4 tips to remember to use the minority language

When switching to using a minority language (ml), some family members might find it difficult to remember to stick to the ml. Habits are hard to break for most of us, and when it comes to young children they might also need to learn the new rule.

Here are 4 ideas to remember to use the minority language:

  1. Visual reminder(s) – There is no limit as to how many you may use, they can be as personal as you want them to be, and they come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, if your ml rule is English, a nice poster with a British landmark in your living room, a souvenir from your last trip to the ml country or even a flag! When we switched to the minority language @ home (ml@h) strategy, we wanted to make sure our eldest daughter (4 at the time) understood the change that was taking place and abide by the new house rule. We entrusted her with a little golden envelope containing the 3 flags of our languages. We instructed her to stick the minority language flags on the outside of our front door so as she walks in the from the Majority Language (ML) world and remembers to use the mls at home. On the inside of the front door, she had to stick the ML flag to remember on her way out that it was now okay to use the ML. This visual reminder proved to be powerfully effective. And whenever she slipped, my daughter was sent to check them out again.
  2. Make your child the language police – children love having authority over the grown-ups, so make the most of it.
  3. ml piggy bank – it is the same concept as putting a coin in the piggy bank if you ever slip and use foul language; except here it is whenever you use the ML! And why not make it work hand-in-hand with making your child the language police, and reward him/her with an ml gift paid with the piggy, once you have permanently switched to the ml…? 😉
  4. Make your house an ml haven – Now this will only really work for ml@h families since the ideas is to immerse yourself in the minority language only: TV, radio, books, texts around you…. Hearing the ML is too tempting for code-switching habits. Remove the ML and you will not think about using it.

Have you got any tips to remind yourself to use the minority language? Share them using the comment section, and help other bilingual parents!

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6 Comments

  1. Thank you for the great suggestions. We had a baby in September and daddy and I switched from talking to each other in the ML to use the ml and create a ml@h environment as much as possible (except TV, sorry, daddy loves to watch some sports and series). It was a huge change, but it’s going well. Except… when we are with other ML family members or friends, when we go back to our ML habits. Any suggestion for that case? I do want to engage in conversation with ML friends and family, but I don’t want to deprive my baby either of valuable ml input.

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    1. ¡Hola Agnese! That’s an excellent question and if over time I come with lots of ideas I’ll do a post about it. 😉
      To be honest, it’s (in my humble opinion) a matter of breaking the habit of speaking the ML… and it starts at home. Once you’re in the habit of using the ml, I think it is easier to use it anywhere with your child because your relationship with him/her is established in the ml. I always address my daughters in the ml when addressing them directly. If we are having a conversation with an ML speaker than I speak to that person and my child in the ML.
      Now, not everyone is the same and if you need reminders when outdoors, then you need to find something personal that reminds you of the ml and wear it maybe on your wrist, or maybe something your child can wear. That’s a tough one. You’ll have to think out of the box. Maybe a little Italian flag on your child’s buggy, or pin on his coat (use a safety pin to pin it so he does not get hurt, like they used for the nappies in the olden days 😉 )…. Or maybe dress him with an item of clothing of a colour that reminds you of Italy (e.g: green like on the Italian flag). They’re just ideas from the top of my head, they’re not amazing but they’re a starting point to get you thinking. And anyway, this is only a temporary solution, the time for you to get into the habit of speaking to him in the ml outdoors. ;). Hope this can help get the ball rolling. Let us know here what you’ll go for in the end, so other bilingual parents can benefit from your experience. Un abrazo 🙂

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    1. Thank you Christina! :). Yes, I think visuals work best for children but also adults. When you lay your eyes on it, it’s like a little “electric shock” (in a good way obviously! 😉 ) that sets you mind back on the minority language tracks.

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