Considering: Should I make my child respond to me in my language? and Enforcing minority languages at home

The child is currently 2 years 4 months old. I speak to her in foreign language X. Other people speak to her in native language Y.

Child understands X but prefers to speak Y. I think she finds Y easier to speak.

I want the child to learn to speak X. Until she starts speaking X she won't learn how to speak it.

So, from what age should I apply the tactic that "I will reply to you only when you speak in X with me"?

  • @Stephie if you know a better expression then tell me. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:27
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    Perhaps "from what should I require the child..." -- it's the same notion that I think you intend, but doesn't imply actual physical force or any punishment being involved.
    – Acire
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 15:46
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    I'm often confused as to why so many details are anonymized in questions. Wouldn't the question be easier to read if you just used the names of the languages?
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:14
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    @JPhi1618 This makes it a little more generalized (a parent looking for information about French and Spanish, vs. German and English, can still be helped by this question), and also avoids answers/comments such as "don't bother with X, nobody speaks it and it's a waste of time". That isn't a bad question in general, though, perhaps worth posting on Parenting Meta :)
    – Acire
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:19
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    The word "force" is a red flag, a sneer word. People react to it like you are suggesting beating your children with iron rods and can't focus on anything else after that. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:24

3 Answers 3


There is no rule for this, and it's different with every child. My girls are both bi-lingual. I speak to them in one language, and my wife (and the environment) speak to them in another.

My eldest started speaking both languages more or less together, and is happy to switch from one to the other when talking to different people.

My second would only speak my wife's language, though she understood everything I say in mine. This is starting to change just now, in the last two weeks, and she is 2 years and 4 months.

It is important to note that our languages are consistent. I always, only speak in my language, and will only read stories and show videos in my language. My wife is the same for her language.

I have noticed that after a full day with me, they will both be more likely to answer in my language, so perhaps the best answer is to spend more time with her.

In my usual Zen approach, I think that trying to force the issue is unlikely to work, as it will just create antagonism.

  • Do you also have your conversations with your wife and visitors bi-lingually to maintain the consistency?
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 14:00
  • @WeckarE.Between my wife and I we switch languages all the time. With visitors, it depends who they are. Not everyone speaks both languages, so everyone speaks their native tongue.
    – Carmi
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:03

It cannot be forced. I tried and failed dismally. My daughter first learnt my wife's language then English. Once she learnt English, she would refuse to go back.

Teaching a child another language is a long term process.

My kids have been going to language school since the age of 6 and will continue until they achieve year 12 proficiency. I would love them to speak to their grandparents in their native language, I hoping that will come with time.

In the mean time, books and movies in the second language can help. Speaking to your child (even if they respond in a different language) helps them think in a second language.


I want my daughter to learn german. I speak in german with her occasionally (my fault, and unrelated) and she goes to a kindergarten where the speaking language is german. It's not a german kindergarten in germany though, and german is still a foreign language where I live. She is 4 1/2 years old. I say all this as context.

The teachers at the kindergarten have told us repeatedly that the kids will probably not start to actively speak german until they start school, so 6-7 years of age. By actively speaking I mean something else than them repeating words/songs/poems, but to actually form sentences to speak their mind. This is also true for families where one parent consistently only speaks german with them at home too.

They told us that until then they build their vocabulary and confidence to speak the language. And that every bit of hearing it helps them learn, even though it would seem to us that they don't understand anything.

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