As I mentioned in my previous post, right now Big Sister doesn’t want to speak Spanish. And it’s literally shattering my world. In our family, we use the Minority Language At Home (MLaH) strategy to raise bilingual kids, (You can read about different language approaches for multilingual families here). MLaH works for us because both my husband and I are fluent in both the Home Language (Spanish) and the Minority Language (English), and because we prefer to speak to each other in Spanish. However, there are occasional exceptions to the MLaH strategy in our household (TV, music, and books) given that we live in the United States, and this means that our kids sometimes accumulate vocabulary in English that they don’t have in Spanish. And this means two things: 1. Spanglish 2. Refusal to speak Spanish at home. I can now step back a bit and realize that the refusal to speak Spanish is a common and natural problem, (yet still incredibly frustrating!). Here are a five ways that we are encouraging Spanish right now at home when not everyone is “feeling it:”
- We have stopped saying “hable en español.” Big Sister is accumulating a lot of new vocabulary at school, and we’ve realized that her refusal to speak Spanish isn’t necessarily because she doesn’t want to. It’s actually because she has accumulated words outside of the home that she doesn’t know in her home language. More academic vocabulary is good, right? I’ve started making a point to talk to her about what she did at school, and then repeating in Spanish what she says in English in order to give her the new vocabulary. This hopefully will avoid her feeling frustrated when she can’t speak Spanish because she doesn’t know the words, and will expand her vocabulary in Spanish by relating it to what she has learned at school.
- Ask her to repeat the vocabulary. In Step 1, we’ve tried to minimize the frustration for everyone when our kids don’t want to speak Spanish. By asking them to repeat the vocabulary in Spanish, we are also making sure that she can comfortably pronounce all of the words that we expect her to use.
- Use the new words in a lot of different contexts throughout the day. We recently celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day, and Big Sister came bursting home from school will all kinds of new words: leprechaun, pot of gold, rainbow, tricks… So today, my job is to use those Spanish words in a thousand different ways, over and over, until they are as much a part of her Spanish vocabulary as they are English. Easier said than done, but I just installed the SpanishDict app on my phone so I can quickly look up any words that I’m not positive about (because Saint Patrick’s Day was not actually a holiday we studied in Spanish class)!
- Ignore the English. There are times when Big Sister does not want to speak Spanish, and she’s strong-willed enough to outright defy us. Instead of punishing her for choosing her preferred method of communication (we really don’t want her to associate Spanish with punishment), we just refuse to respond to her in English. This avoids the battle over what language to speak, and we are still holding the line that Spanish is our home language. For example, today she came home and said “Papi, there was a leprechaun at school today!” My husband responded, “¿De verdad? ¡Un enanito verde llegó a la escuela! Y ¿qué hizo?” While lunchtime after an exciting day at school was not the time to battle over what language Big Sister should use, my husband did a great job of refusing to speak English, and giving her the words she needed in Spanish.
- Create a village. This is muuuuch easier said than done. Even though we live in a city where lots of people speak Spanish, there are very few fellow Costa Ricans here, and as a technical “outsider” myself, I’ve found it hard to find bilingual mothers and caregivers with whom we can spend lots of time. I have accosted nannies and mothers everywhere: the library, the Chick Fil A play place, the park… anyone who has kids speaking Spanish that can be part of our village. We are lucky to have an incredible group of bilingual parents in a town nearby, and each of our girls have a Spanish speaking and and English speaking godparent. Still, there can never be too many bilingual role models in either of our girls’ lives.
How do you encourage your children to communicate in the home language when they don’t want to? Join the conversation!