Top tips for motivating bilingual children to speak their languages

Choosing the topic for this month’s Raising Multilingual Children blogging carnival was actually very easy. “What do parents ask me most about?” I pondered and instantly I thought “How to motivate my child to speak the minority language?” My fellow bloggers – who all have their own bilingual children – have written new posts giving you their best ideas on how to spark your child’s interest in using their additional languages to their full potential. However, as you will notice, it is not all about your kids – it is also very much about you as a parent. Take care of yourself and read on!


The most frequently mentioned tip was definitely to immerse your child in the language you want him or her to speak more of. Note that you can use the immersion technique in many different ways and it can be for shorter time spans as well as for longer time periods.

Maria from Trilingual Mama: “Immerse your child in a deep pool of rich language, be patient.” I love all her suggestions and especially the one to take frequent walks in nature and use these moments for deep talks and new vocabulary.

Reserve certain times of the day solely for the lesser spoken language – Frances from Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes calls this setting a ‘Language boundary’: “This eventually led to full conversations in the minority language, and it’s the ‘secret’ language that my child and I use.” She also recommends travelling, playdates and creating a “text-rich home environment”, not forgetting more structured language programmes and bilingual schools, where they are available.

Marianna from Bilingual Avenue encourages you to make it a habit to talk as much as possible with your child: “‘Say What You See’ when playing with your child to influence their vocabulary input and you are likely to see a great deal of impact on the level of motivation” – I am a great believer in this easy-to-implement strategy!

Books & Reading

Books are a very effective way of enhancing your child’s knowledge of a language, I couldn’t agree more with everyone who had reading at the top of their list of suggestions.

Lisa from Cooking with Languages says it perfectly: “Reading books, suitable for your child’s level of language, is a fabulous way to expand their vocabulary and understanding of that language.”

Not only is reading beneficial for the overall mastering of the language but, as Maria says, it “helps emergent readers make the connection between spoken language and the symbols on the page.”

Emotional attachment & Need

For a child to make a language his or her own and to want to speak it, there should be an emotional attachment to it and a need to use it in the day-to-day life. When Frances’s son wanted to speak to his friends, he “had a reason to speak the minority language.”

Olena from Bilingual Kids Rock has written a very insightful post on what actually motivates us and our kids, and I love the conclusion: “It’s not rational understanding but emotional experience that motivates adults and children to take an action.” If we really want something, we find a way to achieve it!

I certainly played on my daughter’s heartstrings when I looked for ways for her to embrace Swedish! Pricken – the Swedish-speaking kitten to the rescue! Caution – this certainly won’t work for everyone, you need to find your kid’s very own “kitten”: “Think carefully about what is important (or fun!) for your child, put yourself in their shoes, then find a way to make this motivator part of the language learning and use.”

Play & Fun

“Minkä ilotta oppii, sen surutta unohtaa” is a Finnish proverb which means: ”What you learn without joy, you have no trouble forgetting” Nothing can be truer for a child learning to appreciate, love and use a language. Make language learning fun and engaging for your kids!

Ilze from Let the Journey Begin points out the importance of incorporating play and activities when encouraging your children to learn a language: “I believe it is especially important for children to learn by experiencing various things and by trying everything out by themselves.”

Galina from Raising Trilingual Children agrees and gives many great ideas on how to motivate different age groups: “give your child what he enjoys the most and what he is interested in.” Giving your children their own notebook where they can practice their language skills is a great idea!


Many of us have learnt our languages purely from our parents or at school, but today there is a lot of technology that can help you on the way. Use free online video connections to stay in touch with family and friends and keep the languages going – or find your child’s favourite cartoons on YouTube (in the right language, of course!)

Ayesha from Words ‘n’ Needles has successfully used a language app with her kids: “Whatever language you are focusing on, show your child poems, conversations, cartoons or mini documentaries in that language.” Which language could you introduce to your kids this way?

PULL – don’t PUSH

Getting your children to want to speak a language does however not only depend on motivators specific to the kids’ own interests, wants and needs. Being the right kind of role model and language promotor for your kids can not be underestimated, and I am happy that so many of my friends picked up on this. Your parenting skills will allow you to pull your children towards a language, without pushing!

“Ignore them!” is the surprising advice given by Esther from Third Culture Mama, but it all makes sense: “I believe that it’s important for kids to see how much their mother enjoys language learning but also, that can involve courage and self-discipline” and “Inevitably, your own natural passion for language will be contagious and grow in them a beautiful thirst for learning and using their weaker language(s).”

Elisabeth from Spanish Mama has gone to great lengths to be able to bring up her child in a language which is not her mother tongue, and we can all take a leaf out of her book and implement her ideas: “raising my children in Spanish as a non-native speaker is a decision I’ve never regretted. The gift of bilingualism is worth the sacrifice.”

Varya from Creative World of Varya has found that her children actually do pick up the language, even when she thinks nothing is sticking: “unconsciously I have been actually helping my children become interested in their mother tongue, which has become the minority language.”

Lisa makes and important point: “We know not to push too hard. We are taking our time and every little step in an achievement.” I fully agree with Galina when she writes that “being motivated yourself is a part of successfully raising bilingual /trilingual children”. We have to be the role models for a positive learning experience – and we have to stick with it, like Frances says: “If there is one thing that I’ve learned during our language learning is to follow the three P’s: patience, persistence, and perseverance as my child develops fluency in the second language.”


Whatever you do, please be kind to yourself and don’t pile on the pressure as a parent. If you are stressed out about how your kids are progressing, you will also struggle to motivate them in a fun and natural way.

If there is only one thing that you take away from this article, listen to Annabelle from The Piri Piri Lexicon: “Read all the wonderful tips you can find. Try a few. Don’t give up. But don’t stress yourself about language. You are doing your best. In the great scheme of things, there are so many important things in life.”

Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carniva


Thank you to all my wonderful blogger friends for taking part and writing their posts for this Raising Multilingual Children blogging carnival!

… and thank YOU for reading! Make sure to visit all the blogs to learn more about all their great ideas for motivating your bilingual child. 

Never miss a post! Sign up to the Multilingual Parenting newsletter and I will send you a recap of the week’s posts every Sunday. Every second week you will receive a more extensive issue with links to research articles and interesting posts from other writers, as well as handy tips and ideas! Want to read more like this? My book Bringing up a Bilingual Child is available on Amazon and in well-stocked bookshops. Do you have a specific question? You can send it to our team of Family Language Coaches and we will reply in a Q&A (questions are answered in order of arrival). If you are interested in tailor-made family language coaching, please, contact me and I will send you a proposal.


  1. Galina /Trilingual Children

    Great tips! Thank you, Rita, for adding mine too 🙂
    This tips should be applied in combination to guaranty good results. Benefits of reading and early literacy in a minority language, that I talk so often about on my website, should not be underestimated.
    Good luck everyone! 🙂

    • Rita

      Thank YOU for taking part!

  2. Giovanna

    Very interesting article. I am an Italian native speaker and my son is half American. I find your pieces of advice very helpful, however me and my son live in Italy (while his father is abroad) and his only source of English is me. You can easily understand how hard it is for me to get him speak English with me since he perfectly knows I speak Italian with everyone else, therefore he does not find the need to use English.
    I read him English books, but he does not pay a lot of attention. I play with him in English, but he often gets frustrated. The only way to make him exposed to English without fussing is letting him watch cartoons in English… although I don’t really like this kind of learning through TV. Any suggestions you can give me? Thank you in advance. Giovanna

  3. Ruanda

    what is the challenges that teachers face in a multicultural and multilingual classroom AND also what methods or stragegies would teachers use to ensure that they achieve sucess in their classrooms?



  1. Mixed Race Family Must-Reads (April Part 2) - Mixed.Up.Mama - […] “Top Tips for Motivating Your Bilingual Children to Speak their Languages” by Multilingual Parenting […]
  2. Mixed Race Family Must-Reads: Featuring 'Talking to Children about Race' - Mixed.Up.Mama - […] “Top Tips for Motivating Your Bilingual Children to Speak their Languages” by Multilingual Parenting […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.