Should we treat foreign Languages as a performance act?

Kids are amazing, aren’t they? Their ability to learn languages with little effort from a very young age is simply unbelievable. As a parent, you feel so proud to see them learn new words or phrases and you just wait to continue to praise them and tell them how good they are.

Your friends come over and you tell your child “Show them some words in Spanish”, or “Speak some Chinese for them”, or “Sing that song you know in English”.

It is common for parents to want to show off their kids to the world. You are so proud of them that it is normal to feel like you want to share their achievements.

It is also normal for friends and family members to be curious or interested, and want to see or hear for themselves.

But sometimes all of this praise and showing off can have negative effects on kids.

How too much praise can actually be damaging

But giving too much praise, and treating your child’s languages as a performance act can actually be quite damaging in different ways:

1. Too much praise and showing off may cause kids to feel entitled

There is nothing wrong with telling your kids they have done a great job, or they have talent. However when we overpraise our kids and show them off for speaking languages, they get the sense that they are “extra special” and may start to carry a sense of entitlement.

When raising bilingual kids, it is important that languages become a natural part of life. Praising them for speaking another language could make them feel like they are better than other kids, who can’t speak another language. They may start to feel entitled and brag to others about how “special” they are.

2. Making kids perform may lead to resentment of the language

While some children may not have an issue with it, other children may not like showing off their skills. They may not like the attention, or they may feel embarrassed.

Pressuring kids to perform in front of others can cause anxiety and they may act out not waiting to speak the language anymore which could cause issues within the family.

What to do instead?

Rather than putting your child on the spot to perform, here are some things you can do instead.

1. Make it feel natural

If you want to show friends or family your child’s language skills, a great way is getting everyone involved and making it natural.

Read books or sing songs in the language together. Make it an activity. This way it gets everyone involved and your child won’t feel embarrassed or anxious.

2. Praise the process rather than the outcome

Rather than say “Oh wow you are so good at speaking languages” you could say something like, “You are speaking so well, your hard work in your lessons is paying off.” Or “The more you speak XX the better you will get.” Or even “Now that you have learned to speak XX, now you will be able to talk with (person)”.

3. Create teaching moments for your child

Create teaching moments. Rather than saying “Hey, show them how you speak XX language”, you could ask your child to “teach” them some of the language.

It could be colours or counting or whatever. This will make them feel important without feeling like you are showing them off.

4. Make it a favour for the visitor

Rather than say something like “Hey, show them how to say something in XX language”, ask your child for a favour.

Perhaps your friend needs some help with a translation because they are writing a letter to someone. Or they need to know how to say something in the language, or something similar.

You are still showing that you appreciate their skills, without putting in them in a position where they are either embarrassed or they are showing off.

Address your child’s achievements but without too much praise

Remember, it is important to take notice of your child’s achievements, to offer them support and encouragement. But also make sure that it is realistic and appropriate.

Wanting to show your child off is a natural part of parenting. We just need to be careful how we do it and what words we use.

If we want kids to be happy and feel proud of themselves, without negative consequences, we need to offer them the chance to feel confident and good about themselves, but not like they are better than anyone else.

Above all, if we want languages to be a natural part of their lives, it needs to feel that way.

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Foreign Languages are No Performance Act When Raising