Tuesday 10 December 2019

Encouraging Your Child to Speak the Minority Language

Around two thirds of the world's population are bilingual or multilingual and many of these individuals speak more than one language from birth. For parents of a bilingual or multilingual child, one of their biggest concerns is how to encourage their child to speak the minority language. It can be relatively easy to prioritise the minority language, with methods such as minority language at home or one parent one language, before your child starts school. However, once they reach school age, the majority language can easily take over and become the dominant language very quickly.
This is one of our main reasons we homeschool our children, but I know that homeschooling is not for everyone. If you would like to read more about our reasons for homeschooling CLICK HERE.

So, you may be doing really well bringing up a bilingual or multilingual child for the first few years of their life, but once they start school, things change dramatically. Your child will spend more time immersed in the majority language - the language of the community - and much less time using the minority language. As time goes on, parents often find that their child becomes reluctant to use the minority language, particularly if their parents can speak the majority language well. They may even feel embarrassed to use the minority language, particularly in the school setting when you go to collect them from school. So what can you do to counteract this? Read on to discover some ways you can encourage your child to speak the minority language.

Speak to them in the minority language consistently

A lot of parents mistakenly start to use the majority language more as their child uses the minority language less. After all, it can be so easy to respond to your child in the language they speak to you in. This is a sure fire way to inhibit their ability and motivation to use the minority language, so try your best not to do this. Instead, continue to speak to your child in the minority language as much as possible, even if they do not respond to you in the minority language. By speaking to them in the minority language, they will still be used to hearing it and will maintain their level of understanding. Just keeping up their understanding of the minority language is so important. Even if they do not use the minority language themselves for a while, chances are they will begin to use it again as their awareness of the importance of it becomes clearer with age.

Please note, it is important you only do this if you are confident speaking the minority language yourself. For more information on which language you should speak to your child, CLICK HERE.  

Spend time with other minority language speakers

Spending time with other people, both adults and children, who speak the minority language, is extremely important. When children hear others using the minority language, they will see that it can be a useful tool for communication because others speak it too. This will offer great encouragement for them to use the minority language. When they have opportunities to speak the language with others, they will gain confidence and feel that they are not alone or unusual. Instead, the minority language will be normalised and they will see it as a useful language.

Not only is it important for children to spend time with other minority language speakers in order to practise the language and feel part of the community, it is also important for them to hear the language being spoken by other people in order to hear the variety within the language. No two speakers speak exactly the same; different people may use slightly different vocabulary, intonation, phrases etc. and it is important to expose your child to these differences.

Read books in the minority language

Reading books is a great way to encourage the minority language. With young children who are not reading yet, you do not necessarily need to have books that are in the minority language. Any picture book will do. You can flick through the pages together, looking at the pictures and talking about what you see. This is a great way to increase your child's vocabulary in any language.

If you are able to access books written in the minority language, this will be very helpful, particularly as your child begins to learn to read and become literate. You can teach them to read the minority language at the same time as the majority language as research shows that biliteracy can improve overall literacy levels! This is because as your child learns rules in one language, such as letter sounds or punctuation, they can then transfer this knowledge to the other language. But, how beneficial this is to literacy acquisition does depend on how similar the two languages are.   

Watch tv programmes in the minority language

Watching television programmes in the minority language can be an excellent way to help your child keep up with their understanding of the minority language. See if you can get foreign language TV installed at your home or search for some video clips on YouTube.

Visit a country where the minority language is spoken

Immersing your child in the minority language by spending time in a country in which it is spoken is a brilliant way, if not the best way, to encourage your child to speak the minority language. So definitely try to do this from time to time. It will help your child to feel part of the community and also help them to understand that knowledge of the minority language really is useful. Spending time abroad can be particularly useful if you feel that your child needs a boost in their language skills. Even a very short stay abroad can boost their language skills dramatically. Just try hard to keep up with the minority language once you get back home!

Pretend you don't understand the majority language!

Finally, I know families who have the policy of refusing to respond to their child unless their child speaks to them in the minority language! This may sound extreme but it really can work. If your child speaks to you in the majority language, just give them a gentle reminder to say it again in the minority language; you could use a phrase such as, 'I don't understand, could you repeat it please?' This reminder may be very useful in encouraging them to use the minority language more often.

I hope this article has given you lots of tips to help you to encourage your child to speak the minority language. Have you tried any of these tips before? Which ones worked for you? Do you have any other tips to add? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

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