Photo by popofatticus

Photo by popofatticus

From all the reading I’ve done since the creation of SpanglishBaby, it seems to be that one of the biggest issues parents who are raising bilingual children eventually face is that their kids won’t answer back in the minority language – particularly after they start school.

Although I really can’t envision this being a problem for us, I know I’m delusional – especially now that we live in Colorado! As I’ve mentioned in the past, I helped raise my now 18-year-old stepson using the mL@H method, but we actually lived in Miami where you are truly surrounded by all things Hispanic, including our language, everywhere you turn… He is bilingual – although not completely bi-literate – but I was racking my brain the other day trying to remember if he ever flat out refused to speak to us in Spanish and honest to God, I came up short.

Maybe he’s just different than others or maybe my husband and I found a way – without really thinking too much about it – to avoid one of the major pitfalls of raising a child bilingual: making it so that he has no perceived need for the minority language. In other words, making it as if the minority language is really not necessary for him to be able to communicate.

If you find yourself in this situation, do not worry! It’s not impossible to reverse… So, what if your child refuses to answer back in Spanish or whatever minority language you use?

Here are some simple tips to try to change that:

  • Focus on the easy stuff – what they already know – and always praise them and then praise them a little more. For remembering a word or for the flawless pronunciation.
  • When moving on to the more difficult stuff – what they don’t already know, but you want them to learn – turn the whole thing into a juego. So, for example, if your daughter knows the word for a certain thing, but can’t remember it, try giving her a hint, the first sound or syllable. You’ll be cheating, but your help will truly boost her self-confidence and she won’t be afraid to try saying the word, once you get her started.
  • If it’s a completely new word or your child has completely forgotten it, say the word loud and clear and ask him to repeat it. It’s a good idea to keep on using that specific word in conversation for a while so as to help him with usage and remembrance.

More tips, but ones you should use with care:

  • Kindly remind your child to speak in Spanish, but remember that many times she will be so eager to say what’s on her mind that she might get frustrated if she can’t fully express herself in the minority language – which is probably her weaker one. Just be gentle in your encouragement to get her back to using Spanish, you don’t want it feel like a chore.
  • If she says something in English, repeat it back  using the minority language. Think of this as the same thing you would with a younger child who is just learning to speak – we normally correct and help them expand their vocabulary by repeating the correct way of saying things, right? So, for example, if your child says in English “Can I go play with Lily?” you might say: “¿Quieres ir a jugar con Lily?” Again, just be careful how you do this…
  • Finally – and this is kind of drastic – pretend you don’t understand or refuse to answer until they use the minority language. This may or may not work with your children. But be aware: you shouldn’t force the issue or it’ll become a battleground and you probably will not win. You will know better than anyone else how far to take this tactic or whether to use it at all.

A truly simple, but often overlooked thing to remember, is that you should stick to speaking the minority language no matter what. However, please keep in mind, that this journey of raising kids bilingual goes through all kinds of stages – depending on your kids’ ages, so don’t despair and keep at it!

¡Buena suerte!

Have something to say about this topic? Or you’d like to share your own tips on how to ‘fix’ this problem? Please leave a comment below or feel free to go to our SpanglishBaby Forums so you can start a discussion about it or to find out how others are coping by clicking here.

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