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My wife and I are moving to a foreign country with our 30 months old daughter. The country we are moving to speaks a different language (German-we speak Italian) which my wife and I understand and somehow speak (not particularly well) but our daughter does not know at all.

Our daughter is extremely fluent in our native tongue, more so than most children of her age we regularly meet. On the other hand she's a bit introvert and relating to other children is not her strength. I believe this is partially due to her spending a lot of time with us (no day care).

After the move we would have about one year before the mandatory beginning of kindergarten, so we would like to prepare her in the best way. What worries us mostly is that the language barrier could isolate her from other children (also because of her introverted personality), in particular once kindergarten begins.

I'm sure "full immersion" is the best way for an adult to pick up a new language, but I feel this could be too traumatic for a child of this age. What is a good strategy to integrate her as quickly as possible without making her feel excluded because of the foreign language?

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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Children at that age love to play, and they will play together even if the don't speak the same language. Where I live the community here is so mixed that most children are English as a second language.

Just focus on teaching her the ABCs and 123s in German. In kindergarten they focus mostly on the foundations of reading and counting. If she learns that before she starts school, then she'll be ahead of most German children.

Read her story books in German, and if you can (I can't read German) then try read-along books with a CD.

Trust me, I wouldn't worry to much about it. You are going to have a far harder time learning the language then she will.

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I live in Georgia right now. We've been here for about 1 year. The native language is Georgian and most people (adults at least) also speak Russian. Our youngest child (age 2) understands as much Russian and Georgian as she does English (mostly due to baby sitters and playgroups), and she hasn't taken classes in any language. I've been studying Georgian for 1.5 years and currently understand less of it than she does.

My point is that your very young child will learn whatever languages she is surrounded by. You unfortunately will have to work a lot harder. 1 year is plenty of time for her to learn as much as the kids that were born in the country.

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We moved with 3 kids age 0.5, 2.5 & 3.5 to a different country and it was no problem whatsoever. We were lucky enough to find a pre-school that was specifically designed for non-native speakers and worked quite well. Within 6 month or so the two older ones could communicate effortlessly and within a year there were indistinguishable from native speakers. All of the kids are now perfectly fluent in at least two languages. 2.5 is actually a really good age for this. Social norms are still pretty basic and verbal communication is not quite as important as later in life.

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The more she's exposed to the language and it's nuances, the better off she'll be. Enroll her in pre-school or some care setting where she can be exposed to some of her peers and the culture. Definitely begin to introduce German books and programs to her so she can start to get an 'ear' for the language.

Because both you and your wife are 'fair' at German, you should also consider using German at home as much as possible, to help encourage your daughter to use the language. Since she's an introvert, she needs as much 'support' from her parents as possible so she'll feel more comfortable with all the changes in her life.

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I agree with Matthew...integrate the German into her life as much as you can. Once you get settled, then perhaps you can find a part-time daycare-type situation that will expose her to native speakers. Here in the US, we have mothers-day-out programs in a lot of areas which are only a couple of days a week in most cases for maybe 4 hours each day. The good MDO programs incorporate an informal curriculum to help prepare students for kindergarten. Around here, most of these programs are run by churches and I don't know a) how you would feel about that personally and b) if that would even be a possibility in your new home country, but it's worth a shot to look for something like that. She'll probably be speaking German better than you before long.

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