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We are considering moving to US with our only 5 years old daughter. We are likely to get a L-kind of visa to secure our stay for 1-2 years. None of us is a native English speaker. Parents do speak English, the child does only know a few English words though, as she has been taught in her local preschool and heard English stories read or songs played. She's definitely an avid learner and eager to learn English and eager to learn in general.

There are so many questions to ask...

What is the good timing in the year of such move? (I guess not in the summer, when the school is just about to start and it might be too late for her to accommodate).

How to make sure she overcomes the language barrier enough to start her school education in English-spoken primary school in US?

Any other practical advice is welcome as well.

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    note that in many school districts in the US, school does not start until Sept (unlike some European countries). So even moving in June gives some months to adjust. – Ida Apr 13 '16 at 23:18
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We moved with three kids ages 1-4 from Germany (your name sounds German, so this may be relevant).

We were lucky enough to find a pre-school program that was for kids whose first language was neither English, Spanish or Portuguese (large Brazilian population). It worked great and within a year or so the kids were perfectly bilingual for their age. Kid #2 actually outperformed the natives in his last year in pre-school after being moved to a standard English class.

Things to consider

  1. I would probably NOT start directly in Kindergarten but give the kid a year in pre-school or at home to get acclimated. Kindergarten is already fairly formal and structured education (very different from the German Kindergarten).
  2. Exposure English media is good. Our kids listened to the same tapes of "Thomas the tank engine" over and over without understanding much, but after a while it started to sink in. This is one of the very few cases where TV cartoons can actually be really useful
  3. Speak your native language at home. In the long run this will be the harder one to maintain, so start now.
  4. Social contacts, friends & neighbors are good things. Kids running around in the yard together and doing kid stuff is fairly non-verbal and a great way to ease into things.
  5. Check out the schools and their attitude. Strangely enough the more upscale schools can have trouble with this since they primarily cater to a white affluent English-speaking clientele. We found that a more diverse community worked a lot better for us.
  6. I don't think timing matters that much and there are probably other concerns (visa, housing, job, etc.) that should take precedence anyway.
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    Great observations. I agree with you on timing (#6). I know in many countries, this is a serious consideration, but in the US people are always moving, so it's very "normal" within our culture that people come and go within the various communities. – Hambone Oct 20 '15 at 12:37
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    #2,#3, #4 should be bold and large font. – user3143 Oct 21 '15 at 15:20
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Coming under other practical advice, many times employers include specialist relocation consulting as part of their relo packages. This consulting might include finding the right schools and playgroups, and can often be a big help. Sometimes people don't use all the potential resources offered, so be sure to find out what's available, and don't be afraid to negotiate for more.

  • Quite frankly we hadn't much luck with our relocation consultant. In order to make a good transition between old and new culture you need to know both which the consultants typically don't. They may be ok for a US to US relo but international is a different thing and the typical cookie cutter answers are not very helpful. Much better if you can find someone from the same home country a few years a ago. Could be a colleague, friend, from a cultural organization, ex-pat club etc. – Hilmar Oct 20 '15 at 20:34
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We moved from Brazil to US with a 3 year old five years ago.
Try to get a school that has ESL program. That will help the child to learn English and to feel support from school regarding the language difficulty. Whatever happens, don't stop speaking your native language at home. Kids learn fast, so they will pick up the new language quite soon, but if for a moment they feel that you are concerned about their English learning, they will start to associate the native language as bad and English as good and they might block the native language or feel embarrassed to speak. This happened to my daughter and it took us a while to realize she had completely stopped speaking Portuguese. Fortunately she can still understand but now we are working hard to get her speaking again.

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I would take a look at the local school district in the place where you think you will live. In the US, school districts may or may not follow city and county division. You should be able to search for things like 'school district for city-name'.

This will help you to know when the school year starts, what sort of options various schools provide (such as ESL). It will also tell you what grade your child should be in.

Usually, the grades are divided by age when school year starts, not when the calendar year starts. In most places, any child who is 5 at the beginning of the school year should start kindergarten.

Be aware that kindergarten is a little more formal in the US. I was surprised to learn that kids are expected to know how to count, know the alphabet and have started writing when entering kindergarten.

it might be beneficial to look at private schools, and I would personally recommend a good Montessori school. Our current school has classrooms age 3-6 (pre-k & and k) and then 1st-3rd grade. Doing something like that might help her catch up.

Some cities also have dual language schools, mostly French but sometimes also German. That might be an option (private schools again).

As for preparing, instead of videos in English, I would recommend you read 1 English kids/baby book for her a couple of times a week, and helped her translate. when she asks what something is, or how something work, take it as an opportunity to teach what the thing is called in English too. Keep speaking German at home though, would be my recommendation.

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