Selecting a Language Plan Pt. 1: Minority Language at Home
This blog post is written in collaboration with Berenice Moreno, a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and mother of three. She has a M.S. in Communicative Disorders, a B.A. in Child Development, and a minor in Special Education. She has been an SLP for 10 years and has worked in a variety of settings including early intervention, clinics, and schools. Her passion is working with bilingual families and students and helping them honor their languages and cultures.
If you have chosen to take the next step in raising bilingual children, you are already on your way to setting your little ones up for success and endless benefits in life! However, knowing what to do and how to go about selecting a family language plan is a big decision, especially if you aren’t quite sure what each plan entails.
The good news is that there are many plans and we’re here to help you learn about what each plan consists of so that you can make the best decision for your family. It’s important to note that the family plan you choose to follow should feel comfortable and doable for you, taking your family’s unique situation, language skills, resources and support system into account. That said, whatever your family’s circumstances are, there are options for every family, so let’s get you started on the path to figuring out which language plan is best for you!
There are four primary language plans: Minority Language at Home, One Parent One Language, Time and Place, and Mixed Language. Today, we will cover ML@H while the others will be covered in subsequent posts, so make sure to stay tuned!
Minority Language at Home (ML@H)
Minority Language At Home (ML@H) is when parents speak the minority language at home in order to provide their children with the most targeted language exposure. For example, only Spanish is spoken at home while English is spoken at school. With this approach, children are exposed to the majority language outside of the home.The ML@H strategy is often practiced by:
- Families where both parents speak the target language proficiently
- Families living in a country where the language spoken is different than the minority language they would like to introduce
- Families with children who go to school, receive instruction or are frequently exposed to a different language than the minority language being spoken at home
This strategy, of course, is not possible for all families, but if you are able to do it, an incredible benefit of this language plan is that your children are a lot more exposed to the minority language in their day to day. The majority language is the language they hear the most outside of your home, so the more opportunities your child is given for exposure in the minority language at home, the more likely they are to succeed in learning and retaining the minority language. Since children will naturally have more exposure to the majority language outside of the home, it’s important to provide the most opportunities possible in the minority language to increase their chances in retaining that language.
Providing quality language input through tools like bilingual children's books, specifically books with sound like Binibi’s musical books, is key to practicing the target language consistently and exposing the child to quality vocabulary through rhyme, repetition and interaction.
Binibi co-founder, Ana Guzman, and her husband, practice this language strategy at home. They are both from El Salvador and both speak Spanish as their native language. They live in Miami and have chosen to speak to their kids strictly in Spanish at home since they will learn English at school. They even play music, TV and buy toys and books in Spanish as often as possible.
FAQs about the ML@H language plan, answered by Berenice Moreno (bilingual SLP):
1. Will my child only speak one language at first? Will it make it harder for them to learn a second language?
For the most part, the child will mostly speak the minority language at first until he or she is exposed to the majority language later on in school or outside the home. Eventually, children catch up because they get so much more exposure outside of the home to the majority language. Usually, when children begin school, they start to become more exposed to the second language. Until then, it’s completely normal for the minority language to be stronger. This doesn’t make it harder to learn a second language- it may just take a little bit of time! Children’s brains are so resilient and can adapt to and easily pick up so many languages at a very young age!
2. My child started school and doesn’t want to speak the minority language at home. What should I do?
Continue to speak to your child in the minority language and respond in the minority language even when your child speaks to you in the majority language. Continue to expose your child as much as you can to the target language while also making it fun and enjoyable for them so that they see the appeal in speaking it. Continue to immerse them through engaging activities like songs and books. It may take some time for them to adapt, but they eventually will!
Berenice’s main tip for families implementing the ML@H strategy is to immerse your child in the minority language as much as possible through songs, activities, and books in the target language and to not be afraid to speak to your child in the minority language out in the community to further reinforce the minority language.
Continue learning about the different language plans in our upcoming blog to see which one is right for your family! Next, we'll dive into the popular One Parent One Language strategy.