There is one really frustrating experience for parents who are trying to raise their children in their native language while living in a country that doesn’t speak it; their children answer them in the local language rather than their own one.
The first TWO KEY STRATEGIES for raising a child in your language are
1)OPOL. One Parent, One Language. That is, you only speak your language to your child, and the other parent speaks their native language. This is important and establishes one single clear channel of communication. It’s simple and effective. And simple and effective is a good thing for children.
2) IL2U. ONE LANGUGAGE TO YOU. The goal is that your children only speak your language back to you. This is the most common issue. Many parents manage the first OPOL strategy correctly, but then they ‘let’ their children answer them in the local language.
There are two main reasons why this happens.
- The child hasn’t received enough exposure to your language and the local language is the one that comes to mind first.
- The main reason though is that you have ‘let’ your child answer you or speak to you in the local language, perhaps thinking that this is ‘normal’, and your children will eventually speak to you in your language. Sadly, this hardly ever happens without some serious intervention! See my article on how this happens and some of the ways you can nip it in the bud.
If you’re in this situation, and haven’t been able to turn it around, I have THREE QUICK TIPS that will at least make your children speak their language to you, even if they don’t want to!!! It revolves around scripted language. So, let’s dive in and see how it works.
1.NURSERY (Children’s) RHYMES for PRE-READERS
If your child isn’t old enough to read yet, you may have started reading to them in your language. If not, START RIGHT NOW!
With nursery rhymes, children love them and they’re easy to learn and repeat. Once you’ve repeated one of them a million times (at the child’s request), they will know them by heart anyway. The trick now is to get them to ‘sing’ them with you. So, say, “OK, together! Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon…”
Once they are repeating it with you, you can say, “So, what did the cow do?” and use questions and answers using the songs and rhymes. This may spark a moment which triggers your language. You can even coax them gently: “Hey, let’s speak in OUR language when we’re doing this. Can you do that for mummy? Don’t push it, but be perseverant.
2. STARTING TO READ
Something that never occurred to me was that parents weren’t teaching their children to read in their language. In fact, not teaching your child to read is the norm! Despite what you might believe, learning to read in your language, won’t tire them out or confuse them. They are much more resilient and intelligent than you think. For some easy tips on how I taught my son to read in English, see Marc’s Blog on this website.
By getting them to start reading out loud, they are speaking the language. If your language is a phonetic one, you can use the ‘phonic method’ of pronouncing the syllables and saying the words. In English I combined the phonic with the ‘whole word’ approach for irregular words. Read up on it and get some books in your language appropriate for their age and start reading together.
3. READING TOGETHER
Once the child is reading in your language, a whole world of possibilities opens up for you. This means reading stories, poems, plays, prayers (where relevant) and rhymes, as well as learning and singing songs. Children love singing until they are told be adults that they can’t sing properly. 99% of people have the potential to sing in tune, so encourage it.
This can lead on to Karaoke. In most major languages, you’ll find karaoke versions of all major songs. Take advantage of it. Music adds an extra dimension to your language.
SUMMING IT UP
Even if your children never speak back to you in your language, ALWAYS speak to them in your language. The worst case scenario is that they will be passive bilinguals, and the language will be there to revive later in life.
The most important thing is to nurture a love for reading and if possible, for music and especially singing in your language. I won’t deal with writing here, but that is also great.
These techniques are great whether your child speaks to you in your language or not but is especially important if you don’t. If you haven’t done so, try it out, and let me know how it goes.
If you have very young babies, immerse them in the language, speak to them all the time and only let them speak to you in your language. This is how it works. Make it a daily habit.
I look forward to hearing your comments.