What’s inside? How to make your child bilingual by speaking your (minority) language? First of all, motivation and consistency in your language are super important! In this post, you will find the important questions you should ask yourself for having motivation and consistency in the minority language to make your child a thriving bilingual. And of course, some very simple and amazing tips to get speaking the minority language with your child every day. Let’s do it!
Some of the questions I get from parents about this topic. Do you see yourself in any of those?
- My child speaks English with me at home and Afrikaans with his father. He understands both but we are very behind in Turkish. I and my husband speak English with each other and I could not find the motivation to speak Turkish with my child. How can I motivate myself and my child to speak Turkish?
- I am having a hard time motivating and reminding myself to speak my language with my child. My child always speaks German with me.
- My daughter is two years old. I want to speak my language (Korean) with her. We live in Canada and since everyone around speaks English I feel hesitant to speak Korean with her. What can I do to speak my language with my child?
- My son is 24 months old. I and my husband are both from the Netherlands and we live in the USA for the last 10 years. We try to speak Dutch but we are so used to speak English and we usually find ourselves speaking English at home. That also affects my child’s language skills. How can I be motivated and consistent in speaking in the minority language?
To go directly to 10 motivation and consistency tips to make your child bilingual, click here.
Motivation and consistency in the minority language
Two problems many parents face when it comes to speaking their language are motivation and consistency. These two happen to be crucial determinants of whether your child will learn and speak the minority language. As experts, no matter how much we say ‘’speak your language’’ ‘’speak a lot with your child’’ ‘’be consistent’’ and so oni we also have to understand that this is not always easy for all the families.
Parenthood is already busy as it is and parents may want to be efficient in communicating with their children instead of thinking about which language they speak all the time.
Making yourself understood to your child as clearly as possible can be more important than trying to remember to speak your language. This is normal.
But how to be motivated and consistent in using the home (minority) language? Let’s talk about why you should be motivated and consistent first before we get into how.
Ask yourself these questions first:
Why should my child become a bilingual / multilingual?
Do you think that being able to speak more than one language fluently is an important skill? Do you think that your child can benefit from being multilingual?
Asking yourself why you want your child to become bilingual and thinking about all the benefits of bilingualism can be a good idea. After you have a solid reason to be motivated the rest can be more smooth.
How proficient should my child be in that language?
Take a paper and a pen and write down all the languages your child needs to learn. How well should s/he learn them? Write down scores from 1 (very little) to 5 (native level) for understanding, reading, writing, and speaking. This will make how much input and practice your child needs in your language clearer.
What would be if my child does not speak my language?
Think about some years later. Your child does not speak your language. Would it make things difficult for the other family members? Do you think that learning your language(s) in the future will give your child a chance to communicate with the other members of the family? Would it hurt you and your child?
How important it is for you to communicate with your child in your language at a meaningful or deeper level?
Communication goals are what make your child’s language goals a reality.
These questions are very important for you to answer so that you can set your motivation and goals (more on that a bit later). If your answer is ‘’yes’’ for most of them, then you will commit to this bumpy road of raising a bilingual / multilingual child.
Does it have to be bumpy though? Not always. It depends on the conditions you have. If you are the only one who speaks the language and your child has no other opportunities to hear and use your language, then you have more work to do.
Make a list of all the resources (people, games, groups, books, etc.) that your child can practice your language with. It will help you!
Observe your weaknesses
If you feel like you tend to lose motivation to speak your language with your child observe when this happens most of the time.
Do you feel it is harder to maintain consistency when you are tired, after work, in the morning, at home, outside the home, or in any other particular situation? In this case, you have two options:
1. Focus on the times ‘you can’ instead of the times ‘you can’t’ to give your child as much language input as possible.
2. Create opportunities for you to remember and motivate yourself to use your language with your child in these low times.
Feeling weird to speak in your language?
This can be a problem for parents especially if they are the only person who speaks a certain language in the community. Speaking your language with your child can feel odd, and even unkind when others are around. If children sense this hesitation, they are more likely to avoid the language as much as they can.
Today more than half of the children in the world speak more than one language. For some, bilingualism comes as default through the languages of the country they live in. But for many, this is not the case. Nowadays in many countries, it is not weird to hear people speaking other languages. Knowing the advantages, it is safe to say bilingualism is encouraged and praised.
Think about the conditions in the country you live in. Should it feel uncomfortable to speak your language with your child? It can feel weird if you are not used to it in the beginning but again think about your motivations to raise a multilingual child.
It can be a good idea to start slowly, using a Time & Place strategy first to get used to speaking your language. You can also assign some ‘safe spaces’. If you only speak your language in certain times and places, your child should not think that your language is something to hide from other people. Otherwise, this can affect your child’s willingness to learn it too.
One of the beauties of being bilingual/multilingual is the ability to maintain family and cultural bonds. Parents of many children I work with mention this a lot when I ask them the question: ‘’Why is being bilingual important for your child?’’
Knowing about all the cognitive, economic, and cultural benefits of bilingualism can boost your motivation and consistency!
10 SIMPLE MOTIVATION and CONSISTENCY TIPS for PARENTS to RAISE a BILINGUAL CHILD.
Alright, now let’s talk about some of the simple techniques you can use to motivate and remind yourself to speak your language with your child. Let’s see which ones are going to work for you!
1. Start as early as possible
Your child can start hearing your language in the womb. This is going to set the habit even before your child is born and it will give you a lot of opportunities to speak your language (yes you need that sometimes).
Speaking your language from the beginning will help your child to have a very good foundation from early on.
2. Cooperate with your spouse, family, and whoever is around you
More important than what kind of language strategy and plan you have is how to be consistent in your strategy and plan. You don’t have to do it yourself. Be clear about your child’s language goals. Tell it to people around you and ask for their support.
Learn with LingoBalance: Read more about language goals, strategy, and plan here!
If your spouse does not speak your language, you can make them start learning it, taking some small steps with the child. This will also give your child the message that your language is worthwhile.
My brother’s wife is Hungarian and they live in Turkey. Noone else around speaks Hungarian with their baby but the wife. My brother has been taking Hungarian lessons since their baby started talking. This supports the baby to learn and maintain Hungarian and also helps my brother to be involved in their conversations. Isn’t it nice?
3. Give your child some responsibility too
Children can be very active participants of their future and they should be. Giving your child some responsibility can make it easier. Make your child the language detective and ask them to catch you if you don’t speak your language.
4. Surround your home and environment with the language
Cookbooks, newspapers, posters, music, TV channels, and whatever you can think of. Seeing and hearing the language around during the day will help you keep your language alive.
5. Use the power of morning routines
Your morning routine sets your day. Start your day with your language. Tell your child what you will do that day, read a little story in your language, or sing a ‘good morning’ song together in your language. Think about all the routines you and your child do in the morning, changing clothes, eating, taking a bath.. Anything. And make something in your language.
6. Assign times and places for the language
If you have difficulty remembering to speak your language you can assign certain times and places to that language. This is also like Time and Place family strategy and it works well if it’s hard to be consistent for you.
Use some parts of your home or hours of your day to speak your language with your child.
Think about how you can vary the conditions so your child hears the language in different contexts. For instance, if you always speak your language in the kitchen, talk about different things, not only food and cooking. In this way, your child has a bigger vocabulary in the minority language.
7. Some toys can only speak your language
I read some success stories in Multilingual Parenting blog and I think it is a very creative and fun way of motivating your child to speak your language. You can use some of your child’s favorite toys, puppets, or even pets for this. Tell your child that this toy is from your country and can only speak your language.
8. Be in touch with the people of your language often
Two important factors for learning a language is need and motivation. Need and motivation become more important for bilingual children in Soity language. Thus, sometimes parents need to be more creative to create these two.
Through your connection with the people who speak your language, you can also create the need and motivation for your child and family. Keeping contact with grandparents, cousins, and friends can be a great way of learning and maintaining your language.
A mother I worked with told me the following story. Their children started to ask why were they speaking another language at home while everyone else around spoke Swedish. The mother answered ‘’because there are many people we love and want to spend time with when they are in Turkey. If we don’t speak Turkish, they will never understand us.’’ The children took it to their hearts. Hearing this created a ‘need’ and ‘motivation’ for them to keep learning Turkish although they lived in Sweden.
9. Talk about the importance of bilingualism, multilingualism, and languages
If your child has a reason, motivation, and need, s/he will also understand the importance of learning and speaking the home languages. Like the story above, in which children understood that the home language was needed to communicate with many people they liked.
Expressing your positive attitude and thoughts about bilingualism and home language is important. Take pride in your language and focus on the benefits that bilingualism brings.
Be calm and cooperative without compromising communication with your child. Being able to communicate and understand each other is more important than forcing your language on your child.
Sometimes it can be hard to find a balance, I know that. That’s why I am here 🙂
10. Your secret language
Another tip that works for many children I have worked with is to talk about your secret language. Some children love the idea that other people around will not understand the language they speak. Being able to communicate in the minority language can allow them to tell you some secrets that no one around will understand. Later on, your child will already realize and enjoy the super benefits of being bilingual. But adding a little more motivation through talking about your secret language in the first few years of your child’s life can make wonders!
Did you enjoy this article?
Don’t forget to share this post on social media and with people who will benefit from it.
And feel free to let me know about your comments and questions in the comments section.
To learn more from me:
Join the LingoBalance Families Facebook group to ask you questions and share your journey with other like-minded families
Buket Oztekin has an M.A. in speech and language therapy and a Ph.D. in linguistics. She works with bilingual children and investigates their language development. She coaches parents of bilingual children and connects them with other parents to spread knowledge and experience. Her goal with creating LingoBalance is to turn what the research says into bitesize information and activities for parents to use with their kiddos anytime, anywhere.