Getting Bilingual Children to Speak: Family Language Goals This Year

When I think about my family's bilingual progress over the past few years, I realize that I've gotten too comfortable with our path. I've been consistent in speaking only French with my children, and we read many books and magazines in the target language, but that's all of our minority language input. Living in America, this adds up to children who understand French but reply only in English. So my language goals for this year are largely focused on encouraging my children to speak French rather than simply comprehending it. 

Here's how I hope to encourage speaking in their minority language:

  Hand drawn finger puppets by Curmilla via Etsy

Hand drawn finger puppets by Curmilla via Etsy

1. More role play in French.

In the past, this has been a wonderful way to get my children to talk in the target language because they pretend to be someone else--someone who speaks French! Whether it's playing teacher, cashier, doctor, or inventing conversations with puppets or figurines, this might be my children's favorite way to interact with me. (I need to do this more before they outgrow their love of pretend play!)

2. Seek out more relationships with young French speakers in our area.

By expanding our circle of Francophone acquaintances, we'll have more opportunities for meaningful, bilingual friendships. These American-based children will probably choose to speak English with my children, but they can still serve as a model if they speak French at home or with a parent.

3. Enroll my children in an enjoyable class where French speech is expected.

In the past few years I've avoided this because of the scheduling commitment and cost, but now I realize that it's worth the price if the payoff is bilingual speech while my children are young. Some options for French children's classes here in Portland, Oregon, include:

My final language goal doesn't directly encourage our children to speak French, but it's an important part of our bilingual journey:

4. Open a separate savings account and make monthly deposits for our trip to France.

tirelire by faberzeus via flickr.jpg

We won't be going until mid- or late 2015, but being able to see our deposits accumulate in an account will be exciting and will help us manage our finances with the future in mind.

By the way, I found this article by Adam Beck helpful as I was writing my goals.

Do you think these goals are adequate to promote speech in a minority language? What activities would you suggest for encouraging bilingual speech in young children? 

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