What NOT to do when Raising Bilingual Kids

We spend a lot of time talking about the things we should do and try with our bilingual kids to help them on their language journey.

But have you given some thought to the things that you should not do?

I am going to share three things that I NEVER want you to do with your bilingual kids.

I never want you to bribe your bilingual kids to speak the target language.

  • Bribes

We know as parents that bribing does not usually get us very far.  Maybe it does in the short term but never in the long term.

Bribing your kids about anything is usually just going to get you into a bad cycle. 

And even worse.  The act of bribing can send some unspoken yet powerful messages to your kids such as:

  • You do not want to speak the target language
  • Maybe you are not capable of speaking the target language without a bribe
  • Speaking the target language is only important to me your parent and not to you

Essentially, the message we are sending our kids when we bribe them to speak the target language is “Speaking the target language must not have any intrinsic value, you must have to pay me/bribe me to get me to do it.”

Bribes will produce short term results but the more YOU bribe the more you will fall back on to it too.

And so both you and your child will fall into this cycle that you do not want to be a part of.

I know none of you are offering your children a Porsche when they turn 18 if they will JUST speak the target language.

But are there little bribes that are you are throwing at them without realizing it?

Resist the temptation and do NOT bribe your child to speak the target language.

Challenge yourself to resist the quick fix!

  • Rewards

Ok so if bribes are not good, what about rewards?

Let’s start by talking about how bribes are different than rewards.

Bribes are offered when kids are acting in the opposite way in which we want them to act.  In our case as bilingual parents that may be when they are speaking the community language instead of the target language.

Rewards on the other hand are offered as an applause, in a sense, for a job well done and in our case, speaking the target language.

The question then becomes are rewards, ok?

I have actually looked into the research and the experts are sort of split on this one.

Some say that rewards encourage future good behavior.

But others say that rewards are still a controlling way of raising children. They still do not set the message that some actions are expected.

Everyone agrees that they are preferable to bribes. But they still do not produce lasting change.

I will tell you that in my home, I use rewards.

I don’t go buy them a new toy just because they spoke in Spanish.

Instead, I may point out when they start using a new word or they put a complex sentence together.  My reward would then be to follow up and say, “Let’s go read a story together in Spanish so we can learn some new words.”

I find something that I know my children will enjoy and tie it back to language.

It works in my home.  I will leave this one up to you on how you want to move forward but I personally think that if you are tying it back to language, you are in a good place.

The language journey has to remain positive if we want our children to be motivated.

  • What should you absolutely do?

If bribes are not appropriate and even rewards are debatable for some, what then?

Here is the one thing that everyone across the spectrum AGREES should be done to incentivize our kids to carry out the actions we desire:

Be the change YOU want to see in your kids.

Start by asking, do my kids really know what I expect them to speak with me?

What are they learning by watching and listening to ME all day? Am I sticking to the language policy we have designed for our family?

It all comes back to modeling the behavior.

If you can exclusively speak to your kids in your target language, then model for them what that looks like.

If you cannot, then designate times during the day or the week when you do speak it consistently so they pick up when they should speak it.

Older kids are able to internalize and talk about their language choices. If you think your kids can manage it, have a conversation about it and share your desires and expectations.  Even better, talk about the benefits and why you are encouraging them to use the target language.

And don’t forget to provide them with regular and positive feedback and encouragement.

Challenge yourself to provide your kids with more positive remarks than negative ones on their language choices and celebrate when they do actively engage with your target language.

You just might be surprised.


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