhaps get with some of the other mothers and have a play date with some of the other children your daughter is more inclined to play with, and make sure YOU are there to observe. Perhaps a classroom full of students who maybe making fun of her accent is making her (more) shy and reluctant to use the unfamiliar language. If you give her some opportunity outside the class to spend play time with her friends, maybe she'll open up a bit more also.

Dunno really about all of that stuff, but probably worth a try. Good luck!
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:18
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

1) if you are not a native speaker, don't try and teach her

2) if her teachers are moaning about it, tell her (Edit: her = teacher, not your child... obviously) to HTFU or go back to school herself

3) if they are still moaning about it, change school (if you can...)

4) don't try to force the issue with your child

Our - now 6 year old - did not speak a word of German for 2 years while at a bi-lingual school (German-English).

The teachers were excellent and didn't bat an eyelid, but continued to speak and instruct him in German.

He's now pretty fluent and is in a fully German kindergarten.
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:24
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

It is a very very common 'problem' with kids that age (and older) in a foreign country- maybe made worse by your child's natural shyness. Carlos advice is spot on - good luck - take all the pressure off, and it WILL happen.

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Old 11.03.2011, 21:28
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Do you think she's resisting in hopes that it will force you to move back to an English-speaking country i.e. home? Perhaps this is her way of voicing that she's missing her previous home/life/friends? Maybe once the move feels more permanent/long-term, she'll relent?

Mine still doesn't like speaking German with me, though she and I are both relatively fluent. She really picked her speaking up on the playground after school and with other kids when there was no adult to translate. They taught each other.

Hang in there, I believe it gets better with time.
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:28
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Yes, the child is only 5, they absorb like sponges even though they dont show it. Give it a couple of years and your daughter will be speaking with the best of 'em.

Come to some arrangement with the teaching staff ideally. Moving the child from the school is last resort as it may upheave the child unintentionally, unless something unpleasant is going on there for her (i.e. not just not engaging in discussion, more like is the teacher / other students being aggressive toward her).
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:28
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Definitely looks like it's anxiety related. I wonder if she's conscious of how much better everyone at school is at speaking German, and so feels inadequate as a result?

What if she could be put in charge of teaching someone younger than her (a younger sibling/cousin?) a few German words and phrases? Preferably with no adults in the room (so she doesn't feel self-conscious about being overheard). Some children (and I was one of these) hate the idea of not being perfect at something and don't like to be seen to be struggling with new skills. I hated the idea of my family hearing me play the violin badly, and so wouldn't practice it unless the house was empty!

Also, at 5 she's probably still at the age where Mummy is perfect and knows everything, and so realising that your German isn't perfect either probably rocks her world (in a bad way).

What about an MP3 player with some really simple songs and nursery rhymes that she could sing along to. You know how most people forget that when they have headphones on, other people can still hear them singing. Just make sure you never react to her while she's doing this (unless she wants to get your attention, of course).
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:30
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Thats a good idea also, perhaps encourage your daughter to spend more play time with young german speaking friends.
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:41
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

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It is a very very common 'problem' - maybe made worse by your child's natural shyness. Carlos advice is spot on - good luck - take all the pressure off, and it WILL happen.
This is a mirror image of our son. He's exactly the same. If one of our german/Swiss friends speak to him in german he hides his face!

I think it's a shyness thing and the teacher is being a probably making an issue out if it and making it worse. she'll speak when she's confident enough

Just give reassurance and tell the teacher to not put pressure on your daughter. Its the teachers job to help, not complain to you.
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:53
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

it sounds like the little one feels a lot of pressure to speak and shes just not ready- shes just five and i assume has had a big change in moving from her home, friends and family and language. if it took her time to feel comfy in her native language school, it will surely take her longer with german.

in the meantime, a few things i would do as a teacher and a mommy is leave the language outside of the house for now, anyway. i would think that she is probably overwhelmed with the focus on language so let home be something of a comforting place for now- after all it is even a new home so that needs to be established into a safe and familiar place.

i would explain to the teacher that you are trying your best, and i would suggest that you take german classes to show by example. dont practice it at home with your little one unless she asks but do it and talk about it to others and let her see you are trying to learn. also offer to get her private lessons outside of school if you can and try to find someone to make it fun, if you can even just hire a teenager from your area to play games with her in german, that way she sees the language can be relaxed and fun and it may put her at ease with it.

also, offer to get her other lessons, if you can afford it, of something she likes-ballet, piano, whatever- but in german. best way to learn a language at that age is when you are learning something else, in a new language.

i would try to take a step back just a bit from school and see if things cool down at all. leave the teacher and your daughter to figure it out themselves for a bit , shes only 5 afterall and see how things are after a month of letting go just a bit more, then decide whether you want to be more active or not- i would definitely tell you to be active in the near future, but it sounds like your daughter may need a bit of space and time to open up to german and her teacher is frustrated- let them figure it out for a while and see what happens before getting into mother bear mode-we have all done it before, so that one comes from experience the best thing for my son was having to learn french for social reasons, playing with friends, etc and not pushing him to learn faster or slower but taking lessons and learning parallel to him...

good luck!
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Old 11.03.2011, 21:57
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Thanks fro all your advice, none of us speak German - I try but admittedly im hopeless

She has a few German friends, but I 'think' she has taught them to speak English with her! she has been to one play date with a German girl who I know doesnt speak English and her mother said they they spoke their own languages to each other but even her daughter was picking up English and responding to her, she was really pleased - but that doesn't help me much!

Her best friend here is actually Italian, they are thick as thieves at school but she can speak a lot more german, even then my daughter just perseveres with English, works for them but doesn't help her really.

I think I will go and see her main teacher, a part of me doesnt want to make it much of an issue, she is only 5 and it is only Kindi, but the other half doesn't want her to 'labelled' by the school either.
The school is very Swiss - meaning there are only 3 non native speakers, her, her Italian friend and a boy from Poland, so Im concerned that she is going to be made the problem child (she is already the last one to be walking to school by herself, apparently according to the school its a bigger 'problem' for the English/American parents)

Im not sure the reason for all this, but cutting her nose of to spite her face is very common for my daughter in lots of situations, like I said she is stubborn!!
Im sure if i got a child physiologist involved she wouldn't speak with her either!
I dont think she wants to be back in Australia, she has said she would like to visit but she does consider Switzerland home

When I do say words to her she will try to correct my pronunciation (even when she has got it slightly wrong) So maybe she did have a bad experience with a kid laughing at her or something and now thinks 'bugger the lot of you!' wouldn't supprise me, she even told her teacher once that she had been sick in the toiltets so I woud be called to fetch her (she told me later she wasn't) this was a few weeks after she told the teacher that she wouldnt be going to mittagtish as I was picking her up (I wasn't) So then I had to come fetch her
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Old 11.03.2011, 22:20
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Here's my $ 0.02. If you don't normally speak German at home, stick to your English, kids typecast everyone in their little worlds, so if you change, you're taking away a given and that's frustrating to them.

I believe that she's not only learning German at Kindergarten/School, but probably has a far greater vocabulary than you'd ever believe. She's just not going to be forced into using it upon demand from adults. As long as she's getting on with the other little people I'd stop worrying to be honest. If she's learning, then some of the language is obviously permeating through.

My daughter refuses to speak English even though it's the only language I've ever spoken to her in. It's almost a given routine, I speak in English and she just answers in Swiss-German. Apart from repeating certain comedy lines or pop songs, she refuses to speak English, even though she's getting good grades at school. Go figure.
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Old 11.03.2011, 22:21
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

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The school is very Swiss - meaning there are only 3 non native speakers, her, her Italian friend and a boy from Poland, so Im concerned that she is going to be made the problem child (she is already the last one to be walking to school by herself, apparently according to the school its a bigger 'problem' for the English/American parents)
Argh....Ok, so we have a kindy who is getting mad at the wrong party, putting pressure on the little one, coz I cannot see otherwise why would a 5yr old refuse to go play with a bunch of other small kids, kids don't need language to be happy and play. The teachers push your little one so much that she resists. She feels the failure, even a kid who does not understand properly knows intuitively. It's a phase, though, she is absorbing so much and processing. Just because she does not whip out some sentences and staff is getting frustrated since they aren't patient enough, does not make her immune to learning. It is impossible to be immune to learning, btw.

I don't really think it is selective mutiny, since multilingual kids absorb for months and months, before they let a tiny little peep out of their mouths. She feels the social isolation, though, the fact she is disappointing the teachers, etc etc, so she clamps up. Our trilingual didn't talk either, nada, for months and months, but all we heard from the teachers was positive feedback. It was their support that made our kid progress, your school shows the fact they aren't used to dealing with foreign kids. Our child was silent too, however it was not portrayed negatively and every little step forward was taken personally by the staff, as their own thing to deal with, not a thing to pawn over to us. I would have a word with them, I would ask if there is an option to leave your child out of the school for a week or two, for everyone to find a good, suitable solution, since your child is definitely not coping well and is not receiving attention she needs. And let's wait what they come up with (I would provide a ped note, she can take a tiny sabatical from being traumatized). Your child is not ill, maladjusted or handicapped, the staff just does not know their pedagogical theory and does not show experience. I would remain super positive, but firm with the school. I would also let them know in an indirect, nice way that you are discussing the matter with ped, pediatrical psych, some other places, just so they know you are getting filled in on all possible ways to approach this situation and aren't waiting for what they are going to figure out.

If you search through the forum, you will find handy threads on multilingual kids, there is bunch of practical info in them.
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Old 11.03.2011, 22:25
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

If I remember my university courses right, it can take an eternity. But she IS learning German. I would ask the teacher to agree with the child how to say thank you and please and bye without a word of German and calm the teacher down by saying (vaguely or seriously, as you wish) that you are on the case with a psychologist. The child will learn politeness up to local standards without clashing with the language issue. When the child will speak, she will transfer the rules of politeness over to language. If the school requires the opinion of a pedopsychologist, just go and see one. Otherwise, just wait and do not speak a language that is foreign to you to a child. The child finds that ridiculous. Rightly so.
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Old 11.03.2011, 22:47
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

Musicchick's reply seems to me to be really on the money .. and I speak from the position of currently having quite a lot of experience in this problem myself.

My eldest son moved to CH when he was almost 4. He went to kinski at 4 yrs and 8 months. For 6 months he only seemed to say ja and nein. It broke my heart at the time. He is a wildly loud and exuberant personality and all of sudden he just sat silently in circle time and watched what was going on. But our teachers were very relaxed (even about the shaking hands and saying good morning and goodbye when I explained that in the UK we just didn't do this so it was strange to him, and yes, he did genuinely forget to do it). And at home, I stuck resolutely to English. You can remove the home pressure by sticking to English and the school pressure needs to be dealt with as many of the previously excellent posts have suggested. I do not know what mad things I would suspected or done if I had not had the gentle support of his two teachers saying "don't worry, give him time".

Now 4 years on, he is getting top marks in German and has moved up a class and is still getting top marks amongst children 18 months older than him, despite the fact that he does not speak a word of German at home. And I watch him play with his Swiss friends and the exuberant noisy child I know (and most of the time love) is well and truly back in residence.

So just when I thought it was time to heave a sigh of relief, along comes little brother who now, at the age of 3, barely speaks a word. Again, I am getting all worked up and upset and now realise how good my eldest sons teachers were at giving me reassurance. It is very clear that the 3 year old is feeling pressure (yes from me) to talk, and is resisting. I am trying to stop myself and slowly over the last few months we are noticing some improvement, and he has even started speaking odd words in French and German (which is strange as we never speak German at home, husband is French so he does hear some French). Not that this part of the story is directly relevant but just wanted to illustrate the very strong link between stress and pressure to perform and the actual performance. But I also know how very very hard it is not to feel that stress as a parent and not to pass it on to your child.

But there have been some brilliant suggestions in this thread, so I am sure you are going to see your way through this.

BTW, eldest son started to slowly speak German during his first spring at kinski and by the start of the second year was doing well. It didn't come quickly, more like steadily and surely over the course of a few months. Take heart.
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Old 11.03.2011, 22:56
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

That's exactly it. You will know you are dealing with good teachers when instead of panicking parents, they will actually go the extra mile to reassure parents, since they know children need tlc at home, not another school and drill and feeling of incompetence. Happy, calm parents will result in a confident child who will, sooner or later, speak. They need loads of praise, not frowning teacher who assess kid's linguistic skills based on their politness/impolitness/saying hello/good bye. Nobody's initial language troubles ever resulted in somebody being mute for the rest of their lives...They always speak. She just has to feel like there is nothing wrong with her. Because, honestly, there isn't. Some kids need more time than others, but then, the structure of sentences and whole lingo work is more complex. Maybe you will have to coach the teachers into them being ok with it. Quiet child does not always mean unhappy. Her brain is working overdrive.
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Old 11.03.2011, 23:01
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Re: Help! My daughter refuses to speak German

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Her brain is working overdrive.
My 3 year old's speech therapist said to me (when I was in the middle of one of my unfortunately by now quite regular panic attacks) "see this plant; we all know its growing; how? we can't see it growing, but we know it is, all the same and that is how it is with language acquisition".

You might not be able to see it, but its going in there and its registering, and each of us, being individuals, takes a different time, and often a different route, towards that process being completed by the production of speech. (As I keep repeating to myself, literally every day ...)
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