Last Updated on
My child won’t speak my language
If you are raising a bilingual or multilingual child, 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.
So what do you 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 works for us.
My little ones are now four and two and we use the OPOL method. From birth I have spoken with them in English and my husband has spoken with them in Italian. As we live in Italy, the community language is Italian, therefore the language they get the most exposure to.
For both children, Italian has 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?”
My youngest, is now starting to talk a lot but mostly in Italian.
If he points to the ball for example and says “palla”, I simply ask, “In English?” and pause.
Sometimes he will say “ball!” and in that case I say “Yes, it’s a ball”. But if he doesn’t answer because he doesn’t know the English word, or doesn’t remember, I then say it for him, “In English, ball”.
I try to encourage him to repeat it, but I don’t force him if he doesn’t.
I wait until the next time and repeat the same process. It takes a few times for him to get it, but eventually when I make the pause, he will say the word.
There are times when my son will argue with me and say “No, palla”, and no matter what I say at that point, he won’t want to listen, in his mind that is the word he knows to be right. I just leave it until the next time he uses the word and repeat the process.
For some words he will repeat them right away, and from then on he will say the word in English. However there are some words and especially longer phrases where he takes a little more time.
He often even mixes languages when speaking with me until he gets it.
When learning new words from me in English that he doesn’t know in Italian, he responds to his Papà using the English words. My husband uses the same technique and asks “In Italiano?” and repeats the same process.
The main things are repetition, and consistency, using the same technique every time.
So far he is doing quite well, he will usually repeat the English words right away now as he us used to the process and expects it. There are times when he won’t and we need to be patient as all children learn at a different pace.
My four year old on the other hand is now fluent in both languages. We followed the same technique when he was learning to speak, and now also that he is learning Spanish. It has really helped him to distinguish languages.
Now when he doesn’t know a word he will ask “Mummy, what is “xxx” in English?”
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 have found by eventually using the actual names of the languages I have been able to teach my children about other languages, and the countries they are spoken in.
Do you use this technique and has it worked for you?
If you use another technique what do you do?