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Requiring children to respond in second language?


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I speak to my children in German; my DH speaks English and their dominant environment is English. I’ve tried to stay consistent in German, but they respond in English. What should I do? What do you do when your children understand, but don’t speak your language?

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If you can forgive my lack of first-hand knowledge, I've met at least 5 families with this dynamic. In every case, when the children eventually needed to respond to someone beside the parent (or, depending on the family dynamic, if the parent insisted) the children could respond almost as if they had been doing it all along. I encourage you to persist! 

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On 5/26/2021 at 3:30 PM, GracieJane said:

I speak to my children in German; my DH speaks English and their dominant environment is English. I’ve tried to stay consistent in German, but they respond in English. What should I do? What do you do when your children understand, but don’t speak your language?

How old are your children? I would just continue to speak to them in German and provide them with opportunities to use their language. Playgroups perhaps, if they are young? German Saturday school? Zoom calls with family members? Fun things like TV and movies only in German. Comic books and magazines in German.
 

You can’t really force them to speak in German. I mean, I guess you can not respond to them if they don’t, but that doesn’t seem healthy. I would just continue to only speak to them in German. They’ll speak it when they have the need. 

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On 5/26/2021 at 3:30 PM, GracieJane said:

I speak to my children in German; my DH speaks English and their dominant environment is English. I’ve tried to stay consistent in German, but they respond in English. What should I do? What do you do when your children understand, but don’t speak your language?

It depends on what age/stage your children are.  However, I'm all for explicit and systematic instruction, repeated exposure and over-learning. I think that I present-me absolutely benefits from past-me having made my children do things when they were younger. I insisted that the children speak to me in the Target Language and I started with ritualized activities.

Meals and Entertainment are in Target Language.

I made the target language the language of entertainment. All fun media--video games, music, shows, movies and even Trading Card Games are in the target language. The only time The Boys watch a "fun movie" in English is if we see it in the theaters.

Print articles about their favorite shows in the target language in a large font and read it with them, step by step so that they are immersed in their language and their fandom. When they were young, they didn't have screens at all, The Boys could watch all the Spongebob, Avatar and Naruto that they wanted -- but never in English.

When they played-pretend with various fandoms the play was peppered with Spanish from the beginning. When they drew those cartoons, they were thinking in Spanish.

Also teach them the expressive language that they need for the things that they say, step by step and explicitly.
If one of them is always yelling "Stop it! Leave me alone!" I would teach them to say that in German.

I would have them practice speaking German in role play with stuffed animals.
Teach them expressive language.
Teach them to frame and answer questions.
Teach them to say things that are relevant to their day to day life. Such as

It's mine!

Give it back!

I need my....
I want....
I can't find....
Where is....
Where are....
Can I have...
Can I go...

Teach them to use the past-tense so that they can say what happened. (Because kids loooove to tattle.)
He kicked me.
She took _____.
I did NOT hit him!
etc...

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Posted (edited)

I saw this dynamic play out with my mom and my half-sister, whose dad doesn't speak Russian. My mom would talk to my sister in Russian, and she'd answer back in English. Eventually, she put her foot down and my sister was required to reply in Russian. This led to pretty annoying power struggles and also difficulties with my sister's dad feeling left out. 

I wasn't planning to teach my kids Russian because I didn't want the power struggles, but then DD8 asked, so I thought about how to do this, and I came up with the idea of doing time-limited immersion. So, we have an hour a day where all we speak is Russian, and that's rigidly enforced. But most of the time, we speak English. 

That has worked really well to remove the power struggle from the situation and still get them practicing. Not sure if that would work for you, but we've liked it and made a lot of progress with it so far. 

Oh, and I have them watch Russian cartoons for fun. They normally don't watch any cartoons, so they feel pretty good about that 😉 . 

Edited by Not_a_Number
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  • 3 weeks later...

We struggle to get kids speaking German as well. Here are a few things we do or have done, with varying amounts of success. Many of them are geared towards younger children, but you didn't say how old your kids were, so sorry if none of these are applicable for your situation!

1) Find friends who speak German and have German-only playdates. (By far, this is the best and most efficient way of getting them speaking.) It helps a lot if the parents speak ONLY German with their kids, so EVERYONE is speaking German.

2) German in the afternoon(or morning, or tea time, or whatever you want to make it). Start with 10 minutes of "only German is spoken." Work your way up. 

3) Understanding spoken language is so, so much easier than speaking it yourself. They may really feel very frustrated. When my kids say, "I just don't know how to say it!" I ask them what they want to say, and then repeat it back to them in German. Then I have them repeat the translated version back to me. My goal is to get them comfortable with the words coming out of their mouths -- fluency and comfort will come with time. My older two can speak it in a pinch (like when we travel to Germany), but my younger two can actually not communicate in German what they want to communicate -- English is SO much easier. And until German actually gets easier, it's not going to come naturally or fluently. So I spend a lot of time repeating them back what they just said in English, but doing it in German. This works especially well if they actually want something from me or want me to do something, because I just wait to do it until they actually repeat it in German.

4) Agree with above comments about only doing German for media/movies/etc. Most netflix originals come dubbed in German.

5) When in doubt: pay or bribe. "If you can speak only German and no English for 10 minutes -- INCLUDING amongst yourselves!!-- you can have a dollar/sucker/whatever. Every day, we'll add 1 minute to the timer before we get the prize!"

The biggest issue I have run into is that the more outnumbered I am by children, the more they speak English amongst themselves. And the more they speak English amongst themselves, the less German there is all around. If you have older and youngers, you could assign an older to read aloud in German to a younger?

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