Tips on Motivating Your Child to Learn a Minority Language

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I have mentioned on several occasions that our family is multilingual. My husband speaks 5 languages. I speak fluently 3. Our children are growing up trilingual as well.

I will admit, though, that it hasn’t been easy for me  to maintain our minority language – Russian – in the family. I don’t follow OPOL, I switch languages. I am also not the most consistent when it comes to speaking Russian to my children.

Actually, I was quite consistent till my older 2 turned 2. Then, they just chose English as their main language as it is the language in our home, and most of our friends speak English, too.

I have many times felt guilt of not being more persistent with teaching them Russian. Until one day, my oldest, who went through a stage between 3 and 4 absolutely despising speaking Russian to showing high interest in it and picking up more and more. And even asking me to teach her in a more formal way!

And then, my 3 year old, who is still refusing to speak Russian, suddenly started reciting Russian alphabet and numbers 1-10. Which happened due to her always enjoying playing with a so-called computer – an interactive toy we brought back from our last trip in 2015, that allows you to listen to the letters and words associated with them; and has some matching and guessing games. So, she learned the alphabet and she can recognise the letters in a complete random order!

All of this made me think that unconsciously I have been actually helping my children become interested in their mother tongue, which has become the minority language.

And so, I tried several things that have since been motivating for all 3 kids (with the youngest still using more English but understanding and replying in Russian when asked to).

So, here are the tips that motivate my children to learn their minority language:

1. Having books in this language at home and actually reading them to your children. In our home we encourage reading in general and our kids love books. They often ask me to read something for them.

2. Showing them cartoons in this minority language. Something so simple like Masha And the Bear (in relation to Russian), where there aren’t many words but they are quite repetitive. Kids love it and the learn the words and phrases, and what meaning they are  associated with. At least once a week when they asked to watch TV I give them a condition that it should be a Russian cartoon. They can take it, or leave it. In our case it is a 100% success.

3. Meeting other people who speaks this language and having a conversation in front of the kids. It can be a real conversation or a Skype call with your family. Let’s face it: kids are curious! They always listen on the background what you are talking about. They may not seem to be paying attention, but they are playing and learning. And at some point they WILL ask you what you were taking about and you can encourage them to learn the language.

4. Playing with other children who speak this language. This is not always possible depending on where you live. But grab any opportunity! Kids learn from each other.

5. Using technology: online learning programs, apps and more. All of this in combination and in moderation raises awareness, promotes motivation to learn this language.

6. If possible and affordable – sign them up for special classes. My oldest is not having fun learning Chinese characters. So we signed her up for a special calligraphy class where she is enjoying painting and writing the characters more than ever.

7. Visiting countries that speak this language is very beneficial, too. It can also be a virtual trio!

8. Avoiding pushing. No, it doesn’t mean not to try speaking to your child in this language. It simply means if they child is feeling very strong and is refusing – do not punish him/her, do not get frustrated, or discouraged. Revisit it again.

I hope these tips are helpful. Please share your own!

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