My family is planning to move to Berlin soon. We have two young children, aged 4 and 1. The older one already speaks three languages, but not German. We would like him to learn the language so he can go to school next year, but we are not sure if we should put him in a German-only kindergarten/Kita or a bilingual one. We are worried that going to a new kindergarten with no friends and not being able to communicate with other children will be too difficult for him. Has anyone had a similar experience? Could you please tell us how your child handled this situation?
1For those who aren't aware, 'Kita' is a regional German term for the equivalent of 'Kindergarten' in the U.S. and generally 'Reception' in the UK.– ouflak ♦May 5, 2021 at 6:32
1If you want my opinion, definitely send them to the German (only) Kindergarten. Your concerns are valid, but they will pass quickly enough. Their little brains are wired up for exactly those kind of situations. By the end of the year, he will speak better German than you, and even a fair number of fluent speakers on this site for whom German is not a mother tongue. It's just the way kids are built.– ouflak ♦May 5, 2021 at 6:39
I am happy to have any comments on this, but in order to avoid having the question flagged as opinion based, I explicitly invited answers from parents who went through this so that the answers are based on facts and past experience. There is no pleasing the moderators here it seems.– Wall-EMay 5, 2021 at 7:10
2Sorry, I wrangled over this one. It's just that many of us here are expats who have had children go through (or are going through) unfamiliar school systems and educational circumstances. The experiences will literally vary as to the personallity of each child in question. There are so many possible backgrounds. It's difficult to see how you would get any answer, even with 'facts', that would be more useful than most opinions (which would probably actually be more useful than any facts anyway).– ouflak ♦May 5, 2021 at 8:21
@ouflak I understand, but nowhere in the question did I say 'tell me if I should put my child in a German-only Kita or not'. As parents, me and my wife are responsible for such decisions. I am merely collecting evidence (which can vary, and that's fine) and then we will decide based on that evidence. You said yourself that there are many expats here on the forum that have had the experience, so it seemed to be a good place to ask.– Wall-EMay 5, 2021 at 8:52
I'm back to report on how things turned out for our children. We moved from the UK to Berlin at the end of June 2021 and our children started going to the (same) Kita in September 2021 without any prior knowledge of German. Finding places for children was challenging, but not impossible.
As far as language adaptation goes, our children attend a German Kita. The older one adapted very quickly and his German language skills after a little more than a year in the Kita were not far behind his peers who were born and raised in Germany. On the other hand, his English suffered - he still understands, but can't express himself as well as he used to. Our younger child is still learning to speak (also 3 languages), but we see that German is slowly becoming more and more dominant. Understanding any of the 3 languages is not a problem.
I can't obviously generalize, but in our case the approach 'throw in at the deep end' worked out fine. ouflak was right that we didn't have to worry too much about this.
I also agree with Jay K. that the German society is one which 'does everything by the book'. Somewhat unexpectedly, our cultural adaptation (e.g. how the Kita reacts when children arrive one minute late) was of more concern than language adaptation.
Welcome to Germany and a society which does everything by the book. I see no implicit reference to what Berlin will require of you and your child in your question. Preschool childcare leading to primary school entrance will be confined to the school district in which you live. The Senate admits there is an extreme lack of free places in all Schools throughout Berlin, which explains why some people will register for places at their chosen nurseries and schools during or even before pregnancy. They certainly look for accommodation in areas with good provision, or move out to satellite towns in Brandenburg. Private and international schools are equally over-subscribed, but do try to accommodate new arrivals.
There are also legal requirements set by the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Family. Every child is tested 18 months before they start school when they are 6+ Intake this fall is for children born between 1st October 2014 and September 2015. Only those with necessary mental, physical, cognitive and German language skills will be admitted. The school district will require remedial language tuition and assist you in finding a suitable Kita and learning environment. A child can be required to repeat any school year if they lag behind at any time. Again you will have limited influence on when and what will be offered. Berlin and Brandenburg have agreed to allow a certain amount of cooperation with provision near the parental workplace if it serves the interest of the child. This is a huge concession to individual needs of working parents, however it undermines the concept of creating a socially cohesive society within a large urban area.
The neighbourhood with all the associated facilities known as the “Kietz” in German develops a strong community spirit and affiliation, where people know one another from growing up and passing through all the stages in life like any small town would. Because there is so much more to add, I have put together a detailed response in a Google document here.
Given the official requirements plus the need to press ahead with learning German as quickly and painlessly as possible, I recommend making contact with the administration, kindergarten and schools to arrange admission in advance (when possible) with total language immersion as soon as you hit German soil. If your employer has offered help, involve them now. From my own experience (as a 5 year old, a parent, grandparent and EFL teacher) I know parents stress out far more than anyone, especially their own offspring who are simple sociable creatures with few inhibitions, quite happy to play with others without verbalising. Better to be a bit bewildered at the beginning, to maximise preschool learning, integrate and make friends before the cohort moves up to the next stage in their full-time education. Be brave and remember there is more involved to good communication skills than mere speech.