How can your bilingual child learn the minority language and maintain it in the future too? Acquiring the mother-tongue (or heritage language) does not always come naturally to multilingual children. But there is a ton of benefits to speaking the minority language. Here are the reasons why your bilingual child needs to learn the minority language and some simple tips for you to make your child learn, speak, and maintain your language. Plus, you will get some free guides to learn more about bilingualism and how you can support your child’s language skills

How to make your child learn and speak your language.

You want your child to be an active user of the minority language, understand your culture, and also communicate with you at the deepest level.

There is enough information on the internet about the benefits of bilingualism.

Where to start? Cognitive benefits, cultural benefits, academic benefits, or economic benefits… 

Let alone all these fancy advantages of being bilingual, bilingualism is the chance to master more than one language and culture. What can be better than this?

And you are wondering how you can make your child speak your (minority) language very well.

Why should I teach my child my language?

There are many reasons why multilingual children should be able to communicate in the heritage language. Speaking the minority language with your child is a way to communicate with your child on a deeper level, create and maintain cultural bonds, and make your child a thriving multilingual. 

As a parent, you may be thinking that your child is going to talk late or develop a language disorder due to bilingualism. 

On the other side, there are still some people who give unfortunate advice to parents of bilingual children.

‘’Don’t speak your language with your child.’’

 ‘’Care only about the majority language otherwise, your child will be dumb.’’

‘’If you keep speaking your language, your child will never learn the society language, so drop the minority language, will you?’’

Let’s pause here for a moment. Why wouldn’t a child master the minority language that will be so beneficial throughout the child’s life? 

Language use affects the parent-child relationship, emotions, and identity. 

First of all, as a parent, you should be talking to your child in the language that you are most comfortable with. And this is most probably your mother-tongue too. There is no disadvantage to transfer your language to your child.

On the contrary, research shows that speaking another language with the child that the parent is not very comfortable with can affect the parent-child relationship negatively. Hence, leading to emotional and psychological problems.

Mother-tongue helps to acquire other languages too

There is a big likelihood that a child will be more proficient in the majority language in the future, no matter what. What happens then? Many children become passive users of the language (‘’I understand but can’t speak’’), especially they do not have a strong foundation and continuous language opportunities in their mother-tongue. 

On the other hand, a stable mother tongue foundation can help children to acquire a second and a third language too. Also, having constant support and opportunities in the minority language will prevent the language from being forgotten by the child. 

 

Minority language use creates and maintains cultural bonds

What about your parents, relatives, and friends who speak the minority language and your child’s relationship with them? Imagine that your child is not able to communicate with your parents or people that you share the same cultural roots in the future. Wouldn’t it be sad?

Losing the mother-tongue means losing the bonds with one’s culture and roots too. 

Is it easy to teach my language to my child while living in another country?

 

Yes and no. Children acquire languages easier than adults do. But this does not happen by hearing a language every now and then. Bilingual/multilingual children have a bonus language that does not always come for free.

Bilingual children need extensive ‘exposure’ and ‘language use opportunities’ to acquire and maintain a minority language.

Some parents think that the majority language of a child should be supported more because the child does not speak it well in the beginning. And it looks like some children really need it, especially if the child does not hear the society (majority) language from age zero.

BUT! The majority language always wins in the end and it becomes the dominant language. When children start school, they become more and more exposed to the majority language. And what does this mean? The minority languages are at risk and it should be supported all the time.

For school-age children, it is possible to teach them a language with language lessons but for small children, it is not the case. Babies, toddlers, and preschool children acquire languages through being immersed in a language.

So, instead of searching for language lessons for your little one, consider how you can expose your child to your language. Think about all the exposure and opportunities as early and as fun as possible.

 

Join My Tiny Bilingual Facebook Group to share your questions and experience with other families. 

My tiny bilingual

”Why is it hard for my child to learn the minority language?”

 

Time restrictions, low motivation, unsupportive environment, and misinformation about bilingualism can make it difficult for parents to transfer their language to their children. As a result, it becomes difficult for children to learn the minority language and speak it very well. 

Let’s see what we know about bilingualism first. Parents, teachers, medical doctors, and even speech-language therapists should understand that multilingualism does not cause speech delay or language disorders.

So please, do not listen to those who say the opposite! I keep hearing from worried parents that their children have a language problem due to bilingualism

BUT, the truth is that hearing more than one language may result in limited exposure to each language. Here we are talking about the time restrictions. A day is only 24 hours, whether you are monolingual or multilingual.

They say ”it takes a village to raise a child.” Imagine each language as a village. A monolingual child spends the entire day in one village whereas a multilingual child has to go to two or more villages during the day

What to do then? Increase the quantity and quality of interactions in each village. I mean, in each language! I will talk more about it soon.

Another myth is that a multilingual child will become confused. I know a lot of parents whose child doctors gave this false information to them. They were even advised to stop speaking in the minority language

Nope nope nope. A child can hear the differences between the languages since birth. Children are born wired to do this. 

ANOTHER ”BUT” here. There are a few things we need to remember. Little kiddos have a small vocabulary size and they prefer to use the easiest words from each language. Easiest words mean that the words that they know and produce easily.

Children may also have different vocabulary in different languages. For instance, it is common to have a school vocabulary in the majority language and home vocabulary in the minority language.

But indeed, code-switching is something that we adults do too and it is very normal for the speakers of multiple languages.

Alright alright alright.

Now we have all the knowledge in the world to see why we should teach our children the minority language and what happens if we don’t.

 

How to make your child learn, speak, and maintain the minority language

””How to make your child learn the minority language (plus, speak and maintain it very well)

 

1. Speak the minority language at home and start doing this as early as possible

You can start speaking your language with your child even before birth. Don’t feel weird about it. Hearing ability is intact in the womb from the 18th week of pregnancy.

Infants differentiate their mothers’ voice right after birth. Six-month-old babies can understand words. So why not give your baby the chance of hearing your language already before birth?

Earlier is better. Even if you did not start in the womb, it is never too late. Speaking in your language with your child at home and even outside of the home if you feel comfortable.

And don’t worry too much about the majority language. Your child will eventually be very good at it.

2. Be consistent in your language choice

I know that it is not always easy. But it is important that you are determined and consistent in speaking your language with your child.

Some children find it easy to speak the majority language with their parents. This usually happens after the child has been exposed to the majority language extensively through school. These children do it because they know that their parents understand the majority language. So why would they bother forcing themselves to speak in the minority language?

That is why you want to be consistent in your minority language use with your child so that your child has a good foundation.

 

READ HERE: How to make yoıur child bilingual through motivation and consistency in the minority language.

 

3. Learn how to support your child’s language skills anytime, anywhere

Read about the methods to support your child’s language skills, anytime, and anywhere.

Learn about language and speech development and observe where your child is and what your child needs. You can do many easy and fun things to enhance your child’s language development.

Be curious and creative.

CLICK to DOWNLOAD: Is My Child’s Language Development on Track?

CLICK to DOWNLOAD: Baby & Toddler Language Booster. 

 

4. Teach your child about the importance of the mother-tongue, multilingualism, and multiculturalism

Your openness and positive attitudes about your culture, language, and also other cultures and languages will help your child to form similar attitudes also.

Be proud of your language and culture, surround your environment with the languages and cultural objects. You can do this for other languages and cultures too. Doing this will help your child have an open mind regarding multilingualism and multiculturalism.

 

5. Instead of correcting your child’s speech, be an example 

Your child can make many mistakes while acquiring a language. Don’t worry and don’t correct your child’s speech. Doing these will only create pressure.

Instead, show examples of the correct way of saying it. This will help your child to hear them over and over again.

 

6. Label the languages as ”mother’s language” and ”father’s language”

If you and your spouse speak different languages, you can label them as mother’s language and father’s language.

It will help your child to understand that different people speak different languages. It can also be very helpful in having positive attitudes toward different languages.

 

7. Avoid translating

Translating languages is not a natural way of interacting.

Instead of translating, focus on using only one language at a time.

If your child does not know the meaning of a word, you can, of course, translate the word to help them.

But language acquisition occurs through interaction. So instead of translating, create a lot of language learning opportunities in different contexts.

If you want to speak different languages with your child, you can use the Time and Place language strategy. You can check the family language strategies to learn more about how to do that.

READ HERE: Family Language Strategies and Why You Need to Have One.

Support your toddler's language development. Improve your child's language skills anytime, anywhere.

8. Read books

Books open up the doors of new worlds and words.

Read a lot. Interact with your child while reading.

”How to make book-reading with my child more interactive and useful?”

  • Be engaging
  • Ask questions
  • Make your child curious
  • Be at your child’s eye level
  • Your language should be at your child’s level and a bit above your child’s level
  • Define the characters and events
  • Talk about the functions of the objects
  • Define the emotions of the characters 
  • Talk about colors, numbers, shapes
  • Use a lot of repetitions
  • Form different sentences that have similar meanings
  • Use a rich vocabulary
  • Mention cause and effect relationships

and make this activity a fun thing for your child.

 

9. Do activities and listen to songs in your language

Listen to songs in your language. Songs, games, and activities carry a lot of information about languages and cultures.

And like reading, they provide a whole new vocabulary.

Doing these things in your language will give your child positive messages about your attitudes toward culture and language.

Word games, rhymes, and jokes will keep the language fun and alive.

 

10. Connect with the people who speak your language

The following can provide great exposure to a language from a variety of people:

  • visiting your country
  • video-chatting with your relatives and friends
  • reading groups
  • playdates
  • activity groups in your language.

Did you know that talking to grandma and grandpa on the phone or video is a great motivation for many children to use the minority language?

 11. Use the toys and games that your child loves

Some of your child’s toys can speak only in your language. These toys can be puppets or fluffy animals. You can also play some games, board games, or anything your child likes in the minority language.

Do you have pets? Why not use them as a motivation to speak the minority language for your child. Remember, your pet can understand ONLY the minority language.

READ: How to play with your child to build essential communication skills.

DOWNLOAD NOW: Fun Games to Make Your Toddler Talk.

 

12. Encourage siblings to speak in the minority language with each other

If you have more than one child, it is common for the older sibling to prefer speaking the majority language with the younger sibling. In this case, younger siblings may have a more difficult time getting hold of the minority language.

Encourage the siblings to use the minority language with each other.

13. Get support from the people close to you

Get support from everyone around, especially from the people who are closest to you. Educate them about the importance of multilingualism and multiculturalism

Encourage and support your spouse to learn your language, at least a little bit.

Ask your relatives and friends to support your choice to speak the minority language with your child.

 

 

”How can my child acquire and maintain a minority language?” 

”How to teach my child my language?”

”How can my child speak my language very well?”

To summarize, the answer is:

1. Start speaking your language as early as possible.

2. Be determined and consistent.

3. Learn the strategies to support your child’s language skills every day.

4. Teach your child about the importance of multilingualism, multiculturalism, and mother-tongue.

5. Don’t correct your child’s speech. Instead, be an example of the correct way of talking.

6. Label the languages as ”mother’s language” and ”father’s language”.

7. Avoid translating,  use one language at a time.

8. Read a lot!

9. Listen to some songs, use rhymes and jokes in your language.

10. Connect with people who speak the minority language.

11. Use toys and games that your child likes.

12. Encourage minority language use between the siblings.

13. Get the support of other people around you.

 

Follow LingoBalance

Read More On The Blog

What to focus on when raising a multilingual child?
Family language strategies and why you should have one.
how to raise a thriving bilingual
13 tips to get your bilingual child to speak your language.