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My 6-year old, 1st grade son started taking some language classes past August. This is a language we speak about 50% of the time home. These classes are pretty tough, teach reading, writing and speaking. The kid sees very little point in learning the language (especially reading and writing), as family and friends can speak to him in English. Still, he is doing pretty well in it, and I am confidant that he will move on to the next (intermediate) level.

However, to kick start the learning (back in August), I told him that he'll get a Xbox if he successfully finishes this year. My sense is that he is putting in the effort for the Xbox.

So, come June, he passes the final exam, he gets the Xbox and then what? I am wary of dangling another thing in front of him to go to the intermediate level. How do I convince him that he needs to continue learning?

As a note, this is the only instance where we offered a specific reward after one thing. Otherwise, our attitude will be, finish your work, you can watch TV/play with your friends once done - I do not know if you'd call that a reward. Of course, school has its own rewards stuff, over which we have no control.

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    @Willow, both of us speak it, but almost 50/50 (any serious discussion goes to English). I do not anticipate learning this language to be of any benefit to his career, unless he starts living in that region of the world (unlikely). This is so that i. we enjoy these things as a family (watching movies, not being lost when family is speaking) ii. get benefits of learning a second (very different, very difficult) second language. – user61034 Mar 29 '17 at 17:38
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    If you would use the language more with him then he would have more use from learning it. Right now he probably thinks "Mum and Dad speak it, but they don't use it for anything important. Why should I learn it?" – skymningen Mar 30 '17 at 16:17
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    Not sure if it will be comforting or not, but it is very common for kids around his age to not show much interest or motivation in learning a language that isn't the one his peers are using. A typical response is for kids his age to stop speaking the second language altogether (responding in English when addressed, regardless of what you say), which can be frustrating for parents. You might take comfort in the fact that his practice with that language so far, and his continued listening practice as he hears it at home, will both facilitate him becoming fluent later if he becomes motivated. – Rose Hartman Mar 30 '17 at 18:36
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    The cultural value of the language, and the emotional value of connection to your extended family and your history, may not really make sense to him for years --- there's probably not a lot you can do to make him understand that before he's ready. Modeling with your own behavior (continuing to speak the language at home, and showing him that you care about it) is the only way to teach him, and it will require patience. In the meantime, you can choose to control his behavior with bribes, demands, rules, etc., which he may well thank you for when he's grown up and fully bilingual. – Rose Hartman Mar 30 '17 at 18:38
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    Visit the country where that language is the primary language. It's hard to see how important the language is until you go where it is primary. Also, the pleasure of being able to get around that country with minimal help can be empowering. The trip can also be a reward without explicitly setting it as one. And it's a good time to bond. – spex Apr 1 '17 at 17:10
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It sounds like your son is a dual native speaker. It would be to his benefit to continue to work toward fluency in both languages.

At 6 years old, he probably doesn't appreciate this yet: for young children, learning two languages is an extra burden, and the later benefits of being able to bridge language gaps are not obvious. I know this was the case for myself when I was young and all of the other dual native language speakers I knew.

However, when the children get older and become adults, they will find fluent dual native language ability more and more useful, and in my experience, if they have neglected one language, they will regret that, as I and the other dual native speakers I know do.

Since your child is not yet old enough to appreciate the benefits of being a fluent dual native speaker, it's perfectly appropriate to use rewards or other incentives to get him to continue to gain the knowledge. It's find to find a new reward for the next year. I like the suggestion of the Xbox games to go with the Xbox, but almost anything that works would be fine.

With regard to the general question, I think rewards are fine for any learning that involves mostly memorization. I've used money rewards extensively with my three kids for tedious arithmetic and reading drill. The drill has been successful in getting them to progress faster - for example, from bottom of the class to top of the class in math for my daughter over two years - and it has caused them to like math and reading more, rather than less, as they got better.

  • Fluency in a second language is only really appreciated when there are multiple opportunities to use the language. I speak four languages, and use only two of them on a regular basis; the language I grew up using, I only hear it spoken in some foreign films. So, meh. – anongoodnurse Apr 2 '17 at 21:22
  • @anongoodnurse There is a difference between fluency in two languages and dual native language fluency. Dual native fluency opens up opportunities that are closed to people who grew up speaking only one language. – Warren Dew Apr 2 '17 at 21:27
  • Please elucidate; I think I experienced what you call "dual native language". I still maintain it is of limited usefulness. I grew up in a French speaking household, and learned English when I started school. I still speak English. I no longer speak French, though my parents did until their deaths. – anongoodnurse Apr 2 '17 at 21:31
  • A native speaker is someone who speaks a language essentially from birth, usually because the parents speak it in the home. Learning a language after one starts school is learning a second language, not having two native languages. – Warren Dew Apr 2 '17 at 21:35
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    That's nonsense. Living in America since birth, I consider myself a native speaker even though I didn't learn it until I really had to. I think your definitions are erroneous. – anongoodnurse Apr 2 '17 at 21:37
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You want your child to learn a subject and as parents this is your call. The benefits include that learning another language is a way to help a person have a better understanding of their culture, as well as cognitive benefits.

There are many sites with information on the benefits of learning more than one language. Here is one.

Rewards systems are difficult. Many people just refuse to use reward/token systems with their children, but I disagree. I got a paycheque for working -- token system. I am good to my husband and he is good to me -- loose token system.

Next year, you set a weekly time limit on XBox. He can earn more time with it in return for working at school. It can be removed for not working hard. I think this will be the main reward system you use because you already committed to it. Try not to add more if you are rethinking a rewards system.

This experience has made you more mindful, I think. At 6, you can talk it out with your son. Tell him the truth. He only has so many years where you put a roof over his head and feed him while his main responsibility is school. There will be a time when he has to work at a job to support himself and perhaps to (help) pay for further education. This is his 'golden opportunity'. It doesn't last. Tell him how old you are and how hard you work. Making a mystery of how much things cost and the effort you put into having them and providing your child with them, is an error. You work hard and he needs to understand that and the choices you make.

It is never too early to learn how to set goals. I asked my (then) 4 year old what she wanted life to be like when she grew up. She wants a home and a dog and a car and to travel. She wants to be a grandmother with many grandkids coming to visit her. Even at four she understood that life and the things she wants from it are expensive and that while she could have all those things, she needed a plan to get them. Your six year old can understand the educational benefits of learning a language and that learning it gives him more of his own choices later -- when he is paying to support himself and his own choices.

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    Giving someone a videogame as a reward and then making game time a separate reward for something else seems a bit like cheating. It's like giving a piece of candy to your kid for good behavior but letting they eat only after they do the dishes - the kid will feel a bit cheated. I would tie buying new games for his xbox to his monthly performance instead - this worked wonders for me! – T. Sar Mar 29 '17 at 20:06
  • @TSar -- I would think that time would be a good way to keep a lid on things, that is why I suggested it. However, the OP and anyone else for that matter -- should only take advice if they think it makes sense and molds it to fit them and their circumstances. This is why multiple answers are important. I see this way, you see it that way. There is rarely a yes/no answer. We create the buffet from which the OP picks and chooses what works best for them. Why not add an answer? Thanks for your opinion, though. – WRX Mar 29 '17 at 20:14
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    My answer would be just a little different than yours ;) I'm suggesting something that I see as an improvement to an answer that I already mostly agree! (that said, I threw in a +1 to you) – T. Sar Mar 29 '17 at 20:17
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    @TSar, I like buying new games idea. We do have a strict cap on (all) screen time, otherwise, we have a zombie kid. – user61034 Mar 30 '17 at 15:18
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    @user61034 I've found that the best way to remove your kid from the videogames with limited fuss is to make playing outside an incredible joy. When I can, I get involved on handcrafting projects on the garage with my kids to make stuff from the games they like - like a minecraft sword or a Skyrim helmet, and then let them play with that stuff outside. "Playing skyrim" with your own sword and helmet while bashing some tree branches and screaming dragon shouts on the yard can be really fun for a imaginative kid! – T. Sar Mar 30 '17 at 16:17
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Before anything, I'd like to point out that there is a lot of scholarly evidence to support that not only are we as people worse at learning things we don't want to (or fail to see the point of), we also retain them for much shorter periods of time after we finish actively studying them. Keep this in mind if you're paying for expensive lessons.

That said, I would stick to your current reward track. If this comes with a report card of some description, tie the amount of new games he can have to his actual results. This way you are not taking away anything he has rightfully earned (the xbox, and time on it) but are limiting its utility until he improves the utility of what he is learning!

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    You are right about motivation, but in this example, the student will continue to speak the language at home and may even write emails or letters to relatives in that language. So 'losing' it is probably not a concern. – WRX Mar 30 '17 at 14:00
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    @Willow I genuinely wonder if they will bother even using it at home, but I don't know the child in question. Most practical examples I know from my own life stand a little too far from this particular topic to mention, but I've seen the effect in action. – Weckar E. Mar 30 '17 at 14:02
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    We can only assume that the OP is telling the truth when saying they speak the language at home at least 50% of the time. If the OP is not telling the truth, then I agree. I grew up speaking French but I can't speak it any longer. I have lots of vocabulary and can get the gist from written words -- but I am no longer a French speaker. – WRX Mar 30 '17 at 14:07
  • @WeckarE., Thankfully the lessons are not that expensive, its only effort. Also, I do not think he will speak the language much as he grows up.... but will try to keep him exposed to the language (speaking at home, movies, summers in the region, etc). – user61034 Mar 30 '17 at 15:22
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I would avoid material rewards that you have to hand to him, because it can establish expectations and demands. There are other kinds of rewards. One cheap reward is praise. Children like being good at something.

Other rewards can be rewards you are not involved in (in his perception) such as some comic books, movies, or games that are easily accessible, but unfortunately not on his primary language. I learned English with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Civilization (whose remakes lack the detailed texts of the original and thus aren't as suitable for this).

  • I agree with you, Peter. I prefer a reward that is time and fun based. A trip to the park, or a bike ride with Mum/ Dad. However, this time the reward was promised before the parent , the OP, had really thought about how they felt about it. So they are already committed and looking for a fair way to cut back on this sort of reward. That is why I think time is better than new games/items as a reward. – WRX Mar 31 '17 at 14:14
  • @Willow Yes, I do not recommend to withhold the promised rewards. – Peter Mar 31 '17 at 16:27

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