Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Is Your Child Experiencing Language Shock?

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Fri, Jul 27, 2012 @ 09:02 AM

language shock for kids, cross cultural training BostonAs an international professional living and working in the United States, one of the first things on your mind is probably your family.

Perhaps you have brought them here to the United States for your international work assignment. You have enrolled them in school and you have joined a few play groups with American kids in your neighborhood.

When you arrived in the U.S. you said to yourself, "They are just kids. Kids are pretty strong. They adapt quickly. It should be easier for them than it will be for us, as adults."

But then you start to notice some strange things happening with your child. You should know the ways in which language shock might be affecting your child's adjustment to life and school in the U.S.


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Your Child and Language Shock | 5 Things You Should Know

1. Stress gets in the way: Linguist Stephen Krashen called it the "affective filter." Your child has a lot of barriers standing between him and mastery of the English language. Most of those barriers have more to do with feelings of stress, self-consciousness and fear of standing out than the actual language.


kids and language shock2. Anxiety creates a lack of motivation: Would you feel comfortable walking into a class where no one speaks your native language and you are lost 95% of the time? This is what your child is going through every day. It makes it hard to stay motivated to learn English.


3. The ignorance of others makes it worse: The parents of your child's friends or even your child's teacher might make comments that to them, seem innocent but for your child, could further derail his progress. Other kids in the class might make fun of your child. A lot of them may not have traveled abroad and will not understand why your child speaks English with a different accent.


4. Your child might pretend to understand when they don't: It is common for English learners of any age to pretend they understand what is going on when they actually do not. If adults do this, you can imagine that kids do it even more. As a child, it is often painful to stand out. So they pretend to "get it" when they don't.


torn between two languages5. Your child may be torn between his native language and English: At school, she undergoes teasing and ridicule because she doesn't speak English. At home, she hears her native language (Polish, Italian, Japanese, etc.) and is told she must not lose touch with her home culture. How does your child deal with this? She might reject her native language and take on English (verbal and non-verbal communication) as her new way of communicating.


Is your child struggling with any of these challenges? If so, check out our next post: 6 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in the U.S.


Please share this post with other expatriate families that you know!






Source: Miller, P.C and Endo, H. (2004). Understanding and meeting the needs of ESL learners Phi Delta Kappan

photo credits:  Steve Weaver    Knowles Gallery,

Topics: Daily Life in the US, Expatriate Support, Cultural Competence, Cross Cultural Coaching

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