Taking preventive measures such as sticking to the minority language consistently, giving the child as much quality exposure as possible, having fun and being a proud and positive role model will minimize the chance of language rejection in multilingual children.
“Why is my child not responding in my language?” This is a common struggle which minority language parents often face. There are plenty of reasons why this happens. The following seven tips are going to help you prevent language rejection and adjust your approach to reach your goals.
In the first three to five years of your children’s life, you have the chance to build up a strong bond, a solid relationship with them. The more languages you speak to your children, the more likely it is that they will choose to reply in their “preferred” language – their strongest one, often the majority language. That is why, if it is important to you that your children respond in your language, speak consistently using that language when talking to them until it becomes a habit, a necessity. Once you have reached this important milestone, you can carefully start adding new languages.
As I mentioned before, the first years (including the time in the womb) are crucial to the overall development of a child. If you are a minority language parent, you need to use the first five years wisely and take advantage of this important phase. Give your children a “Big Bang Start” by investing as many hours and as much energy as you can, exposing them to your minority language. Once your kids go to school, the majority language will become very dominant. By the time a child goes to school, the weaker the minority language level is, the more likely it is that the child will drop it.
Children are very susceptible beings. They know when something “smells fishy”. If there are any negative connotations with the language, it could lead to refusal to speak it. To begin with, you need to use your minority language proudly wherever and in front of whomever you are when speaking to your children. That will give them confidence. Talk to them about your roots and culture, visit your country of origin and let your children have multiple positive experiences with people that speak your language. All of this will strengthen their connection towards the language and will motivate them to keep on learning.
Kids who have had negative experiences linked to a minority language tend to choose to reject it. That is why you would want to avoid overcorrecting or forcing your children to speak. Instead, support, encourage and protect them if you witness the following:
It is important to remember that you are the biggest role model to your children. Be proud, speak confidently and teach them how to react when confronted with negative comments.
When children often switch or “borrow” words from other languages, it is a clear sign that they need more language input to become more confident and have the vocabulary needed to express themselves. Encourage reading books and listening to audiobooks on a regular basis. Use supplements and external help like playdates, support from family and friends, visits to the country of origin, appropriate videos, music, apps and other programs.
When kids are having fun, they learn faster, better and get interested in the topic. As a parent, the best thing you can do is to awaken their interest in the minority language. Your children need plenty of positive experiences linked to your language to feel the desire to speak it, make the effort of improving and become life-long learners.
If you need more support in your multilingual family’s journey, please visit my webpage, YouTube channel, or sign up to receive a newsletter with the latest tips and tricks on how to raise successful multilingual children.
Andrea Breitenmoser was brought up bilingual, raises trilingual children and is a teacher specialized in multilingualism. She has worked over 12 years at multilingual public and private schools in Zurich-Switzerland and helps parents all over the world through her vlog Multilingual Family.
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