Motivating children to speak a home language

motivating children to speak a home language
LATL-lab workshop 15 September 2016 for parents and carers on motivating children to speak a home language

In September 2016 the LATL-lab held a workshop at the University of Canterbury for parents and carers on Motivating reluctant children to speak a home language. This was the second workshop for parents and carers. Read about the others on our Events page.

The participants were invited to share their ideas for increasing the input children get in the minority language, and increasing the children’s need to use the language.

motivating strategies
Motivating strategies to help children use the minority language





Here are a selection of the suggestions shared by participants about how to create opportunities for children to have more language input and interaction

At home

  • Use software to increase language input: interactive games/ apps in target language on iphones, ipads computers
  • Smart phone, TV in home language
  • Switch electronic devices to the target language
  • Interactive toys that speak the minority language

Online interaction with native speakers (relatives or friends)

  • Video conference (Skype) with monolingual  family members
  • Skype time with relatives & other kids in the other country
  • Bring the iPad with Skype conversation into the lego box to join the children’s play

Reading books, magazines or other materials

  • Reading books in minority language
  • Magazine subscriptions (Paper or online)
  • Audio books – Buy or borrow from libraries Swap with other families
  • Comic books written in the minority language, they will be motivated to know how to read
  • Carer reading story books and recasting it into the minority language
  • Book club in the minority language


  • Arrange minority language teaching classes with the help of some other families with the same language
  • Send the child to community language school if it exists
  • Alliance Francaise/ Confucius/ Goethe institute
  • Parent can visit the class at school
  • Private language lessons appropriate for their ages
  • Access to other children of the same culture Build a network of friends in minority language
  • Play groups with minority languages (coffee together for carers!)
  • Community groups and cultural community based activities
  • Community church
  • Games – Play groups in home language
  • Preparing a short speech or song to be presented in the community gatherings
  • Join the Vietnamese events – that improves both the language and culture knowledge
  • Making gatherings and functions for those people who speak same language: eg independence celebrations, potluck dinner,
  • Share kai – traditional/ cultural food with other speakers of the minority language
  • Language weeks celebrated

Contact with the old country

  • Get children to write to monolinguals (pen/email pals, birthday cards to family members in home country)
  • Sending to parents who speak the minority language to stay there for a while, or home stay in minority language country or someone’s place in NZ

At home (notice the varying levels of ambition here, and that some families have more than one parent or carer who speaks the minority language, while others may be alone in their language with a partner who doesn’t speak their language)

  • Only speak native language at home. Strict rule!
  • Always speak minority language to anyone who speaks it, even outside home. Don’t worry about the English!
  • Let children hear the language all the time. Children automatically learn and understand the language spoken to them
  • Dinner time table talk in Maori/ Samoan only learn new phrases for this time Bath time/ Bed time
  • Getting majority language speaking parent to participate in minority language learning Making it a game!
  • A day of the week or time of the day when only minority language spoken
  • Create environment for the language: Make a language island and speak the language at home
  • Encourage children to chat at home in first language and find friends to interact with who also have the first language
  • Have a party with minority language theme
  • Getting mum + dad to speak Samoan to the kids
  • We as parents speaking our languages to children
  • Asking grandparents to speak only their language when we are around them
  • Ask other members of the family to encourage the child to speak mother language
  • Set aside a special time for an activity in L2 each day (something fun, eg making craft, story time/ singing nursery rhymes) keeps it current and fun for kids
  • Children have to speak minority language when they ask for buy things they want
  • Have a language day at home where you only speak one language eg during dinner or games
  • Strategies: In early childhood, have puppets to role play
  • Enrol them in a sports club that speaks minority language and  buy them video games of minority languages
  • Labels around the house to help children learn words
  • Karakia (prayers) written and at the dinner table
  • Celebrating special events for them
  • Participating minority language culture/game
  • Join cultural club in minority language Learn poems, songs, and rhymes
  • Use the minority language: Greetings, Music, Dancing, Food, Dressing up
  • Make a time for the language hour at home (Every Sunday morning or so)
  • Board games with language, can have other language speakers and they explain with certain idioms
  • Word games (I Spy, charades etc) with prizes Cultural classics and amazing moments in history, as told in target language
  • Creative play – using words

Traveling to where the target language is spoken

  • Travelling through South America to immerse in Spannish
  • Trip to iwi areas
  • Send him to my mum to only speak Swedish
  • To make friends with the same language children Back to our country for a while
  • Holiday back to china to enrol into a local school for a month
  • Shared holidays with other families
  • Going camping together

School activities and school strategies to motivate students

  • Pre-school or kindergarten in an international setting
  • School wide speech competition presentation – poetry or short story bilingually per term
  • Preparing for events at school where the kids are expected to use their home languages
  • A language week of their own culture within school setting
  • Find (or start) a local pre-school that teaches the language and culture
  • Sharing your culture language with teachers and children we want to learn more
  • Have language competition days
  • Involve school/ pre-school by assisting child to share their language with other kids using posters etc (eg body parts labelled)
  • sharing things about their culture with the older kids in school
  • parents participating in school activities and kids taking roles
  • Schooling: language cultural activities, ie Kapahaka

Materials for target language (CDs, videos, music, Youtube, radio)

  • Music in native language
  • Drama/cartoons/ films in native language
  • Web radio station – cheap and efficient can have it on all day
  • Nursery Rhymes
  • Watch TV programs: TV on demand
  • Digital music, movies (DVDs in Spanish), CDs in the car
  • Picnics and playing music and dancing
  • Maori television
  • YouTube – songs, Action songs
  • Waiata CDs
  • Friends/ family send videos of them
  • Songs are fabulous for children language development
  • Kids TV show: Find Samoan & Maori language programmes to watch
  • Video that children like and watch again and again
  • Show videos of other countries. They will know that there are other people that speak other languages to learn a minority language
  • Stories, songs, with gaps that the children fill
  • Watch video clips with them and strategically ask questions
  • Watch music videos and listening to music in that language
  • Encourage kids to learn nursery rhymes/songs from minority culture & play CDs so they can sing along

Strategies for motivating children (these won’t all suit all parenting styles and beliefs)

  • Encourage them to play and communicate with their peers
  • Encourage children to speak / learn own language
  • Pretend not to speak language – child helps parent
  • School teachers can encourage children to learn their language
  • Praise out loud especially for younger children. They are happy when we praise them
  • Letting child choose a movie or a game in minority language for a Friday family night treat
  • Using the language positively and not for correction Make  the language fun!
  • Showing the benefits opportunity of being bilingual eg business, travel, sports
  • Having more input at home, invite minority language speakers to come and visit
  • Pull and not push them towards the minority language
  • Make them proud of being bilingual, show that it’s special that they have access to things non-speakers don’t Build the self-esteem of the child
  • Lots of trips back home at least once a year
  • Reward children when they use the minority language
  • Appeal to heritage/ love of family/ ancestors’ identity
  • Make them feel speaking a second language is special and important
  • Give them a chance to use it and feel like it is important
  • Being responsive in expressing and hearing minority language spoken
  • Introduce our culture, like festivals, rituals, mysteries, stories to our children as early as possible, so they have attachment with their culture through the language
  • Support their interests eg baseball with children who speak the minority language
  • Bribe them Make your culture more fun to them
  • Build interest in some areas, for example, games in some areas of interest and learn language from there: Chinese chess for example
  • Fun things Eg Japanese animation Kids love them
  • Only respond to the child when the child speaks in the minority language Reform the child prior expectancy and response
  • Stickers – use for special acknowledgment
  • Satisfying for my son when he knows the words to sing along!
  • Recasting what they say in English into the minority language is better than pretending not to understand what they say
  • Helping teachers to learn basics of children’s home language
  • Treats for children when they speak the minority language
  • Dinner table language Get the food etc when use minority language
  • Having a family outing where we only speak the minority language
  • Cooking together & recipes
  • Nanny/ Au pair who only speaks French

This is a short made-for-the-web version of the presentation given that evening.