Tips on dealing with kids' refusal to speak second/third language? - Mothering Forums
Multicultural Families > Tips on dealing with kids' refusal to speak second/third language?
MittensKittens's Avatar MittensKittens 05:52 AM 05-25-2011

I am a single parent of mixed heritage, also living in a third country to which I have no genetic connection. My kids, 5 and 2, understand three languages and used to speak two. Lately, they have been refusing to speak the other language and just use the language of the country we live in (not part of their genetic heritage).

 

I would really like this to stop, so they can communicate with people in the other countries later on and have more job opportunities. I would also like them to stay in touch with their heritage.

 

Any experience? How do I fix this? They will sometimes talk to people who don't speak their preferred language in the other language, but not me, unless for very brief periods of time. They default to the preferred language after one sentence.



umsami's Avatar umsami 11:14 AM 05-25-2011

Your kids are really young.  I think it's normal, actually, at those ages.  Just keep speaking to them/exposing them to the other languages.  Speak to them in the languages--even if they reply in the third country language.

 

I don't think it will last long.  Don't make a big deal out of it.

 

You could also pretend not to understand their preferred language--so if they want Mom to respond, they need to speak to you in a language you understand.


MittensKittens's Avatar MittensKittens 11:46 AM 05-25-2011


Quote:
Originally Posted by umsami View Post

Your kids are really young.  I think it's normal, actually, at those ages.  Just keep speaking to them/exposing them to the other languages.  Speak to them in the languages--even if they reply in the third country language.

 

I don't think it will last long.  Don't make a big deal out of it.

 

You could also pretend not to understand their preferred language--so if they want Mom to respond, they need to speak to you in a language you understand.

 

I'd do what you suggest, but it is impossible. I speak four languages fluently myself, and because I am the only parent I have consistently been speaking two languages with them - one, the local and currently preferred language when we are out, and the other at home. The third language (English) they picked up from me speaking it with others and have never spoken much yet.

 

I am also homeschooling, so proper language development is my responsibility :). It's not like "they'll learn English at school anyway", besides the fact that I don't believe learning a language through books and short lessons works at all. I was taught three foreign languages in school that I now do not speak at all.

 

Sure, I think this is normal and not a big deal. But I have also heard many multilingual families have this problem, and that it often results in the child being able to understand but not speak the language in adulthood. This, I'd like to avoid. Unless they also speak these other languages, my kids will be stuck in the developing country we live in all their lives, just like the rest of the population :).
 

 


umsami's Avatar umsami 12:08 PM 05-25-2011

Can you then just reply/listen to them when they speak in whatever is your target language for the day?  As you're trying to expose them to two languages at home--alternate days or weeks with each language.  This week, we're going to speak Arabic.  Next week, it's French.  

 


~pi's Avatar ~pi 11:39 PM 05-26-2011
Quote:
Originally Posted by umsami View Post

You could also pretend not to understand their preferred language--so if they want Mom to respond, they need to speak to you in a language you understand.

 

I second this. I absolutely do this with DS. He knows that I actually speak and understand English (in fact, it's my mother tongue), but we still have the rule that I only understand him when he speaks in French. If you need to alternate, kids of that age (at least the 5 yr old) can absolutely grasp the concept of, "today is a language X day. We're only talking language X today."

 

It's up to you. From what I have seen, the two main ways to handle this are either 1) not worrying about it and assuming it will work out over time or 2) holding firm and not letting them pick and choose which language they use with you. Back this up by refusing to understand them in anything but the target language.

 

You might also consider not using the local language, even when out and about, and letting them get that one through community exposure. (I can imagine that you might be concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity, though.)


MittensKittens's Avatar MittensKittens 01:20 AM 05-27-2011


Quote:
Originally Posted by ~pi View Post

 

I second this. I absolutely do this with DS. He knows that I actually speak and understand English (in fact, it's my mother tongue), but we still have the rule that I only understand him when he speaks in French. If you need to alternate, kids of that age (at least the 5 yr old) can absolutely grasp the concept of, "today is a language X day. We're only talking language X today."

 

It's up to you. From what I have seen, the two main ways to handle this are either 1) not worrying about it and assuming it will work out over time or 2) holding firm and not letting them pick and choose which language they use with you. Back this up by refusing to understand them in anything but the target language.

 

You might also consider not using the local language, even when out and about, and letting them get that one through community exposure. (I can imagine that you might be concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity, though.)




Thanks for the tips, both of you!

 

Oh, they sure understand the concept but don't comply. I guess it will change with time. I like the idea of cutting out the preferred language altogether, because they already speak it well and they need better exposure to the other languages. In that case, we could speak the non-English other language outside (less hostility than with English, added bonus that nobody understands!) and English indoors. I can't push English too much and just insist they speak it, because they have never spoken it much - they only understand. Any tips on how to boost their speaking skills?


Lazy Gardens's Avatar Lazy Gardens 12:22 PM 05-27-2011
Quote:
My kids, 5 and 2, understand three languages and used to speak two. Lately, they have been refusing to speak the other language and just use the language of the country we live in (not part of their genetic heritage).

 

It's normal. They are adapting to the surrounding culture and the local language ... what they hear the most is what they will prefer to use.

 

It's also stressful to have to switch languages and remember who speaks what, and how well they speak it. When I'm in Mexico, I stop speaking English because I can never remember who speaks it.  They are maximizing their chances of success by sticking to the local language.

 

Quote:

I would really like this to stop, so they can communicate with people in the other countries later on and have more job opportunities. I would also like them to stay in touch with their heritage.  Any experience? How do I fix this?

 

Can you get them into a group of children who do not speak the local language? Get movies in the other two languages? Books in the other two languages? Just keep the exposure up and it will come back fairly easily later with a bit of formal study.

 

Quote:
They will sometimes talk to people who don't speak their preferred language in the other language, but not me, unless for very brief periods of time. They default to the preferred language after one sentence.

 

Having the "house language" and the "outside language" is a common way to keep the language skills. Stop responding to them unless they use one of the other two languages. 

 

Or, make a game of it. Whatever language they are spoken to, they have to reply in.  My niece uses that with her French/English/Chinese speaking kids. Whoever starts the conversation controls the language until they run out of vocabulary ... whoever knows the right word can continue in that language or switch to a new one.
Dictionaries are allowed.

 

************

Adding: The older one will quickly learn context-specific languages. I had a pre-school experience with Spanish/German/English speaking kids and in a few weeks they were speaking English to the teacher who didn't speak Spanish, English or Spanish to me (even the German kid spoke to me in Spanish), Spanish to the other aide, and amongst themselves they had concocted a bizarre blend of all three languages.


mambera's Avatar mambera 01:11 PM 05-31-2011

Could you just prompt them and have them repeat the sentence in your language before you give them what they want?

 

Eg, "Mom, may I have some ice cream?" (in community language)

gets "Can  you say, "Mom, may I have some ice cream?""  (in home language)

 

and requires them to repeat after you before they get the ice cream?  I know this will get really cumbersome really fast for extended conversations but I wonder if you could start to implement it for straightforward requests, and then gradually expand your demands as they get more used to speaking your other language(s)?

 

I also agree with the tip to cut out the community language altogether, since they will get that one for 'free' no matter what.  I don't think they have to believe that you don't understand the community language to accept that there is a rule that you won't use it with them.

 

I don't think I would necessarily expect that they will grow out of not-speaking the home languages if you continue to use them but don't require that they speak them back to you.  It might happen, but it might not.  I know several adults who have excellent passive understanding of their parents' language (used by both parents in the home exclusively) but can barely put a sentence together themselves.


IsaFrench's Avatar IsaFrench 11:59 PM 05-31-2011

i don't know if it's possible for every child .... maybe I didn't handle it at best .... I will never know

 

but one of my children couldn't process 2 languages at the same time

that was between the age of 4 and a half and 7 and a half

when we moved each time

he would refuse to speak the language of the new country for quite a few months

but then when he would, he would stop speaking the previous language

 

i don't know if it is his brain who couldn't process things as his older sibling could

or if he just was lazy ou just wanted to take it easy and not make the effort

...there were times when I tried & he would tell me that what I was asking was difficult ....

so I got the impression that is just wasn't "physically" possible for him

 

I must say that the timing of our first move was job motivated

and in restrospect not the best time for him because we had just noticed/been told that he had a slight language delay in his mother tongue

(so we had at wait a good year in the new country, for him to start speaking the new language, before he could be refered for speech therapy in the new language ..)

 

and on our return 3 years later he had totally forgotten his mother tongue

AND had to have speech therapy for about 6 months, in particular one of the sounds (which he could do perfectly well before our first move)

he just couldn't remember how to utter it native like ...

(= he was speaking his "former" mother tongue with a foreign accent )

 

of course he stopped speaking his second language within 6 months again

(which we are working on now, more scholarly since he's older,

I'm using some of these workbooks one can buy everywhere)

 

and it took us a little while, like a good 6 months after I let him concentrate on his first language for about a year

but he has a reasonnalby passive understanding of his second language (which he speaks with an accent now, accent he didn't have when in the country)

 

just to say that for most children it must be possible to get them to pick up several languages from their environement

but for some children that task is more challenging, individual differences and all that ....

 

(+ maybe too much suceptibility ???? I know I get really annoyed when my MIL , who cannot speak a foreign language, tells me that I should speak

this or that language depending on what she wants such and such person in my surroundings to learn this or that language ....

maybe my son takes after me on that department and will resist other people trying to make choices from him ?????)

 

 

 


MittensKittens's Avatar MittensKittens 05:36 AM 06-01-2011

I have decided to cut out the preferred language except in communal situations where others only speak that one. It is harder than I thought. Of the four languages I speak fluently, my kids' preferred language is my least preferred language since I have only been speaking it for five years. But, this is how everyone around communicates. Every time one of my kids speaks in that language, I have to really push myself not to default to it. I will keep on making the effort, and also use the suggestion to have them repeat in English, which will be the focus for a while, before they get what they want. I hope it will work! I'll keep you updated :)


JuniperBCN's Avatar JuniperBCN 04:08 PM 06-02-2011

For what it's worth, we are a trilingual family living in a bilingual area.  My language, English, is the minority language.  Nearly all of our outside life happens in the local languages.  I've been super consistent about using it with our kids (2 and 5) for all direct communication and we homeschool.  DH speaks the predominant local language with them and we speak the national language between us.  I have never forced anyone to use anything but routinely parrot back sentences as I am fulfilling requests (oh, you would like a glass of juice?) and summarize stories for understanding (Oh, so he leaped off the tower and flew to the pirate ship?) in English.  My kids actually seem to use English as their default language although they flip into the local language pretty easily and still do a bit of mixing which seems to be based on which language the word first appeared in or where it appears most.  We have a ton of books, music and dvds in English as well as the other ton in local languages that we stock up on from the library weekly.  We both read aloud in the language the book in front of us is written in and our screen time tends to default to the language in which what we are watching was originally made.  I think we're pretty flexible in general and so far I am feeling pleased with their linguistic progress.

 

Can you bring more stuff into your lives in that is in your language(s)?  The internet and my family have been sooooo helpful with this (I know I'm lucky that so much is easily available in English).  Our DVD player is local and our computer is set to watch NTSC so we're able to use video from all over.

 

Also, you never say what your languages are or if there are other homeschoolers in your area that you have connected with, but in our case, the homeschoolers we have been meeting up with have been pretty interested offers of storytelling in English and lending English language materials.  I believe they would react in the same way with other major or "useful" languages, although something like Icelandic might be a rough sell!

 

Good luck!


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