Linda’s native language is Spanish. Once she started her family, she knew she wanted to pass the language on to her daughter, but whenever she tries to have a conversation with her, things don’t go as planned. “It just doesn’t come out”, she says. Her husband, James, who only speaks English, tells her that speaking Spanish to her kid will only mix their daughter up as she goes through elementary school.
Eileen, for her part, was raised in the US and fell in love with the Italian language, as she deepened her passion for opera. She took formal language classes and even used her skills abroad, so now she wishes she could introduce her children to the beauty of a new language.
Ethan works in the tech field and often travels to Japan. He does it so frequently that he motivates himself to take language lessons to survive his work demands. Now that he realizes how useful it is to speak Japanese with his colleagues and clients, he would like his teenagers to learn Japanese to boost their understanding of other cultures and open up their career opportunities.
No matter your context, your reasons for introducing your child to a foreign language are valid. Perhaps you have stopped short from taking that leap because you don’t know how to approach this journey, or your kids are already learning but seem to have become stagnant. While some things are natural when acquiring a language, there may be counterproductive factors that surround your children’s environment. Since kids learn the most from what they experience, today, we bring you the top mistakes parents make when introducing a foreign language to kids.
Not Giving Kids Enough Exposure to the Native Sounds and Accents of the Target Language
This mistake mainly affects non-native parents. Reading and speaking with your children in the language they’re learning is fabulous. However, if your kids haven’t yet developed the oral skills they need to be fluent, then you need to increase the language exposure (or comprehensible input) your kids receive. Videos, audios, and songs by native speakers are perfect for getting your kid’s ears used to foreign phonetics. This strategy works wonders to pick up the sounds and accents of words, idioms, and colloquial expressions.
Also, your children can watch the dubbed versions of the series and cartoons they already love. Dubbed content in their target language is a great way to notice idioms, colloquial expressions, and clever rhymes within the context of a familiar script (if they’ve already watched the content in its original language). You can also include the foreign language in the content YOU consume when your kids are around. Let’s say, watch the news subtitled, for example. Our human curiosity keeps the shyest ears partially attentive to what’s going on. Whether in the original or dubbed version, we all know how much a relatable character can motivate us to do anything. Just empathizing with a storyline can spur us to follow a path, make a decision, or imitate an accent. For that reason, you have to increase your kids’ language exposure in a fun and engaging way.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Create more effective interaction. If you know the language, speak as much as possible to them. Make sure that each kid has the chance to participate in the conversations. Don’t let just one kid interact, and the others stay silent listening.
- Create a video call schedule with grandparents, relatives, and friends that know the language, so calls take place regularly. These calls are good for language practice and are great for strengthening family bonds and friendships, translating into more confidence for your children.
- If you don’t know the language, check for playgroups or immersion classes that your children could attend instead of lessons with large groups of students.
- If you know other parents looking to increase their children’s language exposure, meet up with them and explore the possibilities of arranging something together—for example, a bilingual playdate.
Using a Dull Approach to Home Language Lessons
The most effective way to have your kids hooked on your home lessons is to make them agreeable. Don’t take it super seriously. You, more than anyone, know perfectly what excites your kids and what doesn’t. We know you may not be an expert teacher, but things will work out better if you can include examples, topics, and strategies that your children enjoy in your home study.
There are many creative, enjoyable ways to teach your child a second language that doesn’t necessarily need to be structured. Unstructured play is highly effective in boosting kids’ learning and motivation. You can try videos, music, dance, books, and all the interactive outings you can dream up. We always say you will get better and quicker results if you don’t make lesson time a tedious chore.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Stay positive and do your best to put a smile on your children’s faces.
- You can bring a stuffed animal home, name it, and introduce it to your kids as a character that only speaks the language they’re learning. In this way, you’ll create a need for the language.
- Mix it with teaching something else—for example, manners, family values, or even a school subject like Science or Math.
- Connect unknown words to rhymes, tongue twisters, and songs.
Letting Other People’s Opinions Get to You
Bitter people will always come up with non-supportive opinions or unhealthy advice about what you’re trying to accomplish with your kids. Some of the things you’ll hear are that you will irreversibly damage the development of their first language, which isn’t true. Or even say, “What’s the point? Why bother? Just sounds like a lot of extra work!”
It’s a big mistake to let people’s unsupportive opinions or uninformed noise get stuck in your head. Just like the saying goes, opinions are the cheapest commodities on Earth. TruFluency Kid’s CEO Micah Bellieu has never met a family that looks back and regrets teaching a foreign language to their kids. If you’re here, it’s because you’ve done your research, and you know the incredible benefits of raising bilingual kids, so just persevere. Blaze your own trail, and become an inspiration for those who want to pursue the same goal.
TruFluency Kid’s Tip
- Seek out people who are educated on the topic.
- Set clear relationship boundaries with people.
- Engage in active listening. Beware of misinterpretation situations.
Not Being Flexible
For parents, days can hold many surprises and break our plans. Therefore, no two days are alike. While it’s imperative to practice language skills and keep the knowledge fresh at home as a routine, you also have to stay flexible. A more flexible study plan can accommodate your children’s natural curiosity and let their thoughts play out organically in the process of learning. If you present study time as something rigid, you’ll lose some of the magic of learning new things.
Instead, let your child’s curiosity unfold and make their journey an experience they can recall as positive and pleasant as possible. Being flexible also gives room for you to be mentally healthy since being on track may be difficult sometimes. For that reason, if you set yourself to stick to a routine, you’ll find yourself frustrated on days when it isn’t possible. As a result, you’ll eventually give up on your goal because you’ll think that it just wasn’t working.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Seize each day, one step at a time.
- Fuel your family’s passions via language resources and learning opportunities.
- When they refuse to speak to you in their second language in the middle of a tantrum, you can speak to them in another minority language. They may not like it or understand it, so they will say “Mommy, please in English, or please in Spanish”. In other words, they will get a small reminder of how useful is their knowledge and why it’s worth it to keep learning a foreign language.
Believing it Will Happen Automatically
Even if your child is exposed to two languages at home, say English and Spanish, there’s no guarantee that they will learn them perfectly and quickly. Native-speaking parents still need to put in their best efforts to create activities and lessons that stimulate children to learn a second language. However, if learning is passive, and your children only hear a second language, they’ll probably grow up to understand vocabulary but won’t actually speak the language. Experts call this passive bilingualism.
Nevertheless, if this is your goal, there’s no problem with that. The purpose of this advice is to let you know that if you want your child to speak the language and become fluent then you’ll need to use an oral practice strategy.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Make the minority language a priority from the get-go and you’ll strengthen the odds of achieving long-term success.
- Create an organic need to communicate in the foreign language and increase the amount of meaningful exposure your kids receive. You can use the strategy “Time and Place”, for example, by telling your children “at dinner time, we’ll only speak Spanish”.
Thinking the Slow Progress is a Sign to Give Up
You may have heard that it’s better to progress slowly than to not progress at all. Quitting doesn’t make anything faster. As a seasoned language school, at TruFluency Kids we always talk to parents that share with us they tried on their own but didn’t get the results they were expecting. They stopped because they lost motivation on the way, or didn’t get results fast enough. Or, they quit their language classes after a year, because they thought their kids would be fluent by then.
They thought because their kids were progressing in baby steps, they were doing something wrong and gave up. Please don’t make this mistake. And if you did, just know that you can get back on track again. Do not underestimate your children’s advancements. Progress is progress. There may be advancements you don’t see that your children’s teacher or other people see. There may be things your kids know that they are shy to show, or that they don’t know they know but they recognize and identify as soon as they see them.
Give yourself the chance to give your kids opportunities you never had. Raising bilingual kids means giving them massive life skills. Every child learns at a different pace. Hence, it is a goal that won’t happen overnight.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Take a step back to evaluate the situation and determine the source of learning stagnation.
- Get support from someone experienced. For example, an institution or a social media bilingual parenting group). On Facebook, you can find groups like “Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children” and “Non-native Speakers Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children”.
Pointing Out Every Mistake
Do not overcorrect your child. If they’re making the same mistakes over and over again, try not to nag them. Address it with empathy. Do not attack the small errors but those that are significant and most worthy of your worries for your child’s fluency. Imagine that you are a student, would you feel more confident if during a conversation you are interrupted over and over, or would you rather finish what you were saying and later be corrected?
In the same way, it is more beneficial for your child if you skip past the mistakes for a while. Address them at a later stage of the conversation, so the chatter flow is not abruptly interrupted. In this sense, correcting your children all the time will only make them self-conscious about their speaking and will dampen their enthusiasm. If you’re already making this mistake, implement a new habit because if you continue pulling your child up on every mistake, language learning will become a source of frustration. Kids are more likely to improve if we focus on reinforcing their achievements and celebrating their progress.
So, cheer their efforts and spur them to keep striving. If your child says something like, “I goed to the store yesterday,”. You can correct this in a question format, “You went to the store yesterday? What did you buy?” Basically, reword what they said so they hear the correct way, and eventually they self-correct. No mistakes mentioned.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Ask yourself if the activity your kids are performing is developmentally appropriate for them. If they’ve previously met the developmental milestones necessary to do this task, then give them the opportunity to show you they are capable of doing it.
- If you overcorrect your children because watching them struggle causes you anxiety, try to meditate and save your corrections for after they’ve done their activity or reword, as described above.
- Clarify the instructions for language exercises as many times as necessary for your children to understand them properly and carry them out appropriately.
- Take your children’s opinion and circumstances into account. If they’re playing happily, it may not be the time to correct. So, let it go and save instructions for another time.
- Sometimes, less is more. Rephrase what you need to communicate in shorter phrases.
Forgetting Why You Started
There will be times when you’re going to want to give up, just like with any other worthwhile goal. When you feel that lack in your enthusiasm, you have to remind yourself why you started teaching your children a foreign language in the first place. The hard work is worth it, we promise.
Find a community, online or offline, of parents interested in expanding their kids’ opportunities with language learning and feed yourself from their advice. Moreover, enroll your kids in language lessons and take the pressure off for a while! Put things in perspective and assess the pros and cons of teaching your kids foreign languages. After that, you’ll have a clear picture of the enormous benefits you can reap from this and you’ll reconnect with your “Big Why”.
TruFluency Kid’s Tips
- Ask yourself two questions; 1) What is the difference you want to make in the world? and 2) What legacy would you like to leave to your children?
- Take self-care days for you. Parenting is hard and you need to sharpen the saw sometimes. Be patient with yourself, and remember that you can’t achieve big goals all at once, but one day at a time.
- Let someone help you: classes, tutors, resources, TV, etc.
The TruFluency Kid’s Method
At Trufluency Kids Spanish Immersion, we’ll help you provide a role model to your children as you guide them into the multilingual world. Languages are complex systems that make us use a lot of complex mental resources. However, children are wired to learn about the world they grow up in and the comprehensible input they receive.
We’ve shared with you our proven tips to make their language journey a remarkable experience, and we’re sure you will succeed in your goal. If you’d like to accelerate your children’s language learning progress, take one of our lessons! We’ll be pleased to answer all your questions via our contact page or phone.