For the purposes of this blog… Language Z is the language used most often in your family’s society (outside the home)… In the case of the United States, it would be English….

Language X is the home language or the language most often spoken in the home for bilingual homes.

Language X is the native language spoken by Mom
Language Y is the native language spoken by Dad

First off… one of the most important things to remember is:

If you don’t use it, you lose it…

meaning that your children must have ample time to practice their languages… just because they can understand it does not mean they can speak it…

Understanding language = Receptive language
Using language = Expressive Language

1. Children must have ample opportunity to hear the language as well as to use the language.

Bilingual Homes
If the child asks for something in English, then have the child repeat the request in Language X.

In the case of trilingual families, request repetition will depend on the parent the child is speaking to…
So if the request in Language Z was to Dad, then the child will repeat the request in Language Y.

If the request in Language Z was to Mom, then the child will repeat the request in Language X.

2. Language use must be anticipated by location or who is speaking.

By the age of 2, children can differentiate between people who speak languages X, Y, Z… therefore a two year old will know to speak to grandma Z in language Z and grandma X in language X and their friends at school language Y.

It is important that the children can distinguish between who will speak what…

Bilingual Homes:
Mom and Dad always speak language X to me and to each other…

Mom always speaks language X to me… Dad always speaks language Z to me (if the Dad is a language Z speaker only)… Mom and Dad speak language Z to each other.

Trilingual Homes:
Dad always speaks language Y to me… Mom always speaks language X to me… Mom and Dad always speak language Z to each other…

Another way to distinguish is by location:
Bilingual Homes:

At home, we always speak language X. At school, we always speak language Z.

Trilingual Homes:
At home, Mom speaks to me in Language X and Dad speaks to me in Language Y… At school, we always speak language Z.

3. Expect your child to respond in a specific language…

A parent must always have an expectation for the child…
This expectation is a personal and family matter… your question to yourself and your significant other is:
What is my goal for my children’s communication skills?

In bilingual homes, the expectation maybe the child will use the home language anytime the child is engaged in a conversation with the family or the family members… It maybe the child is expected to use the home language anytime the child is engaged in a conversation with the family or the parents…

In trilingual homes, the expectation could be the child will be able to communication in Language X with Mom and Mom’s family members, language Y with Dad and Dad’s family members, and Language Z with the rest of society…

In all the homes, it may be to have an advantage to career opportunities or preserving culture… etc…

4. CONSISTENCY…
I cannot stress enough the importance of consistency… Consistency for children is part of every developmental milestone and every parental expectation…

The key to teaching is consistency, the key to discipline is consistency….

the key to language is consistency

Once you have decided your goals and decide to implement your strategies… you should strive to be consistent…

Consistent does not equal rigid… meaning that if you find something needs to be changed, then by all means change it… I do recommend that before you change something because “it is not working”, you evaluate how consistent you’ve been with your strategies and routines regarding language development.

Ask yourself why this didn’t work?

It is challenging to be consistent, to encourage, and to expect your child to use a certain language(s) in your home especially as the grow and begin to go to school where the majority will be using language Z…

5. “I don’t understand you”
This is a difficult strategy to use because all kinds of reactions can be expected from your children… They might be the type to throw a temper tantrum or the type to be like “forget it” or the type to be “I’ll get it myself”…

If the children use language Z and resist to using language X or Y… You may need to be strong-willed and say in your language (X or Y)… “I don’t understand you… say it in (language X or Y)…

Your kids may say… “I don’t know how to say it in (language X or Y)”

As the parent you can encourage them and say it’s ok and let them you know you will help them…

The next step… You repeat your child’s request in (language X or Y) and have them repeat it back to you before they are awarded their wants, needs, and or desires…

Don’t let them get away with “yeah, that”… because that means that an opportunity of practice is being avoided!… Practice, Practice, Practice… it’s important…

6. Surround your family and your kids with people who speak language X or language Y
This provides opportunity to hear the language and practice the language…
If you can afford it, sending your children away to spend time with Mom’s family or Dad’s family, say 1 month in the summer or maybe even the whole summer…

7. Do not mix the languages in one sentence or phrase.
In order to secure an adequate understanding and correct usage of the grammar rules in each language and a proficient vocabulary expansion in each language, do not mix the languages…

The languages can be used in the homes at the same time; just not mixed… For example, do not say 1/2 the sentence in language X, another portion in language Y, and the last portion in Language Z…

Here’s an English/Spanish example:

A. Ponte los shoes. vs B. Put on your shoes or Ponte los zapatos.

A is incorrect modeling for your child.
B is correct modeling for either English or Spanish… your choice…

8. Remember children learn to speak the way they hear the language…
Children of families who use language X in their homes will use the same dialect and vocabulary heard from their parents in language X…

Model your language the way you would like your children to speak.

9. Please distinguish between Social communication and Academic Communication.

Social communication is the communication (language/dialect/etc) used in social interactions with family, friends, etc.

Academic communication is the communication (academic, math, language arts, etc) learned in School. Therefore, your child may learn his colors in language Z and not know what they are called in language X or Y.

It is your responsibility as a parent to teach your child the vocabulary to go with the concepts that they have learned in Language Z.

If your child knows his colors in language Z… then the concept is already learned… If they don’t know them in language X or Y… it is because they learned the concept in language Z and have not been provided the vocabulary in language X or Y to go with the concept learned in language Z.

Basically if you teach them the vocabulary then they generalize the concept learned in language Z to language X or Y…

10. Language foundation…

Typically, it is recommended a language foundation to be established in one language before another is introduced…

However, those of you in trilingual families… have simultaneous language learners and do fine as long as the languages can be anticipated by the speaker or the location… it is as if your are learning to drive a car and learning to drive a standard (manual) car at the same time…

For most, it is easier to learn how to drive an automatic car where you can focus on your driving… and then learn how to drive a standard (manual) car… Because once you’ve learned how to drive a car you already know how to drive a car… when you decide to learn to drive a stickshift… you will only focus on learning the mechanics of shifting gears and when to do it… you will not need to focus on your driving because you already know how to drive.

This idea is the same for learning multiple languages (either in childhood or adulthood)… once you learn one language and have established a foundation with it… then learning other languages becomes easier because you already understand the concepts involved in language… it is the mechanics of the new language you will focus on to learn and apply your new language.

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