Learning a second language other than the majority language can be hard for people of all ages.
Children, however, can have a particularly difficult time learning a language. Along with all the challenges of language learning, there is also social pressure which they aren’t quite adept at navigating. Why a child doesn’t want to speak a certain language can stem from multiple factors. The two clear reasons are a lack of skill in the second language and the social acceptance of it. In this post, we will first explore these reasons and then provide suggestions for making your child more confident and proficient in the second language.
The minority language
When a child refuses to speak a certain language, more often than not, it's a minority language. Many families experience this. Primarily this is because they have quality input in the majority language, speak it daily with friends and peers, and it's also socially acceptable. The minority language doesn’t get as much attention, with the child being in school most of the day and barely getting any quality time with their parents.
Although unlikely, the reasons presented below may also be true for a majority language. Since it is unlikely if your child refuses to speak the majority language, it's ideal to speak to their teachers about education standards and get help from a speech and language pathologist if necessary.
Reasons why a child would refuse to speak a certain language
Let's take a closer look at each of the 6 reasons a child would refuse to speak a language. Counteracting these can lead to a more enriched language learning process and also a more confident bilingual child.
Lack of resources in the second language
A common thread among most children who refuse to speak a second language is simply the lack of resources in the second language. Parents can speak the second language all they want but it can’t be very helpful unless the child engages.
The lack of resources here constitutes a lack of books, media, and any other resources that actively support language learning. The parent speaking a language can help practice it but not lay the foundation for it. Books and cartoons often use visuals and translation between a major language and the minority language to make children learn.
A very simple way to see if this is the reason for your child not speaking a second language is to observe their daily activities and take stock of their library and screen time. As a parent, who wants their child to learn a language, it is up to you to provide them with these resources and provide active engagement wherever necessary.
Our book A-Z creatures is a great starting point for this task. In addition to this, you can find TV shows and card games that make language learning fun.
Lack of exposure
Building on the point from before, we mentioned that you should provide active engagement in a second language to your child.
We spend time with our children every day, from waking them up to making them breakfast, sending them off to school, and tucking them into bed. In this constant routine, parents can often forget to spend one-on-one time with them. Simply asking them what they learned in school doesn’t suffice.
Listening to your child and actively engaging with them in a childlike manner is important too. Let’s say they share a happy experience with you, and you give them a native language work to express this happiness, they will remeber it far better than any language lesson they take.
This is not to discount the benefits of using language learning material, but it's a way to supplement language learning and also heighten the relevance of a language in their mind. The next time they do well on an assignment, they’ll let you know they are muy contento!
Language learning is not a priority.
We get it. Raising a child is difficult, and sticking to a language-learning method can often be difficult. This is even more pronounced in monolingual families where the parent is also trying to learn a language to teach the child.
It is up to you to take a look at your child’s daily routine, the kind of questions you can ask your child, and the kind of answers you expect from them. Teach them how to express what they are feeling, and let them know that you are their learning companion and that this is new to you too.
Commitment will more often than not be the difference between a child learning a language or simply forgetting it as they grow up. Our aim is to empower parents to teach their children a second language, so take it from us, it's difficult, not impossible, and definitely worth it!
Speaking a second language isn’t a priority
It isn’t. It really isn’t, and that is why it's called a second language. If you’re reading this, chances are that English is your first language or at least the majority.
To learn a language, one must see the practicality of learning the language. It's hard when the larger world around you doesn’t speak it. The same applies to a child. So in order to make them learn, you have to make the second language a priority. If it's a minority language, make your children talk to relatives and family members personally or on a video call.
In all these interactions, sit by your child, translating and assisting wherever necessary. Incentivize learning goals with small gifts or perks. Don’t exploit this opportunity to pressurize them into dictations or tests. Remember to keep this fun and the real rewards of language learning will be more apparent when they grow up. If you don’t create a need, they won’t see it.
You don’t have enough time
With working parents, this is especially true, and we can empathize. But if you are committed to raising bilingual children, you will require to make sacrifices here and there. Not to take leaves from work or extended vacations, but a small interaction every day that compounds over time.
As a parent, you have many opportunities to interact with your child and try to make some of them language-learning opportunities. Yes, planning for it can rob the interactions of some spontaneity, but it's up to you to create spontaneity. A random afternoon on the drive back from school, the breakfast table, or story time at night are all great opportunities for language learning.
Confidence is missing
Although rare, a major reason why a child refuses to speak a language is simply that they lack confidence in their speaking abilities in the target language. This isn’t a lack of input or quality time with parents but rather an extrinsic factor that is not entirely in their control.
When making your child learn a new language, it is important that you compliment their strides and recognize the effort they put in, no matter how small.
There may be a case where their peers make fun of them or sideline them because of their language. Your job as a parent is to instill confidence in your child, and in the person that they are. Conditioning is everything, so talk to teachers, and get a good grip on how they are doing in school as well. You don’t need to vilify anyone, simply let your child know why this language is important and how they should be proud of who they are. Unlike adolescents, young children think the world of their parents and will listen to your affirmations.
How to get around it?
Counteracting and building from there on the reasons cited above is a good starting point. As a baseline, enriching the quality and quantity of input in the second language can make a great difference.
You can use resources like language learning books, movies, and games to make language learning fun. Remember, children follow the path of least resistance to learn anything. So if your child refuses to speak a second language, you need to detect the blocker and deal with it appropriately.
Have fun on the language-learning journey with your child, interact with them in the second language as much as possible and recognize their efforts to learn. With time and consistency, they will feel more comfortable and confident in their abilities.