how to motivate children to speak spanish or a second language

One of the main concerns parents raising bilingual children –or considering it– have is what to do when they refuse to speak Spanish (or whichever minority language). We know the bilingual rebellion is pretty much a fact and we’ll all have to face it eventually. For some it starts as early as 3 years of age and for others when the child enters kindergarten, especially if they don’t have the option of a bilingual program like dual or full immersion.

So, what to do once our child refuses to respond or speak in Spanish? For starters, don’t panic and don’t even consider giving up! The best advice is to continue doing what you’re doing and sticking to the method you’ve been using. You’ve already planted the bilingual seed firmly and now it’s just a time to weed out annoying pests and continue showering the seedling with the same sunshine and love it needs to keep on it’s path.

Once you’ve gotten past the initial shock, then step back and figure out ways to motivate your child to speak Spanish. Motivation and immersion are key at this point where the child has figured out the majority language is not the one she’s speaking at home and everyone else responds immediately to her with English. This is when they need to understand and give a meaning to why it’s important for them to learn a second language and emotional connections/motivations are what work best at this stage.

5 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Speak Spanish

#1. Praise, praise, praise! Children aim to please and there’s no one they want to please more than their parents — even though it doesn’t always feel that way, I know! Try to be conscious of when they are speaking Spanish to you and praise them for doing it. The more you praise, the more they will know it’s important to you. However, if we reprimand them for not speaking it, they become rebellious and annoyed and associate Spanish with negative feelings. Also, try not to focus on correcting every grammar or pronunciation mistake they make and instead highlight their effort in speaking.

#2. Playdates and Playgroups. We’ll never get tired of singing the praises of playdates and playgroups with other children who are being raised bilingually. The motivation factor is so high when they can associate the language with a friend they love. Hopefully you can find another parent who has a child the same age and that all can speak Spanish during the playdate. My girl has a couple of friends with whom she mostly speaks Spanish with. I use that emotional connection as a motivational reminder that she needs to speak more Spanish in order to play with them. It’s worked so far.

I also love this idea of a Spanish book club that Roxana is doing.

#3. Music, activities, books and games. Fill your house with games, books, music, movies and activities in Spanish that your child truly enjoys. Give him the choice to choose what he wants to engage with, but all has to be in Spanish. This can be a special time of the day for him and it will a fun, immersive and motivational way to engage in Spanish through that he loves. Even better if you can create a special Spanish nook in your home.

#4. Travel. Yes, we’re aware this isn’t a viable option for all in today’s economy, but the motivation to travel and visit loved ones or just a foreign country is still important. Buy maps or a globe and go to them all the time. Show your child where her heritage is from and where Spanish is spoken. Tell her stories about the important people in your life and hers who live there. Allow her to use her imagination to travel to these places where Spanish is everywhere and motivate her to learn the language so she can travel there soon. If you can pull off an actual immersion trip, there’s no better language motivator than that, especially if visiting family is part of the plan.

#5. Focus on what your child loves. This one would actually fall into any of the four above, but it does merit a mention of its own because we must always make sure that we don’t overwhelm or force our children to do anything. Yet, we can create the ideal environment and activities for them to be constantly motivated to learn and we do that by focusing on what they love to do. My daughter loves to dance and sing, thus, we blast out everything from Shakira to Music with Sara and have impromptu Fiestas all the time. Lately she’s become obsessed with Flamenco and I also introduced her to videos of Argentinean Tango. This has led to us grabbing the globe and teaching her where Spain and Argentina are located and what language is spoken there. Find what your child loves, immerse them in it through Spanish and have a blast together!

What is your top tip to motivate your child to speak Spanish or another language?

{Image by Pratham Books on flickr}

Recent Posts