Foreign Language is not a Performance Act

This week we get some wise words from a fellow mom raising a bilingual kid. Tried of having her daughter put on the spot to speak her target language, Rashawnda shares some key strategies she has used to handle these situations with poise.

My oldest daughter, (who’s seven and-a-half, as she likes to say) is learning Spanish right now. Sometimes when we’re at family gatherings or out and about, people are impressed that she’s learning another language at such a young age. And, then it inevitably happens…we get the dreaded question, “Can you say something in Spanish?”

Oh. My. Goodness. This is the moment when my heart sinks and the craziest emotions and thoughts start flowing through my head. Knowing how she HATES being put on the spot, she either reluctantly obliges or looks to me to save her.

So, as a “language mom” what do you do?

  1. Freak out and go on a rant -or-
  2. Coerce your child to say something

Here’s what I’ve done, and by no means is this the “right” answer. I’m just sharing what has worked for me. But, I’m sure you can use some of these tips too!

Do Prep Your Child. Let them know that if people find out they can speak a language that’s different than their native tongue, that people might want to talk to them or hear them. Talk to them about it and have a game plan ahead of time as to how they might respond. Also be sure to let your child know that it is okay to say “No thank you” and not say something in their target language, if they don’t want to. Be sure that your child understands that speaking another language is not a bad thing, but it is something unique which is why people want to know more!

Do Ask Your Child. This one seems obvious, but don’t underestimate its importance! Make sure your child is okay with speaking their new language (in front of people). If he or she isn’t then that’s when it stops, and you know how to handle the situation when it arises. The goal is getting them to be more comfortable with speaking a new language, so don’t push them over the edge.

Do Give a Heads Up. As the caregiver you—with your child’s help—set the terms for how people interact with your child on this one. Do you want them to try the language or just listen? How do you handle mimicking the child’s phrases? This is especially important if they’re younger, as they might not be able to speak up if something’s bothering them or if they feel embarrassed.

Boy Whispering to Mother

Do Stick to Your Guns. If you have loved ones, like mine, who constantly insist on hearing them speak the other language, be sure to set appropriate expectations. Letting them know (preferably not in front of the child) that your child is still learning and may not feel okay with speaking in front of people can help to address this issue before it comes up.

Don’t Force It. If they want to say hello and that’s it, then be fine with that. Maybe they want to sing a song or say something they want—my daughter’s favorite Spanish phrase is tengo hambre. Another option is to make it fun and have your child teach the person a new phrase or word in the target language.

Don’t Freak Out. My first reaction when this happened was to just ask them, “Why?” It infuriated me because my daughter was not learning another language for show. But, at that time, my daughter handled it beautifully. She immediately started singing the colors song she learned in preschool and that’s when it hit me—I was about to overreact to a situation that turned out not to be that serious. If that’s you, then try and breathe deeply before responding in frustration or anger.

Don’t Assume the Worst. I tend to believe the best of people so I would hope that they’re just interested in learning a new word or two themselves or just want to be encouraging. Particularly if your kiddo gets asked often, this may be something you’ll have to adjust to and hopefully people won’t be insensitive to this issue.

Don’t Miss the Opportunity. You can make this a segue into encouraging those who don’t know the language to learn. What better way to show your interest than to learn on your own, right? You can steer them to this blog or recommend one of our resources to help them begin their own language journey with their child(ren)!

Have you been through a situation like this before? How’d you handle it? Share your story with us – we’d love to hear 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *