No matter which method we´re using to raise our children bilingually, we all know that once the majority language takes over their lives we ´ll be facing the true challenge to keep them motivated to speak the minority language at home and when necessary.
Today´s Ask an Expert question was sent by a mom, Sandra Salazar, who´s facing the realization that she neglected encouraging Spanish at home with her two older boys once they started refusing to speak it and is concerned the same doesn´t happen with her little one. This is an issue I´m sure we can all identify with. We want to applaud Sandra for knowing it´s never too late to seek advice or to motivate the use of her heritage language with her sons.
Here to answer Sandra´s question is Lori Langer de Ramirez, bilingual educator who began her career as a teacher of Spanish, French and ESL. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. If you want to learn more about Lori please click here to read her previous entries and visit her interactive website, MisCositas.
How Can I encourage my 11 and 9 year olds to speak Spanish?
“I was happy to find you guys!!. I have three boys: 11, 9 and 20 months. My 11 and 9 year olds don’t speak Spanish, they only understand it. I hate myself to have let this happen. I only spoke Spanish to my firstborn but when he entered preschool he switched to only English and I let him. Then my middle would only speak English because his brother would speak to him in English. Now that I have realized my mistake I ask them to try to talk in Spanish but, of course, they refuse. I would love to put them in lessons but they are too expensive. I am so sad and I hope it´s not too late. Also, I don’t want to make the same mistake with my little one. Please help me!!!. Both my husband and I speak fluent Spanish. Thank you so much!!!”
HI Sandra! I totally understand your feeling guilty about your sons’ proficiency in Spanish. I often feel the same way.
My husband is a native Spanish speaker and I am a native speaker of English. When my son was born we agreed to split the language duties: he would speak Spanish and I would speak English. Well… as you noticed in your own experience, it’s not that easy to maintain Spanish in an English-language environment. With strong influences like school, TV and friends speaking English, it’s easy to let Spanish lapse. At this point, our son understands Spanish perfectly, but his production is not nearly as strong as it is in English. What to do?
I would recommend that both you and your husband simply speak Spanish to all your boys – no matter what. The family language can be Spanish, even if the boys respond in English. Little by little, try introducing fun videos or TV in Spanish to the boys. If at all possible, try to spend a summer in a Spanish-speaking country (this is reported to do wonders for kids!). Praise your boys at any attempt to use their Spanish. Don’t be discouraged, it’s not too late!
In lieu of lessons, you can go online for fun activities and websites dedicated to language learning. For the 9 and 11 year-olds, try:
For the little one, just keep it up with Spanish, read to him, etc. Again, don’t be discouraged, it’s not too late! Buena suerte!
We invite you to click on the Ask an Expert tab in the navigation menu to meet the panel, learn more about their areas of expertise and to send us your question.
Do you have any thoughts or words of advice for Sandra? They’re always welcomed!