My child won’t speak my language!
If you are raising a bilingual child and they are refusing to speak your language, (usually the minority language), there could be a variety of reasons. These reasons will be different for every family, depending on your circumstances. From my experience, and speaking to other bilingual families, here are 6 common reasons your child won’t speak the minority language.
Lack of resources in the minority language
Resources are an important part of the language learning journey and you should aim to have as many as possible at your child’s disposal.
Do you have a variety of books your child can read? Reading aloud to your child every day is one of the most important elements of language exposure. The more words they hear on a daily basis the more vocabulary they are exposed to, and will eventually use. Check out our book lists in English, Spanish, French, and Hindi.
Do you have music in the minority language? Music is also effective in learning a language. Children are easily able to learn new words through lyrics and a melody in a fun way.
Have you got board games and card games for your child to play with? Most games can be played in any language, especially card games. When a child has a challenge in front of them and they “want to win”, this can sometimes motivate them to speak the language without even realising it.
If you have access to play groups or immersion groups in your area they can always help. And if you are able to spend time with other friends or family who speak your language, it can be a great advantage.
Take a look at the Bilingual Kidspot Language Resources for Bilingual Children which has a range of ideas from online bookstores, apps and games, and other websites to help your child with their language exposure.
Not have enough quality exposure to the minority language
Much of the research on bilingualism suggests that bilingual children need around 25-30% language exposure to become bilingual. This is a good starting figure. However, sometimes it is not always the quantity of time they are exposed, but the quality of that time that matters.
We talk to our children every day, getting them ready in the morning, or giving them directions to get dressed or clean up their toys. But actually sitting down with your child without distraction, and truly engaging with them is the most effective way to give quality language exposure.
When you spend time with your child, take a special effort to just sit and play. Let them lead, and engage in activities together, that create conversation and encourage your child to talk. If when spending time together, your child is truly engaged and participating in conversation, quality time will win over quantity.
Language consistency is not a priority
Consistency plays a big part in the bilingual journey. Without consistency, children can easily become confused. They need to know what you expect from you. Whichever approach you are following, whether it be OPOL, MLAH, Context or any other language method, consistency is key. Choose one and stick to it.
Speaking the minority language isn’t a necessity
There has to be a “need” to speak your language, otherwise children will usually take the easy way out and speak the language they prefer.
This is common with parents who are bilingual themselves and children know you can understand the other language. Sometimes we don’t even realise that our children are speaking back in another language, and we just answer them. If this happens to often, the need disappears. If you don’t create that need, then why will they speak it?
You don’t have enough time to speak your language with your child
As a working parent myself I understand things can get busy. But if you are committed to raising your child to be bilingual, sometimes you will need to make small sacrifices here and there.
Any extra time spent with your child speaking the minority language is going to make things that little bit easier. The more time you spend with your child, the more they hear you speaking. The more exposure they have to the language, the more chance they will start to speak it back. Making time is critical if you want to raise your child to be bilingual.
Being bilingual isn’t a way of life for your child
If being bilingual isn’t a part of your child’s daily life, it won’t come naturally to them. Children need to learn from the very start what to expect from you.
You don’t need to “teach” your child a language. Instead, it needs to become a natural part of their every day life from the day they are born. Talk, talk, and talk some more.
Use the language constantly, not just on a daily basis but all the time. Make your child feel like speaking your language is a natural part of life.
Just because your child won’t speak your language now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t ever. It is never too late. It just means that you will need to make an effort to find creative ways to get them speaking with you.
Find things they enjoy doing, books they enjoy reading, games, activities or sports they like to play. Where possible, introduce outside resources, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. The most important things are to make sure to stay consistent speaking your language with your child and refuse to give up.
Here are some posts to help encourage your child to speak the minority language:
Tips to Improve the Minority Language
Create the Need for the Minority Language
Establishing a target language for your Kids
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I’m curious to know more about other situations. My wife and I live in the US. She is a native-Russian speaker and I a native-English speaker. But I also speak fluent Russian and my wife and I communicate in this language. We mostly follow the OPOL method, but when we’re together as a family, we speak Russian. When it’s just us, we use English. Plus, we live in the US, so learning English won’t be the issue. Do you think this is ok or I should only ever speak English to her?
I believe that any way to elevate the importance of the monitory language is beneficial. I agree that English will come due to the fact that you live in the U.S (that shouldn’t be a concern at all). It becomes much harder to develop the minority language so the fact that you value it and use it as a family is wonderful. I’d look into seeing if there are any Russian dual language or immersion schools in your area. I work in a Spanish dual language school and love seeing my students become bilingual and biliterate 🙂 Keep up the great work!