There will likely come a time when your child no longer wants to speak your target language with you. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It just happens when you’re speaking anything but your country’s majority language. I have been heading it off with Bilingual Baby for a while now, and some days I feel like giving up. But other days I feel her shift back toward Spanish, and it gives me hope. There’s a lot more I could say about techniques for holding onto your target language a little bit longer, but that’s for another post.
This post is all about playful methods we use that have helped to keep Bilingual Baby speaking Spanish.
1. create a spanish-speaking puppet
See my Amigo post for an extreme example of how well this can work. We don’t all have to turn our fingers into puppets, but you might tap into what works for your kid. Maybe a sparkly new stuffie that only speaks Spanish. Or maybe a pair of stuffies, one for you and one for your kiddo—sibling stuffies who have their own secret language. Or by all means, make a sock puppet together and give the thing a name, a back story, and a reason why he/she only understands Spanish. Get this new friend involved in a conversation with your kid and maybe only bring him out at certain (read: special) times of the day. It’s best if the puppet is a somewhat clueless so your little language learner can teach him a thing or two.
2. make imaginary play a spanish thing
I’m always being asked to play games like, “baby,” or “hermana (sister).” “Baby” is really annoying, but she loves crawling around, pretending to be an infant, and it’s my cue to be the “mom” and coo over her. The mom in the game always speaks Spanish, and her “baby talk” is also Spanish.
And when we play the sister game, where we are sisters and our parents have died, we switch to Spanish.
There are two reasons this works: 1) I never agree to play these games unless it’s in Spanish, and she wants to play them so badly that she doesn’t argue. 2) She sort of conditioned to engage in imaginary play with me in Spanish. She makes a subconscious switch.
3. Make it a Game
Bilingual baby and I have been playing “The Spanish Game.” On days that we drive to school we see if we can speak only Spanish the entire way there. Normally she would think this game was lame and would see right through me. But this game has a prize that she gets at the end of the day if she “wins.” Anything sparkly from our neighborhood recycled art supplies store will make her eyes light up. This game works because I play too, and there are rules. If Mommy accidentally slips into English—no prize for her! If Bilingual Baby accidentally slips into English, she can save herself by repeating what she said in Spanish right away. She thinks it’s funny that the rules are different for us. I made a big fuss when I lose the game, and I make sure to give myself a prize if I win, so it’s all on the up and up. Then at the end of the day we usually do art with our new sparkly pompoms, markers, paper, pens…etc.
4. Play a Round of Veo, Veo (I Spy)
This one is good because it is mindless and easy. It starts with this fun, catchy rhyme:
- “Veo, Veo.”
- ¿Que ves?
- Una Cosa.
- ¿Que cosita es?
- Algo de color ¡verde!
5. Ask for Spanish When it’s Easy
If you are able to remind your kid to switch to your target language every time she speaks in English and it’s going well, keep doing that for as long as you can. In my house, it’s not going well for us any more. Often when I use techniques to get her to switch, they don’t work, and sometimes it annoys her so much that it makes her upset. She’s even told me she doesn’t like speaking in Spanish, only English. I try not to get upset, and I try not to push further, but I always circle back around to Spanish and she often forgets that she doesn’t like Spanish and ends up speaking it.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve decided to push for Spanish only when I know it’s easy for her, rather than all the time. If she’s asking me in English what foot her shoe goes on, well that’s just silly. She needs to ask me in Spanish. If she’s asking me a complicated question in English about where we go when we die, I may let that conversation be in my native language. This means I don’t over ask, and it means fewer conflicts over the language thing.
6. Sing Together
Besides the fact that music and language development in the brain are so closely related, I think that the positive association, the flow state you get into when you sing a catchy tune, and the physical feeling of the language rolling out of your mouth are enough to include singing in this list. Along with your kid, find a song in Spanish she likes and learn it together. Browse MamaLingua’s Spotify playlist for ideas. The more catchy, the better. Make it your hair-washing song, or your getting dressed song. Sing it so much that your kid can internalize it with you. If you’re in Austin, take a class with Mi Casa es Tu Casa. Producing the target language in this way will lead to more production of the language in other ways.
Overall, keep it light. Don’t let on how much it hurts your feelings when your kid tells you she doesn’t want to speak your target language (which is probably your native language, or your heritage language–something that would hurt even more than when it’s your adopted language). Just keep trying new things, and just keep speaking it to set the example.