If kids don't need to use their minority language, they won't.
What did I do when my son stopped speaking Spanish just one month after a cross country move separated us from our Spanish speaking community?
First, I cried...
I wrote previously how excited I was when I finally found a community to support me on this journey to raise bilingual kids. It wasn't long, however, before we had to leave those precious families.
My bilingual son was three and a half when a job opportunity moved us across the country. We moved from a diverse urban city to a homogenous town in the Appalachian Mountains.
The first thing I did when we arrived was seek out bilingual opportunities for young kids in our new town. Guess what I found?
Everything I had read and researched about how to raise bilingual kids emphasized the importance of two main factors.
1) You need exposure to the minority language.
2) The child must feel the need to use the minority language.
I was in control of the exposure part - just speak to him in Spanish. But I could not create a need for him to use Spanish in and of myself. I am not a native Spanish speaker, and my son knew that.
It was our Spanish Immersion Coop that had created the need for him to speak Spanish. But we left that behind. I saw the effects of losing the “need” to use Spanish very quickly. How quickly?
It only took one month for my little guy to realize he didn’t NEED to use Spanish with me. Previously, if I was speaking to him in Spanish he would respond in Spanish. If I was speaking to him in English he would respond in English.
I remember clearly, one month after our move, I asked him a question in Spanish and he began to respond in Spanish, paused, and looked at me. I saw the realization dawn on him. “I don’t need to talk to mom in Spanish...she’s speaks English too!”
And he responded in English.
My heart sank. I felt it was the beginning of the end of all I had worked for.
Our story continues. Major transitions are not the end. But for now...
What about you? Have you found your people?
I'd love to hear your story. Let me know in the comments.