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My 5 year old stepson recently moved to El Paso, TX with me and my wife. He's only been in the U.S. for a little over a month. His primary language is Thai. I would love for him to start picking up English but my concern right now is that most of the kids in his Kindergarten class speak Spanish and little to no English. I was a bit disturbed when I heard him singing something in Spanish to the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle little star..." He has told me and my wife that that is what the teacher teaches.

Am I over reacting or is this an issue that I need to bring up to the teacher's attention? I have no qualms with the Spanish language or anybody who speaks Spanish, it's just that as a military personnel who moves every 2-3 years, my kid will need to learn to talk, preferably in English, and make friends quick and often.

This is not a complaint about teaching Spanish at a young age, but as English is the most internationally known language, I want to ensure my son is developing fluency in it while his language is still developing.

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Do you speak English at home? If so, he'll be fine (or, even at an advantage in life being multilingual). Kids at that age can pick up multiple languages relatively easily. –  DA01 Sep 10 '12 at 4:27
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@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun Actually, the USA has no official language. Multi-lingual issues are a rather contentious topic in many areas. Still, it seems odd that a Kindergarten class would encourage Spanish over English. Gerardo, Perhaps you could tell us a bit about the class? Is it provided by the military base, public schools, etc.? Is it a class specifically for ESL children (English as a Second Language)? –  Beofett Sep 10 '12 at 14:00
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Gerardo, I slightly edited the last paragraph, and removed the sig. If you don't like the changes, please roll them back (we generally don't use sigs though, as the user box exists for that purpose) –  deworde Sep 10 '12 at 14:10
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@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun lots of parents in the US explicitly look for schools that teach in other languages than English. This is a good thing. Children's minds can adapt to multiple languages incredibly easily. –  DA01 Sep 10 '12 at 19:19
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Perhaps, but if the school is primarily latino, and primarily speaks Spanish, I don't think it's fair to tell the school to stop using Spanish. (Also, I have a hunch the school isn't teaching solely in Spanish...hard to say as we don't have enough info) –  DA01 Sep 10 '12 at 19:26

4 Answers 4

You should discuss this directly with the kindergarten teacher. What is the primary language during the day? Is Spanish dominating, or is English?

Explain just as you did here that you appreciate Spanish but you believe that a U.S. kindergarten should function primarily in English. There's nothing wrong in using Spanish 15% of the time, in fact I think that would be awesome because learning more languages is always useful, especially when they're as globally important as those two.

But language choice and use must be a deliberate decision, not simply based on the (lack of) language skills of the staff. This might be something you need to address (or even escalate) but I'd start out with a friendly chat about language use.

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Remember, though, that there are areas in the US (and other countries) where it would not be appropriate to use English, as the population of those areas speaks Spanish etc. –  Rory Alsop Sep 10 '12 at 11:27
    
@RoryAlsop: Really? I would imagine that if you live in a country with official language "X" then that is also the primary language for schools. I don't want to veer into politics here but I wonder how a country can operate when the kids don't even learn the official language. But perhaps I'm overthinking this. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 10 '12 at 11:39
    
We have issues in some areas in the UK where groups have no English at all - which is not ideal. I agree that you should have to be able to speak the national language to be a national of that country. –  Rory Alsop Sep 10 '12 at 11:41
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+1 for discussing with the teacher. Be confident but not confrontational, and make it clear that you're simply concerned about your child's language skills development. –  deworde Sep 10 '12 at 14:12
    
15% seems like a completely arbitrary number. We have schools that are 100% non-english in the US and the children are getting an education as good as anyone else. Yes, children should learn English in the US, and it sounds like they are at home, and of course will in English classes in the schools as they go through the system. –  DA01 Sep 10 '12 at 19:22

The main thing I would recommend here is that you talk English around him. I appreciate that he's probably at daycare for longer time than he spends with you, but parenting time is more 1-1, and therefore has more of an immersion effect than daycare.

You mentioned that his primary language is Thai, which I assume is from your wife. (please correct me if I'm wrong). If she's more comfortable talking in Thai, then I'd suggest that you spend some time each day reading an English language book to your child and talking to him in English only. Anne Fine, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling, C.S. Lewis, it doesn't matter, the point is to expose him to the language and encourage him to converse in that language.

There are plenty of Questions on this site about multi-lingual children, and a solid core of multi-lingual parents who can provide you with more support.

But while your requests can have an effect on the daycare, you are likely to have a significantly larger effect on your son.

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I say embrace it. The Western Hemisphere has a very large Spanish speaking population. The worst thing that can happen is your son will speak 3 languages as an adult. And that could benefit him in the long run. As long as he is speaking and studying English at home he should be fine. Don't worry.. Kids pick up language very easily.

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Not sure why you got a downvote for this. It's a valid answer. –  DA01 Sep 10 '12 at 19:23

I suspect that your son is probably in an ESL (English as a Second Language) kindergarten class. In most areas of the country this would mean your child would be placed in a class with kids who speak LOTS of different languages (for reference, in the previous school district I taught in we had large populations who spoke Spanish, Russian (or variations of Russian), Korean, and some Chinese). Since your son's primary language since birth was Thai, it probably made sense to place him in the ESL kindergarten class. Since you're in El Paso, TX, this obviously means that the vast majority of his classmates learned Spanish as a first language.

Logically, the teacher is communicating with the largest portion of her class in their primary language which probably comes in handy when she's trying to deliver explicit instructions. If the class is an ESL class, she should also be incorporating large amounts of English into the school day as well.

Since the school year is still fairly new, it may be that she's building up to the English. This week they sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Spanish, next week they may learn it in English. Your son may be picking up Spanish because his classmates are speaking it regularly, but it makes sense that his teacher is using Spanish in class as well.

I would certainly speak to the teacher just so you know that she's aware that your son's primary language is not Spanish, it's Thai. She may not have all your son's information yet and she may be completely unaware that he's her lone non-Spanish speaker (with the size of US public schools these days, it can take several weeks before a teacher receives all their files about their students). It will also allow you to know if he seems to have difficulty understanding or communicating with her.

Overall, I wouldn't be overly concerned about him picking up Spanish as long as he is also progressing in English. Especially if you believe that you will be remaining in the US. Being multi-lingual isn't going to hurt him any, and I've seen teenagers newly immigrated from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan able to communicate in English fluently within a year--with no help from home. Reinforce English at home and expose him to English outside of school as much as you can (one Russian student I knew learned English by listening to rap albums--granted some of the first words he learned were curse words, but he was 16 years old...not five). Find a show he enjoys on Disney Junior, buy the cd, and play it in the car (Jake and the Neverland Pirates comes to mind--it's certainly a hit in my house).

It is certainly imperative that your step-son develop his English speaking skills. Eventually (like, next school year), he's going to start learning about English mechanics and grammar and spelling, and this will be extremely difficult for him if he is still struggling with English in general.

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