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If there is no “Need”, Why will your Child Speak the Minority Language?
Since living in Italy, I have met many mothers just like me, who have moved here and married an Italian. What I have found surprising is the amount of them who have children, who don’t speak their native language.
One mother in particular I met a kids party told me she grew up in Poland speaking Polish and English, and moved to Italy ten years ago. We were actually speaking in English, which she spoke quite well. I thought that maybe she was teaching her children both languages.
Mid conversation her four year old daughter interrupted us to ask a question, speaking in Italian. She proceeded to speak back having a conversation with her in Italian.
I was a little surprised and when we started talking again and I asked her if her daughter spoke Polish or English. She told me that although her daughter could understand Polish, she rarely spoke it. She continued saying that she would love her to speak Polish or even English, and that she “really should teach her”. But because they live in Italy, and everyone speaks Italian, including herself, that she didn’t really “need” to speak Polish.
It was then surprising for her when she saw me having a conversation with my own children in English, and started asking me questions about how I was able to raise them speaking my native language.
I have thought about her a lot since that day, and tried to understand. When it really comes down to it though, she was right. Her children don’t have a “need” to speak the language.
For your child to want to speak a language, you have to create a “NEED” for the language
They need a reason for them to have to speak it, especially when they are younger. Older children may take an interest in learning at school, however young children will usually go with the easiest option. If they don’t need to speak it then why will they?
I have come up with some things you can do to create this need for the minority language:
1. Speak ONLY the minority language with your child from the very start.
Create a consistency from the start speaking only your native language to your child. Even if there are other people around speaking the majority language, you shouldn’t switch on their account. You may feel uncomfortable because they don’t understand you, or you may feel like you are being rude, but most people will understand if you explain the situation.
When your child responds to you in the majority language, instead of carrying on the conversation, encourage them to respond to you in the language you are speaking, repeat what you would like them to say. If you do this from the very start they will start to feel like they have to use the minority language to communicate with you and therefore you will create the “need”.
2. Buy their favourite books, games and activities only in the minority language
Make learning fun. If your child has a favourite game or activity to do, make sure you have it only in the minority language that way there is no competition. If young children really want to play the game, or do the activity, they will usually do so, no matter what the language.
Make sure to have a larger range of books in the minority language so there is more choice when they are selecting stories to read. By providing their favourite types of books, there is more chance they will want to sit with you and read them.
3. Spend time with people who speak the minority language
If you have family close by who speak the language, make sure you visit them often so your children have the chance to speak to people other than yourself. Even if they can speak both languages, make sure to encourage them only to speak in the minority language to your children to build their exposure and create that “need” for them to speak it.
Try to find mothers groups, or activity groups in your area where you can meet others that speak the minority language too. If your children mix with other children who speak the language then that “need” will definitely become stronger.
Another option is to find a babysitter or playmate who will come to spend time with your children and only speak the minority language. There will certainly be the “need” for the language when they have to communicate with them.
4. Travel to places where the minority language is spoken
This may not always be possible for all families, however it is probably one of the best ways to create this “need”. If you have family or friends abroad that you can visit, or if you can simply take a family trip and immerse yourselves in the culture and language, the “minority language” won’t seem so much like the minority while you are there because you will be surrounded by so many people who speak it.
5. More exposure to the minority language
It is called the minority language because it is just that, the language that gets the least exposure. There is always a way to create more exposure. Whether it be by reading that one more book per day with your child, or singing a few more songs, or simply having some more one on one time together doing things your child loves.
Exposure is the key to language learning, and the more exposure your child has to a language, the more they will feel the “need” to speak it.