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How I Got My Bilingual Daughter to Eagerly Do Her Homework in the Minority Language (Contest Update)

How I Got My Bilingual Daughter to Eagerly Do Her Homework in the Minority Language

This post is my promised update on the contest I held last month, and I’ll now reveal the tactic I used to address my 12-year-old daughter’s reluctance to using our minority language dictionary when doing her daily homework. (The contest yielded two winning guesses, from Lauren in the U.S. and Heidi in Germany, who will each receive a surprise package of little prizes from Hiroshima, Japan.)

In case you missed my post about the contest, here again is the background behind it, and the problem I posed…

The background

Basically, the contest posed the same problem I recently experienced with my 12-year-old daughter. The challenge, in this case, was her reluctance to look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary, despite being able to use it.

Here’s the thing: The bilingual journey is a continuous stream of challenges like this, throughout the length of childhood, and our greater success depends on how effectively we’re able to address them. While there are times it’s fine to force the outcome we desire (like if I simply continued to insist that Lulu open the dictionary), I suggest that the more effective move, whenever possible, involves a more thoughtful approach, a more creative tactic.

For example, ideally, I don’t just want Lulu to use the dictionary because I tell her to, I want her to actually feel some internal motivation to use it. In other words, when faced with challenges like this, the better objective in considering our course of action is twofold: we want to produce the desired outcome, yes, but moreover, we want the child to genuinely feel engaged and positive about the experience itself. Because when the child feels this way, our efforts are more effective not only for the immediate challenge, but in fact fortify our longer-term success by making her more engaged and positive, overall, about the minority language.

This is why I persistently stress the idea of staying playful and creative in our efforts, at least to the degree we reasonably can, and I try to offer lots of ideas in this direction. Not only does this make the process more fun and joyful for both the child and the parent, day by day, it actually enables us to be more effective and more successful over the whole length of the bilingual journey.

The problem

What did I do when I was faced with this challenge involving my daughter and the dictionary? What creative tactic did I come up with, a strategy which got her using the dictionary that day with far more enthusiasm than she had ever shown before?

And please note: I’m not suggesting that my tactic is the “best” tactic for this challenge—there are no doubt many other effective solutions besides mine.

Helpful hints for your guess

  • My tactic was a task that formed part of her daily homework in the minority language. I saw the results of this task, which confirmed that she used the dictionary, but I didn’t actually watch her carry it out. I imagine it took her less than 10 minutes to complete.
  • When I came up with the task, I knew it would work well with Lulu, that it would engage her and motivate her to want to use the dictionary. In fact, I think this playful tactic could help motivate almost any child to use a dictionary with more enthusiasm. (I’m not saying that a single tactic like this will suddenly make a reluctant child always eager to use a dictionary from then on; my point is that, by creating an engaging and positive experience, we can help turn the tide on negative feelings and resistance when it comes to using a dictionary or anything else. When we’re able to put a fun spin on something that previously was seen only as unpleasant, we cast the activity in a new, more favorable light.)
  • The task took me about 10 minutes to prepare.
  • This tactic involved no rewards, like treats or toys. Lulu was motivated by the task alone.

My solution

So what do you think? Any final guesses? How about one more helpful hint before I share my solution…

At the heart of this tactic is the same motivating force that has made my serial stories—a variation of captive reading—such a fun and effective way of engaging my kids in further reading practice.

Okay then, the basic principle for this tactic with Lulu—and for my serial stories with both Lulu and Roy—is very simple…

I create text that features the reader and the reader’s world. In this way, because the text itself stars the reader, the child essentially feels compelled to complete the task. Thus, the task (as long as it’s also appropriate for the child) becomes inherently engaging and internally motivating.

To be concrete, what I did with Lulu was this: I created the single sheet I’ve scanned below and asked that she complete it as part of her daily homework. That’s all.

And she did, not with reluctance this time, but with some genuine enthusiasm because using the dictionary had now been transformed into a playful and engaging task. Moreover, completing this task (and a few more like it after that) helped generate an important breakthrough for her because she finally found the dictionary more fun and less formidable, enabling her to experience better success and realize that using the dictionary wasn’t really as arduous as she had been thinking.

Note: This is the original sheet we used, which also includes her writing. I only replaced the kids’ real names with the pseudonyms I use for them in my work.

Word Fun for Lulu!

The takeaway here, I think, is that this basic principle of creating texts and tasks that somehow feature our children and their young lives, pursued in a playful spirit, can be a powerful way of engaging them in their minority language. Yes, it takes some creative thought and some extra effort, but it’s exactly these types of fun and effective experiences, multiplied many times over the years of childhood, that will fuel greater success and joy on the bilingual journey.

Again, if you’re not familiar with my strategy of “captive reading,” I encourage you to make this a part of your persistent efforts from the time your child is small. See the links above or take this challenge at The Bilingual Zoo: Challenge #4: Make Use of Captive Reading.
How about you? In what ways do you, or could you, make use of this idea of featuring your children in texts and tasks to strengthen their engagement in the minority language?

7 Responses

  1. Adam, thanks again for continued inspiration to keep capturing our children’s interest in the minority language. One similar thing I’ve done is generate simple storybooks where my children are featured…it’s amazing how much more excited they are to read the story when the story is about them!

  2. Great solution! I always love seeing how you work to keep language learning fun; such an inspiration for the rest of us.

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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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