Over and over, I see parents who are trying to raise bilingual children ask the same question: How can I get my child to answer me in the target language? It seems like parents all across the board, no matter what the target language is or where in the world they live, have the same problem! So, what can we do about it?
You’re probably already doing a lot of things right! You are speaking the target language a lot (they need at least 25 hours of the target language a week!), you are reading, listening to music and you might even have a more formal component such as lessons, table work, etc., all in the target language. Still, you find that your child understands what you are saying, but will always respond in the majority language.
So, how can we take our receptive language children to begin actually PRODUCING the language we are working so hard for them to speak?
Here are a few ideas!
Ask your child to speak to you in the target language. It’s ok to simply say “please tell me that in (target language.)” With my own children and with my students, I simply ask them to “tell me that in Spanish”. Most of the time, that’s the trigger they need to switch languages and continue the rest of the conversation. If your child is resistant to make the switch, check out this post for some ideas on how to deal with that issue.
Model language for them if they don’t know it. Sometimes, children simply do not have the words to say something in the target language. Let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes and it’s ok to ask for help, and simply model the correct language and have them repeat after you.
Ask a lot of open-ended questions. You need to give children the opportunity to use language, so ask a lot of questions that will require the children to say more than one or two words. That means you should try and steer clear of questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no and instead ask why and what if questions.
Have outside language input. The more language the children hear, the more they will emulate. Try to surround them with as much of the target language as possible. Look for a group of peers, pen-pals, movies, games, apps and more in the target language. Every outside exposure will remind the children how useful speaking another language is and it will also let them know that it’s not “just” you, the parent, who uses that language.
There is no magic pill to get your child to speak the target language, but over time it will work. The key is CONSISTENCY! It’s going to take time to get your child to answer you in the language you want to hear (especially extremely resistant children), but it will be well worth the effort.
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.