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Toddler resisting/refusing second language...

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
I've written here before about gently introducing the language I grew up with (Spanish) to my DD who was probably around 18 mo - 2 years at the time. She's now 2 3/4 and I have to admit, I've dropped the ball with Spanish. My DH doesn't speak it and we are surrounded by English...we see my Mom once a week and she speaks Spanish only to DD. I have committed to reading her at least one Spanish book per day and try to tell her the Spanish word for things we see every day, especially ones she's interested in.

It's weird, maybe it's part of the push/pull of toddlerhood. Sometimes she'll ask me what the word for "x" thing is in Spanish, but lately she's been resisting Spanish more often than not. Last few nights I've tried to read to her in Spanish and she's told me not to. I'll ask her to tell me the word for something in Spanish and she'll say she can't...There are very few things she'll say/do in Spanish anymore and I'm feeling that now that I'm ramping it up a bit, I've lost the opportunity.

Anyone have experience with this? Is it a phase? Any suggestions for how to do this without stressing her out? I'd considered putting her in a Spanish preschool but am wondering now if she would just totally clam up. I want her to speak Spanish but I want her to enjoy speaking it.

Feeling a bit deflated, and like it's my fault for not trying hard enough.
post #2 of 25
i think it's a common toddler thing. i recently read a blog post about it. i'm sure mamas here will have advice for how to encourage your dd (my family is not bilingual)
post #3 of 25
I'm sure it's a phase. Maybe she is discovering some new things about English right now and her brain just wants to focus on those.

Or maybe it's a social thing. I think a Spanish preschool could be great -- would give her a "reason" to speak Spanish.

We're Portuguese/English in our home; I speak Portuguese with my toddler so that I can practice it myself, and because that is now her primary language. But I end up using a lot of English as well just because I don't know everything in Portuguese yet. The benefit to this is we are using both languages functionally, not recreationally, so there's really no reason for her to balk at either language.

My mother grew up speaking Spanish but never spoke it with me. The little I know, I learned in public school. As an adult, now struggling with Portuguese (very similar to Spanish), I find myself feeling rather resentful! Keep speaking Spanish!
post #4 of 25
Does she have any other opportunities to speak and hear Spanish? Are their friends with LO's who also speak Spanish you can arrange playdates with? Do you attend cultural events where Spanish is spoken or sung?

If not, the Spanish pre-school sounds like a great idea, as long as it's relaxed and fun. She'll meet other children who are trying to learn the language, and have fun with songs and games. If they let you volunteer in the class, it might help her to view you speaking Spanish in a different light too.
post #5 of 25
I don't have any suggestions, but I'm afraid we might end up in the same spot you are. Our situation is a little different - my dh is from Mexico, but I speak Spanish, too. We mostly speak spanish at home (although we both slip at times and end up in English without thinking) and yet my ds1, 2.5 yrs, will only speak English. He understands everything in Spanish (well, at his age level), but always answers in English.

I'm hoping if we just keep at it, we'll get past this stage, and maybe you will, too. I do think the preschool is a great idea, because then it will be both functional and fun to do with her peers. I don't know how much luck we'll have finding something like that in rural Michigan - you're lucky you have that opportunity!
post #6 of 25
I think it is completely normal. My three year old is doing the same thing at the moment, and I remember doing the same when I was a small child. Please don't let it be a reason to stop using the minority language. Even if she refuses to speak it, your DD will still pick it up and later on will give her the basis to learn any language she wants easily. My DD is largely refusing to speak the minority language (my mother tongue, we live in another country) but I know that she does understand, and that is enough of a reason to continue for me. It can be pretty frustrating at times though!
post #7 of 25
I went through a similar phase, but it was much later. I grew up speaking two languages - English and Polish. I have to give huge credit to my mom here as when we lived in Poland, she spoke English to me exclusively. When we lived in America, she spoke Polish to me exclusively. The ONLY reason why I am fluently bilingual now is because my mom worked so hard!

I definitely preferred one language over the other, depending on my age, mood, and where I was. But, my phases came after age 5 ... when I was pretty much fluent in both languages.

I think it's such a gift - being bilingual from birth. I really hope I have as much perseverance as my mom had with me!
post #8 of 25
It's natural for a child to want to use her stronger language. Why should she have to do more work to communicate?

You have obviously established a relationship with her in English and it's not so easy to switch. For children to learn a language, it has to have it's own spotlight. That could be school, a parent, the outside, extended family (if in close contact), a child care provider and so on. It's hard to mix them and children usually resist.

Just curious why you waited so long to introduce Spanish. I spoke to my children in English from the crib. Once they began to talk, I gently guided them towards English. It honestly wasn't difficult at all! Two did kind of mix but they sorted it out.

Is your mom good about insisting that she answer back in Spanish? That would be the first step!

Understanding is not being bilingual. It's speaking that's the difficult skill and what will go on her resume.

I found that travel often sealed the deal. My kids got to see that English wasn't just some babble Mommy speaks but that it's useful for other people too. It was also a shocker that other people did NOT speak French, even if they spoke slowly Sometimes parents successfully make the switch after a trip to the country in question.

If she can associate Spanish with school, that would be good. She'll learn that Spanish is what they use there, or what a certain teacher uses. My kids are in a bilingual French-German program and they speak to the teacher in German on their "German days". They were at an advantage since they already spoke a related language-English!

I will admit that I'm a little discouraged to read that you want her to "enjoy" speaking Spanish. I insist that my children hold my hand when we cross the street, I don't expect them to "enjoy" it. If they want to, great. If not, too bad. Same goes for eating. I don't let them eat directly from their plate just because they "enjoy" it (which, btw, they do!) Sometimes a parent has to be a parent.

Later on, she'll "enjoy" being bilingual when she gets jobs and opportunities that non-bilinguals don't. She'll "enjoy" relationships with people with whom she couldn't have communicated if she didn't speak Spanish. For now, if it's important for her to know her culture and heritage, than it has to be done. Waiting this long wasn't wise but she's still young. Toddlers resist things. While my children speak English willingly, they wont wear certain clothes and have fits about other things. Toddler parents almost all face some battle. Unfortunately, yours' is your culture and language but don't feel that the game is already over or that you're the only parent whose toddler resists something!

So don't be afraid to be a parent and to do what is best for your child. When she's older, and asks how a car engine works or how babies are born, you'll be really glad that you can explain in your own language. I'm fully fluent in French but very happy now that our conversations are no longer "baby talk" to use my native English (although I often have to translate a word, it's not a big deal).

It's not difficult but it does take a concentrated effort. Good luck and hopefully you'll see progress soon!
post #9 of 25
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post #10 of 25
I agree -- don't give up! And certainly look for opportunities (like the Spanish preschool) to get her involved with other Spanish speakers.

Resistance is part of toddlerhood, so it doesn't have much significance beyond that. I think that if you feel it's getting too stressful you can back down on having her speak for the time being (while production is important it doesn't have to happen at this young of an age for her to be just fine), but you still need to speak to her in Spanish. Preferably all the time, or at least as much as possible. Expect her to understand and only switch to English when she doesn't.

Neither of my kids really spoke our second language (the "immersion" language -- we're expats in Slovenia and speak English at home) until they were 3 or even older. They were exposed to a lot before that and understood it passively, but the need to communicate only drove them to start talking when they entered preschool (around age 3). Now they are both perfectly fluent bilinguals, so they are proof that it can be done.

It's ideal to talk to kids from birth in both languages, but they have very flexible minds and the "language window" is still pretty open all the way up to age 12 or so. They learn language very quickly, but they also forget it very quickly if they don't use it! So we parents need to perservere.
post #11 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post
Just curious why you waited so long to introduce Spanish. I spoke to my children in English from the crib. Once they began to talk, I gently guided them towards English. It honestly wasn't difficult at all! Two did kind of mix but they sorted it out.
Actually I didn't wait to introduce it at all, I spoke it to her constantly until she was about one...then our social activities really started up and they were all in English. I also stopped seeing my family as often and Spanish gradually waned at the same time. I still use it every day, she hears me speak it to my family on the phone, and there are some things for which she doesn't even know an English word exists...but it's the fluid conversation that she doesn't yet have in Spanish.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post
I will admit that I'm a little discouraged to read that you want her to "enjoy" speaking Spanish. I insist that my children hold my hand when we cross the street, I don't expect them to "enjoy" it. If they want to, great. If not, too bad. Same goes for eating. I don't let them eat directly from their plate just because they "enjoy" it (which, btw, they do!) Sometimes a parent has to be a parent.

Later on, she'll "enjoy" being bilingual when she gets jobs and opportunities that non-bilinguals don't. She'll "enjoy" relationships with people with whom she couldn't have communicated if she didn't speak Spanish. For now, if it's important for her to know her culture and heritage, than it has to be done. Waiting this long wasn't wise but she's still young. Toddlers resist things. While my children speak English willingly, they wont wear certain clothes and have fits about other things. Toddler parents almost all face some battle. Unfortunately, yours' is your culture and language but don't feel that the game is already over or that you're the only parent whose toddler resists something!

So don't be afraid to be a parent and to do what is best for your child. When she's older, and asks how a car engine works or how babies are born, you'll be really glad that you can explain in your own language. I'm fully fluent in French but very happy now that our conversations are no longer "baby talk" to use my native English (although I often have to translate a word, it's not a big deal).
I appreciate your thoughts, although I do find the bit about being "afraid to be a parent" condescending - there are many, many challenges I've faced as a parent in these two and a half years...I think I've got the parent thing down. I am also aware that she's not the only toddler that resists things...I've just noticed a sudden and pronounced rejection of Spanish. I see now that it is because she's noticing an increased focus on it.

I don't see that there's anything wrong with wanting her to enjoy speaking a language either. Having grown up with a foot in each culture I relished being able to speak another language, even as a child. More than enjoying it though, I don't want her to feel forced to do it. I see now that having a social environment for Spanish will be key to getting her to really participate.

Travel is definitely in our plans, but not for a few years as we now have a newborn as well. What I've been doing now is also doing a lot more Spanish with our newborn and it seems my toddler's interest is starting to pick up.
post #12 of 25
Thread Starter 
Thanks everyone for the encouraging replies...I think we were just having a rough few days. It seems that by using more Spanish in speaking to our newborn, older DD's more interested!

Also wanted to clarify that I use Spanish with her every day, but mostly English. It was when I started to include more Spanish that she started resisting.

I'm really hoping things keep improving, I've gotten some activity books and will be getting Spanish videos as well...preschool's on the horizon so that can only be helpful!
post #13 of 25
Yea, it's just a matter of perseverance. When my mom insisted on speaking Polish to me - I didn't "enjoy" it. I found it annoying. We were in America, and I spoke English all day - I wanted to continue that at home. My mom pretty much refused to speak to me in any other language but Polish. If I said something in English, she'd be like "I"m sorry, what did you say?" in Polish. And she'd repeat that, without acknowledging what I said, until I switched to Polish. Obviously this excluded emergencies!

I also went to Poland every summer for 2 whole months. Which helped a lot - obviously.

As annoying as it was when I was a kid, by the time I was a teenager, I was SO thankful to her. Learning Spanish was a breeze for me in high school because I had two languages under my belt already. It's an amazing gift that my mom gave me. I know it took so much effort on her part ... but, seriously, it's the best thing she ever did for me.

So, while I definitely think it's a wonderful goal to have your child enjoy learning both languages ... it's also not absolutely necessary. A child can become bilingual, even without enjoying the process. Ten to one, by the time the child is a teen - they'll be thankful!
post #14 of 25
Swan3, I'm glad to see you got through a rough patch this week... I just wanted to let you know that I too think that what you're describing is completely normal. My DH is Mexican and he and I have always spoken Spanish to each other in the home. When DS first started talking, we pretty much stuck to one-parent-one-language and the balance of English-to-Spanish language in DS's early speech was more or less 50/50. However, when he was 2-3 y/o, his disinterest in and outright rejection of Spanish became increasingly intense. This was the source of a good deal of frustration for my husband and me who never expected him to be less than fully bilingual...

DS turned 4 in April of this year and we made a trip to visit DH's family in Mexico in August. While we were in Mexico, DS and I both had to look his lack of fluency straight in the face (no one in DH's family speaks English). He was absolutely miserable! Half-way through our trip, his frustration with not being able to communicate effectively was so pronounced, he stopped even trying to speak to his Mexican relatives.

I only tell you this, because, since that trip, DS has done a 180. He has been 100% on-board with our renewed effort to make our home a Spanish-only home. He also started a Spanish immersion preschool and *is loving it*!!! In fact, he's even told me he wouldn't want to go to a preschool where they spoke anything but Spanish(!) The point is, based on DS's attitudes toward Spanish as a toddler, I never would've expected him to be as fluent as he is today and as willing to *work* on building fluency...

And I can also say that he's enjoying the process--this is not too much to hope for.

Good luck!
post #15 of 25
I agree w/ what Eclipse said. My DH and I have been working on the trilingual & bi-literate Hong Kong ideal w/ our kids for over ten years now.

DH speaks some Cantonese to the kids, and so did I, but our primary language at home is English.

Sending them to Cantonese medium nursery school and kindergarten helped. Don't be surprised if for the 1st few weeks she DOES "clam up" - both my kids did at first.

After two years in the local Cantonese medium primary, we opted for an English medium school (mainly because of teaching styles and homework issues).

My kids mostly *still* do not "enjoy" their Mandarin classes. They sometimes tell me how they dislike the writing work. But, it is important for their future and it's also not that uncommon. I know quite a few kids who are Cantonese speaking and they tell me that "Chinese" (the reading, writing, literature classes - what in the USA are "English" classes) are their least favorite classes.

My kids do enjoy speaking Cantonese, especially the eldest and she tells me she's begining to enjoy the practice for her Mandarin when she translates for her Mandarin speaking coach into English.
post #16 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ihathi View Post
Swan3, I'm glad to see you got through a rough patch this week...

And I can also say that he's enjoying the process--this is not too much to hope for.

Good luck!
Thank you!!! She's really been participating a lot more happily this week...I've brought in some other resources to help us along. Got some videos, have ordered more books to read at bed time and just use Spanish a lot more around the house. I feel hopeful!
post #17 of 25
Glad to hear it's going better!

I just wanted to address two misunderstandings;

although I do find the bit about being "afraid to be a parent" condescending - there are many, many challenges

No, it's not "condescending" at all! Lots of parents will be strict about making their children use good table manners and going to church on Sunday but on language, they all of a sudden feel that the children should express themselves as they want. I'm just pointing out that setting standards for language is no different than with anything else that's habit and routine in your house.

I don't see that there's anything wrong with wanting her to enjoy speaking a language either.

No one said it's wrong but again. If you read the next paragraph, you would understand. You don't expect her to "enjoy" picking up her room or getting up to go to school in the morning. But she might enjoy seeing her friends at school and play easier in a room where she can find things. The benefits aren't always instant but they're just as valid. It's less a case of instant gratification than learning a skill which will have long-term benefits.

Understand the "global" concept that you can apply "normal" parenting standards to language, as you would to any other aspect of raising a child. It doesn't have to fall under a different category or have different rules than the usual tasks you're doing already.
post #18 of 25
Eclipsepearl, I believe Swan3 was referring to your post being condescending, not the parenting approach...
post #19 of 25
Just keep on going!

it's completely normal that multilingual children at this age to not have equal, if any, language output.

that there is not output yet, does not mean there is nothing happening right now in your dc'brain. it's probably just integrating the new information and you will be amazed when dc will start her skills...
post #20 of 25
I highly recommend this website spanglishbaby.com
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