How long will it take our child to learn a new language if he is 10-12 years old when we move to a new country?
Surely less than for us, the parents. But what does less mean? He will already be able to chat fluently with his classmates after one or two years, will be able to answer his teachers correctly in class, and will be able to participate in group work if he knows the subject. So why does he sometimes get low marks on his written exams if he already speaks well?
This happens because to be able to write correctly, he needs a deeper knowledge of the language than the way it is used in everyday conversations. According to Cummins’ theory, it will take about 5-7 years for a child to reach the level of writing that they would have achieved in their mother tongue at the same age. In other words, let us ignore our first impression and not believe that a child’s ability to converse in everyday situations corresponds to a language level that allows him to write equally well. The competence you need to create written texts does not depend solely on your linguistic level. It is our starting point to look for ways to support our child to overcome his difficulties.
For example, the preparatory elements of writing are essential. It does not matter in which language your child prepares a draft or scribbles down the ideas that will later form their writing or description. If ideas are solidly put together, for example with the help of a mind map, then it is possible to fulfill your purpose even with a smaller vocabulary and simpler grammatical structures. But one thing that shouldn’t be disregarded is the correction phase. After finishing writing, it is essential to allow enough time to proofread, and to check words and expressions, etc. in a dictionary or grammar book. This is helpful for every student, but for multilinguals it is essential.
To learn the vocabulary related to a certain topic, it can be useful to look for material in the language in which you plan to write. However, if the child's level of language does not allow him to read more complex texts, it is preferable to look for simpler editions or materials with a greater number of illustrations, or even educational videos. The child can read about the subject in their stronger language first and only later in their second language. In this way it will be easier for them to understand the concept, and by identifying the terminology in a more familiar language, they will recognize the elements more easily in the second. This means that they will be able to better prepare themselves for a written assignment.
In short, to compensate for the deficiencies of a language it is vital to reinforce knowledge of writing skills.
You might have seen me at the Corvinus University.