I received a letter from a father who moved to Barcelona from Germany. He wrote that:
“Basically, we want to help our son learn Spanish and Catalan as quickly as possible. He is learning both languages at school at the same time and I think that might confuse him. I was hoping for more help from the city and state for children who don’t speak Catalan or Spanish. There is no special integration program at the school, although I did receive that kind of help 25 years ago in Germany, where we fled from the war.”
Even between European countries, there are significant differences in terms of educational policy, and how they treat the children of migrants and their multilingualism. According to the PISA 2015 results, Spain ranks in the same group as Germany, where children of immigrants were on average more than 30 points below local children. This statistic is certainly not reassuring for this father. (Whereas the same study showed, for example, that in New Zealand, Ireland, or the United Kingdom, there was hardly any difference between the two groups, and in Australia, among others, migrant children did better in school than native children.)
The performance of migrant children depends on several factors; for example, the educational level of their country of origin. There may already be big differences there, but it is also relevant how far they got in the school system. Children of Mexican origin who move to the US, for example, probably won’t achieve the same amount of points in the PISA study on average as those who end up in France. This is because the socioeconomic level and the educational level of a family that emigrates to another continent is probably higher than that of a family that moves to a neighboring country (statistically speaking!). In addition, knowledge of the language and cultural values also contributes to success. For example, a high percentage of children of Indian origin go to university in England, but in Italy the percentage of these children going on to higher education is very low.
In addition, the attitude of the host country towards immigrant families is equally important, and schools must be prepared organisationally and methodologically. Could this be the reason that Russian children scored lower in Mathematics in Greece than in Ireland? (PISA 2003)
In Catalonia, for example, children who arrive at school-age have a more difficult time. Those who were born here usually learn the two official languages without any difficulty, which comes almost naturally to the locals. In Catalonia, approx. 60% of the schools are public and the rest are foundations or private. There can be big differences between them, such as whether or not they provide special preparation programs for newcomers. Some schools do provide these, but there are others where children just walk into their age-appropriate class and are expected to progress through the curriculum from there, with the hope that the newcomers will one day catch up with the locals. According to the aforementioned criteria, some will have it easier than others. In order not to leave this matter to chance, it is advisable to have adequate training for teachers, but also information for parents.
How can you help your children with this from home? First, make it easier for them to do extracurricular activities with local classmates, since the more interaction they have with other children, the faster they will learn the language. It is important to have a positive attitude towards the new culture and language at home, but that is not enough. If the parents themselves do not speak the language of the new country, they should enroll themselves in a course as soon as possible. If you can’t help with your children’s homework, it’s a good idea to hire a private tutor, at least for the first few months. Another idea would be to invite your child’s classmates to your home so they can study together. Each family has different difficulties.
If you need more information on how you can accelerate your child’s learning of new languages, ask for more information