Should Parents Push Children to Use Minority Language?


If you and your child are both calm and happy, then it is a right time to push usage of the minority language.

One of the most common pieces of advice in bilingual child-raising is don’t push your children.

You don’t want them to associate acquiring  their second language with hard work, or worse, with punishment. Using both languages should be as positive of an experience as you can make it.

However, as my husband has said many times, children are like water: they follow the path of least resistance.

Since it is easier for them to be understood in the local majority language that everyone speaks, they’re going to want to use it all the time. It’s natural.

So from other side a parent has to be quite  firm to keep them from giving up on their minority language all the time.


The Right Amount of Pressure

If you are teaching your child two languages, you will sometimes need to make them speak in the second language. Active language usage might not happen if you don’t.

The key is recognizing the right amount of pressure to use.

It’s like anything else that is good for children, but that they don’t want to do: a parent needs to be firm without getting angry or making the child feel threatened.

You can think of it just like getting a child to take a bath, or brush his/her teeth, or any other simple task that they won’t do without a parental nudge.

Be firm and straightforward. Tell your child what you want. “Can you say that in Russian, please?” or “Ask Mom in Spanish” gets the point across. Don’t add a word like “only” or “always” — that can make your child feel trapped. Just say what you want to happen right then, in the present.


How to Tell When You Can Push on Using Minority Language

Nothing works every time with children. Sometimes they just won’t do what you want.

Look at yourself and your child and evaluate your moods before you press them to actively use their second language.

If you are feeling angry or frustrated, stop right there. You don’t want your child to associate the language with an upset parent — and you don’t want to say anything you might regret.

If your child is upset, or can’t speak to you in a reasonable tone, that is also a reason to stop. Go ahead and let your child be alone for a little bit, and try again after he or she has had some time to play and calm down.

If your little angel tells you in the majority language “It’s not fair! I don’t love you anymore” with eyes full of tears, don’t rush to correct her: “You are going to say it in Russian or no cartoons today!”.  Trying to push language when one or both of you are angry will make your child view his or her secondary language negatively. 

But I highly advice to push minority language usage when you and your child are both calm and happy.  That is why it is so important for us as parents to create a special bond with our children. They will be much more receptive to what we ask them to do: let it be language usage or any other piece of advice.