Episode 12 – Q&A – How to motivate children to continue to speak in their heritage language when they prefer the community language?

Episode 12

Don’t have time to listen to the whole episode? NO worries, I have a guide with 7 AWESOME strategies to get your kids speaking more Spanish!

Episode Transcript

Hey there!  Welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.  If you have a question about your language journey with your children that you would like answered on the show, head over to the Bilingual Avenue website and on the contact page, leave an audio message.  We’ll be answering your questions every week and hopefully learning from each other’s experience.

If you are enjoying the podcast, consider subscribing to the show on iTunes.  This way you don’t have to keep track of when new episodes are published because iTunes will just automatically download the episode right to your mobile device so you don’t have to keep coming back and checking in.  There are some great episodes planned ahead and I promise you, you will not want to miss them!

So let’s take a listen to todays’ question.

Question: Hello there, I am Viko.  I am a father of a 5 and a 7 year old girl.  I tried to raise them bilingual in Spanish and I talked to them every day in Spanish and they respond and they were learning and enhancing their vocabularly until they were 2 years old and started going to preschool.  After then, they started responding me in English, Spanish became uncool and they refused to keep learning Spanish. What should I do? Thank you so much in advance.

Thank you Viko for reaching out and sharing your question with others.

Let me start by saying that you are NOT alone!  This is unfortunately is really common for multilingual children.  It’s just simply much easier to speak the community language as their exposure to that language increases which is why you saw the decline in their Spanish when they entered pre-school.  This happens to adults so it’s not a strange phenomenon.  In fact, it’s a big source of frustration for many parents.

Let’s start breaking down this question to the basic building blocks.  The two things we need to understand as parents is that children need to #1 have a NEED to speak a particular language and #2 have enough quality EXPOSURE to that language. So again, need and exposure is what you’ll want to focus on.

So what can you do to increase the need to use the target language?

Viko, based on your questions, it sounds like your kids don’t necessarily feel that they have to speak to you in Spanish at the moment.  So you are going to have to create that need elsewhere.

You can create that need with family members, for example, who only speak Spanish and use tools like Skype to connect with them for free on a regular basis.

I think when people hear Skype they have this perception of parking your kids in front of the computer and asking them to just talk about their day.  That’s not really all that engaging for them and you are probably not going to get some good conversations that way.  My tip for Skype is to get creative.  Here are two examples of things I’ve done in the past that have worked well to increase Spanish interaction.

Just recently, my daughter and I were talking to my mom and my daughter wasn’t feeling well so she was a little upset.  In an effort to distract her, my mom just grabbed a few things she had near her and started an impromptu puppet show, just being silly and having some fun.  My daughter’s mood totally changed, she started laughing and she actually started asking my mom for more.  Anytime my mom would stop the puppet show, my little one asked her to do it again!

And then my dad is also really helpful on Skype to get my daughter interacting in Spanish.  We are working a lot on colors right now so when he is talking to her he always has several colorful objects near him that he then starts showing her to get her to say what color they are.  Super simple but highly engaging!

Brainstorm a bit with whomever is willing to Skype with your daughters and see what you can come up with.  Have them read a book, anything, just keep it fun!

You can also find play mates that also speak Spanish. Peers can have a great influence on our little ones and we can leverage that relationship to encourage the use of language.  You mentioned Spanish doesn’t seem very cool for your kids right now but if they see other children speaking it you may be able to change that perception quite a bit.

You may consider working with a Spanish-speaking sitter that interacts only with the kids in Spanish.

Or you can have other Spanish-speaking friends of your own spend some time with your kids.  Make sure though to really have a purpose for these gathering and think of ways that your children can interact with your guest only in Spanish. And even if your friend can speak English, don’t let your kids know that! Make them feel they gotta use their Spanish to communicate and convey whatever they are trying to say.

Can you take a trip back home or to another Spanish-speaking country? I realize this is NOT the most cost effective option but a very powerful one!  You’ll be amazed at the impact this can have on your children. On episode 4, Dr. Brenda Gorman talks about how beneficial a trip to Costa Rica was for her children and specifically for her youngest son who wasn’t using much Spanish before they arrived but was producing full sentences by the time their stay was over.  You can access that episode and get more details on her experience at bilingualavenue.com/episode 4

Alternatively, you can encourage family to come visit!  Guests that don’t speak the community language are another great way to increase the need to speak Spanish.  Be very honest and transparent with your guests about how you need their help to get your kids talking in Spanish.  If they are Spanish speakers they are obviously going to be supportive of your efforts and especially if they are family members.  They are gonna do whatever they can to help your kiddos.

So those are just some ideas to get you thinking about how to increase “need” to use Spanish.

Now as I said earlier, you will also have to increase the exposure that they are getting to Spanish as well. Need and exposure really go hand in hand.  In order to give them the tools to communicate in Spanish, you have to increase the exposure to the language.

So how can you do that?

One easy way to do that, is through books.  If you are not already reading in Spanish, make sure to incorporate them into your routine.  Audio books are also really fun because then it’s not JUST you speaking Spanish to them.  They can hear other voices and playful character tones that can really spice things up for them.

I am not a big fan of screen time but YouTube can be a great resource for language.  Find some children’s songs on there in Spanish and teach them to your kids.  This can really peak their interest and keep them asking for more.  You can then use some of the songs you learned as a child and share a bit of your childhood with them!  I am doing this with my daughter right now and we are having a lot of fun.

We have a book called Pio Peep that some dear friends of ours who are also raising a bilingual daughter gave to us.  The book is all about traditional Spanish nursery rhymes that are beautifully illustrated.  I guarantee you that you’ll know a few because it’s the really popular ones that anyone who grew up in Latin American heard time and time again.  Even if you don’t know them, do a quick youtube search and you’ll learn the tune, they are all on there.

What we do is I basically, I am her little juke box.  She turns to a page and I sing the song for her.  Then she picks another page and so on.  She has picked up so many little words that way!

The books is in both English and Spanish although it’s not a word for word translation since after all they are songs and poems so the authors needed the translations to rhyme as well.  But what you can do is have them read the English pages especially your oldest daughter to get a gist of what is being said but you only sing in Spanish…. And you can be very honest with them, I learned these songs in Spanish as a child so that’s the way I know to sing them.  I think you’ll have some fun with that activity.

Are there any language classes in Spanish for kids in your community?  Even though as parents we feel the responsibility of passing on our heritage language to our children, there’s nothing wrong with leveraging classes to keep that exposure going.

Now earlier I mentioned incorporating Spanish speaking peers to your children’s play dates.

Here’s the thing though to keep in mind about peers.  Even if you find other children that are multilingual with Spanish being one of their languages, if you just let them play together, they are probably all going to switch to English anyway.  Again, that’s the community language and that’s just a reality.  So you are gonna wanna increase the quality of the exposure in those interactions and add some structure to those play dates.

Here’s one idea of how you may be able to do that.  Pick up a new easy and kid friendly board game that neither of the kids are familiar with and make it clear that you are going play this game in Spanish.  Go over the rules in Spanish, encourage the kids to ask any questions they may have about the game in Spanish and then start playing with them.

Make sure the game is simple so they are not too overwhelmed by the vocabulary.  That’s just one idea but there are countless ways of structuring a play date to infuse it with your target language.  Honestly, it can be as simple as baking a batch of cookies together and getting them to talk about the ingredients and steps with you in Spanish.

You can certainly do this at home with just your kids, but add some peers into the mix and your kids will have that much more fun.

You can also leverage technology.  There are some wonderful apps coming out to expose children to language.  We are going to start featuring a few that we really like on the show in upcoming episodes so make sure to stay tuned for those.

And then think of simple things you can do, like only playing music in Spanish when you are in the car or at home.  Simply surround your kids with the language.

These are just some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

If you want to know more, I actually have a free PDF with seven fun and easy ways to increase exposure in the target language.  There is one for each learning style so you should be able to find some ideas there that work for your children.  To get a copy of the report, just go to bilingualavenue.com/exposure and I’ll send that your way.

All in all, you want to make the interactions with Spanish fun and not make it seem like a chore.  Kids are kids and they are naturally gonna be attracted to things that they enjoy doing.  Identify what those activities are and find ways to infuse them with Spanish.

Now here’s the thing and I am going to be very honest with you.  Even after you try all these strategies and have even tweaked them to fit your children’s learning preferences, they may still decide that they only what to speak to YOU in English.

We can encourage our children to speak the target language, we can provide situations where they exposed to it, we can ignore them and we pretend we don’t understand, we can get really mad at them and make them repeat themselves in the target language but at the end of the day they may still choose to speak to you in English.

Even if that’s the case, I still want you to continue to speak Spanish to them and I am gonna tell you why!

Even if they are not engaging with you in Spanish, you will actually still help them build a foundation for that language.  This is called passive bilingualism.  On a future podcast, you’ll meet Maria Babin from trilingualmama.com She has a similar personal story.  Her parents spoke to her in Spanish and she responded in English.  However, once she put her mind to it and decided she wanted to learn Spanish as an adult, she was able to pick it up and learn it very quickly.

So again even if they are not engaging with you in Spanish not all is lost.  But you have to make the commitment to speak to them exclusively in Spanish.

This may be difficult at first so just set a personal goal of incorporating a little bit more Spanish every day until you it feels natural to only address them in Spanish.  This gradual increase of your interactions in Spanish will make it easier on you and your children.  But whatever you do, don’t give up.  In the end, you are helping to lay that important foundation that they can build on as they get older.

Well Viko, thank you for submitting your question.  I hope you found the answer helpful.  Best of luck on your journey and keep us posted on how it goes!

For everyone else, if you have a question, make sure to leave an audio message at bilingualavenue.com/contact and we’ll answer it on the podcast.

May you have fun travels on your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the avenue.


Comments 2

  1. Pingback: Q&A: How to encourage a reluctant child to use the minority language? – multilingual parenting – bilingual children

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