Creating a Need for Bilingual Children

In order for our children to use all the great vocabulary that we are exposing them to, they must feel the need to use it! Children like adults are pragmatic and if they can get away with using their “more dominant” language they will.  Therefore we need to create a need for them to use the target language.

We already covered exposure in a previous post. Now we are diving into creating a need which for most families is the harder element of the two.

Parents have a great deal of control on how to create a need.  Need really starts with US, it starts with YOU.

  • Hold yourself accountability

You can get strict with yourself and create accountability for how you will STICK to the target language.

If you are not speaking to your child exclusively in your target language, but you are capable of doing it, then start doing so!  If you cannot do it exclusively but you can do it for a greater portion of the day, then do so.  We cannot expect our kids to speak a language exclusively if we are not modeling how to do so from the start.

  • Put some strategies in place

Most bilingual parents will face some pushback from their kids at some point on the journey.  It is important to keep expectations on what language should be spoken in order to REALLY create a need.

Let’s say you are working on Spanish at home and you live in the United States.  Once your kids start speaking English with you and you look the other way it is going to be more difficult for them to feel that they NEED to speak Spanish.

Therefore, it is important to plan ahead and apply a family language strategy for when this happens. Check out this post to see a spectrum of strategies.

One of my favorite strategies to use is “questioning.”  If either of my kids says something in English, I ask them a question in Spanish.  It is always related to what they just said and it serves as a signal and a reminder that we speak Spanish together.

  • Play with your kids

We have talked before about how powerful playing with your kids can be for adding exposure to the target language.  And guess what? Play can also be highly beneficial for creating a need as well.

Playing is my go to activity when I see that my kids are letting English creep up into our conversations.

My kids know that if they want me to play with them, it has to be in Spanish. You can set the same kind of expectations too. Set some time aside to play with your child and let them know that when you play together it has to be in the target language.

If you see that your child is switching back to the community language and is being somewhat defiant about sticking to the target language, let them know that you are going to step away from the game.  Be positive but firm.

Let them know that they do have a choice and they may very well choose to play in the community language but just not with you.  Let them also know that once they are ready to go back to the target language that you will gladly come back and play.

The majority of the time you will find that kids will much rather play with you than by themselves and will push themselves to stick to that target language.

As I have asked you before, challenge yourself to play with your child for at least 10 minutes every day and go create that need.  I guarantee that you will see a difference!

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