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“Mom, all my friends in school speak English!”

Here comes the tricky part: Keeping our children bilingual once they leave the cocoon! Now there are outside pressures – from school officials, from English-speaking peers, from the media, etc. Many parents notice a drop in interest in their native languages when their children start school in the U.S.

The first thing to remember is that now‘s the time to stay consistent. Which means we have to keep speaking our native language to them, no matter what! It sounds simple but many parents actually notice that they will turn to English more often – it might be easier, especially if you’re fully bilingual – but the minute we do that we’re sending the message that – Hey, mom doesn’t think it’s important to speak French, so why should I? Natasha very rarely speaks English with me, but I notice that Sofiya is more comfortable with her vocabulary in English and I could easily slip and continue our conversation in English but I know that I won’t help her increase her French vocabulary if I do that! I either repeat in French what she has just said in English, to get her to think in French, or I just continue the conversation in French. Usually she’ll switch on her own two or three sentences later. It’s obvious that her vocabulary is not as developed so that’s what we’re focusing on – by engaging in activities that she likes.  

We need to boost their exposure and find fun and creative activities to keep our native languages on the front burner. In the book Bilingual By Choice I include 100 activities that can help families stay motivated, including 50 you can do at home, and 50 that you can do in your community. At this stage it helps to focus on your children’s current interests and hobbies – when thinking about activities – We want them to be having fun, so that our language choice doesn’t feel like homework!

For a child to keep speaking his home language, he has to see its relevance in his every day life. It’s not going to be enough to just hear you say it’s important. A great way to keep your language relevant is to help him connect with kids his age (new friends, pen pals, cousins) who speak his heritage language. Parents who’ve succeeded in raising bilingual children build strong support network, which can include things like more Skype time with cousins, heritage language schools, language camps, a trip back home or to another country where they speak your native language, pen pals who share common interests, or inviting a favorite cousin to stay with your family for the summer. You’ll find many more examples in the book.

It’s clear to parents that speaking two languages is incredibly valuable – with great social, cultural, academic, and economic benefits – but now we need to be creative to convince our children as well!

Thanks for your great question Janet.



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