Last Updated on May 31, 2022 by Bilingual Kidspot
My child won’t speak my language
Are you frustrated thinking “Why won’t my child speak my language? Don’t worry you aren’t alone. Raising bilingual kids isn’t easy.
If you are raising a bilingual or multilingual child, you will know that it comes with many challenges. No doubt you have been in the situation where your little one answers you in another language. It can be frustrating, I know, I have been there!
What you need to remember is that children will use any vocabulary they know to communicate. So if it means using another language to get their point across they will do so.
If you are speaking the majority language then you may not experience it so much, but if you are speaking the minority language, it may be a common occurrence.
What to do when your child won’t speak your language?
If you haven’t already, read my article: Why your child won’t speak your language and tips do to encourage them. This will give you ideas on how you can prevent possible issues in the future.
Now I will share with you the simple technique that worked for us when my kids were younger.
We used the OPOL method from birth. I spoke with our kids in English and my husband spoke with them in Italian. As we lived in Italy when they were younger, the community language was Italian, therefore the language they get the most exposure to.
For both children when they were younger, Italian was always been the stronger language and when they were starting to speak, both responded to me in Italian quite a lot.
It was quite frustrating because I remember thinking What if my kids never speak English? What if they never become fluent in my own mother tongue?”
When the kids starting to talk, it was mostly in Italian. What I did was this.
If he pointed to the ball and said “palla”, I simply asked, “In English?” and pause.
Sometimes he would say “ball!” and in that case I said “Yes, it’s a ball”. But if he didn’t answer because he didn’t know the English word, or couldn’t remember, I would say it for him, “In English, ball”.
You can do the same in whichever language you speak
Repeat but don’t force it.
You can follow the same method.
Wait until the next time it happens and repeat the same process. It may take a few times to get it, but with us eventually when I would pause, he would say the word.
There are going to also be times when they will argue.
My son would sometimes look at me and say “No, palla”, and no matter what I said at that point, he wouldn’t want to listen, in his mind that is the word he knows to be right.
In this case I would just leave it until the next time he uses the word and repeat the process.
Kids will often mixe languages when speaking until they get it.
For example when learning new words from me in English that he didn’t know in Italian, he would respond to his Papà using the English words. My husband used the same technique and would ask “In Italiano?” and repeat the same process.
Repetition and Consistency
The main things are repetition, and consistency, using the same technique every time.
Kids will expect it if you are consistent.
Sure there will be times when they won’t and we need to be patient as all children learn at a different pace.
My kids are now 8 and 10 and speak both languages fluently.
We followed the same technique with both children when they were learning to speak, and also when they were learning Spanish. It really helped them to distinguish languages.
There are variations that other parents use, eg. “Mummy says “x”, Daddy says “y”. For young children this can be a simpler way for them to understand, however I found by using the actual names of the languages I was able to teach my children about other languages, and the countries they are spoken in.
Are you frustrated that your child doesn’t speak your language? Do you use this technique and has it worked for you? If you use another technique what do you do?
- 25 ways to boost the minority language
- Everything you need to know about second language acquisition
- How you can improve your child’s language skills