Expat parents in Belgium: how to help your children with homework when you don’t speak the language

Expat parents in Belgium: how to help your children with homework when you don’t speak the language

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Last update on December 13, 2018

Tips for expat parents in Belgium: find out how you can help with homework even if you don’t speak the language.

One of the challenges for expat parents can be how to provide support for children receiving education in a foreign language. This is the case for many parents of children at schools in Belgium, a country that performs well in education even though it has a large number of students from foreign-speaking families at its Dutch, French and English-speaking schools.

Belinda Yates and Orla McLoughlin, heads of the International School of Flanders branches in Waterloo and Tervuren, offer some homework tips and explain how foreign-speaking parents can still help their children with school-work.

ISF International School

ISF International School has served expatriate families and their young children in the Tervuren and Waterloo areas for over 40 years. An excellent school which provides an outstanding quality of education and care, they deliver internationally accredited programs which fulfill the requirements of the UK National Curriculum, in an exciting environment with small class sizes and creative teaching. They also have an on-site creche & daycare facility accepting babies from six weeks old, which is accredited by the Belgian Child and Family agency.

Help your child with preparing their homework routine

“Helping your child with homework doesn’t mean you have to speak the language or understand the concept” explains Belinda, head teacher at ISF Waterloo. “One of the most important things all parents can do is help their children create a homework routine, providing a regular study time and place for their children to do their homework, away from distractions such as television or social media.”

So you don’t have to be a master of the language or of any particular school subject to provide homework help, which might be a relief to parents whose school days are long behind them! Providing simple practical support on how to manage homework – making sure it’s not left until the last minute, or even doing work yourself at the same time to set a good example – can be a great help.

Young girls doing homework

Schools in Belgium usually have a homework policy which can help guide parents on this. “We ask parents to follow our policy and keep to the recommended timings for children so that they are not overloaded in the evening”, explains Orla, head teacher at ISF Tervuren.

Translate the homework into the home language

For those that want to get really stuck in, there’s always the option of translating the homework so that it can be fully understood. Fortunately in this day and age, this can be quite easily done with online tools.

“At ISF we use the Google Classroom online tool to assign all our homework” says Belinda. “Both parents and children can translate this into their mother tongue and they can post questions which can be answered by other students and the teacher.”

“Translating homework assignments can also help parents and children understand the purpose of the homework and give them a base of understanding” adds Orla.

Enrol your child in after-school study programs

As in many countries, education in Belgium isn’t restricted just to school hours and many schools run out-of-hours clubs that offer homework help and support. This is a great way for parents in Belgium to ensure that their child gets homework help if they themselves are stretched for time or find it difficult establishing a set routine at home.

students with teacher

“At ISF we provide a free homework club after school” says Belinda. “Children can get assistance from a teacher so that all their homework is completed before they go home. This reduces stress for both parents and children and ensures that evenings are free to pursue other interests and hobbies.”

Take an interest in your child’s learning

“Showing an interest and being there to help is a great way to start as it makes the child realise that you view their learning as a priority” says Orla.

Mother helping son with homework

If your child sees that you’re taking an interest in how they’re progressing, it can have a positive impact on their achievements. There are a few ways you can do this, including:

  • asking your child questions about what they have been learning
  • giving regular encouragement and celebrating your child’s successes
  • providing a listening ear when your child encounters difficulties with school or school-work

“It can also help if parents stay close by to where their children are doing homework”, says Belinda. “That way the child knows that the parent is interested and is on hand to help if necessary.”

Keep in regular contact with class teachers

If you can get to know your child’s teacher, you’ll have a better understanding of what they’re looking for in their students. Schools in Belgium have events and parent-teacher sessions where parents can attend and ask questions. If language barriers prevent you from being able to take full advantage of opportunities such as these, you can keep up communication in writing.

As Orla explains: “At ISF, teachers send an email to parents fortnightly detailing the learning that their children will undertake in the coming weeks. These can be translated into the home language to ensure that parents understand the assignments.”

Finally… resist the urge to do the homework yourself!

Don’t forget that it’s not your homework and your child won’t benefit if they don’t think for themselves and learn from their own mistakes.

“Be available to provide homework help, support and guidance, but resist the urge to do it for them. Homework is an extension of school learning and children should be able to complete it themselves under parental guidance” says Orla.

Órla Mc Loughlin

Órla Mc Loughlin

Head of School at ISF Tervuren and Belinda Yates, Head of School at ISF Waterloo both have over 25 years experience as international educators. They have been living in Belgium for more than 15 years. Together they co-founded and currently lead Belgium's first Google Educator Group.

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