The days of sing-along and finger-puppet play to learn a new language are long behind us.

My child is an 8 1/2 pre-tween which has proven to be quite challenging to motivate when it’s time for his language lessons. Seriously, teaching him when he was a preschooler was so much easier!

However, I see that this is a common phenomenon.  I recently read a post from Multilingual Parenting that children learning another language go through a rebellious phase, and the importance of being consistent. So I am not alone!

In today’s post, I am sharing tips for motivating language learning in pre-teens.  This age group usually describes those between ages 8 to 12 also known as the ‘tween years.

I’ve learned by experience that this age is very difficult to engage and motivate.

Tip #1:

Consistency:  I admit I am lacking in being consistent when it comes to sitting down for his lessons. Therefore, I have a set aside a specific time for spelling, grammar, vocabulary and reading lessons daily.

Tip #2:
Reward him with some extra ‘screen-time’.  Yes, sometimes we have to resort to technology.  I have him read on his iPad a book in the minority language (Spanish for us), and in return, he gets extra ‘screen-time’ to play a game on it.

Tip #3:
Praise works wonders! I often tell him how happy it makes me hear him speak Spanish.  When he translates a word I commend him on his efforts.  We also joke around on how Daddy is not bilingual but we are.  It gives our son a sense of pride in knowing two languages.

Tip #4:
Engage and encourage your child in a conversation in your minority language while doing an activity together. Ask him a question in the minority language. In my case, I ask in Spanish and he responds in English. I encourage him to respond in Spanish by praising him.

Tip #5:
Play games!  You can use manipulatives such as the Story Cubes to create stories and make it a game, not a lesson.

Tip #6:
Focus on their interests.

  • My son loves drawing Pokemón, and other characters.  I bought a blank notebook with no lines so he can create his own graphic novel in the minority language! He thinks it’s so cool but, he wants to do it in English.   I told him it would be cooler if it was bilingual!  So with a bit of hesitation, he agreed!
  • He also loves reading in “knock-knock” jokes and riddles in English! So I’m thinking about getting him a Spanish book of jokes.

Of course, even after doing all of the above I am stumped on ideas and suggestions to motivate my child.

Thankfully I reached out to my Instagram community and asked them for their tips on motivating language learning in pre-teens.
The response was great. I received lots of encouraging comments but the ones that I love the most were these tips from mamas just like you and me!
From the mouth of these mamas:
  • alldonemonkey    Oh I need tips on this too since my oldest is just entering this stage! The only thing that’s really worked so far is games, especially anything online. I was reluctant to do more screen time, but he loves doing Spanish apps and games online.
  • mundodepepitaIt’s quite common at that age to resist learning the home language, especially if any peers don’t speak it-I see this phenomenon frequently in my students of various heritages. One thing I’ve seen change the dynamic is finding a friend who thinks it’s cool to know Spanish (or the home Lang) and wants to learn, too. This will mitigate some of the “difference” your little one is feeling. Kids just want to be “normal” and not stick out-which often means integrating into the dominate culture-this even happens when peers speak the same home language, unfortunately. Hope this helps a little bit!
  • miss_panda_chineseYou will be fine and he will be fine. We just have to lead the way and adjust the learning with his preference and interest. It is a gift we have for our kids!
  • sra_casado Yup! My 8 and 9-year-olds are tough!!! We have found that special board games and books work well. My husband found some choose your own adventure type books in Spanish which my 9 year old little loves. My 8-year-old love Playmobil and we do battles in Spanish. Spanish card games and board games. And of course FÚTBOL!!! I think the most important thing is getting them into an immersion setting as often as possible (even if it’s a restaurant meal or a FaceTime chat) let me know what works for you!!! It’s truly a struggle!
  • diapersndissertations It is so challenging sometimes, isn’t it? My 5-year-old resisted speaking Japanese all these years until she met Japanese friends at kindergarten. As soon as she noticed Japanese is useful for playing with friends, she started speaking Japanese to me. Seems like peer “pressure” works the best, not mom or family pressureNow it’s so easy for me because she is willing to use it.
  • diapersndissertations And yes, agree with @miss_panda_chinese He will be fine and you are doing a great job.
  • ladydeelg I don’t have advice I just wanted to say you’re doing an awesome job! Oh, maybe a prize like after 10 lessons he can get a treat?
  • bookwormsowlsI think you’re doing awesome and keep it up. I have to enforce it more like that. With my oldest daughter, it became harder when her doctor said we couldn’t force her because she was developing her own American identity (can you believe that). However, we have acknowledged that that was wrong. She can speak whatever languages and keep her identity. We talk to her in Spanish and she understands. She can read basic Spanish too. What’s not that easy for her is speaking it, apparently because of her mild ADD. However, we have noticed that as she gets older she gets more interested. It helps when she has teachers who are pro bilingualism and friends who speak Spanish. Bilingual books help a lot. Making it fun too. I think hearing music is another good idea. With my little one, it looks like is going to be easier.
  • barefootinbooklandia  you are definitely doing great and I know it can be challenging sometimes. Playing board games, card games, charades in Spanish really is enjoyable. Also whatever he is interested in, find him those things in Spanish.
  • cuddlesandcrumbsI have been reading both my kids stories in our language. Maybe have a story that week then work on the lesson around it?
  • hannacheda  Aww I feel you mama! My boys complain a lot when it’s English time and they prefer to mind their own Lego business 😉 I try to keep learning as fun as possible, but at least with Andres, I don’t want to wait too long to teach him to read in English. What works in my house: board games, some screen time at the end of the “class”. For example, if we review action verbs, I try to find an Educational game online and in the end, they can watch their own thing in English for 10 minutes 😉 What else: snacks. Making it a special time. I know that it’s hard, though. Keep it going! As you say, one day your son will thank you!
  • kidworldcitizenWhere did you get those verb conjugations!? I want them for my kids. I have not practiced riding with them in a long time. Also, I highly recommend Duolingo. They have to practice speaking, writing and reading it.

Thanks to the comments above I am inspired to start a Spanish reading club at our local library with kids his age.  Hopefully, he’ll find a new friend that thinks it’s cool to know Spanish, too! 

This post is part of The Piri-Piri Lexicon  A to Z of Raising Multilingual Children series.  Hosted by the wonderful linguist, and mama Annabelle with the participation of other parents raising multilingual children.  You’ll find useful and resourceful ideas from all of the letters in the alphabet!
Make sure you pin, bookmark or save this post and the others for later.

the piri-piri lexicon

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Please do so by commenting below. Thanks!

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  1. Really good tips here. My son is 7 and very hard to motivate with second language learning – was so much easier when he was a toddler and preschooler. I think some bonus screen time might be the way to go – he is definitely motivated by that.

  2. Hi Amanda! So you know the struggle is real! LOL Yeah, I shamelessly bribe my son with more electronics time in exchange for more Spanish reading! It was super easy when he was a toddler and preschooler. 😉

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