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What should I do when my child makes errors in his/her language?

E31 teachers explain that fluency is much more important than accuracy. All humans want to communicate and we will forgive language slips even in proficient users. If we are too harsh in correcting every error, a child will develop inhibitions and be reluctant to use the language and to practise later on. It is perhaps more helpful to praise your child when they do use good language such as elaborate vocabulary.

Options for error correction: 
- Leave it: if it’s not a problem in terms of communication, and you are trying to help your child build confidence this is often the best option.
-Rephrase/ reword as part of your reply, but without drawing attention to the error.
-Point out the error and gently correct.

Will my child be bilingual?

Many bilinguals are ‘stronger’ in one language than another. Regular practice is key, particularly for younger children or those who are not frequently immersed in a native English language environment. The more exposure your child has to English the greater the chance of them being confident in English
- Context is also crucial for language learning. E31 teaching staff note that many of our students can happily write an essay about Shakespeare or globalization in English, but they may not know the vocabulary they would need to have a car repaired. This is not something to worry about: we are instilling a love of learning about language and culture that will give them the skills and tools to overcome any gaps in vocabulary later on but the greater variety of contexts they experience, the greater the opportunity for language development.

My child spoke English perfectly when we were living abroad. Why is he/she not as fluent now?

Languages need to be maintained if they are not to be lost. As Edith Harding and  Philip Riley say, in The Bilingual Family: “The astonishing facility with which young children learn a second language is only paralleled by the speed at which they can forget it.” ...hence the importance of  frequent and ongoing pleasurable and stimulating English language experiences - Including speaking, listening, reading and writing - in a variety of contexts with lots of encouragement and directed praise

If you have more than one child, they might enjoy and could be encouraged to speak English (their ‘special language’) with each other.

 I don’t feel confident speaking English to my children

It depends on your level (linguistic structures). If you don’t feel confident it may be better to speak to your children in your first language. 

It is very difficult for most parents to speak a second language to their child, it feels restrictive and frustrating. It is important to be natural in the language of the home, to establish continuity and a stimulating language environment. After all, helping your child improve their mother tongue will help develop their English language indirectly. 

However, the English you speak to the child, particularly when the child is young, may be at the level where correctness is relatively assured. So it may be that you have sufficient language competence to be a valuable model.

There are things you can do : read books out loud to your young children, show interest in their homework and what they are studying etc (see the section “How can I support my child’s bilingualism at home?)

What if my child speaks better English than I do (has a better accent / has more vocabulary) ?

That’s completely fine and a great opportunity to learn as a family that skills do not always depend upon age!

What language should we use at home?

Discussions and decisions need to be made. Keeping languages separate with clear boundaries will tend to make bilingual development more efficient. Some families find the ‘one parent, one language’ approach makes it easy for children to recognize when they should speak which language to which parent. However, there are families who mix languages and the child still learns to separate the languages (it is best not to mix languages within the same sentence however). What is important is to have a plan and expect discussions and decisions to be ongoing as language situations change over time.

I speak to my child in English and he answers me in French (but I want him to speak to me in English)

A child may stop speaking one of their languages while still being able to understand that language (especially in the teenage years). Be patient, rest assured that the language is being integrated, even if they do not respond in English. It is difficult to compel a child to speak a language but one can try to influence language use. It is easier when a child is young to set ‘language rules’ (consistent use of English with dad and French with maman for example or using English during set times/set activities such as at dinner time). With older children it may seem artificial and forced at first, but with some practice, it can be quite fun. 

You can also focus on extending the range of English language experiences - for example, staying with grandparents or cousins. (refer also to list of active language opportunities above)

I’m worried that my child will not learn French.

Having a solid language base with a rich vocabulary in English is vital and will help develop his French language. If parents think that French language development is important, the child will also regard it as important. French is the majority language in France and through regular attendance in formal French schooling (with reading and writing)  competent bilingualism will result. Parents can encourage literacy in French by listening to their child read even if they are ‘encouragers’ rather than ‘correctors’. Research has shown that even if a parent doesn’t understand what a child is reading, the child engaging in reading practice (plus the visible encouragement and interest of the parent) facilitates development in reading. 

When you want your child to speak a second or a third language it is important that they are not afraid to talk. In that regard that is important they see their parents (when possible) speaking a different language so they are not afraid to do the same.