Child Understands but Doesn't Respond in my Native Language
1. General Question:
I speak my native language to my daughter here in the U.S. but she only responds in English. She gets what I'm saying in my language, but still insists on replying in English.
Much of this depends on your child's age and, I would even venture to say, sex. (See the Specific Questions below for ideas geared towards children of specific ages.)
Try not to respond directly when your child speaks English to you. Gently ask in your native language (as if you REALLY want to know and are excited to find out!), "What?" or "in _______ (your native language), please" (you might do with a puzzled look on your face to make it seem natural, as if you didn't quite pick up the word in English).
If/When your child seems frustrated, you don't want things to escalate...you don't want her frustrated over the language. If after several "What?" type questions, you are getting nowhere, ask (in the language you're trying to teach your child), "Do you mean _____?" and give her the word. Make sure she uses the word in the desired language before you completely move on. To reinforce her memory of that word you might let her finish the story she's telling, then ask questions which have answers that will employ that new word. CGJ 09:26, 19 April 2006 (MST)
See One Parent, One Language for examples, or scroll down to see specific questions from parents.
2. Specific Question:
I am German and live here in the U.S. I am a single, working mom but spend the weekends and evenings with my son, giving him my full attention. I have been speaking and reading in German to my four year old son since he was born. He never really would speak German to me, though it was obvious by 18 months or so that he understood everything I said. My mother is coming to visit for 5 weeks and she doesn't speak English at all. I'm afraid he won't talk to her. What should I do?
Your dilemma is quite common, actually. You are in a very good position, however, since your mother is coming soon. It will be crucial for him to speak German to your mother and I have few doubts that as long as your mother tries to engage him, he will speak to her in German. This is a great time to make some changes as to how you respond to him as well. Let him know that the rules are changing when Grandma arrrives, that he will need to speak German to her and to you. It will not be forced to insist on this when your mother is participating in conversation with you and your son. When it is just you and your son, however, you will need to change (stick to) the rules as well. Try not to respond directly when your child speaks English to you. Gently ask in German (as if you REALLY want to know and are excited to find out!), "What?" or "in German, please" (you can do this with a puzzled look on your face if you wish, just to make it see natural, as if you didn't quite pick up the word in English). If/When your child seems frustrated, you don't want things to escalate...you don't want him frustrated over the language. If after several "What?" type questions, you might ask in German, of course, "Do you mean _____?" and give him the word. Make sure he uses the word in German before you completely move on. You might let him finish his story, then ask questions about that word so that he'll need to use it. CGJ 09:26, 19 April 2006 (MST)
See One Parent, One Language for examples
3. Specific Question:
(This question was translated from Portuguese to English) CGJ 09:04, 1 May 2006 (MST) I am Brazilian and am married to an American, living in Texas. I have spoken Portuguese to my daughter Anna since I had her (she's 3 and a half now). My husband speaks English to her and when we're together, we sort of go back and forth (he knows Portuguese fairly well) depending on who else is around. Things were going well until about a year ago, when I put her in daycare so I could get a masters' degree. After a couple of months with so much English-speaking, she told me she didn't speak Portuguese, but that she understood me. I tried to keep speaking in Portuguese, but she would answer me in English. But often when she responded in English, I answer in English...just because that's what I naturally do-- I speak English to people who speak English to me and Portuguese when people speak Portuguese to me. So that probably wasn't good of me to do with her. (Whenever I noticed I was speaking English to her, I would change to Portuguese, but I think I'm not always aware enough to catch myself.) I am going to keep talking to her in Portuguese, because that way the language gets into her brain and when she really needs to speak itk she'll be able to. Is there a way to get her to speak to me in Portuguese or is it too late?
Kudos for continuing to speak Portuguese to her. It's important to know, however, that passive knowledge is wonderful, but isn't the same as active, ready to speak knowledge. You can strive for both if that's your objective. If you have Brazilians coming to visit or if you go to Brazil to visit relatives/friends who don't speak English, speaking Portuguese will also be easier. Your kids will know the necessity of speaking Portuguese around these non-English speakers, and if you have a visitor/trip planned soon, you can definitely start now, encouraging her to speak the language. This will... 1. smooth the transition 2. make it a habit, a pattern. (See question number 2's response above for more details.)
Start with explaining to your daughter how you want to speak to her only in Portuguese and how important it is to you for her to speak to you in Portuguese. Give reasons that are appealing and motivating to a child her age: So we can sing Brazilian songs together and read the books Grandma sends us from Brazil. Imagine her as a copartner in this endeavour and try to show her that she is a huge part of the "project." That will help avoid the "battle of wills" that can impede progress.
Think gradual, yet consistent change. A conversation at first might go like this: You: Anna, onde voce vai? (Hannah, where are you going?") Anna: to play with my dolls You: Voce vai brincar com o que? (You're going to play with what?) Anna: I'm going to play-- You (interrupting her sentence in an excited, "I-just-want-to-make-sure-I'm-understanding-you" sort of way): Diga, "Vou brincar com..." (Say, "I'm going to play with...)
It is also important that instead of immediately translating to Portuguese a word she says to you in English, that you ask show you are not getting her message. So, "O que?" ("What?"). If she's still using English, ask "O que? Em portugues, favor" (What? In portugues please). If she refuses, try again, giving more help this time...as if you are excited to hear her say it in Portuguese: "Diga, 'Vou brincar com...'" ("Say, 'I'm going to play with'"). If she still refuses, repeat your request slowly. If she's genuinely having difficulty, break it down for her. "Diga 'Vou'" ("Say, 'I am going to'". Encourage her very positively to repeat that. For example, with a pleased, prowd look on your face say, "Diga de novo" ("Say it again"). Then move on to helping her with "brincar" ("play"). Again, give time for her to respond. Then help out more "Com..." By now she's probably tired of this, so she's likely to say "dolls" in English or just point to them. Act as if you are so glad you finally understand, "ah! Vai brincar com as bonecas!" (Oh! You're going to play with your dolls!") Let's say she responds,
You: Diga, "Sim, mamae" (yes, Momma)
At this point, she'll probably say the "sim" part at least. If you have time to play a bit with her, ask questions about the doll, trying to illicit the word "boneca" from her. Repeat the process above whenever she responds in English.
Soon enough, she's likely to start speaking Portuguese with the easy, everyday words. She'll insert English for the word she can't remember. "Eu vou carry this." (I'm going to carry this). In cases where you think she won't remember or doesn't even know, ask, perplexed, "Voce vai fazer o que? Vai carregar? (You're going to do what, carry this?). Try to use the word for "carry" several times, in your questions to her or just in speaking to her, so that this word will stick in her brain. Be silly, create interesting visuals in her mind to help the word stick. For example, "Voce vai me carregar tambem?" ("Are you going to carry me too?) She'll say in English, "No!" and your response can be, "Diga 'nao!' Encourage her to say "no" in Portuguese and continue on once she does. Say, "Nao mamae, voce e pesada demais!" ("No, mommie, you're too heavy!") Perhaps act out what it looks like to carry something heavy. This whole dialogue can talke place in the course of 2 minutes and when it becomes your pattern, Anna will start to understand that it's how you talk to her. You want Portuguese. You gently insist on Portuguese. Avoid negative, punitive actions.
You can also help your child to learn circumnavigation skills. We use these in our first language everyday. If we can't remember the word "psychologist," we say, "not a psychiatrist, the other one" or "the one who does therapy not medicines" or "the one who's not a medical doctor". When your child wants pancake serup from the cabinet but is only saying the word in English, instead of immediately giving her "xarope," (serup), try first helping her say the word using other words. Ask, "O que?" (What?) and take any clues she gives you. She may point to her pancakes and you can say, "Ah, aquela coisa que vai encima das pancecas?" ("Oh, the stuff that gones on top of pancakes") Ask her to repeat at least some of that, "Diga, 'encima das pancecas'" ("Say, 'on top pancakes'").
Make finding out what she wants something exciting and fun. So, going back to the pancake serup, if she points to the cabinet where it's kept, ask, "O que? Esta no armario?" ("What? it's in the cabinet?") Open the cabinet and let her practice responding to you in Portuguese as you pull out other items and ask, "E o sol?" ("Is it the salt?"), ("E grande ou pequeno?") (Is it big or small?), etc. Make it a game wherein you're both relieved when you finally figure out what it is. Eventually, if you feel she's becoming too frustrated, give her "Oh, o xarope!" ("Oh, the serup!) and, then when she's actually using the serup, be sure to ask her about it, using the word often and illiciting it from her.
Do as much as you can to have her around Portuguese speakers. Playdates, parties, even walks with other moms who speak the language and their kids. This way, Anna overhears adults speaking the language. It's very motivating for her to hear others her age speak Portuguese. Several towns/cities have playgroups with children who all speak a language other than English. See Playdates for further details.
Ensure you have many resources in the house that you are using with your child. Books, CDs, videos/DVDs in Portuguese. Show family members how to order Portuguese materials as gifts for your child. Your (in English) preschool may be pushing it's scholastic books, which is great, but focus on buying book in Portuguese and use the library for books in English. See Books, Music, and Television for further details.
4. Specific Question
I went to your web site on bilingualism. I am actually trying to teach my kids Spanish. I am a native speaker but my husband does not speak Spanish, so it has been difficult to keep it up. They understand a lot of Spanish, but I am having a hard time getting them to speak it. Their ages are 6, 4, 3. It is funny because there are certain words they only say in Spanish like leche, beso, chocolate, etc. but I can't get them to speak in complete sentences in Spanish.
Any suggestions - other than taking them to a Spanish speaking country?
Response You ask a good question and several suggestions are given in the responses above to other concerned parents (particularly in question 3 above).
I'd need to know a little more about how you're going about teaching them Spanish to answer more specifically to your case. When do you speak it to them? When did you start speaking it to them. Do you have Spanish speaking relatives who speak it to them?
Motivation is key...they have to have some reason why they speak the language, a reason that makes sense to them. For example, we speak Spanish we can sing Spanish songs together and read all those Spanish books in the library. If you have relatives that speak Spanish, that's another things you can mention to them, so we can understand Grandpa. If Grandpa doesn't speak Spanish to them already, that's an interesting issue we can go into...again, once I know answers to the questions I asked you, I can go into more specific detail.
Imagine your kids as in this endeavour and try to show the 4 and 6 year old, in particular, that they can be teachers of Spanish to the youngest sibling. Whenver the 2 year old says a new word, praise the other 2 kiddies, saying "(S)he must have learned that word from you too-- what great Spanish teachers you are!!" They should basically feel like a huge part of the "project." That will help avoid the "battle of wills" that can impede progress.
A trip to a Spanish-speaking country would be invaluable in so many aspects. Just being surrounded by the language-- street signs, strangers talking on the street, butchers answering your questions about the meat, music, OTHER CHILDREN. (See above response about the importance of giving them opportunites to be around kids their own age who speak Spanish) Your children would see that they're learning not just a language, but how another group of people live. You coudl stock up on Spanish materials (children's music, books, comics, etc.)
But with Spanish, you shouldn't really have to leave the country (depending on where you live). It's not difficult in most cities to find a Spanish playgroup. Or you can start one...perhaps show an interest in doing so at a Spanish immersion school in your area or put something out there on Craig's list. If they see their peers speaking the language, they will much more inclined.
Another motivation is that they know they won't get what they want until they said it in Spanish. This is tough. This, in fact is the most difficult part of the job. Basically, you give them the word if they need it and in your case, the phrase, give them time to practice it, then react to their request only when it's said in Spanish. Work at not being controlling about it, though. I give my daughter a sort of quisical, pleading look and say, "What? Say that in Portuguese please." The responses to other specific questions above go into this in more depth.
Also go to Others who speak the language methods to learn of other opportunities that could help in your situation.
Looking forward to hearing more about your circumstances and kudos to you in this endeavour.
See One Parent, One Language for examples