Getting your child to speak your language to you (1L2U)

Key Bilingual Strategy 2

The First Key Strategy, OPOL, is about the language you speak to your child; the Second Key Strategy, 1L2U, is about the language that your child speaks to you.

For many parents this is the most difficult strategy to use successfully, and it is very common, even with OPOL, that your child will answer you in the local majority language. Do you know cases of this? Is it your case?

Here are Four methods to maximise same language communication between you and your children

Method 1: Set the language interaction rules from the very beginning

One way of thinking about the languages that we speak to each other is to use a language pattern diagram.  The diagram below shows a trilingual family pattern that works effectively.  

Once you have mapped out the family’s linguistic pattern in this way it makes it easier to understand and practise.

Method 2: Reinforce the strategy from the beginning

 The main communication strategy that babies use is based on survival instinct; it is mostly requests or demands. You should encourage your child to make any requests for food or water, toys or treats, directed at the heritage language parent, in their language. You should create the right pattern of communication right from the beginning.

There is one simple mistake that many people make: when the child asks for something in the majority language, the parent does what the child asks. For example, the child asks for water for the first time – ‘Agua! /de l’eau’ – and you give it to them. You don’t need to do this. You can say, “What? I don’t understand.” A very young child will not realize that you really do understand (this may not work when they are older, so you can use other techniques at that time). 

Method 3: Be disciplined – the ‘firm but fair’ approach

The ‘firm but fair’ approach means being strict but not too strict. It is surprising how many parents say, “I didn’t realise I had to be so disciplined.”

Some parents think it is cruel to be strict or disciplined to insist on their children speaking to them in their language. But think about it. You use discipline to make them eat their food properly, or to be tidy, or to avoid using inappropriate language.

Get them to reply to you in the your language, and insist on it, from the very beginning. And the more input they get, the less likely it will be that they will speak to you in the local language.

Method 4: Provide maximum exposure

If you can create a heritage language environment in your home, success is guaranteed. If you spend enough time speaking your heritage language with your children, then they will inevitably speak to you in that language.

Avoid mixing languages and maximise the amount of input you give them in your language.

The rewards for your perseverance will be a relationship in which you both speak to each other in the same language, which is more normal than speaking two different languages to each other. Which do you prefer?

For all 5 Key strategies + 5 more, get a copy of


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