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What Is “Bilingual Rebellion” and How Can You Work Through It?

Picture this: you’re raising a bilingual child who is sure of themselves and transitions between languages with a little encouragement. They speak English at school and use their second language at home confidently at the dinner table, during playtime, while reading…

However, all that changes one day. Suddenly, your child is more reluctant to speak their second language – at home or elsewhere – and they’re not giving into the pressure of being told to do otherwise. 

Bilingual rebellion has kicked in. 

What is “bilingual rebellion”?

Simply put, bilingual rebellion refers to when a child refuses to use or communicate in their second language.

There are a few reasons why this might happen, some of which include:

  1. Your child might feel more comfortable communicating in the other language, and therefore prefers to speak it everywhere they go
  2. You might have moved recently and your child feels like the memories of their second language are too painful to deal with
  3. Your child’s friends might be pushing them to speak just one language in order to fit in

This sudden change in your child’s behavior might have you reeling, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are still many ways to get back on track and help your child to continue practicing their second language.

How can you overcome “bilingual rebellion”?

The first thing you need to keep in mind when looking for solutions is that you’re not alone in this journey. 

This is a very common problem that a lot of bilingual parents – or mixed-language households with a bilingual and a monolingual parent – have to deal with. Here are a few ways you can get started in overcoming this “rebellious” phase. 

  1. Practice new vocabulary

One of the main reasons a child rebels against their second language is because they don’t feel that comfortable or knowledgeable speaking it. This causes them to feel stressed out which, in turn, makes them shy away from it.

By introducing your child to new words and expanding their vocabulary, they might be more likely to feel comfortable speaking in their second language because they’ll have a much better grasp on what they’re saying. Try using labels on everyday objects with the word in both English and Spanish, or playing with flashcards in the afternoons to make the learning experience easier and more enjoyable.

  1. Find a community

Another way that parents can deal with this “rebellious” phase is by looking to other people who speak the language and reaching out to them for a little extra help. By becoming a part of a tight community that expands beyond school, your child will start to understand that there are more people out there who are happy to speak the second language and, through these connections, feel inspired and encouraged to do so as well.

They’ll feel special for belonging and, at the same time, you’ll also feel supported by others who might be going through the same thing.  

  1. Add value to the second language

In order to encourage your child to speak their second language, you must be willing to help them see how valuable it is and how proud you are to speak it. 

Make sure that your child understands that being bilingual is a gift that not a lot of people have access to, that it will help them feel closer to their – and your – roots, and that it will be a great way to create long-term memories with the people they love the most. 

  1. Never force your child to speak the language if they don’t want to

No matter how stressful the situation might get, it’s essential that you never force your child or punish them into speaking their second language. By doing this, you’ll only be reinforcing their negative relationship with the language and they’ll be even more unwilling to speak their second language altogether.

Even if your child responds to you in a different language when you ask them a question or speak to them directly, continue the conversation bilingually and let them move through the words at their own pace.

Have you ever dealt with bilingual rebellion? What steps did you take to move past this? 🗣

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