How to help a school-age child with grammar? Parenting

How to help a school-age child with grammar?


Dear Family Language Trainers,

We are a bilingual family living in Germany near the Dutch border. I speak my native language German with the children and my husband his native language Dutch. Our two oldest children went to the German kindergarten until the age of four and are now attending elementary school in the Netherlands. Dutch is the majority language at home because the children use it together and most of ours and the children's friends are Dutch.

While our firstborn daughter masters both languages ​​without problems and in all areas, our now 7-year-old middle son has to contend with the German grammar, more precisely with the articles. He will say, for example I was in the school where it should be "I was in the school" in this case – although the general article for school is "TO DIE", So he always sticks to the general article (which he normally remembers correctly) and does not adapt it to the particular case in which he uses it.

He did this from the start, and we've been thinking for a long time that he would pick it up in due course by listening to just the right shapes, but we're starting to worry. After years in which I (sometimes) rightly repeated his sentences for him, I recently asked him to repeat the right form after I said it. I have been doing this for several months without success. He just does not seem to care about details of the language as long as the general meaning is known.

In the same way, his pronunciation is "lazy" because sometimes the difficult parts of the words are simply left out or mumbled. He uses much more code switching than his sister, rather than trying to find the right German words. He also inconsistently uses the wrong past tenses of verbs, though he can name them when asked for the right form.

Do you think that his problems are still in the normal range for his age, or would you recommend an intervention in the form of formal education or SLT? Or do you think it could be a motivation problem?

Thank you very much,


Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for your question. In summary, your family needs two languages: German and Dutch. You speak your native language (German) with your children and your husband speaks their native language (Dutch) with them. Her two eldest children went to the German kindergarten until the age of four and are now attending elementary school in the Netherlands. I assume that it is Dutch only in their current school. At the same time they are bilingual children who are born in both languages. They speak Dutch at home and with their friends. How much of its exposure and use is German at the moment, would you say? Could it be that Dutch has become its dominant language?

You are worried about the grammar of your 7-year-old in German – especially about articles. (Although you may also mention some problems with using the past tense, though he can identify the right form.) He used the general article from the beginning rather than adapting the article to the grammar of the sentence. My question is: what is his pronunciation? You mention that he omits parts of words. Articles are not just about grammar; It can also be about language, depending on the languages ​​involved. The word of the requires an "r" in the end. Can he produce this sound in other words? If he has problems with the "r", this could be the problem. In his head the presentation of the words to die and of the could be right. But his articulation of the "r" can do that of the sounds like to die when he says so. A language assessment is worth considering. Other related questions would be: Did he have a hearing loss in the past? And is there anyone else in the family who had language and language problems?

It is also important to remember that children are not lazy about their language and language development. They understand communication and from the perspective of the child. It is important to them that their general meaning be conveyed. They are not aware of or interested in the accuracy of their grammar. They want their message understood. I would suggest that he does not correct his grammar anymore, because according to your statements, it does not affect the problem. And it can be a source of stress in your relationship if you feel frustrated by the lack of change.

I invite you to look at the perspective that code switching is a communication resource that children use to fill in gaps in their vocabulary. Of course, their vocabulary is uneven due to the differences in the input and exposure they receive and the ways in which the languages ​​are used. In fact, children use their languages ​​to speak with them different people (Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers) for different reason (Tell stories, tell jokes, explain how to play a game, answer a question) different places (at home, on the phone, during summer vacations, at school, playing soccer, playing with neighbors). These three aspects of the development of multilingual languages ​​influence the development of their vocabulary. Back to communication as a goal, your little boy is very resourceful in conveying his message, and most likely he will only change the code if he knows that the other person is also bilingual for German and Dutch. I think the comparison is a thief of joy so it may not be helpful to compare his speech, language and communication with that of his sister.

Other questions to consider are:

Do the topics you describe affect your everyday life at home, at school and with friends? The area of ​​specific speech disorder (SLI) or developmental disorder (DLD), as it is called today, is complex. Children who have this diagnosis have problems with grammar (both understand the purpose of verbs and use them for example). It may manifest differently among different children depending on the characteristics of the languages ​​they acquire. The consensus is that speaking two or more languages ​​does not cause language and language problems. The languages ​​interact with each other. If I understand correctly, Dutch has de and het As certain articles it could come to a cross-language transfer. What about verbs in each of the languages?

A recent attempt to reach an agreement on terminology describes the problem as one in which the problems persist into middle age (ages 6 to 12) and significantly affect daily social interactions or educational progress , How is he at school, for example, reading and writing?

All in all, I think it would be a good idea to see a SLT that is familiar with the sound systems, grammars and development in both languages. In the meantime, if you want to improve your German language skills, you can, for example, read together in German, watch movies together in German, and so on.

Please do not hesitate to add further comments and questions below.

With best regards,
Mary Pat

Mary Pat O Malley-Keighran

Mary Pat O Malley-KeighranMary-Pat is a lecturer, author, researcher, speech and speech therapist and lover of all things language, communication and communication. She has over 20 years experience working with families and 14 years teaching experience at the university. Mary-Pat has done extensive communication research: parents' experiences with speech and language therapy, storytelling on bilingual children, how newspapers tell stories about adults with communication problems, how midwives and pregnant women talk during hospital visits, and more. She is passionate about humanizing the health and education system, showing how important it is to say what we say. She also has a passion for understanding children's perspectives in communicating with adults so that we can communicate with them more compassionately. Mary-Pat currently teaches speech and language therapy at NUI Galway on the beautiful west coast of Ireland. You can find your blog at Talk to Nua,


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