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Bilingual Rebellion

Throughout this language journey, I’ve been faced with many moments of rebellion from my kids. While frustrating, each experience has made me more committed to teaching my kids Spanish. Here are some strategies for overcoming bilingual rebellion.

Bilingual rebellion happens for many reasons. The most common reasons kids push back against learning a second language? 1) They don’t have the vocabulary they need to express themselves in the target language; and 2) They feel like they don’t need to use the target language because they know you understand the majority language – the language that everyone around them speaks. What to do? Here are my strategies for overcoming bilingual rebellion.

Expand your Spanish Vocabulary

Even though I have been talking to my son in Spanish since the day he was born, I realized that I had not done a great job in expanding our vocabulary outside of our daily routines. My son was in school every morning from 9-12, and he was learning about geography, stages of a caterpillar’s life cycle, and superheroes with his teachers and friends. He was so excited to share them with me, but he wasn’t able to because he didn’t have those words in Spanish.

It turns out, I didn’t have those words in Spanish, either. So it was time for me to do some homework and stay up-to-date with the day to day curriculum so I could help him express his exciting day in Spanish.

Continued learning is critical for those of us who are raising bilingual children; we need to be part of the learning process. In fact, my kids know that I am not as fluent as native speakers, so I make sure that I say “Let’s learn together!” I have learned so many words with them, and I am so impressed when they use them in sentences. My favorite activity to expand my vocabulary is to read non-fiction books in Spanish. I love the early-readers from National Geographic Kids (in Spanish), not only because it's a great way to talk about your kids' favorite animals, but because they’re also fairly affordable.

Translate into Spanish

At this point, my kids are simply best able to express themselves in English, so the daily rebellion continues. In order to take part in meaningful conversations with them, I let them talk however the can, and translate along the way. They almost always repeat the translation back to me. They do it willingly most of the time because they know I’m the target-language parent in our household. This is a great strategy during the preschool years, when you’re likely spending more time with your kiddos. In my case, it’s worked well with both of my kids.

Find Your Bilingual Community

Inevitably, as kids get older, the amount of time they spend with us is replaced by time spent at school, at after-school activities, and at play dates. Your efforts have to become more aggressive if you want to continue building their bilingual abilities. (That is, unless they’re in a dual language program, in which case, see above re: continued learning!)

For my family, we knew community was going to be key. Kids just want to be like their friends, and if their friends and their families don’t speak Spanish, they’ll fight against it.

I thought I’d be able to work against the pressure – that I’d be able to influence my kids and teach them all the Spanish they needed to know. Turns out, I was wrong.

My son attended our (English-only) neighborhood school for kindergarten. In that short period of time, he began to resist speaking Spanish. He started questioning why he needed to learn Spanish if none of his friends spoke it. He would tell me, “The whole world speaks English, mami. Why do I need to speak Spanish?”

Kids just want to be like other kids. When I figured that out, I knew that I needed to create a bilingual community around my family. I needed to surround myself with other parents who felt like I did, who valued bilingualism. Together, with a community, I could show my children the importance of speaking a second language, and my son wouldn’t have to feel different because everyone would be like him.

If dual language education, immersion schools, or language programs aren’t available to you, look for a community of families with whom you can create a supportive environment. Facebook is always a great place to start. Find your tribe at mymamalingua, and if you’re in Austin, check out ATX Meetup: Spanish with Your Kids.

Be a Proud Bilingual

I want my kids to appreciate their second language. I don’t want them to feel like it’s a chore or a burden. I want them to feel like it’s a gift and a privilege that so many people don’t have. So I talk a lot about how helpful it is to be able to communicate in Spanish in certain situations, like when we can lend a hand to someone who doesn't speak English. When you’re proud of your ability to speak a second language, that pride will be passed on to your little ones.

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