What should you do if your child answers in the “wrong” language

Many parents are completely frustrated when their kids choose the path of least resistance and keep on answering in the language that they (the kids) feel most comfortable in. This is usually the language that is most used in their environment in other words their “majority” language. This takes a hit for the worse once they start school. Here my two cents – RELAX! There is not much you can do.

Why I would RELAX:

As a start ask yourself, does your child understand what you are saying in what you consider is the “correct” language? If your answer is yes… well congratulations your kids have achieved the first HUUUGE step of language learning in being bilingual. If they understand a language, you have built the foundation of their “language learning house”. Now you need to create a “need” for them to speak it. What do I mean by “need”? Simply occasions in which the child cannot avoid speaking the language and feeling good about him or herself when speaking it. Even if the accent is not 100% or they use the wrong, don’t judge, don’t laugh, support them in their language learning journey. Languages are not learned in a linear manner, they come and go depending on how much they are used. If you speak more than one language, look at yourself, whatever language you are using the most will be the language that makes the most advances at that point in time. For you kids this continuously changes due to a move, circle of friends, school, holidays, hobbies, reading. Reading is very important because reading expands the vocabulary and reinforces grammar structures when developing a language.

Above all in my view, do not force them to speak a language. In my case I learned the hard way, I used to send my kids to Saturday Spanish classes and they hated it. As a matter of fact, I ended hating the classes too. Having to convince the kids to go every Saturday was horrible for all of us. Not because the classes where bad. After a full week of school the kids just did not feel like having to go for 2 hours weekend Spanish classes. This became especially difficult once they grew older. Stephen Krashen, the linguistics professor at the University of Southern California, who was one of the panelists at a conference about second language acquisition in Hong Kong a few years ago, actually recommended to stop the classes. At first I thought he was mad! Where were my kids going to learn Spanish from? However, he was totally right, we stopped 3 months after he had recommended it and suddenly my kids started enjoying speaking Spanish. Why? Because we used the Saturday time to either invite Spanish speaking friends home (with kids…always a bonus), we made a point of going on holidays to Spanish speaking countries, we read more Spanish books together, we asked grandma to only speak Spanish during calls, we watched movies in Spanish (this one sometimes works sometimes does not), they became the official translators of all the summer music hits to their schoolmates…we created the need and the ego-boost to listen to and speak Spanish. Suddenly, they are proud that they can speak Spanish.

So try to relax and don’t put pressure on the kids or yourself. Try to enjoy it and remember if they understand you, you are WAY ahead of the game.

 


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