Today, I will expand on one of the four major approaches to raising bilingual children, the Minority Language at Home (MLAH) approach.
MLAH is the approach we use in our household, so I hold this topic near and dear to my heart <3
Enjoy! In the comments below, please tell me a little bit about your ‘bilingual beginnings’ and which approach you use or plan to use!
What is the Minority Language at Home Approach
MLAH is when a family decides to speak the minority or target language inside the home and community language outside of the home. (This latter may vary depending on the family. Keep reading for more information.
MLAH requires two parents that are native or fluent in the minority language. In most cases, MLAH families are composed of either migrants or expats.
There are also cases– such as mine, consisting of parents who are of fluent proficiency in the minority language.
Regardless, both parents speak the same minority language and decide to use that language inside their home.
Some examples of MLAH families:
- A Latinx parent and a Latinx parent located in the United States speaking Spanish at home.
- A parent of Brazilian nationality and a parent of Portuguese nationality living in England and speaking in Portuguese at home
- A fluent speaker of Russian from the United States and a parent of Russian nationality living in the United States speaking Russian.
The common denominator here is that BOTH caretakers speak the same minority language(s) and as a family decide to speak that language AT HOME.
In my case, I am a forever student of Spanish with a Salvadoran partner. We are both raising our son Lennox in Spanish.
Why I chose the Minority Language at Home approach
I chose this approach because I have witnessed first-handedly the dying of language throughout my education and personal experiences.
Many of my Spanish-speaking in-laws have children who have difficulty speaking Spanish due to the English tidal wave that hits home once children are school-aged. They lose interest in the minority language because it is not reinforced or prioritized at home.
In his book, The Bilingual Edge Kendall King talks about the “magnetlike pull” of English and how “even in the nation’s largest Spanish-speaking enclave (Southern California)… Spanish appears to be well on the way to a natural death by the third generation of U.S. residence.” (112)
As a linguist, this wounds my poor heart. When we lose a language, we lose parts of our culture and identity. We MUST push past this pull and instill our native tongues in our children!
I am very passionate about this subject, if you can’t tell! This passion is the reason for this blog and the reason why I have committed to making sure Lennox speaks Spanish and TAKES pride in doing so!
And I hope you can one day share this same enthusiasm.
What about when you are out and about in the community?
Some families decide to speak the community language outside of the home.
Other families carry the minority language with them wherever they go.
I try to use the minority language outside of the home to get as MUCH exposure as possible.
However, there are situations where I switch to English.
Sometimes I switch to be polite. For example, if I am hanging out with a monolingual English-speaking friend(s), I will speak to Lennox in English.
I don’t want that friend to feel left out or feel like I might be saying something rude.
This concept of someone speaking in another language as being rude is a widespread mentality of monolingual speakers. For example, today, I was getting my nails done, and I saw a lady disgruntled at the fact that the employees started speaking in their minority language. As a linguist, I know it is easier for people to communicate in their native tongue. As a monolingual speaker, the lady most likely perceived their side conversation as rude.
Consequently, around family and friends, I will switch and speak to Lennox in English. Yet, on a grocery trip, I will talk to him in Spanish.
Another scenario of when some MLAH families might switch to the community language, is when a bilingual child is around their friends. They might feel ashamed to speak the minority language.
In this case, I recommend not pushing the minority language because it might cause a setback and disapproval of the minority language.
Go with the flow and speak with your child in the majority language, but make sure when you get home to talk about the importance and benefits of your minority language to your child.
Barbara Zurer, in her book Raising a Bilingual Child states that this embarrassment of the minority language might “be a signal that you have not been reinforcing your child’s self-esteem as a bilingual enough.” (144) She recommends that we “praise the child’s bilingualism.”
As much as I can, I try to have an open-discussion with Lennox about his bilingualism, how beneficial it is, and how unique he is because he is bilingual. Granted, he is a three-year-old, but I can see a sense of pride now when he recognizes Spanish out and about.
Advantages of the MLAH approach
- Adam Beck, in his book, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, claims that the MLAH has the “highest success rate of 96.92% and has “the highest odds of success are gained when both parents use the minority language with the child and limit the use of the majority language.” (127)
- It provides massive exposure to the minority language and culture as well.
- The entire family can speak together in the same language, unlike One Parent One Language (OPOL) approach, where one parent speaks the minority language to the child and the second parent speaks the majority language.
Disadvantages of the Minority Language at Home approach
- Both parents must be able to speak the minority language proficiently.
- If both parents work long hours, then the child might not receive sufficient exposure to the minority language.
- A lack of initial input in the community language can cause setbacks when they begin school.
In this case, you could start exposing the community language before the child begins school, but worry not. Children learn at such a rapid pace and will quickly—more quickly than you probably would like, pick up on the community language.
For example, two of my favorite nieces and nephews came from El Salvador when they were around 4 and 7. they spoke little to no English.
Fast forward three years later, and they speak English (very well, if I might add), and since there has been no reinforcement of Spanish, they are quickly losing their Spanish. I make sure to tell them all the time that being able to speak Spanish will be so vital for them in the future. I hope I am making an impact.
Tips and advice for parents implementing the Minority Language at Home approach
Exposure is the key to success and meaningful exposure at that!
Here are some ideas for in-home exposure of minority languages.
- Books: Read, and read as much as you can. Here you can find collections of thematic books in Spanish for your kiddos, and if you subscribe at the end of this post, you will receive our monthly Library Lunes series, with a new list of Spanish books for kids.
- Through play! Play is the best way to learn. Period. Take advantage of open-ended, play-based activities to talk to your child about anything and everything in the minority language.
When you must, use technology, although it is not recommended for younger kids. YouTube offers excellent channels in Spanish for kids. We love El Reino Infantíl! If Spanish is not your minority language, drop recommendations in the comments below for other parents that might be raising their kids in your minority language.
You can also set your preferences on Netflix and other applications to be in your minority language.
- There are many more resources you can utilize. I have a post on ways I raise Lennox in Spanish at home here that might help, and I recently did a guest blog post for LeapFrog on ways to encourage bilingualism in children at home that you can check out here.
Well, I think that I have covered everything that I wanted to cover. I hope this post enlightened your bilingual journey. Stay tuned for more details on the other three major bilingual parenting approaches that will follow suit shortly.
That you so much, and if your minority language is Spanish. Don’t forget to subscribe below for FREE and fun resources delivered to your mailbox monthly!