When Your Child is Reluctant to Speak Their Native Language

My son refused to speak or learn Hindi. Even though, we could see he could understand Hindi completely. How we knew was when his grandparents were visiting and he responded appropriately to their discussion solely in Hindi about when they should go back. Besides, he would vehemently respond should we ever talk about something he did not want to do. But embracing it, was a struggle!

We also made a lot of mistakes in teaching it to him. “The cries of I’m American, why do I need to learn Hindi?” ran rampant in our home. The conversations about how important it is to speak two or more languages went long and hard.

But why did this reluctance exist at all? I thought about it and related to it with my own upbringing.

My mother tongue, the language I grew up with, would ideally be English. Since I spoke it most often with my parents, friends, teachers etc. The language of my mother though is Marathi. The language spoken in my maiden home is Hindi as is the same that is spoken in my home today, other than English. My mother tried to teach me Marathi but at the time, I jumbled them all and she dropped it. Gave her an edge to talk in secret with her family members too. haha! I did learn to understand it completely but I wish today I had all the advantages to learning a native language. After all, most people around me are multilingual.

With my son, a mindset shift needed to be made.

What do do when your child refuses to learn their native language

Being Persistent

Once I realized the mistakes I had been making,  I worked on improving on them. I never stopped the conversations about why native languages are important and the many benefits a person can have. I used many practical ways to ensure that we made the effort to learn the language. The persistence would eventually pay off when all the tips were combined with the below. I never stopped the conversations about why native languages are important and the many benefits a person can have.

Working with Siblings

It was gradual, the shift in mindset. I kept working with my children constantly. With my two children I have often seen that if I need one to learn something, being persistent with one improves the other. Seeing his sister picking up the language so excitedly, sparked an interest and maybe a little competition edge too as he would see our joy at her attempts.

Friends Who Spoke Their Own Native Language

This was a wonderful happenstance. During play dates, his friends would talk about going to learn their mother languages and one even spoke to me in Marathi. That made him realize that this is something most people do. And it is fun when you can connect with your friends. Even in my book, I have used Hindi proverbs to bring home life lessons that are essential for children to grow with strong values.

Speaking It With My Own Friends

It is rude to talk in a different language in front of others, but bringing it up in reference to something while talking about life back home or how something is done in your own heritage or maybe a quote shows kids that there are things unique to your language that is interesting. Kids are always listening. 

Watching Fun Movies

Most Hindi movies are not very child friendly. I found a few that I knew would pique his interest. About warriors, sports etc that had good messages. Reading subtitles, he developed a desire to watch more content.

Simplifying The Learning

I did everything. Made up simple stories. Taught them a couple of words a day. Fun little quizzes when we were walking around. Spoke to them only in Hindi on weekends.

I essentially took the pressure off the learning. Instead of committing a time, I did it almost all day long, in various sneaky ways. The progress he shows now is overwhelming. His sister is way ahead of him now, but his desire to learn his mother tongue is heart warming.

What helps YOU in teaching your kids? Was anyone you know ever reluctant to learn their mother language? What helped them in the mental shift?

You can grab our free checklist for making sure kids speak their native language OR get my bestselling book that talks about multilingualism in detail with many practical tips to help your child.


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