Get your child speaking the minority language more actively right now!

WARNING: Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Read This Blog Post About Raising Bilingual Children

WARNING: Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Read This Blog Post About Raising Bilingual Children

What?! Why are you reading this blog post? I warned you not to, but you’re still reading! For your own safety, please stop reading now, before it’s too late!

I mean it! You mustn’t read this blog post! It’s much too dangerous! It contains dreadful secrets you don’t want to know!

This is your last warning! If you continue reading this blog post, I won’t be held responsible for the terrifying consequences!

The D-LAMB Strategy

You didn’t stop, did you? You’re just like my kids. When I intentionally tell them not to do something, and yet I mercilessly stoke their curiosity in wild and silly ways, they want to do it even more. I call this the “D-LAMB Strategy” and it works wonders for engaging a child in the target language.

The D-LAMB Strategy is something I’ve done instinctively for years as a teacher and parent. But my name for it can be traced to the day I was hurrying from the shower to the bedroom and my towel fell off. My daughter was sitting there on the floor as I passed and I cried out to her:

“Don’t look at my butt!”

Of course, when someone naked is running past you and cries “Don’t look at my butt!”, well, you can’t help but look. I mean, even if you hadn’t been hoping to look at that person’s butt at all, the fact that you’re being told not to look makes you want to look.

And she did.

And the official D-LAMB Strategy (“Don’t look at my butt!”) was born.

“What’s in the box?”

In the popular post A Sneaky Way to Get Bilingual Kids to Use the Minority Language, I talk about milking “mystery” in various ways to engage a child’s interest. The D-LAMB Strategy overlaps with this idea, but is specifically focused on fueling curiosity, and action in the target language, by telling the child not to do something while justifying this with jokey reasons and warnings.

Let me give a good example…

My 10-year-old daughter often leaves her dirty socks lying on the living room floor. One time I picked them up and put them inside a shiny silver box. Finding her at the kitchen table, I peeked into the box dramatically.

“Oh my god!” I said.

She glanced up. “What? What is it?”

“I found something horrible.”

“What? Let me see.”

“I can’t. You’re so young and sensitive.”

“No, I’m not! What’s in the box?”

“Really, I can’t show you. You’ll start screaming and crying. You might even pee on the floor.”

I glimpsed inside again and made a horrified face.

“Come on, Daddy! What’s in there?”

“Mommy wouldn’t like it if you peed on the floor.”

“I won’t! Now let me see!”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. What’s inside here is so awful—”

“Come on!”

“Okay, but I warned you.” I gingerly put the box down on the table before her and backed away.

She blinked at the box, and hesitated. “What’s in there?”

“See for yourself.”

Lulu grimaced. “Is it disgusting?”

“Very disgusting.”

“Daddy, you open it!”

“If you want to see what’s inside, just lift the lid and look.”

Her eyes wide with dread, she reached out slowly…then quickly flipped off the lid—

And screamed at her socks.

“Only for grown-ups”

Now don’t worry, I don’t terrorize my kids like this every day. But I do keep the D-LAMB Strategy in my handy bag of tricks and make use of it pretty regularly in our interactions.

For example, it can add an effective twist to the times I’m reading aloud to them. To inflame their interest, I simply stop at an exciting point in the story and I say something like, “Oh no, I can’t read this next part. It’s too scary for little kids. I think it’s only for grown-ups. I’ll just skip past it, okay?”

Of course, they instantly clamor for me to keep reading, without skipping a word, and I’m always happy to grant their wish…but not before fanning this fire a little more by playfully frustrating their desire to hear what happens next.

The same sort of sly tactic can be used to strengthen a child’s interest in a tale you might tell from your past or present. For instance, when you’re recounting an incident from your childhood, or from your day, you can immediately grip their attention by introducing it with a dramatic description (“I have an amazing story to tell you…”), but then you pretend to have second thoughts (“Oh wait, I don’t think you’re old enough to hear this story…”).

Naturally, this little trick would become tedious, and lose its impact, if leaned on too frequently. But when used at those times you really want your kids (or students) to listen, it’s extraordinarily effective.

Reverse psychology

The D-LAMB Strategy is a fun form of “reverse psychology” that can motivate a child to engage in an interaction or activity with keener interest. By fueling the child’s curiosity, as well as “bruising” his pride by playfully teasing that he’s “too little” or it’s “too scary,” the child becomes eager to act and make use of the minority language. The irony, of course, is that the very thing we tell the child not to do is what we want him to do all along!

Like reading this blog post! :mrgreen:

How about you? Have you tried the D-LAMB Strategy with your kids? Share your experience with us!

8 Responses

  1. Great post as always Adam! I really enjoyed reading it.

    This strategy is so simple but so effective. I’m pretty sure I’ve even used this to some extent with my 22 month old.

  2. Hahahahahahahaha… The box game is fabulous! It really gets their attention. I shall remind myself to try this strategy again in school! Thanks a bunch! I appreciate it.

  3. Adam,
    I LOVED the story with the socks in the box. So yes, I’m guilty of reading this post. LOVED your warning signs (and your tweets) too!
    Will have to try the D-LAMB strategy one of these days with my daughter.

  4. I just found your website and am reading it ALL! Any suggestions on how to implement this with a 2 / 2.5 year old? I used to do this when I worked at camps, but the toddler has me stumped, especially because he’s going through a phase of actively rejecting the minority language (“No talk English! No no!”).

    1. Lauren, happy reading! :mrgreen: (There are a lot of posts here now, so consuming the whole site may take a while!)

      Although I don’t know the details of your situation, I suggest trying to tie the use of the minority language with activities that your son will find engaging and enjoyable, then perhaps amplifying that interest by playfully “withholding” the fun. Though you might have more success with this tactic when he’s a little older, if you experiment with the toys and other materials he likes, and the things he likes to do, I suspect you’ll hit upon some successful moments where he wants to use English because he wants to continue the activity. (If you haven’t yet seen A Sneaky Way to Get Bilingual Kids to Use the Minority Language, read that post next!)

      All the bilingual best to you, Lauren! Stay persistent, day after day!

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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