I'm a new member. I'm an American woman married to a Frenchman. We live in France and we have two children, a 9-year-old girl, and a 5-year-old boy. I have been looking for resources/groups like this because when my parents come to visit, they can't understand my son, who will only speak French. He says he doesn't like English and is very stubborn about it. My daughter speaks quite well, and more importantly, she is willing to try and make mistakes!
I'm just not sure what do to about my son. He understands English fairly well, however he seems to actively try NOT to learn! And it's much too late to pretend I don't speak French.
So I joined to learn from you all! Thanks for having me!
I have a similar problem with my youngest who is 6. She too doesn’t feel the need to speak ml (Russian in our case) when ML (English in our case) will do. I think part of it comes from being the younger sibling. Because my time has to be split, and because when the oldest started school after-school activities became a thing, my younger one just has less total exposure time than the older one did at that age. That makes it harder for them to speak, and that makes it an activity they actively don't want to do.
The approach I’m taking is through positive reinforcement. We have a a small jar and each day a child speaks ml well she gets a colored glass pebble to put in the jar. When the jar is full, she gets a one-on-one date with mama at the place of her choice. It was a rocky start but after a few days where I judged her efforts insufficient, she has began to improve, ever so slowly.
My first advice would be to get Adam's book. It's very hands-on and deals with all this: what you need to do and all the different ways you can do it.
Once you've read it, you'll see it depends on what changes you can make to make English (your ml) a bigger part of your life. Can you visit your family in the States, or even just spend some time in England? Can you find English-speaking groups where everyone communicates in English? Can you set some rules at home so that he does more things in English? Movie night, game night... All available only in English.
As Adam says in his book, it all comes down to your children having ample exposure to the minority language (English in your case) and a need to use it. You'll see that he talks about a lot of different ways to tackle both. You can also find some ideas in the Take a Challenge section of this forum. If you tell us a bit more of your situation and what you have access to, we may be able to help as well.
Silke has a similar situation which was discussed in her thread. You will also find there my own story with my stubborn 4-year-old whom we "forced" to speak our 2 mls. Each family is different so I don't know if that can be of any help to your situation.
As I did with Silke, I would like to make the same 3 suggestions for you to explore:
1 - I think Raquel's suggestion is great and worth a try.
If I put myself in your shoes, I don't think reasoning with my daughter would help; she's too little to understand. But children know what they want, so if you can make fun stuff only available in English, she may slowly accept the change, after some complaints, whining, etc. For instance, I would start with TV: TV time is only in English. Then, books are only available in English. If you want me to read you a book, I'm sorry but they're all in English, so I have to read it in this language. Then: Look, I'm playing this game you love, but I'm playing it in English; do you want to join me? German is not allowed in this game, etc... You slowly change your language of communication from German to English. You could also argue it's a way for her brother to understand you both, because he doesn't speak German, so you both have to speak English to the baby. I would even go as far as praising her in English. It's easier not to complain about a language when what you're being told is something you want to hear. The trick, for me, is slowly making things she loves only available in English: TV, books, praise, sweets (if you want a sweet, ask in English).
You will need to spend a lot of that fun time together to re-build your relationship in that language.
2 - I would strongly recommend shifting to the ml@home as a family rule if your husband speaks English. Setting the example as a family sends a strong subliminal message to your child.
3 - The Time & Place strategy - our fellow keeper Nellie used it very successfully with her daughter who refused to speak their ml1. All the family members had their dinner in ml1, even the ML daddy had to make the effort. Their daughter protested a fortnight but eventually got used to it and now speaks to her mum in ml1.
I'd also like to share with you this beautiful and inspiring post by linguist Barbara Zuerer Pearson on the topic of encouraging your child to speak the ml. She writes: "The biggest challenge for parents who want to raise a bilingual child is to make the child WANT to learn it. There’s a common saying that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” You can provide the necessary environment, but the presence alone of “the water” is not enough. On the other hand, if the child is “thirsty” for the language, you can’t keep him from drinking it in. If there is no water available, children will look for water until they find it."
Nobody knows your child better than you do. So try to find levers that will get your son to take the first few steps.
In any case, I'm cheering you on as two and a half years ago I was where you are now. Do not give up. The battle is not over until you surrender. Feel free to turn to us for tips, inspiration, or vent your frustrations. We are happy to support you.
As I mentioned at my Facebook page, I feel for the frustration that you and your parents are currently experiencing with regard to your son, but I encourage a broader view of his bilingual development and patient, playful efforts that can address the deeper source of the difficulty, which--as Raquel stressed--involves the two "core conditions" of exposure and need.
The truth is, you're not at all alone. Many small children feel similar reluctance to engaging in the minority language and the problem can generally be traced back to shortcomings in these two conditions of language acquisition: ample exposure to the target language and a genuine need to use it. In your son's case, my guess is that he hasn't been receiving sufficient input in English (the balance of exposure tilts heavily toward French) nor does he feel a need to actively use it because everyone in the house also speaks French and he feels more comfortable communicating in this language.
Beyond your own proactive efforts to increase his exposure to English, who could be enlisted to help you in this aim?
As Amy has suggested, if your husband has some English ability, he should be encouraged to actively use it within the family as much as possible. This could have a hugely beneficial impact on the situation because, in fact, the success rate of one parent seeking to foster the minority language alone is considerably lower than when both parents are using the minority language (even when one of those parents is also using the majority language to some degree).
In other words, to what extent could both you and your husband emphasize English and "de-emphasize" French at home? (How much French are you actually using with or around your son?)
I also suggest that you try bringing in another English speaker--like a teenage boy or college student--who can play with your son in English on a regular basis. (This person should be instructed to never speak French with or around your son so that your son will assume that his playmate only speaks English.) This sort of support would not only add to his exposure to English, it would help him develop a more positive attitude toward the language and more confidence in using it. Please see this post...
Kathryn, stay patient, playful, and proactive and I expect you'll experience some satisfying progress over the course of this year. And to help fuel your efforts, you may want to start your own thread at the Track Your Progress board, an option that has proven very empowering for many of your fellow keepers.
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide. Please support The Bilingual Zoo through Adam's Patreon page www.patreon.com/bilingualmonkeys.
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Amy: @sheilac, I suggest you create an actual thread on the "Questions & Concerns" board, so fellow Zoo Keepers can help you with your concerns. 256 characters is too little to discuss something that is so important to your heart
Jun 2, 2019 23:44:41 GMT 9
Mayken: Adam Beck, thanks for that very interesting and timely post - it justifies the large order for ml books and DVDs I'm about to place in view of my daughters upcoming birthday!
Jun 3, 2019 23:46:00 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Great to hear this, Mayken! And happy birthday to both yours and mine! (They have the same birthday, don't they?) And if anyone missed that post, here's the link once more...
Jun 4, 2019 8:03:42 GMT 9
Mayken: It's our last night in Canada. We've said goodbye to our English-speaking and bilingual English/French friends but we have lots of memories and souvenirs. Let's see how I can keep up the momentum back home.
Aug 21, 2019 9:06:07 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Sounds like a wonderful trip, Mayken! Safe travels home!
Aug 22, 2019 10:33:45 GMT 9