Responding to Children Who Won’t Speak a Designated Language

There are a variety of reasons why a child won’t speak your desired minority language. Perhaps it’s peer pressure at school or from siblings, or it could be that someone poked fun of his/her accent. Regardless of the reason (which is important to uncover) the ball is now in your court! How do you respond to this behavior?

Your response typically falls into one of these four categories:

1. Pretend not to understand and ask your child to repeat in the desired language.
2. Repeat your child’s communication in the appropriate language and ask if that’s what they meant.
3. Ignore the fact that your child communicated in a different language. Respond to your child in the appropriate language and maintain conversation in two different languages.
4. Respond to your child using the same language s/he began the conversation with to avoid further confusion.

All these options are valid, but keep in mind that over the long term, a consistent response will affect your child’s language proficiency. Research shows that the first option, while most Language of desire difficult to enforce yields the best results. Children who are encouraged to practice a language will ultimately become conversant in it. They may not have the best accent, the best vocabulary, or the best grammar, but they’ll be able to effectively communicate in that language.

The second option, provide the child an easy “out”. However, you’re still making it an interactive experience and along the way ensuring that the appropriate translation sinks in. When asking your child to repeat after you, be sure to have fun with it and not make it a tedious back-and-forth banter.

The third option is great for families whose goal it is to have passive bilingual children. In other words, your child will understand everything you say, but will communicate back in a different language. The situation will likely remain this way until a lifestyle change occurs (such as the family moving or visiting the home country.)

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