In the past few weeks several minority language parents have been in contact with me and their common concern has been: “How do I improve my own language skills, so I can pass on my language to my child?” Typically these parents are second or third generation immigrants who now feel less confident about speaking their original home language. Another group are those who belong to an indigenous group, the language of which is losing ground in their lives and in the community. Sometimes a parent might have been speaking a different language for such a long time that the native language no longer comes as naturally as before.
If you are such a parent, I can feel your strong concern and passion for your language and cultural background. I have noticed that it is often not until we have children of our own before we realise the importance of our own heritage. I take my imaginary hat off for you for being prepared to put in the effort to be able to pass on your language to the next generations.
First and foremost, you do not have to be in perfect command (actually, who is?) of a language to help your child grow up learning it. As long as your child also gets exposed to other speakers of the language, the fact that your own vocabulary or grammar my not be perfect, will not be an obstacle for your child becoming fluent. What will happen, however, is that your own language will improve when your child learns and speaks the language more.
So what to do to boost your own language skills as a minority language parent? With adults it is often the lack of confidence which is the biggest hurdle. Children are much less inhibited in this regard. Ask yourself what would make you less conscious about speaking your language. My guess is that if you felt more comfortable in communicating in the language, the situation would improve?
1 – Use the language whenever you can
The best way improve your confidence is to start using the language as much as possible. Speak it whenever you get the opportunity. Make a conscious decision not to get hung up about any mistakes you make. What you will find is that people will genuinely appreciate that you are making the effort. There might be those who try to change to the majority language to “make it easier” for you, but let them know that you would rather not change.
2 – Listen to audio
Listen to podcasts, radio and music in the language. Load your phone or other device with programs you can listen to while you are driving, commuting, doing chores, going to the gym, cooking or going for a walk. Especially listen to something at night before you go to sleep.
3 – Read
Read a lot, anything: newspapers, magazines, books, leaflets, internet sites – whatever you find interesting.
4 – Find other like-minded people
Find others who would also like to practise their language skills and come together as a group to support each other and talk. If there are no other speakers where you live, arrange Skype calls or Google Hangouts so you can communicate online.
5 – Look for online resources
Search the internet for resources for learners of your language. Look for material on broadcasting companies pages, on national education websites, teachers’ and language school pages. You will find lots of useful resources to help you brush up on your language.
Good luck to you!