“Should I correct the mistakes my bilingual son makes?”

by | Oct 16, 2013 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Challenges, Practical advice | 6 comments

“Should I correct the mistakes my bilingual son makes?”

Whether or not to correct your child’s mistakes is a question all parents with children growing up learning more than one language have asked themselves at some point. I think the answer can be both Yes and No – not a very helpful answer you may say, so let me explain myself.

First of all, give yourself a tap on the back for bringing up your son to become bilingual – he is very lucky to have you as his parent. Your decision to pass on your family’s languages to him will benefit him in many ways in the coming years.

So what should you do when he uses an incorrect word or a wrong form of a word? The answer depends on many factors: the situation, his age, how well he knows the language and how confident he is, to mention the main ones.

Situations where you should avoid correcting

In front of others
Never correct your son’s language in front of others – only close family members can be an exception to this rule (if your son is comfortable with it). You don’t want to undermine his confidence by making others aware of his mistakes.

When he has something important to tell you
If he is sad or nervous about something and wants to speak about it, don’t let an incorrectly used word come between you. In such situations, communication is the main thing, not the correctness of it. The same goes if he is really excited about something that has happened – don’t burst the bubble by insisting on the right form of a word

If it makes him frustrated
If you notice that your corrections upset your son, stop them. After a while bring the matter up with him and try to find out what made him frustrated. Was it the way you did it or something else.

If he gets demotivated
If you notice that your son uses the language less than previously, make sure your interventions haven’t discouraged him from speaking the language. If he is old enough, discuss the situation with him to find out what the underlying reason to his reluctance to use the language is.

If he doesn’t feel confident about speaking the language
Confidence is extremely important when learning a language. If your son doesn’t feel confident about his language skills, avoid correcting him at all cost. It is much more important that he continues using the language than that he uses it correctly. Once his confidence grows you can help him to improve his language.

Situations where you should correct

If he asks you
You should always honestly answer his questions about language. If he wants to know whether the sentence he used is correct, then tell him – and give him an alternative which is as close as possible to his version, don’t overly correct.

If his language use is offensive to others
Children often come up with their own words or use words in “incorrect” contexts. This is OK – and you should make a habit of recording these words and phrases so you can remember them when he grows up. However, if something that he says – which may just seem funny to you – could be offensive to other listeners, try to give him an alternative/right way of expressing himself.

Only two situations where you should always correct you may ask? There will be others, but if you follow the above rules, you will know when it is OK that you step in and give him some guidance. If you do have to correct something about his language use, do it by repeating his sentence/word in the correct way. Give an explanation why. If you replaced a word, tell him in which situations he could use that word instead; if it is a grammatical form, give other examples of the correct form.

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  1. Jonathan

    Thanks for doing this post, I really enjoyed reading it. We’re bringing up our son bilingually (English and Welsh) and I do wonder what his Welsh is going to be like before he starts going to school. I’m trying to speak to him entirely in Welsh and my wife mainly uses English. As Welsh is my third language, I do wonder what his level is going to be like compared to kids from homes where both parents have grown up with the language themselves. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a fun journey with doubtlessly a few challenges along the way!

    • Rita Rosenback

      Thank you for reading! Your son might not be as fluent and have as wide a vocabulary as the other children when starting school, but I wouldn’t worry. My younger daughter didn’t know any English when we moved here – she was six years old at the time. After three weeks she started to understand what was going on during class and after three months she started speaking. Children are truly amazing at picking up a language with the right kind of support, which your son seems to get plenty of!

  2. Ariadne - Positive Parenting Connection

    Absolutely agree with your advice particularly on not correcting when our children are trying to tell us something important or express their feelings. Wonderful tips here, saving it as a resource for parents. thank you! (found you via the European bloggers group btw!)

    • Rita Rosenback

      Thank you, Ariadne! Glad you liked my post – I am all for positive feedback and love your blog! Just found you on Twitter as well 🙂

  3. Alex

    I’m a father to bilingual boy 2.5 years old.
    We use OPOL, I speak Russian only to him, my wife speaks Czech only.
    We are concerned that his speech development is delayed because:
    • At his 2.5 years he is talking in sentences, tries to flex nouns – that is OK.
    • However, vocabulary is very low – about 100 words, mostly in Czech, some in Russian. Significant part of that are sound-like words (“meow” for cat, “bum” for fall, “augh” for hot etc.)
    • Also, he is not learning new words fast enough – cca few new words per month, some new and olds words gost forgotten.
    • He started to visit kindergarten 3 months ago, but that didn’t helped his speech at all.
    I do not correct other language, but repeat it in my language. When hee sees a bus, and says “bus” in Czech, I repeat “yes, a big bus” in Russian. What’s your approach?




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