6 tips to feeling more natural when speaking the target language

Speaking of freshening up on vocabulary, I’ve got a great question and answer for you if you are finding yourself needing to do this.

We have been talking a lot about those types of conversation that can be a little more challenging to have in the target language.  Specifically, our members have said that conversations around religion, discipline, character education sometimes are harder or just simply feel less natural when they are not taking place in the community language.  So that you can follow along better to the episode let me ask you this, take a few seconds to think … are there any topics that are harder for you to talk about with your child in your target language?  Are your children less likely to take you seriously if you are disciplining them in a target language?  Maybe for your family the trigger is homework?  What is it?  I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it. ……. Got one? Alright let’s break down some things that you can do to make things a little easier on yourself.  And if you couldn’t come up with one, that’s great!  But do still stick around, maybe the next steps can still inspire you to take some action.

  1. Allow the plan to deviate – In a perfect world, no word, no sentence, no conversation would be too difficult to have in the target language. But for many multilingual families is a reality.  The last thing I would want is for an important family conversation not to take place because the vocabulary is not there and we do not want to deviate from our language plan.  I am the first one to advocate for sticking to the target language and creating a need for your children to use the language.  However, I also want to encourage you to remember that parenting comes first.  For some families, it may mean that we may need to switch to a community language or another language for that matter to have these conversations.  If that is what you need to do, if that is what your gut tells you to do.  Don’t fret, don’t feel guilty about it, don’t drive yourself crazy over it.  Follow your parental instinct and do what feels right.
  2. Create the boundaries – Now I am not going to let you off the hook that easily.  Yes parenting comes first.  However, we are going to still want to create boundaries for our little ones.  We can’t hold them to the expectations we want with language if we do not make those clear to them.  My recommendation is talk to explain to your children what is happening.  Let them know that you are going to switch to X language, for example, in my case it would be English, to talk about this one thing.  If you feel comfortable and depending on your child’s age you could even say that you are switching because you do not know exactly how to say it.  You can play that by ear.  Then make it clear that after the conversation is over, you are going to go back to your target language.
  3. Create a parking lot of words – Next time the word, phrase or sentence that you want to say does not come to mind, jot it down somewhere.  Maybe stickies work best for you.  For others writing them down on a notebook or maybe a smart phone may be more practical.  However you do it, the idea is to jot the word down so that you can look it up later in the dictionary or Google Translate.  I know that if I were to stop what I am doing with the kids to look up a word, either I will get distracted or their sticky little hands will go after my smart phone.
  4. Show your children what it means to be multilingual – Having open conversations with our children where we let them know that we don’t always know how to say everything allows them to understand that they do not always have to know how to say everything either.  There are children that will refuse to speak the target language because they are afraid of making mistakes, any mistakes so it is important for us to lead by example.  This is when creating those boundaries and having open conversations about why we are switching languages is important.  To add even more to this point, you could make your children active participants of your word parking lot and encourage them to add words they do not know so you can all learn them together.
  5. Challenge yourself to learn the words – Even though we want to allow ourselves to switch languages if we need to, we also want to challenge ourselves to continue our own learning process.  I challenge you to at the end of the day jot down the words that you may have struggled with that day and look them up.  Think about how you can use them next time and see if you can indeed resist the temptation of switching languages.  Once you open that door, it is going to be much harder to close it so my advice is just don’t leave it open for too long.  Be selective about when you let that community language creep in and keep yourself accountable on your own language journey.
  6. Practice, practice, practice – Last but certainly not least practice using the words.  It may be that you know exactly what needs to be said but it doesn’t feel natural.  Some of that practice will happen in front of your children.  But some of it can happen while they are not around.  I know it sounds silly, but next time you are in the car by yourself or maybe after the kids are taking  a nap or down for the night, practice what you are going to say.  I know you will feel and probably sound like a crazy person but it works.  My parents can attest to this, I did a whole lot of “talking” to myself when I was growing up.  In those high school years, I often practiced what I was going to say to my friends in English the night before.  Otherwise, I knew that I would let my fear of speaking a new language take over me but if I practice I felt so much more comfortable.   This was super helpful for me in my language journey and it can be in yours too!

Alright there you have it my six tips for overcoming those awkward situations where it just doesn’t feel natural to speak the target language or you simply don’t know how to say something.  Which one do you think you will try?  Or will you consider them all?  Let me know I’d love to know!

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