This mom has an interesting twist on a common challenge: the language barrier. In this case, her AP speaks clearly…she just doesn’t seem to understand…or listen.. or care. it’s not clear. Can you offer her any advice?
Our new au pair, from Brazil, arrived two weeks ago after our Swedish au pair decided our family "wasn’t the right fit" for her. We have two boys, aged 2 and almost 4. Our new au pair was a breath of fresh air, really – positive, a lovely smile, very sweet, great with our boys even when they’re challenging. We have our 2-week orientation tonight and it has forced my husband and I to acknowledge our concerns about her English.
She is one of those rare people whose expressive language (what she can say) is far better than her receptive language (what she understands). I have a very difficult time knowing if she has understood anything I have said to her.
Usually, I get a blank look that leads me to believe she does not understand. I am now beginning to see, after a week of training, that many of the instructions I gave to her are getting confused. I have also gone to the point of writing out on paper a daily schedule and all of the types of foods and meals we prepare for the boys throughout the day (to the point of – butter and cut up into squares). She didn’t seem to retain much about the food prep training we had done. This is a different experience from our first au pair, from Panama, who was shy to talk, but understood most of what I said to her and understood what to do, especially around food, the first time I showed her.
She is also not able to understand my children. So, when my 4-year-old politely asks for something more for breakfast (more blackberries, please), she doesn’t hear him or listen or understand. We’re not sure which. In fact, we are noticing that she does not seem to listen when we are talking to her and we have to say her name first to get her attention. This makes me think that most of what she hears us say is jibberish to her, so she is tuning out!
We are also trying to look her in the eye when we talk to her, demonstrate instructions versus telling her, etc. It is becoming clear to us that we need to ask her to acknowledge whether she has understood something and repeat it back to us – very time consuming, to be sure, but I think necessary at this point. And, that we need more training. In 90 degree heat yesterday, she didn’t put the boys’ hats on or use sunscreen as I have instructed her several times. I only know this because my husband happened to be home sick yesterday. Otherwise, we would never know! I think overall she is well-intentioned, but we don’t know if we are dealing with a language issue or a competence issue. I suppose time will tell??
She has not yet enrolled in English classes because she just missed the cut off for summer classes. However, my husband and I feel that she needs to get involved in some English instruction ASAP for this to work out. And, she spends the majority of her time with another Brazilian au pair speaking Portuguese, so she is not immersing herself in the language to be sure.
We are also noticing that our boys are starving when we come home, such that we are feeding them a second dinner when we get home at 6:30-7pm and an after dinner snack. They can’t seem to get enough, which worries me about what they are eating at home. She has in fact admitted that they are eating a good lunch, but not eating their dinners.
So, how much time does it take for the language to "take off"? What can we do to facilitate communication with very limited language skills? How can I help my children get her to listen to them and understand them? Any thoughts, tips, or strategies would be appreciated!
Thanks, AnonMom in California