Sep 3, 2014

The struggle for Multilingual kids


Firstly, let me put it out there that my children are still currently, single language children. They speak English. But they are Saudis, that do not speak Arabic. Saudis that were born and raised in Riyadh. Saudis, born and raised in Riyadh that do not speak Arabic and are fluent in English! Do you catch the drift? See where the problem is? So you can imagine how awkward that can be.

This year, I decided to put my middle son in Arabic school, he would be entering KG2, so I figured it would be the best time to add the new language. Then suddenly- as a joke at first- I asked Lujain if she wanted to go to Arabic school. She said YES, she also wanted to be able to speak with her cousins and her grandpa in Arabic! She was very interested! I asked the school if she would be allowed admittance, they said she would need to be tested. They had her take the entrance test, and lo and behold the fact that she knows how to read and write in a language she does not understand gained her admittance. At that very moment, we decided that if it wasn't done now, it would n't be easier a year or two from now. She is in the 2nd grade, she finished grade one with 97% average (in a class average of 55%!), I know she is smart, and I know she can do it, but to be perfectly honest, I have been freaking out from the start, and I am sure I shed more tears than any of them. 

Thankfully I am able to speak Arabic with the admin, and teachers and get extra info directly from them, and kind of be what they call a helicopter mama- for now at least.. Most of the admin and teachers are on board, there are a few that silently think I am crazy, but hey, crazy is good! I just feel that overall, the introduction of Arabic as a second language is foreign to the schools. You are either stuck in an International school, where if you do not speak Arabic, you are put in beginners Arabic, learning the alphabets over and over again. Or you are in the Arabic school, where you are expected to be fluent in Arabic. I guess unlike Canada they aren't too used to foreign students coming and needing to learn the language of the their Host country. My daughter has been extremely amused with coming home showing me her English work, (ABC's, and colouring), hey at least I know she'll get 100% in English! 

Anyways, today after coming home from dropping off my kids,  I reflected, and felt like the worst parent ever- akin to a child abuser (I know... I am not!) My son cried today, he really cried! Mind you in school last year, he would run off to his friends, and not look back at me even once- he is that kinda kid! It broke my heart that he wanted me to stay and I knew for his sake, I couldn't stay too long.  He looked lost, and did not feel understood- which is truly the case. I know this is just the beginning,  I know it'll be a hard and very bumpy start. My daughter didn't cry but her eyes spoke differently.  Being thrown into a new school and a new language all at once, I've experienced a school with a new language twice and I successfully blended in after confusion and a whole lot of work. At about her age, my mom moved us to Montreal, where I knew ZERO french, but then again, the schools there are equipped with teaching foreign students the language. I learned it pretty fast. The school helped me during my transitioning period,  they openly welcomed students to allow them to emerge with their new surroundings, something that I wish they would work on here in Saudi.

PS- On her first day at school, she came home with a picture a classmate made for her, where language was the barrier, there was Art to build a bridge! <3