Beautiful flowers with accompanying thistles. Teenagers love to rebel, that’s how it is, has always been and will always be. Better just be prepared for it. If two languages have been the norm so far in the family, you might just be about the experience a major rebellion.
By the time your daughter* has grown up to become a highly independent teenager you have long lost the right to choose her clothes, hobbies, friends, what food she eats, which TV programmes she watches – the list goes on forever. Language is no different. If she sets her mind on speaking the majority language, you need to tread very carefully to get her back on track speaking your language.
Unless you want to have a major rebellion on your hands, pressure or commands is not the way to go. Depending on your daughter’s personality, she may speak the language just because you tell her to, but if there is no real reasoning or motivation behind that, you may be doing more harm than good to her future as a bilingual.
Try to figure out what makes your teenage princess rebel. Take every opportunity to explain why you find it important that you continue speaking your language together. Your daughter may accuse you of being far too strict, old-fashioned, embarrassing, misguided – you name it, she’ll throw it at you. As any other teenager, she may feel a strong peer-pressure to conform. She wants to be like everyone else and not stick out of the crowd by speaking another language. This may lead to her asking you not to speak your language when her friends can hear. If this happens, don’t insist on speaking your language in public, but continue to do so at home.
Your girl may think it’s not worth keeping up the language as she feels it doesn’t have a high status in the society. Make sure you clearly show pride for your language and heritage. Explain to her what it means to you and all the family. If possible arrange an extended visit to monolingual friends or relatives. Make sure these visits are fun and do not add to her reluctance to speak the language.
Teenagers can also be very sensitive about not wanting to exclude anyone from a conversation. Your daughter may feel that it is rude to speak a language not everyone understands – so she responds to you in the majority language. Again, go with the flow and do not cause a scene – never demand her to speak your language in front of her friends. Parents are embarrassing enough by just being there!
Gentle persuasion, explanation – patiently and over and over again, and most of all: motivation on your teenager daughter’s own terms are the ways to get her to keep your common language alive. Be the patient parent with the long-term vision. Experience has shown that once the phase is over, the young woman your tantrum teenager has turned into will be ever so grateful for your persistence.
May the peace and power be with you!
PS. I have chosen to use the word ‘daughter’, not because this only applies to girls, but as it makes writing easier than using the word ‘child’. ‘Child’ as such is fine, but the corresponding pronoun would be ‘it’ or ‘its’ which I don’t like using about persons – I will alternate this with the use of ‘son’ in other blog entries.