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Language/school decision -- interested in others opinions

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
My DH is Russian and at home we speak all or nearly all in Russian (I speak Russian although am not a native speaker). DS is 7, DD is almost 4. DS went to American preschool two years before kindergarten and then during kindergarten one year of Russian Saturday school. This year he hasn't gone to Saturday school because DD is going full time to Russian preschool (9-3, 5 days a week) and it's expensive and relatively far (at the same place as the Saturday school -- 20-25 minutes in good traffic, 30-40 in not so good).

DD was a late talker (2 1/2 for any words really, 3 before she started putting words together). I took her to one child find testing last year but I really didn't like their attitude -- they were negative on us speaking to her mostly in Russian and I wasn't convinced that her problems were severe enough to battle the system for God knows how long. She now is still not loquacious and doesn't offer much speech herself, tends to answer questions with short answers but does use 3-5 word sentences on a regular basis, can recite whole poems and songs, etc. She's (maybe) a little behind on fine and gross motor skills (she is starting to write Russian letters, can draw crosses and circles, do some cutting) which the preschool has helped with plus I do a lot of reading, cognitive exercises, poems and songs, etc. with her and DS at home (every day for 2 hours after work, more on the weekend).

I've started reading some to DD in English at home almost every night and doing some songs and rhymes, but no more than say 15 minutes of the total time I work with her at home -- the rest is in Russian and DD does not speak English and understands a limited amount. With DS we've managed to keep things up in almost all Russian which is not that easy now that he's in first grade, but with his experience I know it can be done. However, we're now at the point where he really needs some outside instruction to keep developing in the language -- I don't have the time or training to think up an advanced elementary Russian curriculum for him, so I'd like to send him back to Saturday school, which is at the same place as DD's preschool. However, that Saturday school plus DD continuing at that preschool would be logistically a lot for us to travel there 6 days a week -- 5 is already pushing it. The two together would also cost around 600 dollars a month. Also, I think DD should have a year of English preschool before going to Kindergarten. In our area Kindergarten standards are pretty high and I don't really want her starting the class totally at the bottom with no English, especially since she's slow to warm up and not as I said much of a talker.

My plan was for DD and DS to go to Saturday school for Russian and DD to go to American preschool next year 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. All those together would also cost around 600, but the American preschool is only 10 minutes from home and a lot less travel would be involved. Alternatively, DD could go 3 days to American, 2 days to Russian, and DS to Saturday school, but that would up the travel days back to 3 and cost well over 700 dollars the way the pricing works.

I had no dilemma until mentioning this to the director of the Russian preschool today who said no parents have "regretted" having their kids go straight from Russian preschool to Kindergarten and that she thought DD would stop speaking Russian if she didn't continue at the Russian preschool next year, and also that DD was just starting to "really get into" school and going along with things and essentially doing better (since we all knew she was delayed before, some in speech, some in fine motor skills and still some, though less, in both). This now has made me second guess my decision, but I'm still leaning toward my original plan. I'm not so worried now about my kids "losing" Russian altogether, at least for a while, because we are consistent about using it at home, reading in Russian every day, watching Russian discs, socializing with other primarily Russian speaking families etc., with relatively little English going on in the home life and we want to keep it that way. However, the part about DD really starting to getting in to the Russian school, singing songs regularly and well, and so on got me.

Anyway, any thoughts (particularly from those who also have a non-English home language)? Thanks!
post #2 of 3
Thread Starter 
Sorry about the novel, but it's difficult to explain without the entire context.
post #3 of 3
Our situation is different, so I don't know if what I have to say will be helpful.

We live in Italy. We don't have a single home language because my husband isn't really fluent enough in mine (English) to speak it, so I speak his (Italian) to him. I always speak English to dd and he speaks Italian to her. Right now she is already bilingual with a vocabulary divided equally between Italian and English. She seems to favor Italian wrt syntax, however.

She will be starting preschool in the fall. I am very worried that once she goes, her English will suffer. I've heard from some English-speaking friends of mine here that that is what happened with their children. I've also heard from someone for whom that has not happened. What seems to determine the difference was how early the children went to daycare or preschool, and how much English was spoken in the home. It's also important to note that for those whose English did suffer, it's not that they regressed, it's just that they began to speak it less and develop it more slowly.

I don't think your daughter will stop speaking Russian if she doesn't continue preschool, as long as you and your husband continue to speak it to her at home, and expose her to it by reading to her, listening to music, watching films, socializing with other Russian speakers, as you are already doing. (Of course, I'm not an expert, but it's a scenario that just doesn't fit into what I've heard and read about bilingualism in kids...will she speak as much Russian as English, will her further development in Russian keep pace with English? Probably not.

We are fortunate because there is English instruction (compulsory, I believe) in Italian schools, elementary through secondary. That said, I have heard of cases of families similar to mine in which the children never developed real fluency in English, this despite the additional instruction in school. (Now, I've probably heard of just as many cases of children who are truly bilingual, except perhaps that they speak English with a slight Italian accent.) I guess that what I'm trying to say here is that while it's important to expose children to the minority language as much as possible, that formal instruction in it may not always make that much of a difference.

I think that in your family, it will be you and husband's commitment to speaking Russian at home that will make the greatest difference in whether your children speak it as adults. Just some anecdotal evidence: growing up (in the U.S) I had a lot of friends who were the children of immigrants and who had very little formal instruction in their parents' first languages but who were definitely bilingual. They all spoke the minority language at home all the time.

Hope there's something in there that's helpful!
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