Why my bilingual kid is not speaking the minority language?

A few months ago my kids met a new Spanish speaking friend that did not speak any English at all.   The first time they played together, my kids were able to communicate with him in Spanish.  I was excited, finally they had found a friend that did not speak any English!  Well, five months later and after attending daily to a Montessori School (In which the little friend is the  only Spanish speaker), the little friend has become bilingual.  His English has improved to the point of just carrying a conversation in English, Spanglish, Spanish and switching very comfortably among the three of them. .

english mouth with a Spanish brainThe whole situation made me reflect on my own experience.  What is going wrong with us? Not enough exposure?  Not enough social pressure?  Consistency? Lack of discipline?  Lack of confidence?   Need of an Immersion school? I have been speaking in Spanish to them since they were born, and they still are not fluent in Spanish!!

As bilingual parents, we want our kids to be bilingual.  We are aware of the responsibility that lays on us.  However, bilingualism does not just happen.  It demands commitment, work and the results are NOT immediate. Whats more, it becomes one of our life challenges.

I asked a group of bilingual parents, what are the problems they have found to make bilingualism happen? 

The answers made me realize that I am not alone, my struggles are normal!  I grouped the answers and testimonies, so it is easier to reflect in the issue

Problem #1.  Lack of exposure.-   I got very interesting testimonies that made me aware that bilingualism is a journey.

Annika’s experience allowed her identify the main problem. “I think we have the same problems all over the world with the limited exposure to the minority language”.

Becky from Kid World Citizen confessed, “We tried to do OPOL but my husband travels so much and works such long hours, it is NOT enough second language input. We had to change methods so it is ML@H but then I frequently forget (especially if I’m in a rush, which is honestly always!”

In Natalie’s words, “I am still pondering the post on how we failed to give our daughter our own mother tongues, but the simple reason for that was lack of exposure….”

Leanna from All done Monkey confessed, “We started off with OPOL, but since the kids spend most of their time with me (as a stay at home mom) and with other English-speaking kids/teachers, they weren’t getting enough exposure to Spanish. I have tried switching to Spanish, but my older son is 4 and so wants me to just speak to him in English, except occasionally when he wants me to pretend to be Daddy” 

Olena Centeno, (Bilingual Kids Rock) has been bringing up her kids bilingually, and made a very interesting point. “When children grow older and have more social life (like sport events and practices, friends over, more homework etc) the interaction in minority language drops tremendously – they simply spend less time with me!!! I understand that is a part of growing up, but it has negative effect on their minority language development.” 

Problem #2 Need of Immersion programs

bilingual comic

The lack of bilingual education brings fear in bilingual parents about academics.  Many parents allow our children to answer in the language they know best.  Usually that language is the language learned at school. In the USA Immersion Schools are more common West.  Between us, part of me wishes I could live in the West Coast.  Let’s see other people experiences,

Amanda, speaks English, Arabic and French to her children.  However she still holds some fears, “We use English in the house and Arabic outside. They aren’t getting as much conversational French as I’d like but I’m picking my battles. They will have more opportunities to learn French and Arabic will be more limited. I have been trying to use Arabic myself more and more but fear they’re falling behind in more academic English learning”

Sophie Beach, is pure proof that immersion and more exposure are key, “My challenge at the moment is keeping immersion school in the minority language as well as baby sitters and friends that speak the minority language, as our kids get older. My son is now 9 and more often responds reflexively with my husband in English, so we have to remind him to speak Chinese. Also, it is now clear, as much as I hate to admit it, that English is his stronger language, so when they are having certain more in-depth conversations, he needs to switch to English to express himself fully. Unlike before when we were very strict about it, now my husband allows that, just to keep up the momentum of conversation which at this age is more important”.

Problem #3 

Lack of Cultural Immersion,  there is so many more opportunities to teach a language if you use the cultural aspect of the language.  Culture brings language alive.

Stephanie from incultureparent.com is still finding the way to immerse in the minority language culture.  “We are trying to find a way to spend more time in Morocco-whether that be a few weeks every summer or eventually (perhaps in a few years) something like Amanda Ponzio Mouttaki is doing and going to live there for a time, inshallah!”

This three main problems reflect a bigger issue yet, “Lack of consistency”.  It is not necessarily the parents fault, it is just comes with the bilingual package. You either are consistent or not.

I also could recognize common attitudes that make the problems above not to get solved, such us,

  • As a minority language provider I still speak the mayority language.
  • Lack of vocabulary to communicate in the minority language.
  • Over use of the mayority language with our spouse. (I am so guilty of this one).

Have you ever struggled with bilingualism?  What other issues have you found in your experience?


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2 thoughts on “Why my bilingual kid is not speaking the minority language?

  1. My kids aren’t fully bilingual either. I know it is because no one except me speaks Spanish and even mine is faulty from lack of use. But we continue to plug on. And fortunately, they are proud of their heritage and this summer, they said that the only official learning they want to do is Spanish. And so it goes!

    • How exciting Monica! I truly hope that this Summer they can learn to love the language, since they obviously love their roots. First step of immersion is love of the culture. Wish you the best on this Summer de Español!

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