Our son is starting daycare in a country where the language is (almost) completely alien to him. Can we do anything to help him settling in this new environment? (full story below)
Our son, who is 26 months old, was born in the foreign country that we're living in at the moment (UK - but the question should be universal), but so far he had little exposure to its language. At home our native language (Hungarian) is spoken all the times as this is the most convenient (both parents are from there), and he only occasionally hears English when we meet friends or the neighbours, or on the playground. He is starting in a day nursery very soon where only English is spoken and we're concerned that he might have a hard time settling in.
The existing questions I found here are mostly focusing on the language development in these situations, however we're not concerned too much about that directly, as many suggests that children at this age can adapt to new languages very easily. Our concerns are more about the initial shock of the new situation and the emotional consequences of settling in to daycare.
Not only he will be left without his parents, which is quite a new concept to him (he never had been left to the care of someone else for more than half an hour and even those were rare occasions), but also in an environment where no one understands him. To make it more difficult, this happens in the age when he had just recently started to speak (he can form some two-three word sentences now, but this is only a very recent achievement, so far he seemed a bit on the late side of the language development) and when he seemingly enjoys that he is able to communicate his desires and can reflect to the world he sees. On the positive side - due to our working hours - for the first half-year he only need to be in day care for two days a week.
The nursery suggested we come to the first sessions with a mini-dictionary of his most commonly used words, so the teachers in his group can memorise them. However I'm not convinced that this is a good idea. Due to the vastly different pronunciation between the two languages there is a chance that they won't be able to use it anyway, and even if they do, I'm concerned this would just confuse him even more, as some of his words will be understood but most won't be. I feel that it would be less confusing if we kept clear boundaries between the languages and the places where they are spoken.
So the question is, if this dictionary sounds like a good idea and is there anything more we can do to help him settling in under these circumstances?
Thanks for the great answers so far. A month has passed since his first sessions and unfortunately he couldn't settle in yet. He is usually crying from the morning till he is picked up, refusing to eat or drink or do anything in the nursery.
Of course this struggle cannot be solely attributed to the language barrier, I'd think at best it's only some addition to the emotional stress caused by the separation from the parents. However the caregivers told us that our son often seems to be completely lost, not understanding what's going on over his head. Other children try to play with him in his better moments but sooner or later they start to talk to him and when he doesn't answer they leave him alone. We noticed he became unusually shy amongst other children when we're out on the playground too.
So beyond the well-discussed general settling-in advices I'd be still interested in ideas on how to address the language barrier issue.
We changed a few things in a hope these will help:
- started teaching him the language at home by playing some role-plays in English
- printed a set of pictures of the toys they are playing in the nursery and ask him what they are in English
- trying to spend more time in play groups which are similar to the daycare environment but with parent's supervision