What every parent ought to know about motivating their bilingual children

If you are like me and you are essentially the parent “tagged” with teaching your children the minority language in your home, you are probably always looking for new strategies and ideas to increase your language exposure.

We also have the added layer of difficulty of keeping our children motivated throughout the process!

I often hear from bilingual parents that the latter, the part about keeping kids motivated on their language journey, is one of their MOST challenging obstacles.

In my role as a dual language teacher I had the opportunity to work hand in hand with language learners of several ages.

Those who were having the hardest time staying motivated to use the minority language, in their case Spanish, expressed the same sentiment time and time again!

“I want to speak Spanish to my parents and my friends. I really do! I just don’t always have the words I want to use and so I give up and transition to English.”

Not having the words they wanted to use was almost always the culprit!

Not having the words? Really?

Can it really be that simple?

In many cases, it is!

That’s great news for parents because words are free!

We can teach our children new words by

  1. providing them with rich vocabulary input,
  2. modeling the correct use of those words,
  3. giving them an opportunity to practice what they are learning and
  4. ultimately helping them develop a confidence to use these words.

Sure there are other things that you’ll have to keep in mind such as making things fun, relevant and age appropriate but these are the four building blocks.

Put these in place and you’ll see you are likely to see your child’s level of engagement and use of their target language significantly increase.

You may wonder if that’s the case, how can we be intentional about how we teach our children new words?

My favorite strategy, as of late is called “Say What You See.” I love it for its simplicity and it’s effectiveness.

No fancy toy needed! No elaborate set up required! 
No jumping through hoops to keep the kids engaged.

Instead …. just good old quality time between parent and child!

With “Say What You See” you watch what your child is doing when they are playing with particular emphasis on what they are looking at the time. Then you simply give your child the words to their thoughts at an appropriate level.

Let me share with you a more detailed explanation in this video from Nicola Lathey who introduced me to this wonderful strategy when I interviewed her for the podcast.

We spend hours surfing the web, reading every book (and maybe even listening to podcasts!) on the topic of bilingual children so that we can try out the latest method to teach our children a language.

Yet what I have found in my time in the classroom and now with my own children is that sometimes the best strategies are the simplest ones!

“Say What You See” when playing with your child to influence their vocabulary input and you are likely to see a great deal of impact on the level of motivation your children exhibit when working on their language journey.

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  1. Pingback: Top tips for motivating bilingual children to speak their languages – multilingual parenting – bilingual children

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