Language Learning and Family

So many people want to learn Mandarin Chinese in order to communication better with family members. Or they want their children to learn Mandarin Chinese in order to communicate better with family members. Or they want to learn a language other than Chinese in order to communicate at home. No matter what the details are, this is a great thing, but there are several points to keep in mind to keep the process of learning a new language free from frustration.

  1. We do not learn language by practicing it. Parents and other adults often want the language learner to “practice” the target language. We do not learn language by forcing ourselves to speak. People learn language by hearing (and reading) comprehensible input. Forcing a learner to speak the target language when he or she is not ready is actually counter-productive since the learner is not spending his or her time receiving input.
  2. Since we learn language by receiving comprehensible input, this means that family members who speak the target language need to do A LOT of talking, especially at the beginning. Family members need to expose the learner to the target language. Family members need to talk to the learner slowly, with short sentences, and using (mostly) words that the learner already knows.
  3. Give credit where credit is due. Many adults complain that they talk to their children in the target language that they child answers back in English. They say that the child “doesn’t speak” the target language. But if a child responds accurately to a question, then s/he has understood the question in the first place! Acknowledging that accomplishment will go a long way to fostering positive feelings towards the target language.
  4. Give up the petty arguments. There are many monolingual adults who tell a version of this story:  “My mom is from Mexico and my dad is Puerto Rican, they could never agree on the kind of Spanish to teach me so we spoke English at home.” It can be confusing at the beginning to use both “habichuela” and “frijole” but a petty disagreement is just another hump to get over. Use both synonyms and move on. Do not lose the forest for the trees.
  5. When the time comes that the learner starts speaking (remember, don’t force it!) let the mistakes slide. This is really hard, because our instinct is always to correct learners when they say something wrong. Research shows that explicitly correcting learner mistakes does not work. Worse still, explicitly correcting errors leads to feelings of frustration which deter language learning. Asking for clarification is fine, but try not to offer explicit corrections for the of a family in silohuette

Leave a Reply