Karen Deerwester, Ed.S. - Parent Educator and Early Childhood
founder and CEO of Family Time, Inc., and consultant. In 17 years of
seminars, and one-on-one coaching, Karen has supported thousands of
in their efforts to build great foundations for children. Karen is
committed to helping parents become problem solvers in the large and
questions that arise "living with children."
Question: In our home we speak two languages: Spanish and English. Spanish being the first language spoken. I have two boys ages: 12 and 9. The oldest speaks almost perfect Spanish, but my youngest, most of the time, refuses to speak Spanish. We have set rules that inside the home we speak only Spanish, my youngest, will ignore the rule and speak English. I will either ask him to say it in Spanish or I will ignore him until he speaks in Spanish. Most of the time he will refuse to talk at all. I have explained to him the beauty of knowing two languages and how beneficial it would be for him in the future. Am I hurting his communication skills by insisting that he speaks Spanish?
I agree with you wholeheartedly on the beauty and benefits of a bilingual
home. You are creating a rich intellectual and cultural advantage for your
children. But children have a way, especially at certain oppositional times
in their lives, to find ways to challenge our most dearly held beliefs. And
you do not want to turn language into a battleground, even inadvertently.
Here are my suggestions:
Continue to speak Spanish in your home. You might have a family meeting to
discuss recent events. Use this time to restate your goals. Explain that
you (and dad if he is also living in the house) will continue to speak only
Spanish in the home. Let your children know that you will not force them to
speak Spanish but you absolutely encourage them to do so. Try to enlist the
full cooperation of your older son before hand. This will work best with as
many Spanish speakers as you can get! Then let your son speak Spanish
whenever he chooses but always respond to him in Spanish. Encourage your
older son to do the same. Once you remove the power struggle, you will
diffuse your son's challenge without compromising your goals.
Introduce some playfulness into your home language use. Find some jokes in
Spanish that your boys will find funny. Tell stories in Spanish that do not
easily translate into English. Have fun helping your children discover the
limits of speaking one language. Be silly - pretend you are living in
another country and do not understand English (but don't put your younger son
on the spot). Try to get your younger son laughing again rather than feeling
Compliment your son on his Spanish. Be sincere - let him know you appreciate
all his efforts and recognize his improvements. Do NOT compare your younger
son to his older brother. You want your son to have positive ways to declare
his individuality in the family instead of rebellious ways.
Be reassured that the exposure you are giving your children will be lasting.
The Spanish you are speaking in your home is already making a wonderful
difference for your children. I'm sure they both understand Spanish very
well and your younger son is capable even if he chooses to not speak Spanish
when you want him too.
Sometimes, it happens that parents set a good rule but then get backed into a
corner defending that rule. You and your son need a way back out - I'm sure
it won't take long!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.
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