Passive Attitudes

What to do when a child understands one language but speaks in another?

One refers to a passive posture in regards to a foreign language when the child understands what is being communicated but does not speak in that same language. This inability to communicate in the second language has many critical reasons, one being the lack of extensive vocabulary which hinders the child from responding adequately, or lack of interest, or other factors which inhibit the child from full assimilation in the second language.

The following recommendations have been emphasized in the literature related to raising bilingual children:

  • respect the decision of the child to speak in another language.
  • have patience with your child, remembering that he is still developing his language skills in a passive manner.
  • convey the idea that learning the language can be fun through the use of books, magazines, film, songs and games.
  • Plan activities that reinforce the learning process such as cooking, outings at the zoo, or an afternoon at the museum.
  • take interest in what a child is saying, listen attentively when he communicates his feelings and desires.
  • talk to your child about special wishes and desires especially around special events such as his birthday, Easter, Christmas, etc., and how he envisions spending the day.
  • congratulate your child on progress made and motivate him by praising his advances and show pride when he responds in your language.
  • Formulate questions with greater complexity so as to avoid a simple yes or no response, for example, “Would you like me to give you a blue wagon or a green ball?
  • Formulate questions which necessitate a complex and varied response.
  • Travel to the country where the corresponding language is spoken so as to stimulate the child’s development in the language.
  • cultivate and maintain contact to relatives that only speak the child’s secondary language.
  • Create contacts to other children being raised bilingually.

Tip: Parents must not force a child to speak in a certain language. Do not give up immediately when the child deals with the language in a passive manner.  Contend with the notion that he comes as far as possible with the weaker of the two languages and continue stimulate the learn of the minority language,  your child will be later forever grateful for your struggle sometime in the future.

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